A study conducted by Murphy et al (2017) suggests that childhood trauma (and, specifically, in this case, the experience, as a child, of having had parents who divorced acrimoniously) can adversely affect the immune system.
The study involved 201 ‘normal’ adult participants whose parents had separated during their childhoods. The participants were divided into two categories :
CATEGORY ONE: Those whose parents had separated amicably and civilly
CATEGORY TWO: Those whose parents had separated acrimoniously (e.g. frequently shouted and yelled at one another or refused to talk to one another)
RESULTS OF THE STUDY :
It was found that those adults in category two (i.e. those whose parents had separated acrimoniously when they were children) had weaker immune systems than those adults in category one (i.e. those who had parents who had separated amicably when they were children).
This was inferred from the fact that it was found that those from group one were less prone to common colds and similar conditions.
(It should be noted, however, that a sample of 201 for such a study is low which could affect the validity of the findings and that, because of this, further, similar studies need to be conducted using larger samples of participants).
THE THEORY THAT UNDERLIES THESE FINDINGS :
The theory that underlies these findings is that NEGATIVE EMOTIONS IN GENERAL (such as depression, anxiety, chronic stress, etc) harm individuals’ physiology and inflammatory processes and this harm may still be apparent decades later. However, precise details of the mechanism that underpins this harmful process are not, as yet, entirely understood (so, clearly, more research will also be necessary to resolve this matter). Assuming this theory is correct (and there is much evidence it is), then it follows that it is not just the experience of having parents who divorce acrimoniously that may lead to damage to the immune system, but any significant childhood trauma that results in chronic stress and negative emotions.
Children whose parents divorce acrimoniously are more likely to incur damage to their immune systems (that endures well into adulthood) than those whose parents divorce amicably / civilly (all else being equal) according to the findings of this study. However, future similar studies are necessary in order to add weight of evidence to these results.
N.B This is NOT to say children whose parents divorce relatively civilly are not psychologically damaged and it is also NOT to say that such children suffer no harm to their immune systems as a result of their parents’ divorce; it can only be inferred, in the light of this study, that if one’s parents divorce amicably this may operate as a protective psychological factor, protecting the child from the worst of the detrimental emotional effects of divorce. For more information about the effects, in general, of divorce upon children, you may wish to read my previously published article entitled: POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF DIVORCE ON CHILDREN.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).