How Family Conflict Affects Health

Instructor: Reinadith Pangilinan
No family is exempt from internal conflicts at some point in their life. Understand deeper how these conflicts affect one's health physically and emotionally, especially in children. Updated: 04/13/2022

What Is Family Conflict?

A mom comes home to her young children. Strapped for cash as a single income household, all the children pitch in making macaroni and cheese and frozen green beans for dinner. The mother is overworked and snaps at her children. Her children feel ashamed at school and unsure of how to help their family.

Now, picture another scenario. A wealthy family in the suburbs waits up for their youngest daughter to get in. At 16, she stumbles in after staying out hours too late with friends. An argument ensues and her dad throws a lamp. The mom is crying and the girl locks herself in the bathroom. In a house down the street, a banker arrives home drunk from a work function and screams at his wife, hitting her as their toddler hides under the stairs.

Family conflict occurs in all levels of wealth and race

Family conflict affects all races and wealth brackets. No family is exempt from strife at some point in their relationship. Family conflict can be short lived, such as arguments at the dinner table. However, continuous family conflict, such as abuse, poverty, or mental instability can cause problems that ripple through the entire family unit. Today, we're going to look at how long term family conflict can affect the mental and physical health of the family members involved.

Mental Health and Family Conflict

Any kind of conflict is going to have an impact on the participants' mental health. Conflict within families can be especially hard because of the close relationships and close contact if families are living together.

Emotional Development in Children

Family conflict is damaging to young children who are still developing physically and emotionally. Children need to feel safe to develop appropriate attachment and emotional responses. If the caregiver does not provide a safe environment, the child's brain develops differently, causing the child to constantly be on alert. This can result in post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety, or depression.

Households with high levels of family conflict often neglect young children, either showing negative behavior or limiting their interactions and play. This can create deficits in cognitive development leading to learning disabilities or children starting school behind grade level. Children that go through neglect due to family conflict, such as an alcoholic or mentally ill parent, also have more behavioral problems that can lead to problems at school.

Family conflict can lead to child neglect

Anxiety and Depression

Family conflict can have long lasting effects, even if children are older. Family dysfunction, including marital stress, negative parenting strategies such as violence and psychological manipulation, are predictors of anxiety disorders later in life.

Imagine a family with a high level of conflict. Dad is always mad at mom. To him, she's constantly doing something wrong, such as not having dinner ready on time, or not keeping the house clean during the day. When Joe, their ten year old son, comes home after school, he frequently witnesses dad yelling at mom. Sometimes, dad's anger gets directed at Joe simply because he is nearby. Overtime, Joe's anxiety increases. He learns to be afraid coming home, and without him even knowing it, his body tenses up walking in and his heart begins to race. Even after Joe moves out of his parents' house, he still feels the same stress walking in and certain sights or sounds still trigger his stress to increase. Joe might develop depression as well. Struggling to cope with the stress of his parental conflict and reconcile the dysfunction, he becomes sad and even hopeless about the possibility of a healthy relationship in his life. Like many survivors, Joe blames himself and spirals into a depression.

Family conflict can lead to anxiety and depression

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