When I hear stories about a father, or mother, who kills their children in a rage during a process of separation or divorce, I feel deeply sad. Of course it hurts but did they have to go that far? I feel angry that the possibility of this violence of emotion could be so overlooked or so under supported? How on earth does it happen that someone goes that far, and are there warning signs?
When someone asks for a divorce it is a powerful expression of rejection. This is a complete and profound rejection that is both personal and accusatory: 'I will be better off without you.' This confronts what is known as a core social motive - a sense of belonging. Many people in their marriages form a social context that divorce threatens to tear from them. It can rock any sense of security to the core leaving a person feeling desperate and bereft.
Not many of us take rejection well; but this is a massive understatement for a person already suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) or another mental health condition such as depression, addiction, or emotional and behavioural problems.
In brief PTSD is caused by an experience of trauma, which in turn causes, amongst other symptoms, severe distrust of your own instincts and therefore ability to reassure or comfort yourself. This leaves a person wide open to unregulated, extreme emotional reactions that can veer wildly between sobbing neediness to violent rage-ful attacks on self and others. As someone once wisely advised me 'Emotions are what we have the most of and know the least about; handle them or they will handle you'. Anyone suffering from a dis-regulation of emotional or behavioural experience is capable of doing something wildly 'out of character'.
Thus here is some advice: if you have seen your husband or wife regularly behave in an emotionally volatile way that is loaded with depression or self pity maybe a bitter desire to punish, perhaps drug or alcohol fuelled, beware. In the heated and loaded climate around divorce, these feelings are likely to be ignited and amplified into extreme behaviours that extend way beyond the 'normal' parameters.
This is when people consider suicide to be a reasonable solution; or murder.
I have a few suggestions for you:
I do not claim to be able to prevent this from happening, but I have devised a workshop to help identify the steps to rage which therefore aids assessment of risk- its called The Anger Barometer. It allows an individual to identify the stages between their daily status quo feeling and rage - for it is in rage that damage is most often done. Many people deny feelings of anger, and find themselves enraged. Others build up slowly, go into a quiet that is the lull before the storm, and then blow. If you do not know how you, or your partner, travel emotionally from A-Z then you are completely helpless to either intervene or accurately assess risk.
If you find yourself in this situation where divorce is causing powerful and unpredictable behaviour, most notably fueled by self pity (how could you, poor me) and bitterness and blame (look what you have done to me you B****) then err on the safe side, follow your instincts, and put parameters in place that keep you all safe from the traumatic and often grief ridden process of divorce. Consider that none of you are in your right minds.
Tragically of course the children are the only real weapon in this fight, as they belong to both and yet neither. Often used as pawns to hurt the other person; as leverage for more money, victim status and pity. A thorn in the side or a mascot: they are at your mercy.
Make them safe, give it time, go through the process, and allow the feelings to be expressed and eventually to subside. This may be your divorce, but it's their life too.