Conflict is the source of almost all psychological harm. Either we endure conflict in the outside world (fighting, arguing, etc.) that leads to social stress and psychological harm, or we endure internal conflict (conflict between our own interests/desires and the constraints placed upon them by the outside world) that leads to harm. Sources of external conflict are fairly obvious and discussed in our Family Recovery Handbook. Internal conflict can arise when parents burden their child with the wrong messages or beliefs in regard to an event.
Conflict is one of the most toxic things to children. It spikes stress levels, it disturbs them emotionally, and it creates a whole host of adverse symptoms. (GCF 2013) Children have a reasonably high tolerance level for many things, but not conflict. Conflict, especially that which occurs amongst their caretakers or with other prominent people in their lives, can eat a child alive. (Seligman, 1993) Furthermore, recent research has shown that merely witnessing conflict among adults is as damaging to children as someone abusing them directly, (Scheeringa & Zeanah, 1995; Hygge & Ohman, 1978) so it's important that parents minimize the amount of conflict they are exposed to.
Loss of Control
Humans have a strong inbuilt desire for control that is present from birth. (Bandura, 1977b; Bandura, 1982) Even infants seek to control their environment by mastering the ability to summon a caretaker’s attention through their cries. As they grow into toddlers, children often find glee in throwing things or pushing down blocks or other items. Such behavior is less about destruction than it is an exercise in control. They are learning to manipulate their environment. Research shows that when humans lose control at any point in their life, they become miserable and depressed, and desperately try to reassert their influence. (Brehm, 1966) This has led psychologists to conclude that the feeling of control, even if it's only an illusion, is a staple of mental health. (Taylor & Brown, 1988) Even simply being able to anticipate an unpleasant event can minimize its impact. (Arntz et al., 1992)
An example of the control factor in action can be seen when examining rape. It's usually not the sex-act that makes rape so potentially harmful, though people often assume as much. It's the complete loss of control and feelings of absolute helplessness that result from it. After all, some couples even enjoy role-playing rape scenarios during their sex, as a way to add excitement. What's the only difference between this and an actual rape? Feelings of control! During an actual rape, someone is forcing us to do something, taking our control away, holding our life in their hands, making us feel helpless. It is the factor of control that contributes a good deal of the damage inflicted by rape.
Though a child's dependence and desire for control is much less pronounced than it is for adults, (they're used to having limited control) it's still an important element for both security and happiness. When children lose control or predictability in their environment, anxiety and depression levels rise. Panic sets in. Frustration skyrockets. Feelings of helplessness and despair kick in. Feeling like we have an ability to control our environment allows us to function.