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Intimate Partner Abuse Screen




Family Violence -

Cognitive Dissidence and the Puppet Child

domestic violence consulting expert


By Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.

The saddest part of family violence and the legal abuse syndrome is the impact on children, both on them and within them. When a child is severed from their protective parent—a silent epidemic—life for this child is never the same.


First, they are led to believe that the protective parent abandoned them. From this, they are to conclude that this protective parent “really” doesn’t love them.


The net result of this thinking is: on a core level, they are not lovable. Well, this is quite a burden for a child to bear.


However, children like adults naturally seek to resolve the cognitive dissidence inherent in this internal dilemma. Before I go on to elaborate further, let’s step back and define cognitive dissidence.


What is Cognitive Dissidence?


“Cognitive dissidence” is a psychological term referring to the tension state in which our “beliefs,” “feelings” and “actions” are incongruent. That is, when these three aspects of our existence are not in-sink.


So for example, a child (let’s say a young boy) believes the mother (the person more often in this situation) abandoned him. Yet, he feels deep in his being her loving connection to him and his to her, and his actions are to seek her out.Ouch!!!

The tension grows as this inner disharmony lingers. So, what then happens? The psyche seeks to resolve the disharmony by attempting to bring the three elements into harmony.


How Do We Resolve Cognitive Dissidence?


Typically this is done by redefining each of these elements just as one re-calculates a mathematical operation. How do they get redefined? As with most things in life, one moves to the direction of the loudest voice, the more pervasive input, the more “in-your-face” perspective.


I bet your getting the way the child must resolve the cognitive dissidence in this situation. With mother physically out of the picture and father’s (plus his full family) ongoing input and ability to regulate the child's entire rewards system, the child will do what?


Obviously the child will let the beliefs set the norm, and both feelings and actions will follow suit to harmonize all three so as to reflect the dominant current input. ...And therby, move to resolve the cognitive dissidence.


Long Term Danger for the Puppet Child


But here’s the danger later in life for the child. When this child changes the actions, there can be so much external, positive reinforcement that doing so is almost effortless. New action - withdraw from mom.


But the feeling part, well that’s the part that tricks you up every time. Because even though the child will swallow the loving feeling for his mother, at least externally, these feelings lie dormant within. And the result of this is an incomplete resolution of the cognitive dissidence...a “puppet child.”


Now I wish there was an upbeat, hopeful way to end this article, but I’m afraid there isn’t. There is however, some advice I can share with anyone who is an estranged parent or has a puppet child.


It’s not about you! Your experience of your inner wellbeing must not require your child’s efforts to resolve his/her cognitive dissonance to be any way other than the way it is.

For more healing insights around domestic violence and child custody, claim your free Survivor Success Tips & eInsights. Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps people recognize, end and heal from family violence and the legal abuse syndrome.


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©Copyright 2008 Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.

Dr. Jeanne King is a licensed psychologist and domestic abuse consultant. Feel free to contact us if you need help with physical and/or emotional pain, stress-related illnesses, or relationship abuse issues at home or in court. Contact Us to reach Dr. King.