Parental Alienation: The Evolution of Defamation and Defiance. A Couple of Contributing Factors
Parental alienation does not begin nor end in the courtroom. The sinister plan starts with one person requesting a divorce or wanting a separation. Consequently, fear sets in; the man or woman has to figure out how to regain their power and control. One way, is through their child. While protracted litigation adds more fuel to the fire, signing the decree will not finalize nor force parents to get along. The unhappy parent may use intimidation, threatening long-lasting legal battles. Or, others warn that they are leaving the country with the child. Some make false allegations. It is clear: parental alienation does not end once families leave the court. In fact, it is often just getting started.
One erroneous belief is that parents continue to quarrel and that both parents participate. Certainly, there is an adjustment phase about a year after the divorce. And, it is common knowledge that parents will slip up with an unkind word here and there. However, contrary to popular media; parental alienation can occur without hostile exchanges. In fact, one parent can be kind-hearted and go out of his or her way to keep the peace.
Some might label this as passive behavior. While it was acceptable to be pleasant natured in an intact marriage, if you are the target of a hate campaign, it will not help your plight. Actually, being soft-natured may lead some to conclude the target parent is part of the problem. Surprisingly, the aforementioned threats fits an all too familiar term—domestic violence. As a caveat, not all cases of DV include bruises, but they do share the theme of power and control.
One thing is certain; many alienating parents do not adhere to court orders. As a result, visitation schedules are missed. Missed time with a child provides more time for unholy alliances to form. Or, the alienating parent outright ignores the no bad-mouthing clause. Most agree that constant badmouthing is not good for a child’s psyche. Why would a parent ignore court orders? Answer: Because they know there are not any consequences.
Orders are not enforced for a couple of noteworthy reasons. First, the system is bogged down. Second are mixed messages. Parents are told it is not good to be “in and out of court.” Or, some target parents may simply succumb to the tears of their eight year old that reports, “please do not take (dad or mom) to court.” It is easy to understand, why target parents decide not to enforce orders that are repeatedly ignored. They logically reason court is futile. In other words, why hassle with enforcing court orders that will not be followed in the first place. If the situation entails a destitute woman, she will not have the money anyhow.
Lastly, for those that have resources to enforce orders, some have learned that efforts are pointless. Multiple studies indicate that alienating parents will not follow decrees. Baker & Darnall (2007) discovered that courts poorly enforced visitation and at times, the visitation was not enforced at all. An earlier study by Baker & Darnall (2006) noted the most frequent cited response, as pertaining to parenting time, was that favored parents did not adhere to court orders. Yet, again, another finding by Kelly (2010) indicated that favored parents do not follow through with court orders. Kelly pointed out that favored parents learn through protracted litigation, that courts do not enforce mandates such as parenting classes or therapy. It is no surprise that target parents believe the situation is one beyond their control (Vassiliou & Cartwright, 2001). The logical solution is to educate courts on the perils of parental alienation in conjunction with including this insidious form of emotional abuse in the DSM. Uniformity not only aids in common terminology, but would ensue systematic understanding. Parental alienation is an issue that is too often misunderstood and one that far too many claim is a nothing more than an unfounded theory or a slick cover up.
Baker, A. J. L., & Darnall, D. (2006). Behaviors and strategies employed in parental alienation: A survey of parental experiences. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 45(1–2), 97–124
Baker, A. J. L., & Darnall, D. (2007). A construct study of the eight symptoms of severe parental alienation syndrome: A survey of parental experiences. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 47(1–2), 55–75.
Kelly, J. (2010). Commentary on Family bridges: Using insights from social science to reconnect parents and alienated children. Family Court Review, 48(1), 81–90.
Vassiliou, D., & Cartwright, G.F. (2001). The lost parents’ perspective on parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Therapy, 29(3), 181– 191.
Imagine a nightmare scenario where your children hate you. They tell you repeatedly that they hate you; and worse, their actions leave no doubt that they hate you. Moreover, their hatred doesn’t stop with you; it extends to everyone close to you – including your parents – their grandparents – and even to your pets. Imagine that your children do not refer to you with terms of endearment such as “mom” or “dad” – but with your first name or with horrible vulgarities. Imagine being locked out of your house, having the woodwork in your house gouged, the walls defaced, and having your heirlooms destroyed, all the while your child laughs at you, a taunting maniacal laugh, as the dirty deeds are done. Imagine finding snack foods or cereal strewn about the house, or juice in puddles on the floor. Imagine being kicked in the head as you drive. Imagine, if you can, that your child hates you so much that he or she laces your toothbrush with excrement.
Imagine not being able to have dinner with your children because they refuse to eat anything you cook for them. Imagine not being able to go to a restaurant with your children, because they will move to another table rather than sit with you. Imagine not being able to talk to your children at all. In the house, they will turn away or shut themselves in their room. In the car, they will respond to you with vulgarity and contempt. If they ever do attempt to communicate, they will tell you how much they hate you and how perfect the other parent is in their eyes – while you are your children’s number one enemy, your ex-spouse is considered infallible and beyond reproach.
Imagine that these children who hate you are not teenagers, but just 10 years old. Now stop imagining. Welcome to the hellish world of an alienated parent whose children are affected by Parental Alienation Syndrome.
As a father who has been targeted by a vindictive and malicious ex, to the point where my children refuse to see me or their grandparents, I am oftentimes annoyed to hear psychologists and psychiatrists who don’t really understand the difference between Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome. Consider this recent excerpt from a US News and World Report article, “I really get concerned about spreading the definition of mental illness too wide,” says Elissa Benedek, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a past president of the APA. There’s no question in her mind that kids become alienated from a loving parent in many divorces with little or no justification, and she’s seen plenty of kids kick and scream all the way to the car when visitation is enforced. But, she says, “this is not a mentally ill child.” (US News and World Report, Parental Alienation: A Mental Diagnosis? Some experts say the extreme hatred some kids feel toward a parent in a divorce is a mental illness. By Lindsay Lyon, October 29, 2009)
With all due respect to Dr. Benedek, her example scenario provides too little in the way of information to determine if the child in question is in fact merely alienated or is emotionally incapacitated as a direct result of undue and unjust external influences (PAS).
If you have never personally experienced Parental Alienation Syndrome, it is difficult to fathom how a child can become so completely and utterly transformed from a wonderful, caring, loving being to a mean, angry, hateful individual. Here is a firsthand account from one such child, now an adult, “I did everything in my power to make dad happy and destroy my mother… My main mission was to have her suffer for who I thought she was, not for who she was… I thought about her dying and having a party.” Chrissy Chrzanowski, who as a child was programmed to hate her mother. (Chrissy Chrzanowski, live speech at a Michigan rally: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z7gEAnFF84)
Parental Alienation Syndrome is the result of a war having children soldiers. Parental Alienation Syndrome takes a commander-in-chief, foot soldiers and a common enemy. In this case, the commander-in-chief is the alienating parent, the children are the foot soldiers, and the common enemy is the child’s other parent and those closest to him or her. And just like adult soldiers who fight in a campaign of terror, death, and destruction and then end up suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so too do children of PAS end up suffering from the horrors of war.
The DSM recognizes Post Traumatic Stress as a disorder, which, like PAS, is environmentally trigged. You are not born with PTSD. It is a condition that is caused by external events – a condition that could in fact, happen to the best of us given the right environment and set of circumstances. Despite the fact that PTSD is not a mental condition that one is born with, such as Down Syndrome or Tourette’s, it is rightly recognized in the DSM as a negative condition that requires treatment, even though it is possible to lessen with time and treatment.
PAS is also a condition that is inflicted by environment and circumstances, and which carries negative long term consequences. Additionally, vindictive parenting behaviors are highly likely to resurface in the next generation – as these children become parents themselves. As Amy J.L. Baker, PhD, a noted PAS expert has written, PAS is a condition that requires time to abate. And frankly, this is time that targeted parents don’t have. PAS children can remain immersed in the delusion well into adulthood and oftentimes require third party intervention – generally from his or her significant other.
Here’s where The American Psychiatric Association, as the gatekeeper of the DSM, and the American Psychology Association, as front line care providers, can do the right thing and help put an end to the emotional abuse of children that PAS presents. They can put an end to an era where children are programmed to hate. They can put an end to the emotional scarring for those children who will forever carry a burden of guilt. PAS is a great injustice and it is becoming more widespread in the absence of professional guidance and remediation. But to do what must be done, the APA must put aside the politics and emotion of the debate.
The recognition of PAS is being held hostage by special interest groups. Domestic Violence Against Women Special Interest Groups (DVAWSIGs) have long argued that PAS is nothing more than a tactic. Consider the following quote, “PAS has been used in countless cases by abusive fathers to gain custody of their children.” This quote was taken from a television documentary titled “Breaking the Silence; Children’s Stories.” It aired on PBS in October of 2005. In fact, “Breaking the Silence” ended up being discredited as a one-sided, poorly conceived infomercial. PBS received 4,000 e-mails on the subject and 3,500 of them were negative. Here’s what the PBS ombudsman, Michael Getler, had to say on the matter after he concluded his investigation, “”…there was no recognition of opposing views on the program. There was a complete absence of some of the fundamental journalistic conventions that, in fact, make a story more powerful and convincing because they, at a minimum, acknowledge that there is another side….I thought this particular program had almost no balance, and went too far, turning it, at least in my mind, into more of an advocacy, or point-of-view presentation.”
This program was then reviewed by the ombudsman for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ken A. Bode, who further noted, “I agree with everything Getler says, to a point. He allows that PBS editorial guidelines for fairness and objectivity were ‘bumped up against and maybe breached,’ but does not assert they were clearly breached. I think it is worse than that. There was no alternative point of view presented in ‘Breaking the Silence’ and the producer admits it was intended to be that way. It might be difficult to find a clearer breach of PBS editorial standards unless one concludes there is only one side to child and spousal abuse issues in the country’s custody cases [emphasis added].” (Breaking the Silence Redux, December 19, 2005, Ken A. Bode. http://www.cpb.org/ombudsmen/display.php?id=12)
Still, DVAWSIGs, ignorantly perhaps, misguided certainly, believe that Parental Alienation Syndrome is a tactic and in conjunction, would be misdiagnosed, therefore robbing an innocent parent of custody. But Parental Alienation Syndrome is such an abomination, having unique indicators, that it is relatively easy to diagnose and, conversely, difficult to misdiagnose. A fully entrenched PAS child harbors unreasonable animosity and hatred towards the targeted parent and, due to the programming, will find it difficult to say anything negative about the non-targeted parent. It is a terrible abuse of power, that “so-called” domestic violence groups oppose recognizing the emotional abuse of children caused by a severe and prolonged campaign of alienation enacted by a malicious and vindictive ex spouse.
The “tactic” argument is ancillary to the question of whether PAS should be recognized as a disorder. False claims of abuse by women against men do not invalidate legitimate cases of abuse; neither should false claims of PAS invalidate legitimate cases of PAS. There are, after all, vindictive and malicious parents who poison their children’s mind against good and loving parents – should these individuals not be held accountable?
The DSM V committee must not be misguided by special interest groups purporting to have a greater cause. There is no greater cause. Society has a duty to its most vulnerable members – its children. PAS children are psychologically damaged. This is a preventable tragedy and children who exhibit Parental Alienation Syndrome require specialized intervention.
To the DSM V committee, I say to you, the time is now.