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Letting Go: When Alienated Parents Give Up

Letting Go: When Alienated Parents Give Up 

Letting Go

When a parent endures parental alienation, various emotions materialize.  Some are angry and others feel helpless.  On the other hand, a number of rejected parents evolve into dedicated empowered advocates, but just as many are depleted both physically and financially. Some parents may ask, when do I let go? Clearly, alienated parents (also known as rejected parents) are grieving parents.  In 2002 Dr. Richard Gardner wrote, “For some alienated parents the continuous heartache is similar to living death.” Sadly, for many rejected parents, the sorrow never ends.

Most are familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grieving.  First is Denial.  Denial is not recognizing reality.  As noted by Dr. Gardner (2002), denying reality is obviously a maladaptive way of dealing with a situation.  In fact, denial is generally considered to be one of the defense mechanisms, mechanisms that are inappropriate, maladaptive, and pathological. Obviously, it is hard to deny that one is a rejected parent. However, at times, it may seem easier to deny that the situation is not real. To deal with the unreal, some parents may resign.  Studies indicate that some rejected parents, similar to survivors of domestic violence, become passive. (Kopetski, 1998).

Anger is another stage of the grieving process.  However, underlying anger is hurt and a loss of power and a loss of control over a situation or an event. Unquestionably, alienated parents become angry as their cases are dismissed and their cause is mocked.  Third, is bargaining. As an example, a bargaining parent may believe if they try hard enough, or say the right thing, his or her child will suddenly have a change of heart. Fourth is depression. Self-blame, hopelessness, and despair consumes their thoughts. The fifth stage, is acceptance. Clearly, rejected parents do not happily accept their plight, but they may be forced to give up “the fight.”  That is, some may cho0se to loosely let go.    

It is vital though, to consider what letting go signifies.  Letting go is not to cut oneself off, it’s the realization that one person can’t control another. As applied to parental alienation, one cannot force an ex-spouse to cease his or her hate campaign. Secondly, letting go is not to deny, but to accept.  Acceptance is realizing that some ex-spouses refuse to co-parent.  Some alienating parents intend to turn the child against the other parent–permantely. They stop at nothing.  One study depicts this unfortunate, but true, reality, “a minority of parents who suffer from personality and mental disorders may ignore the court and spend their waking hours finding ways to exhaust the other parent emotionally and financially” ( Jaffe et al. 2010). Yes; you may realize that you, or a loved one, are in the minority.

Parents may also have to accept that they may be blamed for the rejection– blamed not only by family and friends, but blamed by society.  No one likes to point fingers these days, after all;  it is socially unacceptable.  As noted by Dr. Richard Warshak (2011), attributing a parent-child problem to both parents, when one parent is clearly more responsible for destructive behavior, is a misguided effort to appear balanced and avoid blame.

When to  let go?  First and foremost; it is personal.  Dr. Warshak’s book, Divorce Poison (2010), notes that the parent may see no viable option other than to let go of active attempts to overcome the problem.  As a caveat, he notes, “I just urge all alienated parents and relatives, and all therapists who work with these families, not to wave the white flag of surrender too soon.”  He offers seven suggestions about the possibility of letting go. One suggestion is when all legal channels to improve the situation have been exhausted.

Some parents, unfortunately, have discovered the aforementioned exhaustion. As  Dr. Amy Baker reported, “alienating parents did not respect the court orders, the attorneys were not interested in or able to force the alienating parent into compliance. Apparently, once the alienating parent determined that this was the case, noncompliance became the order of the day.”  Rejected parents know all too well, that non compliance works. A second suggestion by Dr. Warshak is when, “your ex is so disturbed that a continuing battle could provoke him or her to violent action against the children or against you or other members of your family.”  Clearly, not all rejected parents have the funding to continue the battle.

As a conclusion, should you come into contact with a rejected parent it may be helpful to offer grace for his or her grief.  Each and every rejected parent differs in his or her stage of sorrow.  They will also display unique feelings.  Some may feel  discouraged, dejected, and depressed. Or, others may feel angry and outraged.  If the parent recently read about parental alienation, and discovered there is a name to the irrational rejection; they may feel relieved.  Perhaps, they are baffled, broken, and bewildered. If they have pleaded with the courts for 15 years, they may feel helpless and guarded. When their families blame them, they may become withdrawn and detached.  Regardless of the stage or feeling(s) that accompany the pain of parental alienation, rejected parents require empathy, exultation, and esteem.

Categories: Parents

Blinded, Bound, and Burdened: Parental Alienation and Two Theories– The Double Bind & Cognitive Dissonance.

Blinded, Bound, and Burdened: Parental Alienation and Two Theories– The Double Bind & Cognitive Dissonance by Monika

A double bind was first described by Gregory Bateson in the 1950s.  Bateson did not invent the double bind, but he was the first to describe the dilemma. What is a double bind and how is related to parental alienation? I will borrow the definition from Wikipedia. Obviously, I could refer readers to studies that high-light Bateson’s observations.  However, as many misinformed groups decide to dismiss Dr. Gardner’s empirical findings, it appears reality and reason is not always a concern.   

A double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will be automatically wrong regardless of response. The double bind occurs when the person cannot confront the inherent dilemma, and therefore cannot resolve it or opt out of the situation (Wikipedia).

An alienated child is in a double bind.  As an example, a child arrives home smiling, eager to report about the great time spent with dad. Unfortunately, the mother never recovered from the divorce. She certainly does not want to hear about her former spouse. As the child starts discussing the good time at dads, the mother’s emotions begin to fester. She yells at the child. Next, she walks over  and holds  the child tightly. She glares into the child’s eyes, informing this just seconds ago happy child, that she does not want to hear about time with daddy. The child, startled, starts to cry. In turn, the mother acts concerned, at least for the moment. After that, she places  her arms around the child, giving an affectionate hug. All is well– at least for a moment.  The hug temporarily soothed the child. The mother realized the hug worked. Consequently, to gain back the unholy alignment she desperately craves, she  appears  teary eyed. As her eyes water up with tears, she looks at the child and says, it is okay to talk about time at dad’s house, but that it hurts mommy very much to hear about dad. Mother then smiles, and states, “hey lets go buy that $100 doll/ truck you have been wanting.”

Double binds are often utilized as a form of control without open coercion—the use of confusion makes them difficult to respond to or resist (Wikipedia).

A double bind generally includes different levels of abstraction in orders of messages, and these messages can be stated or implicit within the context of the situation, or conveyed by tone of voice or body language. Further complications arise when frequent double binds are part of an ongoing relationship to which the person or group is committed. (Wikipedia). One does not need an explanation—further complications will arise.  As a parent child relationship is ongoing, the child is committed and bound to live in perpetual emotional abuse. Because parental alienation does not include situations of physical abuse or neglect, the parent-child relationship will remain (with the favored parent).   

The double bind is often misunderstood to be a simple contradictory situation, where the victim is trapped by two conflicting demands. While it’s true that the core of the double bind is two conflicting demands, the differences lie in how they are imposed on the victim, what the victim’s understanding of the situation is and finally, who (or what) imposes these demands upon the victim. Unlike the usual no-win situation, the victim has difficulty defining the exact nature of the paradoxical situation in which he or she is. The contradiction may be unexpressed in its immediate context and therefore is invisible to external observers, only becoming evident when a prior communication is considered. Typically, a demand is imposed upon the victim by someone who they respect (a parent, teacher or doctor), but the demand itself is inherently impossible to fulfill because some broader context forbids it. For example, when a person in a position of authority imposes two contradictory conditions but there is an unspoken rule that one must never question authority (Wikipedia).

Gregory Bateson and his colleagues defined the double bind as follows:

  1. The situation involves two or more people, one of whom (for the purpose of the definition), is designated as the “victim”. The others are people who are considered the victim’s superiors: figures of authority (such as parents), whom the victim respects.
  2. Repeated experience: the double bind is a recurrent theme in the experience of the victim, and as such, cannot be resolved as a single traumatic experience.
  3. A “primary injunction” is imposed on the victim by the others in one of two forms:
    • (a) “Do X, or I will punish you”;
    • (b) “Do not do X, or I will punish you”.
    • (or both a and b)

The punishment may include the withdrawing of love, the expression of hate and anger, or abandonment resulting from the authority figure’s expression of helplessness.

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For a double bind to be effective, the victim must be unable to confront or resolve the conflict between the demand placed by the primary injunction and that of the secondary injunction. In this sense, the double bind differentiates itself from a simple contradiction to a more inexpressible internal conflict, where the victim really wants to meet the demands of the primary injunction, but fails each time through an inability to address the situation’s incompatibility with the demands of the secondary injunction. Thus, victims may express feelings of extreme anxiety in such a situation, as they attempt to fulfill the demands of the primary injunction albeit with obvious contradictions in their actions. (Wikipedia)

Double binds can be extremely stressful and become destructive when one is trapped in a dilemma and punished for finding a way out. (Wikipedia). An alienated child does not have a way out. Sometimes claiming to love the other parent may cause the other parent to flee the country with the child. At minimum, the parent will become enraged and  engage in a full campaign of denigration.

The classic example given of a negative double bind is of a mother telling her child that she loves him or her, while at the same time turning away in disgust. (The words are socially acceptable; the body language is in conflict with it). The child doesn’t know how to respond to the conflict between the words and the body language and, because the child is dependent on the mother for basic needs, he or she is in a quandary. Small children have difficulty articulating contradictions verbally and can neither ignore them nor leave the relationship. (Wikipedia).

For some time, the word “theory” has been scrutinized. Many hurting parents have been told that their pain is nothing more than a theory. A theory does not equate made up junk science. On the contrary, it is a way to organize and verify information. In fact, given the double bind theory, another theory comes to mind. One wonders, if this situation is repeated, what possibilities the child may use to organize this information. Coming to mind is cognitive dissonance. Yes, another theory.

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. I may be wrong, but hearing that it is okay and both not okay to discuss a good time at dads house, the child may feel conflicted. What is the child to do?  The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

 In cases of parental alienation, the child may adopt a hateful attitude. The child is both internally motivated from the emotional roller coaster of the favored parent and externally motivated by fear of abandonment.  Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. The alienated child, may say something such as, “we no longer like daddy, he left us.” Most realize if this child were age six, the statement is borrowed (dad left mom, not the child).  It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology. Parental alienation is also an extensively studied “theory”. Dr. Gardner identified eight manifestations that child may display. I included two of the many methods that may lead to parental alienation syndrome that are borrowed from the others theories. Please click here for peer-review studies.  

Caveat: Parental alienation is gender neutral. Both men and woman are alienated parents–the children suffer. Please pray for alienated children and their families.
Categories: Public Distortion

Parental Alienation Cited in Goldman Decision by Dr. Richard A. Warshak

Posted with permission by Dr. Richard A. Warshak

Parental Alienation Cited in Goldman Decision by Dr. Richard A. Warshak

Parental alienation is emotional abuse. Judge Guadagno is clear about this. Ruling last week in the Sean Goldman case, the judge calls the behavior of Sean’s stepfather and family “contemptible” for filling the child’s head with false information aimed at undermining his love for his dad.

Referring to the “continuous efforts at parental alienation” begun by the boy’s mother and continued by his stepfather and maternal grandparents, and their “attempt to implant false memories and erase Sean’s true memories of his father,” the judge wrote, “It is difficult to conceive of a more dramatic example of emotional abuse of a young child.”

What is self-evident to this judge is incomprehensible to a cadre of naysayers who deny the reality of this form of abuse unless the perpetrator is a violent man. These deniers fear that the term parental alienation is merely a tool for abusive men to deflect blame for their children’s rejection of them. As advocates for victims of domestic violence, they must acknowledge that some men exact revenge against former spouses by poisoning the children’s affections for their mother. When children become alienated from a mother who is a former victim of domestic violence, they call this domestic violence by proxy.

The Goldman case, though, highlights what is wrong with dismissing all cases of parental alienation except those that fit the pattern of violent man against woman. In this case, the perpetrators of the abuse are male and female. Neither has been accused of domestic violence. They have been accused of alienating a boy from his father — parental alienation. And, no court has found that David Goldman is an abuser.

Unless we deny the reality identified by three court-appointed Brazilian psychologists, the Brazilian court, and the New Jersey court, we must conclude that Sean Goldman has been harmed by parental alienation, not by domestic violence by proxy.

Can an abusive parent invoke the concept of parental alienation to blame and discredit a protective parent? Yes. Courts must exercise great care before accepting allegations of alienation as true, or they will mistakenly place children with physically and psychologically abusive parents. But this concern must not keep courts from protecting children against the cruelty of being manipulated to disown a good and loving parent.

Categories: Public Distortion

Another Year of Parental Alienation? Dr. Gardner’s Observations: The Causal Agent & 25 Years of Blame

Another Year of Parental Alienation? Dr. Gardner’s Observations: The Causal Agent & 25 Years of Blame

Twenty five years ago, Dr. Gardner introduced the term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Unfortunately, his contributions and his work have been tainted.  One anecdote is that his findings were only self-published.  Some groups dismiss that Dr. Gardner authored 130 peer-reviewed articles, 19 of his articles related specifically to PAS (Rand, 2011).  Critics assert  the phenomenon has been “debunked.” The critics mistakenly divert to references by advocacy groups, not peer-reviewed studies. They also commonly point out that the American Psychological Association (APA) lacks an “official statement.” A lack of an official statement does not indicate parental alienation ceases to exist.  Even so, the detractors overlook the fact that Dr. Gardner’s work is listed, under “pertinent literature” in the APA’s Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluators.  Making matters worse, his critics do not stop at misrepresenting his contributions to the scientific community; they go further, making PAS synonymous with false allegations of abuse (Rand, 2011). The existence of alienation is not equivalent to a denial of child abuse or intimate partner violence (Fidler & Bala, 2010).

Slanderous opinions about Dr. Gardner are not worth reading. Still,  many groups go out of their way, in the name of so-called women’s advocates, to vilify his work. It is disheartening that facts remain discarded. When facts are ignored, alienated parents and children suffer. There are many views offered, each wearing a unique theoretical lens. Different lens will inevitably provide disparaging observations—some become blinded; others see the light.  Blinded perspectives see parental alienation as a normal by-product of divorce.  Or, others propose that a child “outgrows” parental alienation. The reality is some parents have been alienated for five, ten, or more years. And, as many alienated parents know, many relationships become permanently severed.

 Given that parental alienation is not a new phenomenon, parents remain perplexed.  They wonder why complaints are dismissed.  They waste an inordinate amount of time speculating where they went wrong. Others spend an inordinate amount of money trying to force an ex-spouse to follow ignored court orders. There are many reasons for the delays, such as what to call the problem.  Nevertheless, the biggest obstacle, according to the literature, is that many do not accept Gardner’s position. Dr. Gardner (2001) posited that  the programming parent is primarily responsible for the creation of the disorder in the child, and if the programming did not take place, the disorder would not have arisen. Dr. Gardner found, through observation, that the causal agent is the alienating parent. Some find this view is “too simplistic.”  Consequently, some search for multiple factors wearing a systemic lens; they reason that one parent’s individual mean-spirited antics is not enough to cause an unholy alignment. It appears that a systemic perspective, erroneously blames target parents.

A common sense and less complicated view is offered by Dr. Warshak, in his article, Bringing Sense to Parental Alienation: A Look at the Disputes and Evidence (2003). PAS is described as when a child manifests an unreasonable campaign of denigration against, or rejection of one parent, due to the influence of the other parent, in conjunction with the child’s contributions. The campaign is not an occasional episode, but is instead persistent. Still, many dismiss that children are susceptible to suggestibility. Some believe that a child would not turn against a parent, unless the parent had done something to warrant the rejection. People who deny the existence of unjustified alienation believe that children reject a parent only if that parent has abused, neglected, or mistreated them, or demonstrated excessively poor parenting skills (Warshak, 2010). Denying unjustified alienation is punitive. “The position that irrational alienation does not exist essentially means that all rejected parents deserve what they get” (Warshak, 2003).

  Clearly no fair-minded person blames such hatred on the targets themselves (Warshak). Unfortunately, not everyone is fair-minded. Target parents are blamed, shamed, and depicted as high-conflict bickering parents.  Rejected parents endure multiple failed attempts  trying to work with an ex-spouse that is not reasonable. Warshak (2003) clarifies that some believe the contributions of the favored parent are over-emphasized while others take the position that multiple contributing factors are under-emphasized. This does not mean rejected parents are off the hook, but they are not primarily responsible.

According to Fidler and Bala (2010) rejected parents in an effort to cope may withdrawal or react passively. And, as most alienated parents have not been prepared to deal with the extreme behaviors manifested by alienated children, they may not  know how to respond. Clearly, understanding proper responses will aid rejected parents.  Though, as Dr. Gardner originally noted, if the programming by the alienating parent did not occur in the first place, the disorder would not have arisen (2001). One can infer that a rejected parent’s role, is not one of primary responsibility; it is not knowing how to respond. Without a doubt, proper responses may offset alienation, but it is beneficial to understand exactly what alienated parents have to deal with. Sadly, some rejected parents do not get the chance to counterbalance alienation because their ex-spouse refuses to adhere to the parenting plan.

Studies indicate that rejected parents may be working with an ex-spouse who is malicious and vindictive.  They may feel above the law, be deliberate in their actions, or have a mental illness (Fidler & Bala, 2010). Another example of what alienated parents are up against, is depicted by Jaffe, Ashbourne and Mamo, “Although it may seem heavy handed, some parents will only listen to input from the court.” The reality? Alienating parents do not listen to the court.  Jaffee et al. provided an accurate description when they highlighted, “A minority of parents who suffer from personality and mental disorders may ignore the court and spend their waking hours finding ways to exhaust the other parent emotionally and financially” (2010).  Baker & Darnall (2006) also found support for the alienating parent’s defiance.  In regards to parenting time, the most frequently cited response was that alienating parents did not adhere to court orders. In their study, when the rejected parent would go to pick the child up, neither the favored parent, nor the child would be home. Obviously, when parents do not get to see their children, offsetting alienating tactics are futile.   

As Dr. Gardner noted, “Denying reality is obviously a maladaptive way of dealing with a situation.” The reality? Many are  in denial.  Studies indicate that alienating parents are not going to change.  Alienating parents continue to defy court orders, participate in badmouthing, and intentionally turn an innocent child against the other parent. Consequently, it does not seem fair to blame rejected parents.  Dr. Kelly also offered a similar view to Dr. Gardner, “It is the embattled parent, often the one who opposes the divorce in the first place, who initiates and fuels the alignment (Kelly, 2000).  Jaffe et al.(2010) suggests addressing the conflict between the parents and that an understanding of the underlying cause is vital. To address the conflict, it seems logical that one parent is out right furious because the other will not follow court orders. To address the underlying cause requires the acknowledgment that one of the parents may not have desired the divorce. Or, another underlying cause is a truth of the human condition: some folks are simply mean.

Common sense tells us, if one does not initiate and fuel the alignment, rejected parents would not have to learn proper responses to unwarranted rejection and hatred. For the sake of our children, I pray another 25 years will not pass. Waiting another 25 years believing parental alienation is an abuse excuse, tactic, or cover up will result in unwarranted estrangement.  When the favored parent’s behavior contributes significantly to the children’s negative attitudes, leading authorities in the field label this emotional abuse. Our society’s standard of care regarding abused children is to prioritize protecting them from further abuse (Warshak, 2010).  Our society’s standard of care also, as the norm, does not blame victims.  Without a doubt, not all alienated parents will respond properly at all times. Yet, not all parents have the chance to respond. They try, only to find doors are slammed, letters are returned, or no one is at home.  Thankfully, 2010 provided a lot of helpful tools for rejected parents. It is vital we keep in mind that a less than perfect response to unwarranted rejection, does not make one a poor parent.

Categories: Professionals

Offsetting Parental Alienation: Teenagers & Tactics

Offsetting Parental Alienation: Teens & Tactics By Monika Logan, LBSW   

 Dealing with Parental Alienation is tough. As noted by author of Divorce Poison, Dr. Richard Warshak, alienated parents have to develop a thick skin. There is  not  an easy answer. What works for one situation, will not work for another. Yet, keep in mind that   other disorders  also lack  clear-cut answers. A few contributing  factors are:   personality, temperament and affinity. Still, there are shared commonalities; age counts.  So does time. Time is  vital . The longer a parent hiked on the high-road, the harder the terrain will be. Exhaustion may  arrive–a little too early. Passivity may have replaced healthy activism. While we have not quite resolved the entire issue of PA, silence does not work. Silence (aka the high road) leads to dead ends, long dry spells, and boulders that will knock nearly all parents down—even those with the best preparation & territorial gear.  

 If you are a rejected parent and have contact with your alienated teenager, you probably discovered that reasoning and logic does not work. One tactic that may prove beneficial is your teens’ friends. They may possibly offset the programmed black & white thinking. Get ready. Open up your home. Grab junk food, turn up the latest hip-hop tunes and rent a couple of movies. Love others. While your own kid may dismiss you, other kids will not. In no doubt, your teen might manifest alienated behaviors such as, in your face defiance, destroying property,  or running up your water bill  just for fun;  there is nothing like an outsider thinking you are an okay parent.  

 An un-brainwashed teen frequently detests both their parent’s odd mannerisms. On the other hand, an alienated teen, views one parent as fault- free and the other as appalling. The so-called all bad parent did not have to do anything to deserve their low life status. Similarly, the favored parent did not have to do anything to earn their angelic standing. The truth is, their glorified status was achieved through shoddy tactics such as buying the teen unnecessary items while simultaneously shucking responsibility. The ex-spouse, may also have frequent pity parties making the teen feel guilty. Or, perhaps, allows the teen to blow off parental rules, values and exploit boundaries.    

Rejected parents are painfully aware that PA looks hopeless but it is not. God is bigger than parental alienation. Not long ago, a rejected mother shared what could be called a shock factor. The alienated mother is not perfect. She is average. The mother loves her teen and goes about day to day performing normal parental duties. The difference is, parenting an alienated teen is triple the pressure compared to non-alienated teens. She, like many others, lives with a spy . She also resides with a teen that disrespects her beyond the level of typical teens. One day, like many others, her teen demanded an after school meal, in his normal demeaning tone. Yet this time, the teen had a friend visiting. The mother, astonished, shared a needed assertion. The teen’s friend remarked, “I wish my mom was like yours.” The alienated mother noted that the look on her teens face was priceless. She later noted, she overheard the friend say, “Your mom is nice; you should not be so disrespectful.” And, “is she really as bad as you say?” A seed was planted.  

Without a doubt this mother was pleasantly surprised. Slowly, this mother’s teen left the house for school and actually said have a nice day, vs. slamming the door. Household items were no longer given to the ex spouse. The teen talked a little more, participated in family time, and even said thank you a time or two.  Definitely the teen was still somewhat blinded by the favored parent, but a seed was planted. The rejected parent cannot force an ex-spouse that is clearly capable of responsibility, to grow up. The rejected parent cannot rid their ex-spouses tote bag of entitlement, but it will have less impact. This story demonstrates how typical teen behaviors, such as loud music and asking for extended curfews may evolve.  

Some alienated parents use the aid of family. If the family understands alienation and does not undermine efforts, change is possible. Unfortunately, certain families follow common societal mentality. They mistakenly think if a child rejects a parent, the parent must be at fault. They believe if a teen acts nervous around a rejected parent, the parent must have done something to warrant the anxiety. The family member may, make the situation worse due to a  lack of insight. They fail to realize that if a favored parent has brainwashed a teen (starting at a young age, with the help of extended family) the teen will come to believe mom should be shunned. Accordingly, a fear response  will follow.  An outsider, another  teenager, offers random uncensored comments at unexpected times. Possibly, your teen may be shocked into thinking that maybe, just maybe, both parents are not perfect. And, given enough uncensored and un- planned comments, the teen may start to question the disrespect they dish out and the lie that one-sided family loyalty is necessary. Children should feel free to love both parents without the burden of guilt  or feelings of betrayal.

This article is not intended for any form of advice or therapy.
Categories: Parents

Alienated Parents: The Serenity Prayer, Extended Version for Rejected Parents by Monika

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference

 God I cannot stop  manipulative behavior from an ex-spouse. Neither I nor the courts cannot make my ex-spouse, in the privacy of  (his or her) own home,  stop the chronic denigration. I cannot control the years of emotional abuse my children have endured. I cannot control the distorted black and white thinking my children (or adult children) now have. God they see me as all bad and the other parent as fault free. I only seek balance.  I cannot force my kid(s) to stop telling me they hate me, or what a bad (mom or dad) I am. I am only human. And  God, while I know they have been taught to reject me–the words still hurt. It is painful to hear you are only being used for your money–that you are not loved.

God I am hurt for the life my children could have had. God please give me peace. I try not to worry about their futures, but I do. God please allow for wisdom; open my ex-spouses eyes.  Thinking (he or she) is above the law, by outright defiance of all court orders, does not set a good example for the kids.  God please allow my ex-spouse to see that placing the kids in the middle only hurts them. God please give my kids peace; it is okay to love both parents. God please allow insight; my ex-spouse will not stop telling the kids information that is beyond (his or her)  years to hear.  Some things about a parent, teens should not know.

God please allow my adult child  to see that mocking a parent is not your will.  God please allow for justice. There are times when custody has been placed in the wrong hands. Please give judges the wisdom to know the difference. Please God allow Parental Alienation to be recognized as a serious form of emotional abuse. God it is not good for society when kids defy laws, defy parents and reject extended family–for no good reason. Please God clear the minds of those that do not understand Parental Alienation and allow them to see that it is emotional abuse; it is not to be viewed as a diversionary tactic.

God please provide wisdom to those in positions to help children and families.

Amen

Categories: Parents

Parent Alienation Syndrome: Its Time has come by Dr. Andre

Parent Alienation Syndrome: Its Time has come by Dr. Andre

Posted by Monika Logan, LBSW

Published in The California Psychologist ‐ included with permission from The California Psychologist and was first printed in the Sept/Oct issue 2005.  

Most psychologists agree the least understood ‐‐ and often most destructive ‐‐ type of child abuse is emotional. Considered the most difficult abuse to diagnose and prevent, its scars are not physical but invisible, with profound, far‐reaching consequences. There is growing interest in a less‐well‐known type of emotional child abuse known as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). “PAS is a serious form of child abuse” (Cartwright, 1998) with a general consensus regarding the most prominent behavioral symptoms (Gardner, 1989; Rand, 1997; Darnall, 2001; Kelly and Johnston, 2001; Warshak, 2001; Major, 2004; Andre, 2004) defining the mental illness. This article seeks to increase awareness of PAS as a mental illness form resulting from emotional abuse, and to suggest PAS’ inclusion in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders‐V (DSM‐V).

PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME (PAS)

History

PAS has been referenced by concept in the literature for at least twenty‐five years. Wallerstein and Kelley (1980) first noted a pathological alignment between an angry divorcing parent and his/her child. Gardner (1985) further delineated this problematic alignment as occurring between a brainwashing parent with a contributing child, naming the alignment Parental Alienation Syndrome and articulating its symptoms.

Symptoms and psychological dimensions

In its mildest form, PAS may be observed as a child’s reluctance to visit a parent. In its severest form, PAS children “use extreme oppositional behaviors to reject and denigrate the previously loved parent. … The children’s perceptions are black and white. The targeted parent …is hated for seemingly small or ridiculous reasons” (Andre, 2004). PAS alienators lie about their brainwashing while empowering their children to behave irresponsibly toward the other parent. Alienators attempt to mislead evaluators, using deceitful accusation tactics to deflect intervention. Discerning an alienator’s true intent requires a trained professional. Just as child sexual predators “groom” their child victims, so alienators groom children by testing for compliance. Common themes are the other parent is crazy, bad, or to be feared (Clawar and Rivlin, 1991). The child endures scenarios in which “correct” responses are rewarded and “incorrect” responses punished. Children aligned with alienators are taught to tell half‐truths and lies. Bone and Walsh (1999) state PAS childrens’ lies are “survival strategies that they are forced to learn to …avoid emotional attacks from the alienating parent.” Clawar and Rivlin’s (1991) research indicates alienators use persuasive techniques and brainwashing tools to isolate children from other family members. Alienators promote denial of the child’s other parent by deliberately refusing to acknowledge the other parent at social events or in the child’s presence. Alienators also rewrite history, causing the child to doubt his/her perception of reality, making the child more vulnerable to the alienator’s distortions.

PAS is emotional abuse

Cartwright (1998) stated, “PAS is a serious form of child abuse.” When an alienator isolates a child from another parent through programming techniques and control, harm and symptoms of mental illness result. Emotional abuse results when an alienator controls a child’s beliefs through rejection and fear. Bone and Walsh (1999) state “healthy and established parental relationships do not erode naturally of their own accord. They must be attacked.” It is emotional abuse when an alienating parent attacks the other parent‐child bond intending to destroy it.

Emotional abuse’s consequences

Childhood abuse’s emotional effects are well documented. Consequences include perpetuating abuse into the next generation for those who remain unaware, low self‐esteem, self‐destructive behaviors, anger, aggression, cruelty, depression, anxiety, and post‐traumatic stress. Emotionally abused children affect society’s structure. They risk becoming mentally ill adults who hate, fear, lie, and engage in antisocial behavior. Kraizer (2004) writes, “Evidence is mounting that child mistreatment is the precursor to many of the major social problems in this culture.” The U.S. Advisory Board (1990) suggests our society’s survival depends on protecting children from harm. Clawar and Rivlin’s (1991) research indicates even mild PAS cases need intervention and “have significant effects.” Traditional talk psychotherapies are ineffective in severe cases, which require deprogramming therapies for successful intervention.

Occurrence

Conservatively, there are potentially 50,000 new PAS cases annually with half a million new children under age 18 experiencing or being at risk for PAS (Andre, 2004). Interventions lacking Despite the large number of divorce program interventions available in the literature, few are PASspecific. The number of intervention programs tripled between 1994 and 1999 (Arbuthnot, 2002), suggesting rapidly growing interest in PAS.

PAS AND THE DSMV

One reason for few PAS intervention programs may be its lack of inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM‐IV), an important diagnostic tool for naming disorders, determining differential diagnosis and diagnostic validity, and providing research uniformity. Because PAS is not in the DSM‐IV, there is no uniform diagnostic criteria or even an agreed‐upon name. Rand (1997) pointed out there is a “body of divorce research and clinical writings which, without a name, describe” PAS.

DSM exclusion leads to misunderstanding

PAS’ exclusion is sometimes considered evidence of its nonexistence by those lacking understanding of the DSM’s evolution. Since its first publication in 1952, the DSM has undergone four major revisions, each attempting to reflect the time’s accepted thinking. However, PAS’ exclusion from the DSM does not mean it doesn’t exist (Warshak, 2003).

Its time has come

Cartwright (2002) stated there were “133 peer reviewed articles, and 66 legal citations from courts of law” recognizing PAS. Articles continue to be added to the professional literature; there may already be a comprehensive database from which to answer a DSM‐V workgroup’s questions.

Conclusion

PAS is a form of child abuse with potentially severe consequences. A substantial body of peerreviewed literature indicates PAS is a valid and distinct disorder. Inclusion in the DSM‐V would provide the legitimacy PAS warrants, and clarify the conceptual framework, as well as the psychological and behavioral dimensions for diagnosis, research and treatment. The American Psychiatric Association DSM‐V Prelude Project committee has a website, http://www.dsm5.org/Pages/Default.aspx, for the user community to submit suggestions for the next DSM. We must ensure our nomenclature systems reflect current understanding of mental illness by asking a workgroup review PAS for inclusion in the DSM‐V.

References

Arbuthnot, J. (2002). A call unheeded: Courts’ perceived obstacles to establishing divorce educationprograms. Family Court Review, 40,371‐382.

Andre, K. (2004). Parental alienation syndrome. Annals of The American Psychotherapy Association, 7, 7‐11.

Bone, J.M. and Walsh, M.R. (1999). Parental alienation syndrome: How to detect it and what to do about it. The Florida Bar Journal. 73.44‐48 [Retrieved electronically;

http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/pas/walsh99.htm.

Cartwright, C. (1998). Brief to the special joint committee on child custody and access. [Retrieved from] http://www.education.mcgill/ ca/profs/cartwright/papers/pasbrf01.htm.

Cartwright (2002). The changing face of parental alienation. Paper presented at the symposium: the parliamentary report for the sake of the children. Ottawa.

Clawar, S. and Rivlin, B. (1991). Children Held Hostage. Chicago: American Bar Association.

Darnall, D. (1998). Divorce Casualties.Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing.

Duryee, M. (2003). Expected Controversies: Legacies of Divorce. Journal for the Center for Families,Children and the Courts. 149‐160.

Gardner, R. (1985). Recent trends in divorce and custody litigation. Academy Forum. 29, 3‐7.

Gardner, R. (1989). Family evaluation in child custody, medication, arbitration, and litigation.

Cresskill, N.J.: Creative Therapeutics.

Gardner (2001). The empowerment of children in the development of parental alienation syndrome. [Retrieved electronically; http://rgardner.com/refs/arl4.lml%5D.

Kelly, J. and Johnston, J. (2001). The alienated child: A reformulation of parental alienation syndrome. Family Court Review. 39, 249‐266.

Kraizer, Sherryll (2004). Online; http://www.safechild.org/abuse.htm.

Major, J.A. (2003). Parents who have successfully fought parent alienation. [Retrieved electronically; http://www.breakthroughparenting.com/PAS.htm.1‐15.

Rand, D. (1997). The spectrum of parental alienation syndrome (part I). American Journal of Forensic Psychology. 20,5‐29.

Wallerstein, J. and Kelly, J. (1980). Surviving the break‐up: How children and parents cope with divorce. NY: Basic Books.

Warshak, R. (2001). Divorce Poison. NY: Regan Books.

Warshak, R. (2003).Bringing sense to parental alienation. Family Law Quarterly, 37, 273‐301.

About the author

Dr. Katherine C. Andre is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Lakeport. She chairs the Lake County Mental Health Advisory Board, is a Diplomat in The American Psychotherapy Association and in Division 12 of The American Psychological Association. For 10 years she worked as a Lake County Superior Court family mediator, where she encountered PAS firsthand.

Categories: Parents

Parental Alienation: Refined, Reformulated & Rationalized: You Might Be An Average, Okay Normal Parent.

Parental Alienation: Refined, Reformulated & Rationalized: You Might Be An Average, Okay Normal Parent.

Pray for Alienated Children and their ParentsIt is an unfortunate time we are in when mental abuse of children remains disregarded. Parental Alienation has been described in the literature for at least 60 years (Bernet, 2008). I hope that for the sake of children all over the world, another 60 years will not pass.  The media has distorted Parental Alienation; extremist groups have made attempts to divide the issue into gender wars. I agree with Fidler & Bala (2010), “…the feminist advocates who, in the name of helping women, deny that alienation exists, do a disservice to not only the many mothers who are unjustifiably alienated from their children, and often by abusive men, but more importantly do a disservice to the children.”Probably the nastiest misrepresentations are those that relate Parental Alienation solely to the person who coined the term, Dr. Gardner.  

It is regrettable that many cannot read past Gardner’s finding during the tender year’s presumption and his studies of high-conflict custody cases. It is also fateful that there is not a consensus among professionals; nevertheless, I concur with Bernet (2008) that the proposal should not be rejected due to a lack of consensus. He notes that, “the history of psychology and psychiatry is full of disagreements over causation.” Luckily, there is an agreement that parent-child alienation is a common and serious problem for some [italics added] separating parents (Jaffe, Ashbourne, & Mamo, 2010). This group designated as “some”, is the group I would clearly identify as high conflict. According the Center for Divorce Education, this group of divorcing parents consists of 10%. These authors also point out, that the current debate is centered on extreme cases. Commons sense tells us these extreme cases merit attention. It seems reasonable that Parental Alienation is considered “high-conflict.” I am not aware personally, or in literature reviews, of divorced couples that co-parent affectionately while simultaneously slandering each other in the presence of their children.

Out of a response to criticism, Parental Alienation has been refined, reformulated, and at times, rationalized. I am appreciative that professionals in the field are working on this dreadful issue. Nevertheless, in light of all the connotations, an extensive review of the literature reveals that Parental Alienation has been conceptualized similarly by different researchers. Although, as a caveat, most do not openly acknowledge their findings are analogous to Gardner’s. Parental Alienation, as described by Wallerstein & Kelly (1976), is when a child living with one parent who irrationally rejects the other parent and refuses to visit or have contact with that other parent .Explanations come back to Gardner’s original definition of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Gardner in 1985 discussed this high-conflict group and noted, “It is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming parent’s indoctrination and the child’s own contribution to the vilification of the target parent.”  And here is where the problem begins. All of these conceptualizations’ entail what many consider as black and white thinking.  

Is irrational alienation possible? Is it probable for one parent to trigger a campaign against an ex-spouse and align his or her child? According to Fidler and Bala (2010)”this is not an either/or proposition; there are abused children and there are alienated children.” The authors additionally note that to portray rejected parents as victims is to resist “scrutiny of the conduct of these parents.” Clearly, I agree there are alienated children and abused children. And, I suggest, that both issues  should be taken very seriously. These issues however are separate considerations. True abuse and neglect should be ruled out before giving a diagnosis of parental alienation disorder. Gardner and other researches include criteria for differentiating between Parental Alienation and Bona Fide abuse-neglect. It seems likely that experts can differentiate between abuse and Parental Alienation. “Gardner’s definition is clear enough for psychologists to reliably diagnose PAS from case examples” (Rueda, 2004). It also is possible that one parent can develop animosity because of the input from one parent. Without a doubt, …”[sic] it is common for each parent to express negative sentiments about the other parent…” (Fidler & Bala, 2010). However, I think it is possible that one parent can vent to a friend, counselor, or another adult while the alienating parent “expresses negative sentiments about the other parent to the child.” Who do you vent to?

Clearly, educational efforts are needed as some parents do not know that voicing frustrations to their child may not be in their best interests. On the other hand, there are actually parents who appreciate that disparaging remarks about an ex-spouse is not a good idea. But, we ponder, let us get the bottom of our ex-spouses pain, “The real issue which needs to be addressed is the conflict between the parents that prevents the children from enjoying a meaningful relationship with each of their parents post separation” (Jaffe, Ashbourne, & Mamo, 2010). I do not know about the reader, but to get to the bottom of my ex-spouses anger, I would have had to stay married.   Some parents cannot move on past the pain of a divorce, “It is the embattled parent, often the one who opposes the divorce in the first place, who initiates and fuels the alignment (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). What about you, do you as a rejected parent have serious parenting deficits? No worries, you may be average with regular parenting faults, similar to the married population that regularly making parenting mistakes.

Is it not possible that the parent who opposes the divorce could start a campaign of denigration? I know when I initiated my divorce, I was told, “if you leave I will make your life a living hell.”  It is also an immense error to assume that all rejected parents cannot be victims. To think that all rejected parents must have played a role, renders that rejected parents get what they deserve. (Warshak, 2003).  Intent or no intent, some parents spew venomous words and poison the mind of his or her child. I agree that some parents could benefit from parenting educational programs that teaches about children’s developmental stages, birth order, gender identification and the adverse outcome of badmouthing. As a caveat; one has to care. Kelly (2010) points out, favored parents often are noncompliant with court orders. What about your ex-spouse, does he or she comply with court orders? Should valuable workshops that offer services to severely alienated children offer programs for the favored parent? According to Warshak & Otis (2010), favored parents often deny they have a problem [sic] and are unmotivated to change. Years ago after my divorce, I suggested joint counseling, but the suggestion was ridiculed.  What about your ex-spouse? Do they want [italics added] to change?

Do not be surprised if you ex-spouse does not change nor desire to change. A shrewd college professor recently reminded me, of the old adage; leopards do not change their spots. Findings indicate this may be true. As noted by Jaffe et al. (2010), “a minority of parents who suffer from personality and mental disorders may ignore the court and spend their waking hours finding ways to exhaust the other parent emotionally and financially.”  If you are a target parent hope remains. Some research indicates that being an adequate loving parent might be good enough. It may be that rejected parents simply have a difficult ex-spouse. And do not worry; you may also be psychologically healthy (although, getting a little mad at this point is understandable). Contrary to what might easily be assumed by professionals, findings by Hedrick & Dunne, (1994) suggest that PAS does not necessarily signify dysfunction in the rejected parent.  Gordon, Stoffey & Bottinelli (2008) also had comparable findings. They noted that target parents were similar in dynamics to an “average parent”. Target parents,   if you find yourself distressed by your children refusing visitation, sudden hatred, or reporting ideas and notions beyond their years; you may be normal.

There is power in hope; and in knowing you are not alone.  “We consider Parental Alienation Syndrome as a childhood disorder caused by an alienating parent…” (Gordon et. al). Lastly, the magnification of this problem is realized, “if a child begins to develop racial hatred, many reasonable people would consider this a problem worthy of attention. When children suffer from irrational anxieties that interfere with functioning we do not ignore the suffering with the hope that eventually the fears will be overcome” (Warshak, 2003). Once I was reminded that hatred by a child towards one parent is similar to prejudice, and that parental alienation is a social problem.   Divorce is a social problem; creating and instilling fear in the hearts and minds of innocent children and turning them against a once-loved parent is pathological. Which lens do you wear? As I recall, not all social problems resolve without intervention. And please, do not think silence is always golden. Nor is it helpful to count on your case of Parental Alienation resolving by the time your child turns 18; this may not be the case. The fact is, some social problems are internalized [italics added] and subsequently develop into disorders. Without recognition and intervention, Parental Alienation will adversely affect generations to come.

Categories: Parents
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