Parental Alienation: Drama, Distress & Demise
Parental alienation & Drama
Recently, the phenomenon of Parental alienation aired on the Dr. Phil show. “It’s been called the ultimate form of child abuse –parents brainwashing their children against an ex-spouse in order to win custody. Could you be harming your child emotionally and not even know it? For 12 years, Chrissy and her ex-husband, Dennis, have been embroiled in a nasty custody battle for their two children. Dennis says that Chrissy badmouths him and his new wife, Gina, to their children and even took out a protective order against him, while Chrissy feels that her ex is an extreme disciplinarian who is teaching their kids to be pathological liars. Areva Martin, attorney and women’s advocate, examines Chrissy’s legal position, while Lisa Bloom, CBS legal analyst, weighs in on Dennis’ side. Will the parents reach a truce for the sake of their kids, or will they continue to battle it out in court? Plus, Dr. Phil speaks to former guest Bridget Marks, who made headlines when she had to hand over her twin daughters to their biological father after a court ruled that she falsely accused him of molestation. “
Parental Alienation is an insidious form of emotional abuse. It has been unrecognized too long. It has also been suggested , that it is nothing more than a diversionary ploy. Media distortions and certain groups cannot grasp that parental alienation is a real crisis. Stating one believes this is a genuine form of emotional abuse, does not suggest that issues of domestic violence and sexual abuse should be taken lightly. Screening tools and well-trained psychologists with extensive experience can rule out physical and sexual abuse before considering parental alienation. Polarization is neither necessary nor helpful. Nonetheless the importance of this phenomenon are emotionally bruised children.
My heart broke watching the show. I cannot begin to imagine how the children feel. Children placed in the middle of hostile exchanges will not adjust well to their parents divorce. Should this situation between the parents not resolve, the children’s emotional well-being will deteriorate. However, while this case is disheartening; it does not represent the horrific outcome of many other alienated children and their families. I would like the think the issue can be resolved. However, it is time for a reality check. Many cases of parental alienation continue for 10 years or more post-divorce. Surprisingly, the parents may never exchange hostile words again, once the divorce is finalized. Instead, one parent decides to use the child as a pawn, friend, and sounding board.
First off, the show depicted two couples in hostile disagreement. Also, the number of court appearances was striking. As a caveat, not all cases of parental alienation consist of disputing couples or multiple court appearances. This is a view popularized by television and some celebrity divorces. Some families do not have the funding. Other families, that do have the money, realize that court is adversarial and orders are not upheld, such as visitation etc. (see Dr. Baker’s study, Even When You Win You Lose, 2010 and Baker & Darnall, 2006). Consequently, some alienated parents give up on getting help and they take what many call “the high road.” Taking the high road translates to becoming the better person. The high road also entails significant consequences– the demise of a parent’s child.
If taking the high-road, as this show portrayed, is to stay out of court (as multiple court battles are frowned upon) then one parent, in some cases will continue to defy court orders. They will not adhere to drop off times, visitation, shared parenting etc. This too is supported by countless studies. One parent may not cease denigrating the other, within an ear shot of a child. Constant denigration leads to enormous stress in the child. Parental Alienation is not always about two-sided strife. It is about the brainwashing of a child.
Sure, many ridicule this notion.They claim “brainwashing” is absurd. However, pause for a moment and think of a child’s suggestibility (view the Sam Stone Study). Given that adults enter cults or join extremist groups, it is comprehensible that a child may become susceptible. Some children can no longer tolerate the emotional tug of war and may side with one parent, ultimately severing all ties. In turn, the child comes to believe and live a lie. They are taught to hate a parent for irrational reasons. The outcome: estrangement. The issue with this line of thinking, is that it goes against our taught reasoning: if a child hates a parent, the parent had to do something wrong.
Lastly, no one is exempt from this occurring in his or her family. There are psychologists, counselors, attorneys, social workers and other professionals that are alienated and estranged from their children. I might add, many which have extensive training in parenting classes, parenting education and conflict resolution. If one decides to divorce and the other parent cannot come to terms, no one should be so arrogant to think that their ex-spouse would not result to revenge by using the children to regain power and control. Many children are suffering from parental alienation. And, some parents want help for their children. It is simplistic and single-minded to think “if both parents would just get along.” Idealistic, sure; Realistic, no. We all know there are people out there that simply do not care and they will not change. Helping children, not forcing parents to change (the ones that do not desire to change) is the only viable option.