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The Spectrum of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PART II) by Dr. Deirdre Rand

AMERICAN JOURNAL OF FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY, VOLUME 15, NUMBER 4, 1997

THE SPECTRUM OF PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME (PART II)
(First of 3 HTML files)
Forensic Psychologist, Deirdre Conway, Rand, PhD

This three-part article reviews the literature on the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) as formulated by Dr. Richard Gardner and seeks to integrate his work with research on high conflict divorce and the work of other professionals in this arena. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a distinctive form of high conflict divorce in which the child becomes aligned with one parent and preoccupied with unjustified and/or exaggerated denigration of the other, target parent. In severe cases, the child’s once love-bonded relationship with the target/rejected parent is destroyed. Part II begins with sections on the child in PAS, the target/alienated parent and the third parties who become involved, including family, friends, lawyers, mental health professionals, and sometimes cults. The material presented on PAS in the legal arena is devoted to what attorneys and judges have to say about PAS, which can be a key issue in certain depend ency and criminal proceedings, as well as in family law court. The discussion of forensic evaluations and PAS includes contributions by custody evaluators and others who recommend considering PAS as a possible explanation when child sex abuse is alleged in certain contexts. Case vignettes in Part II illustrate psychological maltreatment of the child in severe PAS, a case in which Child Protective Services was mobilized to bring pressure on the alienating parent to reverse the PAS, and the use of PAS testimony in criminal proceedings against a falsely accused parent. Part III will be devoted to interventions in PAS, including some difficult but effective interventions implemented by the author, her husband, Randy Rand, Ed.D., and a team of interveners, including the judge and guardian ad litem.

The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) as formulated by Gardner involves a cluster of child symptoms in divorce. Gardner views these as a syndrome because of the number of cases in which these symptoms share a common underlying etiology. This is a combination of the alienating parent’s influence and the child’s active contributions to the campaign of denigration against the alienated/target parent. The term PAS does not applywhen children of divorce become alienated from a parent for reasons such as a parent’s lack of interest in or rejection of the child; significant deficits in a rejected parent’s functioning which may not rise to the level of abuse; or the child being subjected to bona fide parental abuse or neglect. These situations should be given the generic label of parent-child alienation. The Parental Alienation Syndrome as conceived of by Gardner is a type of parent-child alienation but warrants a special descriptive term. The benefit of using Gardner’s terminology is that, where the facts of a given case support a diagnosis of PAS, there is a body of knowledge regarding which legal and therapeutic interventions are likely to be effective.

Part I of this article, published in a previous issue of the American Journal of Forensic Psychology (Volume 15, issue 3, 1997), outlined Gardner’s formulation of PAS, discussed the contemporary social context in which his ideas arose, and described the features of PAS which, especially in more serious cases, make it a distinctive form of high conflict divorce. The studies reviewed in Part I included a large scale research project by Clawar and Rivlin, which was commissioned by the American Bar Association Section on Family Law (1). Clinical studies of PAS by Dunne and Hedrick (2), Lund (3) and Cartwright (4) were also discussed. Two case vignettes were presented, one in which the mother was the alienating parent and the other with the father in that role. Part I concluded with a section on parents who induce alienation, utilizing divorce research and the work of mental health professionals who deal with divorce families in the forensic arena. Part II begins with the child.

THE CHILD IN PAS

Children of Divorce

Most children and adolescents of divorce are eager to have an ongoing relationship with both parents. In a nonclinical sample of 131 children from 60 divorce families, the majority of children were eager to visit their noncustodial fathers and often wanted more time than the usual every other-weekend allowed (5). This finding held at follow-ups 18 months and 5 years later. For children whose fathers did not take much of an interest in them, their longing for both parents was very painful. Where the father did take an interest, 20 percent of children were in considerable conflict about visiting and 11 percent were genuinely reluctant to visit, most notably those who were between 9 and 12 years of age. Nineteen percent of the children who were reluctant or refusing to visit were aligned with one parent in actively doing battle against the other parent. Children in these alignments came to share the views and outrage of the parent with whom the child identified, often the parent who felt abandoned and rejected in the divorce. These children rejected the parent who was perceived as deserting the family, despite a previously close, loving relationship with that parent. Children in alignments were found to be less psychologically healthy than those whose divorce adjustment allowed them to maintain their affection for both parents.

Children’s Alignments in High Conflict Families

Johnston and Campbell’s research on divorce families in high conflict for three years or more found a measurable degree of alignment between children and one parent in 35 percent to 40 percent of children from-7 to 14 years of age (6). Similar ratios were obtained by Lampel, who studied latency-age children participating in custody evaluations ( 7). Comparing aligned children with non-aligned children, Lampel found that the aligned children tested as angrier, less well adjusted, and less able to conceptualize complex situations. They expressed greater self confidence, however, possibly reflecting the relief obtained by opting for a simplified, relatively black-and-white solution, as opposed to feeling “caught in the middle” of parental conflicts. Published in 1996, this article of Lampel refers to Gardner’s work on PAS.

Children Who Reject One Parent

Ten years earlier, Lampel reported on 18 consecutively referred high conflict divorce families, including a group of children who actively rejected one parent (8). In these seven cases, the rejected parent was the father. Lampel found the child’s lack of normal ambivalence noteworthy in these seven cases and further observed intense collusion between mother and child. Lampel implemented a family intervention strategy which treated these children’s reactions as a phobia with hysterical features. One child who was placed with the rejected parent for six to eight weeks while Lampel worked intensively with all family members reported a marked reduction in symptomatology. Of the remaining cases treated with phobia reduction techniques, results ranged from minor improvement to deterioration. In the three cases where intervention clearly failed, Lampel concluded it was because the mother’s collusive involvement with the child was too strong.

Children Who Refuse Visitation

According to Johnston in 1993, “It is surprising that such a perplexing and serious problem as children’s refusal to visit has received so little systematic attention by researchers” (9; p. 110). In a study focused specifically on this problem, Johnston recognized Gardner’s work on PAS. Results of research by Johnston and her colleagues led to the conclusion that children’s resistance or refusal to visit a nonresidential parent after separation and divorce is an overt behavioral symptom that can have its roots in multiple and often interlocking psychological, developmental and family systemic processes. Clawar and Rivlin articulated similar findings in their study published two years earlier (1).

Developmental Issues of Children Who Refuse Visitation

Analysis of data from 70 high conflict divorce families enabled Johnston and her colleagues to identify specific developmental issues for each age group which can impact children’s reluctance and refusal to visit. Emotional disturbance of the primary parent, usually the mother, was found to exacerbate developmental effects. For 2- to 3-year-olds, age appropriate separation anxiety from the mother was found to be a factor in resistance to visitation. In normal development, children this age have not yet developed an internalized image of the primary parent figure.

Their sense of time is not yet sufficiently developed for them to understand that they will be getting back to the primary parent within a comfortable time frame. Parents may blame each other when children this age display resistance to visitation, even though such problems may be due in part to developmental factors.

Johnston found that 3 to 6 year-old children in high conflict divorce tended to shift their allegiances depending on which parent they were with. This may contribute to children’s difficulty in transitioning from one home to another. Normally, children in this age group have not yet learned to entertain two conflicting points of view. As a result, when the child is told in mother’s home that father does not provide enough money, the child will temporarily align with mother. The child will shift allegiance to father when told in his home that mother just wastes the money. Children from 3-6 years of age become easily confused and can readily excite concern and chaos by telling different stories to each parent. In addition, the normal course of development is for children’s preferences to shift back and forth from one parent to the other as they grow older and sort out their gender identity. Children in the 3-6 age range experience a strong drive to align with the opposite sex parent and to compete with and to exclude the same sex parent. In divorce, the young child’s developmentally normal fantasies about eliminating the same sex parent may be fulfilled. This creates intense guilt and anxiety for the child, which can contribute to resistance to visitation.

Children of divorce in the 6- to 7-year age range are more likely to suffer from loyalty conflicts, and to be concerned about hurting their parents. Such conflicts reflect the normal child’s growing sense of morality and capacity to see things from the viewpoint of another. Children 7 to 9 years of age have begun to develop the capacity to imagine how their parents view them and to experience the cognitive dissonance of their parents’ conflicting views. There may be a growing need to resolve such conflicts because children in this age range experience the loyalty conflicts of divorce more acutely.

High conflict divorce children in the 9- to 12-year-old group are particularly vulnerable to forming strong, PAS type alignments with one parent, as they try to “resolve” their earlier loyalty conflicts. Johnston noted that adults also tended to expect more of children this age, viewing them as “old enough to take a stand” in parental disputes. Forty-three percent of these children were in strong alignments and 29 percent in mild alignments. According to Johnston, these figures approach Gardner’s estimate that 90 percent of the children he has assessed in custody evaluations exhibit varying degrees of PAS. Johnston found that in some cases, parent-child alignments often continue for several years into mid-adolescence. As teenagers, some aligned youngsters develop the capacity to take a more objective, independent stance. However, a significant proportion of high conflict divorce children are unable to withdraw from the parental fights and maintain their stance of rejection and denigration toward the target parent throughout adolescence.

Strong Alignments

Johnston found that 28 to 43 percent of the 9- to 12-year-olds were in what she termed “strong alignments,” characterized by consistent rejection and denigration of the other parent (9). Children tended to make stronger alliances with the more emotionally dysfunctional parent, who was more likely to be the mother. In Impasses of Divorce, Johnston described children in strong alignments as forfeiting their childhood by merging psychologically with a parent who was raging, paranoid, or sullenly depressed (6). Factors within the child which contributed to the formation of strong alignments were found to be: 1) need to protect a parent who was decompensating, depressed, panicky or needy; 2) need to avoid the wrath or rejection of a powerful, dominant parent (often the custodial parent on whom the child was dependent; and 3) need to hold onto the parent the child was most afraid of losing, for example, a parent who was too self-absorbed or who was only casually involved with the child.

Extreme Alignments

Among children who were refusing visitation, Johnston identified a particularly troubled group of children whom she described as being in “extreme alignments”(9). In her most recent book, she and Roseby reserved Gardner’s label “parent alienation syndrome” for these cases (10). Children in extreme alignments were more likely to be viewed as disturbed by parents, teachers and clinicians (9). These children exhibited bizarre and sometimes destructive behavior. They were more likely to display unintegrated, chaotic attitudes with few workable defenses. Often the child’s negative interpretation and distortions of the target parent’s character and behavior were found to have a bizarre quality (6, 9). The case vignette of Mr. and Mrs. C in Part (I) I described how the behavior of their daughter, V, became increasingly bizarre and self-destructive especially after her father gained sole custody in dependency court based on false allegations of sexual abuse against Mrs. C’s new husband.

Pseudologia Fantastica

Once separated from her mother, V’s stories of abuse by her stepfather became more numerous and improbable, including charges of repeated rape although the gynecological exam was normal. Bernet suggested that. the century-old conceptof pseudologia fantastica is one explanation for elaborate, implausible, untruthful reports of abuse (11). Children who exhibit pseudologia fantastica, represent certain fantasies as if they were actual occurrences, although there is little or no reality basis for these stories. Ditrich posited that children who engage in pseudologia fantastica do so in order to defend against the pain of an unbearable, present reality (12). V engaged in pseudologia fantastica in part to cope with the unbearable loss of her mother, who had been the primary parent. Her father, Mr. C was so driven by his need for revenge against V’s mother that he encouraged and reinforced V’s use of pseudologia fantastica instead of providing reality testing.

Failed Separation-Individuation

In a recent book chapter entitled “Parental Alignments and Alienation Among Children of High Conflict Divorce,” Johnston and Roseby opined, “Rather than seeing this syndrome as being induced in the child by an alienating parent, as Gardner does, we propose that these ‘unholy alliances’ are a later manifestation of the failed separation-individuation process in especially vulnerable children who have been exposed to disturbed family relationships during their early years” (10; p. 202). These disturbed family relationships are viewed as the byproduct of interparental conflict and narcissistic disturbance of one or both parents. These authors hypothesize that the more extreme forms of parent alienation in early adolescence have their roots in failed separation-individuation from the alienating parent during the earliest years of the child’s life. This developmental failure adversely affects the young person’s life and developing sense of self. The most important ingredient in certain severe parental alienation cases, according to Johnson and Roseby, is the child’s vulnerability and receptivity to the alienating parent, rather than “conscious, pernicious brainwashing” by an embittered parent.

In contrast to this view, mental health professionals practicing in the forensic arena often find evidence of substantial volitional activity on the part of the alienating parent in severe PAS. For example, in the case of Mr. and Mrs. L in Part I, the custody evaluator and others observed that the mother timed her suspected abuse report to authorities in such a way as to prevent father’s visitation from going forward. Mrs. L was also observed to make denigrating remarks about Mr. L in front of the child. Whether or not these behaviors were “conscious”or “unconscious,” Mrs. L was the person responsible for them and they did impact the child’s relationship with the father.

Important Deviations From Usual Developmental Trends

When children who are resistant to visitation deviate from usual developmental trends, it is important to evaluate and understand the reason. Children who form consistent alignments with an alienating parent may never have separated psychologically from that parent (9, 10). Examples of this are described by Dunne and Hedrick in their study of 16 severe PAS families (2), which was reviewed in Part I. There are a variety of contributing factors to children forming strong parent-child alignments before the highest risk period of 9 to 12 years of age. These factors include: 1) a failed separation-individuation process between parent and child; 2) intense parental pressure; 3) a child with precocious cognitive development who is more sensitive and vulnerable to parental conflict. Children can become aligned with one parent even though there is relatively little overt conflict and estrangement between the parents (9). Seemingly mild and subtle forms of parental influence can have significant effects, according to Clawar and Rivlin (1).

Child’s Active Contributions in PAS

The fact that Gardner identifies the child as an active participant in the PAS is sometimes overlooked. Active contributions by the child can be part of an effort to take care of an angry, disturbed, or otherwise troubled parent with whom the child is aligned.

Some PAS children manipulate conflicts between the parents for the feeling of power it gives them in the divorce family situation which is otherwise beyond their control. Young adolescents in search of greater freedom may amplify their complaints about a stricter parent to the more per missive one, capitalizing on the permissive parent’s eagerness for validation of his or her fixed negative view of the other parent. This reinforces the permissive parent’s inability to contain the child and exacerbates acting out behavior. Regardless of the relative contributions to the PAS by the alienating parent or the aligned child, a mutually reinforcing feedback loop may develop which is resistant to outside influence and to reality testing. A self generating “brainwashing “process results.

In Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) involving older children, it is the parent who originally initiated the child’s factitious illness or victimization. In the context of a continued symbiotic parent/child relation ship, older children may then learn to set up this situation themselves, producing factitious symptoms which induce a complicitous response from the MSP parent (13). Similarly, in moderate to severe PAS, children may learn to get their needs met by fabrication and manipulation. Where there is a particularly enmeshed relationship between the aligned parent and child, the child’s legitimate strivings for autonomy are continually under mined.

The Overburdened Child

Divorce almost inevitably burdens children with greater responsibilities and makes them feel less cared for. Children of chronically troubled parents bear a greater burden. They are more likely to find themselves alone and isolated in caring for a disorganized, alcoholic, intensely dependent, physically ill, or chronically enraged parent. The needs of the troubled parent override the developmental needs of the child, with the result that the child becomes psychologically depleted and their own emotional and social progress is crippled. Wallerstein and Blakeslee used the term “overburdened child”to describe this problem (14). Wallerstein has encountered PAS [personal communication to the author, 1991], but she prefers to conceptualize it from the “overburdened child”framework.

The Psychologically Battered Child

According to Garbarino, et al., psychological maltreatment of children is more likely to occur in families where the atmosphere is one of stress, tension and aggression (15), an apt description of high conflict divorce. The Psychologically Battered Child, published in 1988, does not mention divorce directly but uses such terms as “marital discord”and “family breakdown.” The special problems of children of divorce are more fully recognized in a subsequent book by Garbarino and Stott, in which Gardner’s work is cited numerous times, including his work on PAS (16).

According to Garbarino et al., psychological maltreatment can be viewed as a pattern of adult behavior which is psychologically destructive to the child, sabotaging the child’s normal development of self and social competence (15). Five types of psychological maltreatment identified by Garbarino et al. are adapted for PAS and described below:

1) Rejecting – The child’s legitimate need for a relationship with both parents is rejected. The child has reason to fear rejection and abandonment by the alienating parent if positive feelings are expressed about the other parent and the people and activi ties associated with that parent.

2) Terrorizing – The child is bullied or verbally assaulted into being terrified of the target parent. The child is psychologically brutalized into fearing contact with the target parent and retribution by the alienating parent for any positive feelings the child might have for the other parent. Psychological abuse of this type may be accompanied by physical abuse.

3) Ignoring – The parent is emotionally unavailable to the child, leading to feelings of neglect and abandonment. Divorced parents may selectively withhold love and attention from the child, a subtler form of rejecting which shapes the child’s behavior.

4) Isolating- The parent isolates the child from normal opportuni ties for social relations. In PAS, the child is prevented from participating in normal social interactions with the target parent and relatives and friends on that side of the family. In severe PAS, social isolation of the child sometimes extends beyond the target parent to any social contacts which might foster autonomy and independence.

5) Corrupting-The child is missocialized and reinforced by the alienating parent for lying, manipulation, aggression toward others or behavior which is self destructive. In PAS with false allegations of abuse, the child is also corrupted by repeated in volvement in discussions of deviant sexuality regarding the target parent or other family and friends associated with that parent. In some cases of severe PAS, the alienating parent trains the child to be an agent of aggression against the target parent, with the child actively participating in deceits and manipulations for the purpose of harassing and persecuting the target parent. This is particularly likely to occur in what Turkat called Divorce Related Malicious Parent Syndrome (17, 18).

Psychological maltreatment can be mild, moderate or severe. Effects on the child may vary according to the child’s age, temperament and ability to access social support.

Children who have been psychologically maltreated by the primary caretaker on whom they depend are more likely to exhibit a variety of psychological and social handicaps. These make them vulnerable to detrimental outside influences. A case of psychological mal treatment by the alienating parent is illustrated below.

Case Vignette of Psychological Maltreatment in Severe PAS

 

At 13, S was a socially isolated girl who believed she was stupid. She spent recesses alone because the other kids did not accept her. She got “D “grades in school. For as long as she could remember, her mother told S she was incompetent and unlivable. S’s mother would tell her, “Even your baby half sister is smarter than you are “. S hadn’t seen her father in 10 years. Her parents separated when she was only a few months old. Her father quickly found a new partner and remarried. Although S’s mother tried to stop father’s contact with the girl, father and his new wife visited with S regularly until she was three. At that time, mother was successful in persuading child protective services to stop the visitation based on allegations of sexual abuse.

Father turned to the family court for help. A custody evaluation was conducted which exonerated the father of abuse charges and indicated that the mother was using the abuse allegations to prevent the child from having a relationship with her father. After several years of family law litigation, the judge ordered reunification and appointed a reunification therapist. For the next three years, the efforts of the reunification therapist and family court mediator were thwarted by the mother. Father became depressed and entered individual therapy.

A break in the case came when S’s father was referred to a PAS expert for consultation. The family mediator, reunification therapist and the court were interested in the expert’s input. The judge ordered mother and daughter to meet with father’s PAS expert to facilitate the father/daughter reunification. The court also threatened mother with sanctions when she refused to cooperate with the reunification plan. The reunification team, which now in cluded a guardian ad litem for the child, planned to gradually reacquaint S with her father. The more gradual approach proved unsuccessful. The child remained hostile and staunchly aligned with her mother.

The team agreed that a different approach was needed. The PAS expert held a meeting with S and the reunification therapist. The expert established rapport with S, who was guarded but responsive. He asked S questions and gave her information which made her curious about her father. S indicated that she was interested in exploring the contradiction between her belief that father molested her and her lack of any actual memories of molestation. This opened the door for the expert to provide age appropriate education about the concepts of thought reform and “brainwashing”, as well as the problem of “false positives” when abuse is alleged. S was surprised and pleased that the expert thought her smart enough to learn about these adult concepts. For the first time, she indicated she was willing to participate in a meeting with her father.

Despite mother’s continued efforts to interfere, a one day visit between S and her father went forward when S was 13. The team agreed that the PAS expert should be present at father’s house. The girl was thrilled by the interest shown in her by her father and step mother, whose desire to please her contrasted sharply with how her mother treated her. The expert had to intervene once when father and stepmother set reasonable limits and S exploded. When the reunification plan called for overnight visits to begin, S’s court ordered individual therapist gave the girl her pager number, with instructions to call day or night if problems arose. S called to say that she didn’t want to go back to her mother’s. The therapist then had to set limits with S, reminding her that everyone, including S, had to adhere to the parameters of the reunification plan.

S encountered intense anger from her mother each time she returned home. One day, S took the risk of telling her mother that she wanted a relationship with her father. Mother slapped S and told the girl that she hated her and that the rest of mother’s family hated S, too. In spite of mother’s efforts to punish and intimidate S, the girl’s relationship with her father and stepmother grew and the girl began to blossom. For the first time, S began receiving above average marks in school. She made friends and became involved with a boyfriend. Mother tried to persuade S to get pregnant so that mother could have the baby. When S was at her father’s, mother maintained secret contact with her, encouraging S’s impulsive, angry outbursts and telling her daughter to run away, which S did several times. As time went by, the reunification team and the court recognized that mother’s treatment of S amounted to serious psychological abuse, interspersed with episodes of physical abuse.

Mother refused to participate in treatment or otherwise modify her behavior and the court eventually gave custody to the father. In defiance of court orders, mother continued her secret undermining of S’s placement with the father until S had a mental breakdown and had to be hospitalized. Father and stepmother became so discouraged that they considered allowing S to resume living with her mother. The reunification team, backed by the judge, took the position that this was not an option. The team continued to provide coordinated services in support of S’s placement with the father, and to offer outreach to the mother. By age 16, S was doing well on a consistent basis. S remained troubled by her mother’s rejection and unwillingness to change but continued to hope that someday her mother would get help.

THE TARGET/ALIENATED PARENT IN PAS

Gender

Children are about twice as likely to form PAS type alignments with their mothers as they are with their fathers (3, 5, 6, 9). Similarly, fathers are more likely than mothers to become target parents, especially when abuse is falsely alleged (1923). These and other gender differences were also discussed in Part I. Some fathers who become target or rejected parents in PAS give up and withdraw, contributing to the significant dropout rate of fathers after divorce. Others persist in their efforts to establish and maintain a meaningful post-divorce relationship with their children despite daunting obstacles. What motivates these men to persist in their efforts to father, despite rejection, calumny and protracted litigation ?

Struggle for Paternal Identity

Huntington studied fathers in a nonclinical sample of 184 couples who were cooperatively involved in divorce-specific activities at the Californa-based Center for Families in Transition (24). As fathers struggled with the issue of paternal identity after divorce, many found themselves closer to their children as part-time fathers than they were during the marriage when they were living with their children full-time. The emotional rewards of fathering gave some men new meaning to their lives after the loss, loneliness and feelings of failure engendered by the divorce. When fathers experienced a positive response from their children, they were more likely to pursue the relationship. Huntington also observed that fathers could be driven off by the child’s rejection and refusal to visit. She referenced Gardner’s 1985 article in which he introduced the term PAS.

Involuntary Child Absence Syndrome

According to Jacobs, a psychiatrist who edited a book on divorce and fatherhood, the stress reaction of some fathers to divorce is due to involuntary separation from their children (25). Such stress reactions in mothers are often given a positive connotation and attributed to “maternal instincts”. Jacobs contends there is not nearly as much social support for fathers in a similar situation. He brought attention to the fact that fathers may have an equally strong need to nurture and parent, experiencing profound feelings of loss and frustration when reduced to a post-divorce relationship with their children which is minimal, diminished, or nonexistent. Working with fathers in a clinical setting, Jacobs found that the ability of these men to adjust to divorce was deeply impacted by their relationship with their children. Some fathers reported that they had been the primary parent during the marriage and that their children needed them in order to cope with a mother who was chaotic and disturbed.

The fathers Jacobs saw were convinced their children would suffer if the father-child bond was ruptured. They felt frustrated and sabotaged in their efforts to maintain the bond but refused to accept the idea that their children could develop well if the father-child relationship was severed. This was true for S’s father in the case vignette above. Jacobs reported that the idea of being a “visitor “in their children’s lives seemed second-rate and unacceptable to the fathers with whom he worked. Common adjustment reactions included anxiety, depression, hypervigilance and outrage, especially in response to denigration and expressions of hatred by their ex-wives.

Even if it was the father’s decision to leave, he was often unprepared for the emotional and practical consequences where his children were concerned. Fathers of young children who were not guaranteed continued close contact felt particularly outraged and betrayed by the system, which was seen as unfair and biased toward mothers. Fantasies of self destruction, murder, and/or kidnapping were common, although usually not acted upon.

Circumstances of the Separation Which Increase Risk of Becoming a Target Parent

The likelihood that a mother or a father will become the target parent in an alienation scenario increases according to who is seen as responsible for the marital break-up (1, 5, 6, 9, 14). The risk increases when the parent seen as responsible for the break-up is discovered to have actually been unfaithful or becomes involved with a new partner immediately after the separation (1). Leaving the marriage precipitously may also incur in creased risk of becoming a target parent. The mother became the target parent in this example:

Mrs. E was a good mother but she was also guilt ridden and conflict avoidant. She tried to leave her husband several times but each time he persuaded her to return. When she left for the last time, she allowed the children, who were 3 and 5 years of age, tostay with their father on what mother believed to be a temporary basis. She was shocked at how the children treated her when she came to get them. They rejected her using profanity. Father filed for custody, accusing his wife of drug abuse, neglect and abandoning the children. He tricked Mrs. E. into not attending the custody hearing, telling her it had been put off. When mother failed to appear, the court granted father’s motion for custody. It took several months for Mrs. E. to get the court to order a custody evaluation. By the time an evaluator was selected and the evaluation got underway, the children had been living with their father for a year. The evaluator observed that they were distant and somewhat fearful of their mother and recommended that the children remain with the father.

Contributions by the Target Parent to PAS

The relative contribution of the target parent to the PAS scenario varies widely, depending on the severity of the PAS, psychological issues of one or both parents, the target parent’s capacity to parent, and other factors.

For intervention to be effective in PAS, it is important to carefully assess the relative contributions of each parent and to consider their relative capacities for a healthy parent/child relationship. Where the target/rejected parent is seriously disturbed, has abused the child or is seriously inadequate as a parent, the problem may be one of generic parent alienation and is not properly called Parental Alienation Syndrome.

In mild to moderate PAS, behavior of the target parent may contribute significantly, as in the case heard by Judge Tolbert which is further described below (26). The nine-year-old girl was refusing to visit her father and he claimed PAS by the mother. Based on the totality of the evidence, however, the court concluded that father’s behavior contributed significantly to the child’s refusal to visit. In particular, father was found to be excessively rigid and insensitive to his daughter’s needs, seemingly an example of Johnston’s observation that rejected parents are often inept and unempathic with their children (6, 10).

In severe PAS, the target parent may be relatively healthy and contribute minimally to the PAS, compared to the alienating parent. This is particularly likely to be the case with Divorce Related Malicious Parent Syndrome, where the alienating parent’s anger, aggression, manipulation and deception tend to be driven by internal forces which far exceed external realities and contributions of the target parent (17, 18). The case vignette of Mr. and Mrs. C. in Part ( I ) demonstrated how a determined, unscrupulous father succeeded in wresting custody from a fit, custodial mother, who was the target parent.

According to Johnston’s work with high conflict families, unresolved anger and continued narcissistic injury of either parent may contribute significantly to the child’s rejection of one parent (6). Huntington found that in a nonclinical divorce sample, fathers sometimes engaged in controlling, provocative behavior in their efforts to reestablish a lost sense of control, especially if the divorce was not of their own choosing (24). Nicholas suggested that target parents may reinforce the PAS by assuming an ambivalent or inconsistent stance toward custody after years of litigation (27). Lund cited her experience with moderate PAS families in which the hated parent, usually the father, often exhibited a distant, rigid style which was seen by the child as authoritarian, especially in comparison to the preferred parent, who was overly indulgent and permissive (3). It is important not to overgeneralize, however, and to keep in mind that behavior of the aligned parent and child may influence and concretize the ambivalence reserve or indignation of the rejected parent.

Target Parents Who Are Falsely Accused

An accusation of child abuse, especially molestation, can quickly cut off an accused parent’s access to his child, pending an investigation (28). Because sex abuse is often difficult if not impossible to disprove, the accused parent may spend months and even years trying without success to refute the charge. Clear resolution of such allegations may be impossible as a result of the accusing parent’s actions, poor training and technique of the investigators, involvement of multiple agencies and lack of coordination between agencies and different branches of the judicial system (6).

Even if the charge is successfully refuted and the accused parent’s rights are reinstated, the parent has lost valuable time with the child, damaging the parent-child relationship.

According to Patterson, additional repercussions for the falsely accused parent include damage to personal dignity, reputation in the community, and depletion of financial and other resources needed to defend the charge and to preempt the possibility of criminal action (29). An unproved accusation alone is sometimes enough to have an accused parent arrested and held in jail until a preliminary hearing and beyond. A parent who is criminally tried runs a significant risk of false conviction in the current legal climate. When sex abuse is alleged today, the presumption of innocence is often set aside with the justification that it is better to convict an innocent person than to allow a real child abuser to go free. Patterson’s article references Gardner’s book, The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse. Patterson concludes, “We can never serve a child’s best interest by denying him or her the love and affection of a parent who has himself been victimized by a lie” (29; p. 941).

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Categories: Peer Review

Twenty Techniques to Become a Target Parent: Wrong if You Try; Wrong if You Don’t Try

Twenty Techniques to Become a Target Parent:
Wrong if You Try; Wrong if You Don’t Try

File for a divorce.

Follow through on a divorce.

Leave an abusive spouse / partner (verbal abuse is normally considered a form of abuse).

Attempt to remain civil (your ex will display contempt).

Do not speak negatively about your ex-spouse within an ear shot of your child (your  ex-spouse will denigrate you, directly to your child, and utilize your child as a confidant).

Kindly ask your ex-spouse to stop speaking negatively about you and  extended family. Explain that children should feel free to love both parents (if you’re lucky, and your ex-spouse understands emotional abuse, he, or she will stop and you will not become an alienated parent).

Kindly ask again, attempt to explain that your child is in distress. (Your child cries and reports that “they told mom /dad that it makes them sad to hear bad things about mom/dad” but the parent continues to speak negatively).

Find assistance (with due diligence you can find someone well-versed in the nuances of parental alienation; if you are unlucky, you may be told your child’s behavior is a phase. Or, you may be informed that your situation is nothing more than a theory).

Follow court orders / parenting plans (your ex-spouse will violate the orders).

Enforce the orders (out of necessity as your ex-spouse believes that he or she is above the law.

Enforce the orders again (beware your case may  be deemed “high-conflict”).

Enforce the orders yet again (save your money too; your ex-spouse may have plans to flee the state or country—yes, some follow through).

Ignore the aforementioned.  (It is not good to be in and out of court enforcing orders that should be followed at the onset).

Remain calm. Should you display anxiety over your child’s emotional abuse, you will not appear  “put together” in comparison to your ex-spouse (an axiom: he who cares the least, controls the most; your ex-spouse will stay cool, calm and collected. Yes, they have power over you and your child.  they control a vital relationship— a parent-child bond. They know too, that they can get away with such cruelty as parental alienation is not taken as seriously as it should).

Attempt to be a parent and not a friend (your ex-spouse will be your child’s friend).

Ignore the aforementioned (if you engage in normal parental duties, such as enforcing homework and chores; it will backfire. Your child may run away to your ex-spouses home, make false allegations, trash your property, key your car, or with the coaching of mom/dad engage in another court battle to alter custody).

Attempt to be a friend and not a parent (your children will love this new role! Your ex-will continue to be a friend.  Consequently, your children will have two friends, not two parents Some children may become spoiled brats with a spirit of entitlement, but it may keep you from a permanent cutoff).

Discard the aforementioned (your rationally realize that relinquishing your parental duties to sustain a relationship is not healthy for you, nor your child).

Accept that you will be treated with disdain for being a parent and simply human—one that makes mistakes within normal limits (your ex-spouse will be exalted to an angelic status).

Realize that not only will your children reject you, spite you, and claim to hate you; others will chime in too. Neighbors, friends, and extended family that do not understand unhealthy parent child alignments and irrational alienation will question and quiz you.  In some cases, if you decide to obtain help, you may be blamed all over again.  Our society teaches that it, “always” takes two to tango. (once again, you may become defensive in trying to explain such irrational hatred. Consequently, your ex-spouse appears sane while you come across as a neurotic mess) certainly, it often takes two.  However, “  In other cases, though, 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.  Unfortunately, this sometimes results in blaming the victim, and leads to inadequate remedies that prolong rather than relieve a child’s suffering” Dr. Richard Warshak, 2011

Categories: Parents

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

Parental Alienation: Dead or Alive in the DSM-5?

Parental Alienation: Dead or Alive in the DSM-5?

Reposted with permission. For original article, click here

Here’s what I love about the internet — shopping, booking vacations and connecting with people all over the world.

Here’s what I hate about the internet – bloggers who believe they’re channeling Edward R. Murrow, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in every post and their readers who faithfully repeat what’s written as fact.

I was recently reminded of the latter when I read a colleague’s rant about the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) “cowardly decision” not to include parental alienation in the DSM-5. When I pointed out that the APA hadn’t yet decided whether or not to include parental alienation in the upcoming edition of its bible, my colleague gave me the name of the blogger who reported the news and asked, “How could she write it if it weren’t true?”

As Elizabeth Barrett Browning once said, “Let me count the ways.”

While my contribution to the proposal, Parental Alienation, DSM-5 and ICD-11, was probably the least significant input from the 60-plus authors who collaborated on project, my effort does qualify me for regular, and accurate, updates as the proposal winds its way through the review process. So here’s the truth about the current status of parental alienation and the DSM-5:

In the next few months, members of the DSM-5 Task Force and the Childhood and Adolescent Disorders Work Group will make their final recommendations to the APA Board of Trustees. The Task Force has already signaled that it probably won’t recommend listing parental alienation under the Mental Disorder category. However, being classified as a mental disorder is not the only door into the DSM. The APA could list parental alienation as an example of a relational problem or a shared psychotic disorder. The APA could also list parental alienation as a subtype of another relational problem. The professional organization could even include parental alienation as an issue that needs further study. Bottom line — the fat lady not only isn’t singing, she hasn’t even started warming up.

So enjoy the internet. Go shopping, look for videos of kittens doing adorable things, even tell us what you’re cooking for dinner if you must. Just don’t believe everything you read. Murrow hasn’t filed a story in a long time.

Categories: Uncategorized

Existence of Parental Alienation Is Now Beyond Debate by Dr. Richard A. Warshak

Existence of Parental Alienation Is Now Beyond Debate. Posted with permission by Dr. Richard A. Warshak

Survey results just released show near unanimous agreement among professionals that children can be manipulated by one parent to turn against the other parent.

The survey was taken at the annual International Conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. Approximately 1000 legal and mental health professionals attended a debate about whether parental alienation should be included in the future edition of the manual of official psychiatric diagnoses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association – Fifth Edition, commonly known as the DSM-5.

About 300 people responded to the survey. Nearly every respondent, 98%, responded Yes to the question: “Do you think that some children are manipulated by one parent to irrationally and unjustifiably reject the other parent?”

Despite their contrasting opinions on the issue of whether the DSM-5 should include parental alienation, the debate panel agreed: “The survey results were overwhelming in support of the basic tenet of parental alienation: children can be manipulated by one parent to reject the other parent who does not deserve to be rejected.”

Respondents to the survey were divided about whether the rejected parent shares blame when the favored parent engages in alienating behaviors, what I call divorce poison. Although the panel have not yet explained this finding, it is the result I would expect because the question is ambiguous.

The roots of alienation differ among children. Like nearly every psychological disturbance in childhood, multiple threads make up the tapestry of the child’s personality. (See The Complex Tapestry of Parental Alienation.) When looking at the rejected parent’s contributions to the problem, we see a continuum from those whose behavior is primarily responsible for the problem, to those who contribute significantly and without whose contributions the children might not be alienated, to those whose contributions may not have helped the situation, but did not play any significant role in generating the children’s rejection. (See my Huffpost: Stop Divorce Poison.)

The division among survey responses may reflect nothing more than the respondents thinking about different types of cases. Had they been asked, “Do you believe there are some cases in which a rejected parent’s behavior has not contributed significantly to a child’s rejection?” it is likely that the responses would have approached the consensus found with respect to the issue of the existence of irrational parental alienation.

Also, the notions of cause of a problem and blame for it are complex. Legal dictionaries list many different types of causes. I discuss this in my training seminars and expect to blog about it in the future.

The panel expects to publish a more extensive analysis of the survey results. When they do, you can read about it here.

Categories: Professionals

American Psychiatric Association Reviews the Science, Recognition of Parental Alienation Disorder

American Psychiatric Association Reviews the Science, Recognition of Parental Alienation Disorder

CSPAS Conference Scheduled to Take Place May 28th and May 29th to Discuss “Treatment Solutions for The Alienated Child”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PRLog (Press Release)Apr 28, 2011 – Montreal, CA –  The Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome, (http://www.CSPAS.ca), announced today their upcoming conference titled  “Treatment Solutions for Alienated Children”  which will be taking place on May 28th and May 29th  at Dawson College in Montreal, Canada. Parental Alienation Disorder is defined as a mental condition in which a child – usually one whose parents are engaged in a high conflict divorce- allies himself or herself strongly with one parent and rejects a relationship with the other parent without legitimate justification. The child’s maladaptive behavior & refusal to see one of the parents is driven by the false belief that the alienated parent is a dangerous or an unworthy person.  Parental Alienation is not limited to parents of the child but also extends to grandparents and parental guardians. CSPAS offers continuing educational credit courses ( CEU’s ) and other  educational services to mental health and family law professionals who want more information and expertise in managing the parental alienation dynamic. In addition, the CSPAS provides a free referral service to help the public locate qualified mental health clinicians, family mediators and family law lawyers able to assist children and other family members with parental alienation relationship problems.  

Many of the leading experts in the field of parental alienation will be presenting at the CSPAS conference, including their Keynote Speaker, psychiatrist William Bernet, M.D. from Vanderbilt University and respected scientific peers including Abraham Worenklein, Ph.D, Douglas Darnall, Ph.D., Richard Sauber,  Ph.D., Michael Bone, Ph.D., Terence Campbell, Ph.D. and Glenn Ross Caddy, Ph.D.  The host and Founder of the CSPAS is Joseph Goldberg, and the website for his organization is http://www.cspas.ca.  The proposal that parental alienation become an official diagnosis was published in the book, Parental Alienation, DSM-5, and ICD-11, edited by William Bernet, M.D. who was assisted by 70 contributing authors from 12 countries.  

“Some critics of parental alienation have said that there is not enough research about parental alienation for it to become an official diagnosis,” stated Dr. William Bernet in a recent interview. “The critics who make that argument are simply misinformed. When we collected and organized the research regarding parental alienation, we located more than 500 books, in depth book chapters, and articles regarding parental alienation from the professional literature of 30 countries. There is an overwhelming amount of research to support that parental alienation really exists and is a serious international problem.”

Dr. William Bernet presented the proposal to the A.P.A. that Parental Alienation Disorder (P.A.D.) be considered for inclusion in the DSM – 5, in 2008.  Since then, the DSM-5 task force members have been deluged with information on this phenomenon: information that includes research studies, scientific monographs, DVDs of scientific proceedings, books and letters written by victims of parental alienation.  More recently, senior officials of the DSM-5 task force have stated that they are seriously considering the adoption of Parental Alienation Relational Problem for inclusion in the upcoming DSM – 5.  Within the DSM, a relational problem is currently defined as ‘a pattern of interaction between or among members of a relational unit that are associated with clinically significant impairment in functioning.’  Many mental health professionals, especially family therapists, favor the diagnosis of “Parental Alienation Relational Problem” because it labels the family system as the focus of the problem, not the child.

In 2010 the country of Brazil made it a criminal penalty to alienate a child and in Spain, the Spanish Psychological Association accepted the diagnosis of Parental Alienation Syndrome (P.A.S.). One thing no longer in dispute by mental health professionals is the fact that parental alienation is a widely recognized form of child abuse. Some estimate that more than 200,000 children in the United States are victims of parental alienation abuse, every year.

The Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome is hosting a conference on a topic that has never before been so scientifically presented to clinicians. “The Treatment Solutions for the Alienated Child” is a landmark event in the scientific advancement of parental alienation and will be taking place May 28th and May 29th at Dawson College, 3040 Sherbrooke Street, West Westmount, Quebec H3Z 1A4. The conference is free of charge to mental health professionals and will also be filmed for future Continuing Educational Credits (CEU’s).

If you are interested in attending the conference, please register online at http://www.CSPAS.ca, or call 647-476-3170.  For media access to the event please email info@beautifulplanning.com.

About C.S.P.A.S
Founded in 2008 by Joseph Goldberg, The Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome is an educational organization assisting mental health professionals, family law lawyers, family mediators and other professionals to better understand parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome / disorder. Their goal is to assist children and families in need of educational information and referrals to professionals with a specialized expertise for counseling, psychological or psycho-educational services. Parents and professionals in both the family law and mental health communities will be able to locate a number of experts in parental alienation by simply visiting their website. C.S.P.A.S also disseminates information and literature to professionals and to parents. They maintain a strictly educational position and have no political affiliations. The C.S.P.A.S. does not accept funding from any organization affiliated with parental rights, nor do they take a position in favor of or in opposition to equal parenting. For more information visit http://www.cspas.ca or follow CSPAS on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cspasca

Categories: Professionals

You Might Be An Alienated Parent If…

You Might Be An Alienated Parent If…  (by Monika)

You might be an alienated parent if your four-year old reports, “dad says he gives your new marriage two years—and I agree with him.”

You might be an alienated parent if your seven-year old reports, “ I know the law; just wait till I am of age; I will tell the judge where I want to live.  We are asking for full custody.”

You might be an alienated parent if your child removes household items such as DVDs, electronics, etc. Then, when confronting the child, he / she reports “I feel sorry for dad (or mom) they live alone and cannot make ends meet.” “We pawned the items (mom/dad) get over it.”

You might be an alienated parent if your five-year old reports they no longer have to obey your  rules because “dad ( or mom) says so.” And “we think your rules are dumb.”

You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if your ex-partner refuses to co-parent and constantly belittles you to your child.

You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if your child complains about the meals you cook. But they don’t stop at complaining.  Instead,  they trash dinner. They call the other parent and report that “there is no decent food in the home.”

You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if you kindly ask your ex-spouse to please cease badmouthing. You point out that constant badmouthing is not in the child’s best interest. But, you discover they refuse to stop.

You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if your ex-spouse and his (or her) family do not understand the concept of boundaries. They share adult matters with adolescents and  actually seek your adolescents advice. This is evidenced by your adolescent reporting, “yeah dad (or mom) and I have a good time; we talked about the reason his third girlfriend moved out.” And, “geez, mom (or dad) I sure feel so very sorry for her (or him).”   And, as a consequence, your child is in constant distress. You understand this, but your ex-spouse and family do not;  they have the same  mentality as your adolescent. You wonder if insurance companies are the only ones that catch on, as full brain development does not stop at age 16. Insurance rates drop about age 25.

You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if you tell your eight year old they cannot watch the exorcist movie, rated R.  Your eight year old informs you, “fine, I will watch the movie with (dad or mom) they will let me”…and the parent actually will.

You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if your eight-year old child develops nightmares after watching  movies. You explain to your child that they should not watch such movies while at the other parent’s home. The child insists that “they are more mature than you understand.”  Being the good co-parent you are, you call up your ex-spouse and discuss (or your try to discuss) that it is not  a good idea to let the child view R rated movies. You are told, “ I am with them, what’s the harm; you are too strict.” Besides, “it’s my home when the child is with me.”  And… you are not going to tell me how to raise my (son or daughter).

You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if you report these events but are informed, “ emotional abuse is hard to prove.” The next question, “is your child physically abused?” No you reply. Well, says the helper, “go read a good parenting book.” That day you read an advocacy group’s stance that your issue–the emotional abuse of your child, is not a “real” problem because children would not reject a parent without a good reason. Coercive control only works with grown adults, not susceptible children, right?

You might be distressed, disgruntled, and an alienated parent if you attempt to seek help for your child.  Some say parental alienation is not a “real problem” that it is nothing more than a “normal reaction to a divorce.” Your advice is to “ take the high-road, most children will outgrow alienation.”

You might be a distressed, disgruntled, and an alienated parent if you end back up in  court to enforce orders that are not followed. Your co-parent refuses to adhere to any parenting plan or other mandates—he or she is above the law. They refuse to return the children on time or assist with paying for school lunches.  You are informed, “you just need to get along with your co-parent.” You try to explain that you have bent over backwards in trying to work with your ex-spouse. You may start to think that they have “Heard one case, so they have heard them all.”

You might be a distressed, disgruntled, down-trodden and an alienated parent if the experience of parental alienation has occurred for over 15 years. In fact, it went on for so long, one or more of your children no longer will speak with you. You scratch your head wondering if the brand new car (dad or mom) said they could have if they tore up your property and moved in with them, had anything to do with your child’s change of heart.   

You might be a distressed, disgruntled, down-trodden and an alienated parent if you attempt to explain the situation but others scratch their head, suspiciously question you, and reply “well… some kids are resilient to badmouthing and brainwashing—wonder why your child is not?”

You might be a distressed, disgruntled, down-trodden and an alienated parent if you did the best you could.  No you were not perfect. But,  you were at least an average parent. You know your day-to-day routine would be okay if you were still married.  But once the campaign of denigration started, you had to become almost a perfect parent. You grew a little weary.

Resources:

Parental Alienation Awareness Organization

Dr. Richard Warshak

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.

.

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: Uncategorized

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: Uncategorized

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
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