One Man's Story: Parental Alienation
This is one person's account of their life as a child victim of parental alienation, and the more positive outcome that arose as an adult.
This is one person's account of their life as a child victim of parental alienation, and the more positive outcome that arose as an adult.
From an interview with Dr. Amy Baker, PA expert:
" I must admit I am a bit disappointed in the comments so far on the WDET website in response to my interview. I hate to see the conversation devolve into a gender war when the research is so clear that both mothers and fathers can be alienators. I would prefer to see attention focused on prevention (education of custody evaluators about differentiating alienation from estrangement, training attorneys in proper handling of these cases, and so forth). There is so much to agree on! See http://wdet.org/posts/2015/07/17/81018-what-is-parental-alienation-syndrome/
..and my response to those commentators questioning Dr. Baker's approach:
Having had years of experience with PA cases, it's my impression that what underlies PAS is a mental health issue; a pathology that resides with the alienating parent. It can be a personality disorder, or some other constellation of disorders that causes the alienating parent to see the other parent in "black and white" terms, and to view the targeted parent as deserving of malicious retribution in the form of losing a relationship with their children.
Once we accept that underlying PA is a form of pathology, we can understand that its occurrence is gender neutral, as that it presents in both men and women. I have seen it present in both genders, and I cannot say whether innocent men are targeted disproportionately to innocent women.
As Dr. Baker points out, there is so much that can be agreed upon and acted upon, that we need not spend energy arguing about which gender is more abused in a PA case. The children are the victims, and the innocent parents as well victimized, regardless of gender.
The case involving the Michigan judge that placed three children in juvenile hall as a punishment and coercive measure has been roundly criticized for using contempt proceedings, in what even the judge agreed is a longstanding Parental Alienation case. From a local Detroit newspaper account:
Three Bloomfield Hills kids who refused an order by a judge to go to lunch with their father have been ordered to a juvenile detention facility.The Tsimhoni family was in Oakland County's family court for a hearing on supervised parenting time when Judge Lisa Gorcyca took matters into her own hands.
June 24 court transcripts showed how upset the judge was. She ordered the Tsimhoni kids ages 14,10 and 9 to have a "healthy relationship" with their father. She criticized them for avoiding him and even compared them to Charles Manson and his cult. Gorcyca then ordered the children to apologize and have a nice lunch with their dad. When they refused, Gorcyca held them in contempt and had each child hauled off to Children's Village's juvenile hall - until they are 18 years old.
The judge in this case was angry, frustrated and without sufficient understanding of her options, when she jailed these children. Subsequently, as of this week, she has released them and ordered them to a Michigan summer camp, where their parents may visit them.
Parental Alienation cases are difficult for all involved. However, there have emerged in recent years clinical interventions that can be very successful in repairing estranged parent-child relationships. What may have been useful to this judge was an understanding that she could have ordered a clinical intervention, and used the power of the court to force compliance by the parents.
Jailing the children may only have played into the alienating parent's hands, and allowed the alienator to further blame the targeted parent for the jailing of the kids. Most PA cases, in my experience, involve an innocent targeted parent, and the pathological alienator. This Michigan case may be more complex. The fact that this case seems to involve many years of litigation between tw highly educated, wealthy parents, one of whom removed the kids to Israel at some point in the case, highlights what may be a high level of toxic behaviors between both parents, with the children the casualties of the war.
I have represented, along with alienated parents, the grandparents that have been kept out of the lives of their grandchildren. For many years, Illinois did not recognize the right of grandparents to assert a petition for Grandparent Visitation. Illinois, however, currently has a Grandparent visitation statute that permits, under certain circumstances, grandparents petitioning a court for the right to have visitation with their grandchildren.
Recognizing the seriousness of the issue, leading Parental Alienation expert and author Dr. Amy Baker has written on the issues concerning Grandparent Alienation:
" Grandparents can derive tremendous pleasure from relationships with grandchildren and suffer terrible pain and loss when those relationships are disrupted or prevented. As with alienation between a parent and child, alienation between a grandparent and grandchild represents a form of ambiguous loss in which the child is physically absent but very much alive in the heart and mind of the grieving grandparent. There is no closure because the child is still alive. That is the blessing and curse of alienation.
Because the middle generation functions as a gatekeeper, they are the key. The alienated (or estranged) grandparent must try to repair that relationship in order to heal the psychic wound that is preventing that parent from allowing access to the grandchildren. However, it is essential to not treat that person as a means to an end. They will most likely sense that they are viewed merely as obstacles rather than as valued individuals. "
The State of Arizona considered recently an addition to its list of factors in determining the award of custody to a parent in a divorce case. This proposed addition addresses an issue that I have seen many times in my many years of managing high conflict custody cases: the false allegation of domestic violence in a contested custody case.
A false allegation of domestic violence in a custody case often takes the form of an initial filing for an Emergency Order of Protection prior to, or at the same time, that a divorce is being filed. The parent filing the falsely alleged OP believes that he/she will gain an advantage in the divorce case by having the other parent removed from the marital home and estranged from the children.
I see these false claims in OPs being made by parents actively committing Parental Alienation.
Arizona tried to provide to injured parents a remedy for these kinds of false claims by including the following important factor for the Court to consider in awarding custody:
12. WHETHER A FALSE ALLEGATION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE OR CHILD ABUSE
PURSUANT TO SECTION 25-403.03 HAS BEEN MADE BY ONE PARENT AGAINST ANOTHER IN ORDER TO CAUSE AN UNNECESSARY DELAY, TO INCREASE THE COST OF LITIGATION OR TO PERSUADE THE COURT TO GIVE CUSTODY PREFERENCE TO ONE PARENT
My review of the current Arizona statutes suggests that the Legislature was willing to address the issue of false claims of domestic violence, but that the statute now requires a conviction for filing a false claim in order for the Court to apply this factor. In addition, the Court may consider: "whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent."
A tip of the hat to the State of Arizona for this legislation. This kind of language in the child custody statutes may have a chilling effect toward a rational parent attempting to misuse Orders of Protection to gain an advantage in a custody case.
In my view, an irrational or pathological parent that is seeking to alienate children from a loving, healthy parent will alienate and file false claims of domestic violence, no matter the language of any statute. It's my job as your attorney to aggressively knock out these false claims, and to vigorously demonstrate to the Court that no parent that alienates their children from the other deserves to have the custody of the children.
Notes from last week's Forensic Forum in Chicago: A most excellent program; cutting edge information and illuminating insights into managing PA cases.
Dr. Warshak captured in two hours the important clinical and legal management issues with PA cases. Judge Michele Lowrance made an important observation: many "targeted" parents act out in court; they cry, are angry, and show disappointment with the court. The alienating parent learns to be charming and composed. The result: the targeted parent gets reprimanded by the court, empowers the alienator, and fuels the PA fires further. Good observation and a word to the targeted wise. Says Dr. Warshak: "alienated parents need to learn to have a thick skin."
One observation that wasn't made I will make here: the best GALs contribute heavily to the early phases of the case, and the ultimate outcomes. Much deserved attention was placed by the panel on the roles of clinicians and 604(b)s in PA cases, but in my view, a wise and experienced GAL can be influential in an initial intervention and a properly managed outcome.
To my clients this morning I said that the tide is starting to turn in recognition and management of PA cases. Judges are being educated (thanks to Judge Kevin Busch for a sound and learned presentation during the panel segment) and problems with prior clinical protocols are being discussed. Clinicians like Dr. David Finn (Illinois) and Dr. Warshak (Texas) are developing cutting edge and clinically sound protocols for managing PA cases, and creating forums where targeted parents and their victimized children have a forum for reunification. As of yesterday, I am optimistic for what the future PA management landscape looks like, and I grieve a bit today for those in the past who lost contact with their beloved children through the inability of the courts to discern a toxic alienation fact pattern.
The Impact of Parental Alienation on Children
Every child has a fundamental need for love and protection.
Published on April 25, 2013 by Edward Kruk, Ph.D. in Co-Parenting After Divorce
I offer the first installment of a three-part series examining (1) the impact of parental alienation on children, (2) the effects of parental alienation on parents, and (3) programs, services and interventions that combat alienation and seek to reunite estranged parents and their children.
What children of divorce most want and need is to maintain healthy and strong relationships with both of their parents, and to be shielded from their parents' conflicts. Some parents, however, in an effort to bolster their parental identity, create an expectation that children choose sides. In more extreme situations, they foster the child’s rejection of the other parent. In the most extreme cases, children are manipulated by one parent to hate the other, despite children’s innate desire to love and be loved by both their parents.
Parental alienation involves the “programming” of a child by one parent to denigrate the other “targeted” parent, in an effort to undermine and interfere with the child's relationship with that parent, and is often a sign of a parent’s inability to separate from the couple conflict and focus on the needs of the child. Such denigration results in the child’s emotional rejection of the targeted parent, and the loss of a capable and loving parent from the life of the child. Psychiatrist Richard Gardner developed the concept of "parental alienation syndrome" 20 years ago, defining it as, "a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child's campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent's indoctrinations and the child's own contributions to the vilification of the target parent." Children’s views of the targeted parent are almost exclusively negative, to the point that the parent is demonized and seen as evil.
As Amy Baker writes, parental alienation involves a set of strategies, including bad-mouthing the other parent, limiting contact with that parent, erasing the other parent from the life and mind of the child (forbidding discussion and pictures of the other parent), forcing the child to reject the other parent, creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous, forcing the child to choose between the parents by means of threats of withdrawal of affection, and belittling and limiting contact with the extended family of the targeted parent. In my own research on non-custodial parents who have become disengaged from their children’s lives (Kruk, 2011), I found that most lost contact involuntarily, many as a result of parental alienation. Constructive alternatives to adversarial methods of reconnecting with their children were rarely available to these alienated parents.
Parental alienation is more common than is often assumed: Fidler and Bala (2010) report both an increasing incidence and increased judicial findings of parental alienation; they report estimates of parental alienation in 11-15% of divorces involving children; Bernet et al (2010) estimate that about 1% of children and adolescents in North America experience parental alienation.
There is now scholarly consensus that severe alienation is abusive to children (Fidler and Bala, 2010), and it is a largely overlooked form of child abuse (Bernet et al, 2010), as child welfare and divorce practitioners are often unaware of or minimize its extent. As reported by adult children of divorce, the tactics of alienating parents are tantamount to extreme psychological maltreatment of children, including spurning, terrorizing, isolating, corrupting or exploiting, and denying emotional responsiveness (Baker, 2010). For the child, parental alienation is a serious mental condition, based on a false belief that the alienated parent is a dangerous and unworthy parent. The severe effects of parental alienation on children are well-documented; low self esteem and self-hatred, lack of trust, depression, and substance abuse and other forms of addiction are widespread, as children lose the capacity to give and accept love from a parent. Self-hatred is particularly disturbing among affected children, as children internalize the hatred targeted toward the alienated parent, are led to believe that the alienated parent did not love or want them, and experience severe guilt related to betraying the alienated parent. Their depression is rooted is feelings of being unloved by one of their parents, and from separation from that parent, while being denied the opportunity to mourn the loss of the parent, or to even talk about the parent. Alienated children typically have conflicted or distant relationships with the alienating parent also, and are at high risk of becoming alienated from their own children; Baker reports that fully half of the respondents in her study of adult children who had experienced alienation as children were alienated from their own children.
Every child has a fundamental right and need for an unthreatened and loving relationship with both parents, and to be denied that right by one parent, without sufficient justification such as abuse or neglect, is in itself a form of child abuse. Since it is the child who is being violated by a parent's alienating behaviors, it is the child who is being alienated from the other parent. Children who have undergone forced separation from one of their parents in the absence of abuse, including cases of parental alienation, are highly subject to post-traumatic stress, and reunification efforts in these cases should proceed carefully and with sensitivity (research has shown that many alienated children can transform quickly from refusing or staunchly resisting the rejected parent to being able to show and receive love from that parent, followed by an equally swift shift back to the alienated position when back in the orbit of the alienating parent; alienated children seem to have a secret wish for someone to call their bluff, compelling them to reconnect with the parent they claim to hate). While children’s stated wishes regarding parental contact in contested custody should be considered, they should not be determinative, especially in suspected cases of alienation.
Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child; it has to be taught. A parent who would teach a child to hate or fear the other parent represents a grave and persistent danger to the mental and emotional health of that child. Alienated children are no less damaged than other child victims of extreme conflict, such as child soldiers and other abducted children, who identify with their tormentors to avoid pain and maintain a relationship with them, however abusive that relationship may be.
In the second installment on parental alienation, I will examine the effects of parental alienation on targeted parents, and suggest a range of strategies for preventing and intervening in these cases in the third.
Baker, A. (2010). “Adult recall of parental alienation in a community sample: Prevalence and associations with psychological maltreatment.” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 51, 16-35.
Recent published articles in the New York Times from Dylan Farrow, and subsequently in rebuttal Woody Allen, have brought into the light allegations that have arisen from what appears to have been a highly dysfunctional family environment. My reading of the articles, some of the trial evidence, as well as third party accounts, does not lead me or others to any conclusions as to whether the then 7 year old Dylan Farrow was sexually abused by Woody Allen, as she alleges.
What is clear is that the relationship between Mia Farrow and Woody Allen was toxic. There is a suggestion that whether Allen committed any acts of abuse, or not, his former partner was highly vindictive toward him, resulting in what appears to be a very toxic parental alienation campaign. The articles state:
"Former nanny Monica Thompson (whose salary was paid by Allen, since three of the brood were also his) swore in a deposition to Allen’s attorneys that she was pressured by Farrow to support the molestation charges, and the pressure led her to resign her position."
"And then there was this quote from Moses Farrow - Dylan's brother, also adopted, and now a 36-year-old family therapist: "My mother drummed it into me to hate my father for tearing apart the family and sexually molesting my sister," Moses Farrow, 36, told People Magazine. "And I hated him for her for years. I see now that this was a vengeful way to pay him back for falling in love with Soon-Yi." He added, "Pleasing my mother was very powerful motivation [for Dylan] because to be on her wrong side was horrible."
A significant part of my practice involves highly charged custody litigation, some of which involve allegations of sexual abuse and parental alienation. I take all of these issues seriously, and utilizing my training, background and experience with psychological disorders and family system issues, I make a real effort to bring to bear strong clinical inputs as well as strategies to investigate and defuse family abuse, dysfunction, and parental alienation campaigns.
Regardless of whether Mia Farrow is truthful, or Woody Allen, the net result is that their children were harmed, and ended up split against each other, and against their parents. A tragedy no matter the causes and origins.
Parental Alienation - A Corrosive Legacy
By Judge Michele Lowrance
I have been a judge on the divorce bench for 16 years, and have watched the wreckage of the corrosive legacy of parental alienation and visitation interference play out over decades. We have no statistics for measuring this group, because the victims are too vast. But the concentric circles include the children, their children and the extended family as well. The declaration of war by one parent on another creates radioactive fallout, which contaminates for generations.
The alienating parent treats the target parent like a disease in the child that must be removed. They make the child's survival contingent upon such removal. So the child must extricate the parent without the privilege of grieving the loss. These are crippling circumstances.
I have witnessed impassioned declarations of love for a child by an alienating parent to masquerade the venom he/she feels for the other parent. Parents who do this are not interested in mere control. Their stakes are higher: total annihilation of the target parent's bond with the child. Little by little, alienation in a divorce case starts to take root. And when it fully takes root, I see the child's boundaries collapse before my eyes. Soon the child forgets how to protect him or herself, and must align with the alienating parent as if life depends on it -- because it does.
Perhaps curing this degenerating influence may, in the future, be addressed by therapy. But for now, we can and must do better. I want to tell you how to be proactive in court, and how to fight against the inclination to give up like so many hurt, alienated parents -- who are, frankly, not always welcomed in the courts.
Why Cases Involving Parent Alienation are so Difficult
Here are some reasons these cases are so difficult, and why judges often have no love for them:
Combative parents present conflicting stories of "he said / she said," and make it very difficult to determine who is telling the truth. Often an alienating parent comes to believe what he or she is saying, and their presentation seems authentic.
When targeted parents present their side of the case, they are often angry and frustrated -- and as a result, they don't present very well in court. Judges often consider attitude as influential as content.
The children often support the alienating parent by telling the judge, their attorney and mental health professionals how they have been treated badly, and of their dislike, for the target parent. The reasoning skills of alienated children are often compromised, as is their ability to choose freely.
Alienated children often won't cooperate with therapeutic intervention, and courts have difficulty enforcing these orders.
Judges like to believe that what they do works and it is the right decision. When their decisions don't work, they often get exasperated with both parties.
What You can Do in Courts
Despite these difficulties there is plenty that you can do. Here are some suggestions for handling parental alienation in the courts:
Parenting plan orders should be entered as soon as possible.
Create an alienation map or chart for the judge, which shows him or her in five minutes what couldn't be said in five hours. This map should include all missed visits, and a list of all the denigrating phrases made by alienating spouse to the children, including the friends and/or extended family of the hated parent (if they are admissible in evidence). If you know how to make a graph, you can show the increase in missed visits in a very compelling and impactful way.
Most judges aren't warm to the phrase Parent Alienation Syndrome. Instead, ask the judge to please keep an eye open for visitation interference, as the case progresses, and describe for him or her the maligning behavior.
Get a court order for parenting therapy as soon as possible.
If orders are violated, go to court on a Rule To Show Cause for violation of the order as soon as possible. If you can't afford an attorney, then do this yourself. Write petition for rule, for visitation violation, for family therapy, or for makeup visitation.
You may be among the many alienated parents I have known, who have grown weary due to the repetitive stress fracture on your heart. Each time your visitation is interfered with, it has a cumulative affect. This can make you hyper sensitive, which easily magnifies your emotional response.
Because your emotions are flooding your ability to reason, writing and rewriting a petition with your attorney is a rational thing to do and gives your thoughts "breathing time." If you immediately act upon your anger, you are just going to make things worse -- and perhaps run the risk that the other parent will get an order of protection against you. Reflect upon the past consequences of your amped up anger. Did you write nasty emails, make hostile phone calls, yell at your child, become overly aggressive, or decide to retreat and do nothing?
The way to tell if your anger serves you is to always ask yourself the following four questions:
Does this anger further my constructive goals?
Does this anger further degenerate my relationship with my children?
In what ways does this anger help me?
In what ways does this anger help my spouse?
If your reactions are based upon what has been done to you, you can only respond with hatred. When you do this, you give the alienating parent the "upper hand," because he or she has provoked you to become the hateful person who they are portraying you to be to the children. Don't let someone else provoke, influence, and therefore control how you behave. You run the risk of actually becoming as miserable and dysfunctional of a person as they're trying to portray you to your children. When you react with hatred, you not only play into their hands, you're letting them steer your ship, letting them determine your present and future.
When Your Children Come Home, Who do You Want Them to Come Home to?
As you read this, you may be on the edge of giving up. You may be starting to feel that nothing can work against your former spouse's devotion to destroy your relationship with your children. Even though you may be physically invisible to your children, you will always be visible to them through stories, gossip and second hand reporting from all sources. When we lose a loved one, we often decide to live the way that the departed person would have wanted us to. In the same spirit, when you lose a child to alienation, you need to live as if he or she is watching you. Your long term goal is to become the person your child wants to come home to.
Michele F. Lowrance has been a domestic-relations judge in the Circuit Court of Illinois since 1995.
According to Alan Kemp in his book Abuse in the Family, domestic violence is defined as “A form of maltreatment perpetrated by a person with whom the victim has or had a close personal relationship.”
Says Joan T. Kloth-Zanard, RSS, LC: "This book is just one of many textbooks used to teach students and professionals about psychological maltreatment and the categories that make it up. Whether one believes in the term parental alienation or not, the following criteria helps to show that certain behavior perpetrated by a parent can cause a child to withdraw their love from the other parent. For the sake of this article, we will term this abuse as aggressive parenting.
Nine Signs of Aggressive Parenting:
Denying essential stimulation, emotional responsiveness, or availability
Unreliable and inconsistent parenting
Mental health, medical, or educational neglect
An Explanation of the Nine Signs:
By deliberately isolating the child from other family members and social supports, isolation is occurring. The whole premise of aggressive parenting is to isolate and distance the children from the targeted parent or any other individual who supports the targeted parent.
If the aggressive parent uses threats or denigrating tactics, to force the child to comply, this can be seen as terrorizing. As well, verbal denigration, harassment and exploitation of the targeted parent is very prominent and a key indicator of aggressive parenting.
Thus in aggressive parenting, when the child is used to destroy the targeted parent by denying visitation or a relationship between the other parent. and the child or is used for monetary gains such as excessive expenses beyond child support, they are in affect committing domestic violence. It is for these reasons that aggressive parenting or isolating the children from the Targeted Parent can be considered as a form of domestic violence.
When a parent rejects a child. because the child shows any love or affection for the targeted parent that is a form of abuse. This is not only a form of rejection, but terrorization. In fact, a child’s refusal to come to the targeted parent’s home for fear of losing the aggressive parent’s conditional love is fear and fear is terror.
When an aggressive parent refuses to comply with court orders and tells the child they do not have to either, this is corrupting. It is teaching the child that they are above the law and therefore immune to the courts authority. When a parent files false allegations of abuse and convinces the child to do the same, this is corruption.
Denying Essential Stimulation, Emotional Responsiveness, or Availability:
By refusing to allow the children to have a relationship with the targeted parent, for no reason other than their own need to control the ex-spouse, the aggressive parent is denying them the basic elements of stimulation, emotions and availability with the targeted parent.
Unreliable and Inconsistent Parenting:
Since the children have been denied a relationship with the targeted parent, they have also been denied a reliable and consistent parenting situation and the aggressive parent has proven that they cannot parent consistently and reliably in the supporting of a two-parent relationship with the children.
Mental, Medical and Educational Neglect:
When an aggressive parent refuses to comply with numerous separate court orders for counseling, they are denying their children's mental health.
If, despite numerous court orders or requests and recommendations, the aggressive parent continues to insult, verbally abuse and denigrate the child’s targeted parent in front of the child, this behavior degrades and devalues someone the child once respected and loved and in most cases, secretly wants a relationship with.
This disdain and disrespect for the targeted parent in front of the child is another form of psychological maltreatment as it permanently affects their view of the targeted parent, which transfers to their view of themselves. This creates a distorted sense of reality, of themselves and their ability to trust and accurately judge others.
When a parent deliberately sabotages a relationship with the targeted parent by refusing to allow visits, calls, or any form of healthy communication, with no evidence of abuse, this is called isolation. Furthermore, when a parent has initially allowed continuous contact with the children during the separation and divorce period, but reneges on this and engages in parental alienation, especially when they find out their ex-spouse has a new partner, this is isolation and abuse.
This is also called Remarriage as a Trigger for Parental Alienation Syndrome and can be further reviewed in an article by Dr. Richard Warshak, There is no doubt this is isolation and thus psychological abuse. (http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/pas/warsha00.htm)
When a parent uses the children as pawns to get back at their ex spouse for not loving them anymore or to control them further, this is exploitation. When an aggressive parent uses the children and makes false allegations of abuse, terrorizing the children to state they hate the targeted parent, this is exploitation. When a parent uses the children for monetary gains such as child support, but yet does not allow the children a relationship with the targeted parent, this is exploitation.
When you add all these signs up, it is easy to see how Aggressive Parenting, can be classified as child psychological maltreatment in a divorce situation. When you put it all together, the DSM sums up the aggressive parent quite nicely under Cluster B Personality Disorder or, Antisocial Personality Disorder."
Joan T. Kloth-Zanard, RSS, LC has a BS in Health and Psychology with a Minor in Business and has continued her education with Graduate work in Marriage and Family Therapy as well as Professional Counseling. She is also Certified as a Recovery Support Specialist.
Since 1998, she has been running non-profit online support groups for victims of Psychological Abuse. She recently authored a book called "Where Did I Go Wrong? How Did I Miss The Signs? Dealing with Hostile Parenting and Parental Alienation." This book is a culmination of her research and studies into the world of high conflict divorce.
By Kimberly Nichols
It was a glorious Southern California day in the beachside Balboa Park in San Diego as I sat in a flowering position on a yoga mat with 1,000 other people in the grass to hear renowned Buddhist Thich Nat Han deliver a talk on peace. After his discussion, he invited members of the audience to the stage to discuss difficult issues in their lives. One man walked up with trepidation and proceeded to tell us, with pain in his voice, about his current struggles with his ex-wife.
“I only see my son once every two weeks,” he described. “He spends the first full day of our visits locked in his room away from me and finally comes out to engage with me on the second day, at which time he proceeds to interact with me the same way my ex-wife does. It is clear that in his mom’s home, he is constantly fed grief and anger towards me. My wife’s projections onto him about her disappointments in our own relationship are so strong that my son has begun to view me in the same way that she does. By the end of our visit, when he finally warms up to me enough to crack a smile, it’s time for him to go home. What do I do to ease this situation without feeding in to the drama my wife is creating?”
With a big smile on his face, the wise Zen master answered, “Nothing.”
I knew this story all too well because for sixteen years I had been sharing custody of my daughter with a man who, although was a great father, was a notorious control freak; prone to enforce his opinions and influence on anyone malleable enough to easily absorb his iron reign. This included our daughter.
Oftentimes I would find myself frustrated when after staying at his house for a week she would come home spouting snippets of language that I knew had come from him that she couldn’t possibly really understand or believe. She would speak blindly of politics or sexuality or contemporary issues with her father’s tone and I was left feeling helpless and angry, afraid she would be molded in his image instead of adopting my more compassionate and empathic ways. But because I came from a tumultuous home myself, and not wanting her to experience the same, I would bite my tongue rather than counteracting her father’s influence with my own seesaw rage. It wouldn’t help for her to be a ping-pong between two sides when she was merely listening to the more demonstrative of the two of us.
“Nothing?” the father onstage asked clearly baffled.
“Nothing,” Thich Nat Han reiterated. “You merely hold space for your son with loving kindness and live by example knowing that you can fully trust in simply being peace.”
This profound statement stuck with me as I watched my daughter’s teen years unfold into a period of self-individuation. It stuck with me as I watched her father grow less comfortable with the fact that she was becoming an adult. I did what Han said and lived by example, lending my words of wisdom to her only when asked but never enforcing my judgments or way onto her otherwise. I learned to silently have faith in the quiet and safe place I was laying out for her to decide and unfold within like a beautiful lotus flower. I knew that one day, when she was of the age to make up her own mind, she would call upon the things she learned from the both of us and take the bits which worked best for who she would eventually become. For my part, I wanted to provide her a pot of richness to choose from representing the fruits of an ego-less, unconditional acceptance and the unencumbered presence of pure love. A subtle servitude to blind faith was essential in sustaining all of the above.
No, it wasn’t easy and many times I came close to the bone, ready to yell at the top of my lungs or let my will take over where my heart gave grace. I wasn’t perfect and I’m sure I slipped up along the road. But on Mother’s Day when my daughter had turned the ripe, mature age of 21 she actually thanked me for being this way throughout her life and told me that it was something she had learned to appreciate about my mothering ways. She said it was hard enough counteracting her father’s bias while still being a loving daughter to him and she was thankful she didn’t have to so the same with me. She said it had also taught her how to achieve a certain sense of understanding with detachment in her own life instead of what could’ve amounted to confusion and pain.
I could not have asked for a better reward for believing in peace.
Kimberly Nichols is a Venice Beach-based artist and writer.
Parental alienation has been a hot-button topic since Richard Gardner's theory and the subsequent debate occurred. While the American Psychological Association never recognized Parental Alienation as a diagnostic label, many Court relied on expert testimony in this area in adjudicating custody disputes. The fact is that children do sometimes experience distance in their relationship with a parent. Recent research (Kelly and Johnson, 2001) confirms that there are many reasons for this distance, ranging from realistic estrangement, where a child is distant or rejects a parent who has abused him, to pathological alienation, where a child is distant or rejects a parent due to the influence of the other parent. The middle ground between these extremes contains children who display an allegiance for one parent over the other - who have not been subject to any dynamics of alienation or abuse. The allegiance shown by these children is often age and developmentally appropriate. Alienation exists but it is not a "one size fits all" label and discerning which type of alienation is present is the basis for determining the relative responsibilities of the parents for causing this alienation and, more importantly, helps to identify the necessary treatments for remedying it. Alienated children suffer (Fidler and Bala, 2010) and the ill effects of the alienation persist into adulthood (Baker 2005a, 2005b, 2007) It is critical for their best interest and safety that the problem be accurately identified and treated.
Credit: Dr. David Finn, Rolling Meadows, Illinois
With the recent publication of Jill Egizii and Judge Michele Lowrance's workbook "Parental Alienation 911," more attention is being focused in Illinois on parental alienation, it's pathology, and ways to address it.
The Honorable Judge Gomery of Canada once stated, “Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child. It has to be taught. A parent who would teach a child to hate the other parent represents a grave and persistent danger to the mental and emotional health of that child.”
So, what are possible causes of Parental Alienation?
Intentions differ from one parent to the next, but psychologists have suggested the following as potential motivators:
An alienating parent may have unresolved anger toward the other parent for perceived wrongs during the relationship and may be unable to separate those issues from parenting issues.
An alienating parent may have unresolved issues from their childhood, particularly in how they related to their own parents, which he or she projects onto the other parent (whether or not it's factually accurate).
An alienating parent may have a personality disorder, such as narcissism or a borderline personality, which makes him or her unable to empathize with the child's feelings or see the way their behavior is harming the child. Such personality disorders may also make the alienating parent more likely to be jealous of the other parent's adjustment to the breakup and cause the alienating parent to have extreme rage toward the other parent.
An alienating parent may be so insecure as to his or her own parenting skills that he or she projects those concerns onto the other parent, regardless of reality.
An alienating parent may be so wrapped up in their child's life that he or she has no separate identity and sees the child's relationship with the other parent as a threat.
Helping Children Resist the Pressure to Choose One Parent Over the Other
By Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D. in Caught Between Parents, Psychology Today
Some children of divorce naturally feel caught between their parents as they adjust to two homes, two sets of rules, possibly two neighborhoods, and two families. But what children really want and need is to stay out of their parents' conflicts and to maintain healthy and strong relationships with both parents (unless, of course, one parent is abusive to the child).
Unfortunately, some parents take advantage of children's difficulty navigating between two families and dealing with the complexity of parental divorce by creating in their children an expectation that they choose sides. These parents employ a range of strategies, known as parental alienation, in order to foster the child's rejection of the other parent.
Parental alienation strategies can take many forms but usually includes badmouthing the other parent, limiting contact between the child and that parent, and interfering with communication between the child and the parent.
Divorcing parents need to become educated about the primary parental alienation strategies so that they can effectively employ responses that challenge the child's tendency to take sides while maintaining the high road as a parent (see Baker & Fine, 2008 for more details).
Parents concerned about parental alienation also need to help their children develop 4 capacities that will help them resist the pressure to choose sides. These are:
Critical Thinking Skills
When children think critically they are aware of their thoughts, where they came from and are able to examine the reality of them and change them accordingly. This skill will help the child question his or her ideas about each parent (i.e., one is all good, one is all bad; one is always right, one is always wrong). If a child is using critical thinking skills it is not likely that he or she can be programmed or brainwashed into rejecting one parent to please the other.
When placed in a pressured situation in which a child feels compelled to do as one parent asks (i.e., not spend time with the other parent, spy on that parent, and so forth), it is important for the child to slow down, not act right away, and consider his or her options. Doing so can prevent the child from automatically doing what the alienating parent is asking.
Listening to One's Heart
When children learn how to be true to themselves and their values it is not likely that they can be manipulated or convinced to do something that goes against their best interest (i.e., cut off one parent to please the other) or something that betrays the other parent. Children need to be encouraged to identify their core values and to be attuned to when they are going against them.
Using Coping Skills and Getting Support
Children sometimes feel that they are the only ones who are dealing with a problem and that no one can understand what they are going through. Encouraging children to talk to other people such as friends, teachers, and other caring adults can help them feel less alone and can help them benefit from the wisdom and kindness of others. Children also have more internal resources (self talk, relaxation strategies) that they can develop and rely on in times of need.
I correspond with Dr. Amy Baker on the subject of Parental Alienation, and consider her research and work in this area the most cutting edge available. Dr. Baker is a nationally recognized expert in parent child relationships, especially children of divorce, parental alienation syndrome, and emotional abuse of children.
Many professionals that work with divorce and custody cases see cases of Parental Alienation. Parental alienation can be defined as a social dynamic, generally occurring due to divorce, when a child expresses unjustified hatred or unreasonably strong dislike of a "target" parent, making access by the rejected parent difficult or impossible.
Dr. Amy Baker is a nationally recognized expert in parent child relationships, especially children of divorce, parental alienation syndrome, and emotional abuse of children. Her book, pictured here, provides answers to many critical questions surrounding parental alienation, and is a valuable resource at understanding this highly damaging process.
One definition: The alienation is triggered by an alienating parent. In its worst and most pathological forms, the alienating parent acts to align the children to his or her side and together, with the children, campaign to destroy their relationship with the targeted parent. For the campaign to work, the obsessed alienator enmeshes the children's personalities and beliefs into their own.
I received a letter from Chrissy, who founded Survivors not Victims of PAS. I asked for her permission to reprint her letter to me. It's a very insightful and heartfelt account of PAS, and its impact on a young woman.
Oh thank you Michael. Yes, I would be happy for you to post it. Im trying to make a diffrence for hurting parents as well as the hurting children. It is my hearts desire to help in the fight against PAS. It effects the children way into adult hood. Im hoping with my story more kids will come forward and share their story as well. If there is anything I can do for you or your parents please let me know. Sometimes hearing or talking is more uplifting than reading it. Im always here.
Thank you for all your hard work and supporting a cause that is dear to my heart. Keep up the life changing work and you have all my support
My name is Chrissy. Im the founder of ~Survivors not
Victims~. I have many chapters to my book of life as you can see on my website.
But this chapter is on PAS and how it effected me.
When I was 3 my mom meet the man we thought would fullfill our dreams
of being a husband and father. This was shatterd shortly after the
courting was over. My mother and I where very much abusied by this man. I
was always without my mom knowing made known by him that I was not his
child. I always wanted his love and approval I hungered after it but
nothing I did was right for him. When he yelled at me pure fear would enter
my mind would I get hit this time and never ever was I allowed to look
him in the eye during these periods. Iwould get flush my ankles would
itch the butterfies in my stomach would be overwelming. I tell you
these things to help you to understand the power someone can have over your
mind even after all this.They eventally had my 2 wonderful brothers.