Did you recently separate or divorce (or begin divorce proceedings), and now you are not seeing your kids — despite being a “normal-range” parent?
Are you hearing false allegations against you? Maybe you hear that your children don’t want to see you, or that they are afraid of you, or that they hate you and do not want you in their lives. Their other parent seems to have a very close relationship with your children. You are either their father or mother, and you have a vague sense that their other parent is negatively influencing them. You are devastated: you care about your children a lot and would never dream of not being there for them. You are a normal-range parent, and you have never done anything that would cause a child to push you out of their life (like abusing substances or engaging in domestic violence of abandoning them). This is a high-conflict custody case, but you hope this will all be sorted out soon. You feel misunderstood, embarrassed, shut-down, and angry. Any marriage or relationship therapy you may have had failed because the therapist sided with the other parent.
The good news is it that you are not alone – it might be a case of parental alienation. There are no epidemiological studies, but some people believe 1 in 100 children are affected by this. There are countless other parents in your situation. Listen to their stories.
In order to respond most effectively, you have to know what you are up against. Before it can get better, you have to understand how bad it is. This blog explains how bad it is, but future blogs will suggest possible ways forward and provide precise and accurate methods for knowing if parental alienation is involved.
First the disclaimers: obviously, this blog is neither medical nor legal advice. That only comes from qualified professionals. This blog is simply my opinion.
I don’t want to be a downer, but the bad news is that you are up against powerful, complex psychological forces that few people understand well. And there are lots of rookie mistakes that can be made. Most counselors do not understand it well, even if they might say they do. Few guardian ad litems understand it.
Almost everyone will side with your spouse. Get used to it. Don’t be naïve. Parental alienation is not well understood. Therapists, judges, guardian ad litems, attorneys, judges would need advanced training in multiple area, including delusion processes, personality disorders, family systems, and the child attachment system. Even worse, parental alienation is very threatening because it requires someone to believe that a parent could harm their children in this way. Parental Alienation is counter intuitive. Because of the (unhealthy) closeness of your children to their other parent, it will be presumed that it is in the child’s best interest for you to no longer be in their life.
Everyone is going to be looking at anything and everything in your life to figure out why your kids reject you. Get used to it. They will seize on your biggest weakness and any trivial mistakes to explain it in their own minds. In fact, you will constantly be in no win situations – with you do something or don’t do something can and will be used against you. If you breathe, you will be called presumptuous. If you fail to breathe, then you will be said to be creating drama.
Extended family could prevent what is happening but they probably will not. Mental Health providers could prevent what is happening but they probably will not. Courts could prevent it but they probably will not. The prosecutor could prevent it but they probably will not.
Your children will likely suffer harm from this. There are several peer reviewed studies out there that show that parental alienation is psychological maltreatment. There are recent press releases from the American Psychological Association about a recent peer reviewed study (Dr. Joseph Spinazzola) that psychological maltreatment is as harmful as sexual abuse.
You face a tough battle, which I will address in future blogs, but I will mention a few things briefly:
- Realize that you are not alone.
- Keep yourself together. Seek support. Read and study. Exercise. Give back to the community. The more you let yourself slide into despair and frustration, the easier the job will be for the alienator.
- Don’t blame your child … they are subject to complex pressures at a time when they can least afford it.
- Insist that your attorney understands parental alienation. Many say the do but most don’t.
- Insist that any therapists understand parental alienation. Many say they do but most don’t.
- Most important … never give up on your child. Never back down. If you back away, they alienating parent will just say that you didn’t really ever love your child, which is very hard on every child.
- Never take the bait and become involved in and ugly dispute with your child.
Future blogs will be more positive and explain what can be done. I will see you on my next blog.