Family Dynamics Are Often Ignored With Alienation
When Dr. Richard Gardner introduced the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) he inadvertently created a storm of controversy among mental health professionals that has
resulted in much confusion and misunderstandings. The argument whether the problem meets the medical standards of a "Syndrome" has clouded the issue and led some to question the basic validity of "Parental Alienation." The courts and child advocates are perhaps more skeptical because of the dueling and often misconstrued accusations made in the courts and with social service agencies. Whether or not Alienation can be considered a "Syndrome" the symptoms, behavior, and results are very, very real. And, although the results of Alienation are extremely destructive they are often misunderstood or ignored by professionals. Pre-alienation family dynamics play a significant role and need to be carefully examined by professionals concerned about the child's best interests.
Regardless of the terminology, the Alienation of a child from one parent in some toxic divorces is real. But, because of the uniqueness of family dynamics it is often very difficult to determine how it happened and the degree of malignancy it has reached by the time professionals become involved. Extreme Parental Alienation that approaches the "Syndrome" criteria defined by Gardner is relatively rare and all three parties to the divorce usually play a role.
Please note that in the remainder of this and its associated pages I have borrowed heavily from an article published in "The Family Court Review" entitled THE ALIENATED CHILD: A Reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome by Joan B. Kelly and Jane R. Johnston
Gardner described Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) as a disorder in the child that has generated both
an enthusiastic acceptance and a strong negative response. It is the child's campaign of
against a parent that results from the
contributing factors: the programming or brainwashing by one parent and
the child’s own willing contributions to the vilification of the
target. He notes that the
indoctrinating parent is usually the mother and that false allegations
of sexual abuse are
common. Kelly and Johnston contend, though, that the abuse does not
meet the standards of a "syndrome" so they are more concerned with the
actual alienation process.
many parents participate in alienating behavior only a small percentage
of children become alienated. There are a number of contributing
factors and conditions that play into the process of alienation. And
family dynamics play a significant role in determining the success of an
1. A Narcissistic Response
Prior to separation, some parents use the child and place them right in the middle of the marital conflict. Typically, school-age
children are torn between parents because they are pressured to take sides in the toxic relationship, be a messenger between parents, rescue a parent's psyche,
and exclude or be punitive toward a parent. In some cases a parent actually resents the children because they replaced the spouse at birth in terms of affection and attachment. These are examples of the family dynamics that are relevant to alienation.
The alienator parent commonly experiences a deep narcissistic injury, such as complete abandonment, which results in profound humiliation and rage. This narcissistic response frequently results in response to the reasons for and the manner in which the separation occurred. For example, There may be a vehement narcissistic response if there was no opportunity for the alienator to become emotional prepared, if there was the presence of a lover, if the spouse decided to pursue a gay lifestyle, if the residence was emptied of furnishings and children without warning, etc.
Even in the absence of a sudden, traumatic separation the rage of a narcissist spouse trigger vindictiveness, revenge, and a blurring of the boundaries between parent and child where the alienator initiates alliance with the child expressed as an "us" against him or her in all routine matters.
2. Litigation and Conflicted Divorce
Divorces characterized by bitter and protracted legal proceedings, continued verbal and/or physical aggression after separation, unsubstantiated allegations and counterallegations of child abuse, neglect, or parental lack of interest are also more likely to result in alienation in the child.
They are inappropriately treated as adults in matters from which they should be insulated. They are often used as confidants about legal and financial matters, are given too great a choice about visiting the nonresidential parent, and are exposed to repeated parental denigration of one or both parents. The intensity of the conflict, its unrelenting consistency, the polarization of the child and the extended family and the parents inability to address the child's needs together can create an intolerable degree of anguish, tension, and anger in the child.
One psychological survival response by the child is to relieve the unbearable stress by rejecting the “bad" parent and ceasing all contact.
3. New Partners, Extended Families, and Advocates
A new partner can have a sudden and dramatic impact on the family dynamics in alienation. New partners, particularly those perceived to be responsible for the breakup of the marriage, can serve as a lightning rod for rage about the divorce, and children in such situations often are faced with stark loyalty conflicts and hard choices. They might feel betrayed by the discovery of a new partner and experience a sense of abandonment by the parent as well as resentment for both the parent and new partner.
The courts and its officers ( lawyers ) often severely exacerbate the problem in extended high conflict divorces. Because cases in which children refuse to visit often are accompanied by allegations of emotional or physical abuse, neglect, or parental lack of interest in the child, most often framed and litigated in highly inflammatory language, professionals tend to become polarized themselves and take absolute, rigid viewpoints supporting their clients.
Sometimes, the attorneys and other professionals fail to recognize the problem and have been known to collaborate to maintain the staus quo because the child seems happy with the alienator and a change would actually be harmful. See the article on why alienated parents lose in court.
When therapists selected for the child have no knowledge of the child alienation processes or collaborative efforts needed to assist such children and families, considerable harm can be done in addressing the child’s rage and the unwarranted rejection of the parent.
Read about the Alienator's Role In The Process
Read Aout The Targeted Parent's Role In The Family Dynamics Leading To Alienation.
Read About The Child's Role In The Family Dynamics Leading To Alienation.
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