DIVORCE HURTS EVERYONE!!
PAS Q & A, Part Two: begins with an explanation of the difference between PAS and Estrangement, and then points out some of the behaviors of both the “Alienating Parent” and the “Alienated Child,” and offers some tips on what you can do if your child is being alienated.
As previously stated, a high-conflict divorce in which one of the parents is being negatively criticised, put down as a parent or for who they are as a person, and visits or communication are made difficult, are often mistaken as cases of PAS because Parental Alienation or PA includes many of the same mild to moderate behaviors of an alienating parent, but… they do not progress into Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).
Highly conflicted couples can argue with each other almost every time they speak. Couples experiencing Parental Alienation involve an ‘alienating parent’ and a ‘target parent’ which can be either the mother or father. The dynamic goes beyond the constant arguing. The dynamic becomes that of one in which the child or children are caught in the middle and drawn into siding with one parent to basically go into battle against the now rejected parent, with whom the child had previously had a fine relationship. This point is of crucial importance: the ‘Alienating Parent’ begins to either consciously or unconsciously manipulate the child(ren) against the other parent with no new circumstances and no real justification. By that, I mean that there is no real reason, risk, danger, threat or incident to make a healthy, normally concerned and protective parent believe there is a need to prevent the child(ren) from seeing, speaking with, and visiting the targeted mother or father.
Another very difficult family dynamic, which requires professional assistance from someone who is trained in differentiating between PAS and other reasons that a child might be refusing to see their parent, is called ‘Estrangement.’ There are many, many cases in which a parent truly feels like they are a victim of Parental Alienation, when in fact they are not. It is essential for this family’s history is be looked into, to see how all the relationships were from before the separation up until the present instead of simply going by the fact that the child is not willing to speak to or visit the other parent because there are many reasons for the symptom of contact refusal. It must be deeply looked into by someone with training in differentiating between PA, PAS and Estrangement to know whether or not the presumed target parent is actually a victim of PAS.
As Dr Darnell wrote, in 1997, “Parents must be cautioned not to conclude that all parent-child relationship problems are caused by alienating behaviour. When there is true abuse, it is natural that a parent will feel protective towards the children. This is not alienation.”
Dr Willian Bernet, as the keynote speaker at the Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation, in May or 2011, shared information on The Differential Diagnosis of Contact Refusal that must be considered such as: personality differences, separation anxiety, an appositional defiant disorder, the child’s way of escaping from or attempting to reduce the conflict, etc. It can also be that the parent is suffering the consequences of their own actions or behaviors in the past, getting pay-back so to say, or that there is some form of abuse taking place at that parent’s home.
A trained professional must look at all the possible reasons for a child’s contact refusal to know whether it is actually a case of PAS to be able to help the family correctly. The professional must thoroughly investigate the behaviors and actions of both parents and the child to know if it is a case of PA, PAS, or Estrangement.
The Parental Alienation Awareness Organization states:
ALIENATING BEHAVIORS INCLUDE:
Badmouthing the rejected parent, such as
• Speaking negatively about a parent to, or in front of, the child.
• Inaccurately or untruthfully telling the child about the rejected parent, or suggesting they are unsafe or dangerous.
• Exaggerating minor flaws in the rejected parent.
• Inappropriately confiding adult information with the child.
Interfering in a child’s contact with a rejected parent, such as
• Throwing out gifts and letters from the rejected parent.
• Calling excessively during the time with the rejected parent.
• Early pickups or late drop offs for time with the rejected parent.
• Forbidding any reference to, or photos of the rejected parent.
• Scheduling activities that compete with time with the rejected parent.
• Monitoring or forbidding communication or time with the rejected parent.
Manipulating a child to reject a parent, such
• Withdrawing love, including guilt for having fun or feeling love toward a rejected parent.
Undermining child’s relationship with the rejected parent, such as
• Asking the child to spy on or keep secrets from the rejected parent.
• Forcing the child to choose between parents.
• Creating conflict between the child and rejected parent.
• Interrogating the child after time with a rejected parent.
• Providing the child with inappropriate information about finances, marriage or divorce issues.
• Accusing the rejected parent of causing emotional pain to the favored parent that the child should help to heal.
• Giving the child parental decision making authority, ie whether to visit with the rejected parent.
Undermining the rejected parent’s role in the child’s life, such as
• Refusing to provide the child’s information (medical, educational, etc) to the rejected parent.
• Not inviting/informing the rejected parent of important events. (awards, honors, graduations, etc)
• Refusing to provide others with the rejected parent’s contact information.
• Rewriting history to reduce a rejected parent’s role in the child’s life.
It is essential to remember that many of the above behaviors may be utilized in high conflict divorces and mild to moderate Parental Alienation (PA) without it actually being Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).
PLEASE be aware of, and understand this important and seriously differentiating factor - in PAS, the child is not feeling upset, disregarded, or worried about hurting anyone’s feelings. They are anxious because one parent will be upset if they see the other or angry at the other parent for various reason.
S/He has taken on the (unintentional or unintentional) Alienating Parent’s attitude, beliefs and behaviors towards the Target Parent, to the extreme, as will follows. First, let's look at a few reasons for Estrangement - when a child who is not suffering PAS but might refuse contact with the other parent:
- The parent has been late or not shown up at scheduled times in the past... the child is then angry and basically paying them back for their neglect.
- Normal personality/behavior preferences for the custodial parent and their immature emotional level makes it too difficult to cope or to understand the gravity of refusing to see the parent 'just because' they don't prefer them.
- The child might not like where the parent lives, that their friends are not there, that they do not have the same toys/rules/schedule...etc.
- They might be annoyed and feel maltreated or neglected because you have a new partner and spend time with them during their visits.
- The child might be worried or anxious about leaving the other parent alone, especially if they know of an affair on that parent's part that broke the other parent's heart... and accidentally indoctrinated the child into feeling they must stand by that hurt parent to show loyalty. A form of taking sides, but not PAS!)
*-*-*- The children in the above incidents have chosen to refuse contact with the parent for actual, valid or perceived to be valid reasons, unlike with PAS.
AN ALIENATED CHILD MAY:
• Express relentless, unambiguous hatred toward the rejected parent and their side of the family.
• Obsessively parrots the favored parent without regard for their own historical experiences.
• Refuse to spend time, visit, or communicate with the rejected parent.
• Hold negative beliefs about the rejected parent that are inconsequential, exaggerated, or unfounded in reality.
• May lack the capacity to feel guilty about inconsiderate or cruel behaviors toward the rejected parent, or to forgive any past conflicts.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOUR CHILD IS BEING ALIENATED?
• Do not argue or get defensive with your child, it creates bad feelings and is not likely to change his/her mind.
• Let your child k now that you have a different understanding of the situation and you would be willing to share your perspective if and when the child is interested.
• Continue, in any possible way, to let the child know that he/she is loved.
• Control your own anger and stay calm, even when hurt of frustrated.
• Hold yourself to the highest possible standard of behavior (do not give the alienating parent ammunition).
• Work on improving your own parenting skills.
• Always call/pick up the child at scheduled times, and be there even if you know the child won’t be available.
• Create positive experiences/memories with your child.
• Provide mental health treatment for yourself and your child with professionals experienced with parental alienation.
• Build a support network with friends, family, community resources, and support groups.
• Become educated and help others involved with your child to learn more about parental alienation.
• Attempt to work constructively with the other parent, either directly or through mediation.
• Continue to attempt positive communication, on a regular basis, even if the child rejects or ignores it.
WHAT NOT TO DO
• Do not ignore the problem – it will not go away.
• Never give up hope and never give up on your child.
The next blog offers tips as to what a teacher, friend of the family, clergyman, parent of the child’s friend, family member, counsellor or coach can help.
Please note, this blog is for information purposes only. The information shared here is not intended to replace professional assistance or to be used for diagnosis purposes, but, you can certainly share it with your professional as a reference along with my contact information.
Sharon Shenker, Specialized Family Life Coach
Divorce Support Plus, http://www.divorcesupportplus.ca