Saturday, November 23, 2013

Self-Imposed Parental Alienation

23 November 2013

First let me provide my definition of self-imposed parental alienation. Parental Alienation is the arrangement of behaviours that are intended to sever the relationship between the child and the targeted parent. When the behaviours create a condition in which the child is driven away from the instigating parent I call that self-imposed parental alienation. While the range of behaviours may be the same among different parents it is the child's cognition of the parent's performance that determines whether alienation is established.

The tragedy of self-imposed parental alienation is that the child generally has a healthy parent-child relationship with the targeted parent impeded by the instigating parent, but this also can create an enduring hostility toward that instigator. The child thus loses having a healthful parent-child relationship with either parent.

Self-Imposed parental alienation is the result of a loss of focus on doing what is best for the child. The very act of divorce is a selfish one. As Judith Wallerstein says in reporting on her 25 year longitudinal study of children of divorce, “If children had the vote, almost all would vote to maintain the parents' marriage.”[en1] This is because divorce produces worse outcomes for children in nearly all cases and the children know it. The adults rationalize their selfish harm to children. It is through rationalization that an instigating parent accepts the alienation as just. If you want to do something, first declare it “good.” If we deem it good, it just is. This is seen simultaneously at an institutional level.

Indiana Code 31-17-2-8 requires that judicial officers make child custody and parenting time decisions by applying “the best interest of the child” standard. I contend however that a rationale view of divorce outcomes on children produces the realization that a court can not fashion post divorce parent-child relationships for the child that is in his best interest. Rather, I believe that the best interest standard is a delusional adult oriented view of child adaptations to divorce. Reporting from children and objective analysis convey the abject failure of this best interest approach. Empirically it has been aptly demonstrated that, on a whole, the children of divorce suffer adversities far greater than their counterparts who remained in intact households. The resultant effect is then that courts are limited to a standard no better than being able to fashion situations that are “least harmful to the child.”

The moral goodness rationalization is the folly of the parent who subjects himself to this type of abuse. Children are keenly aware of the dynamics of post separation relationships between parents. While some children may align themselves with the instigating parent -- becoming integrated in to the disturbed parents' vengeful orbit -- others may reject such an invitation at the onset.

Jared, a boy of age 7, exhibits clear hostility and resentment towards his custodial mother for her attempts to alienate the children from their father – relocating to a new city, seeking sole custody, displaying 'rescuing' behaviours following parenting time with father. Jared has demonstrated his disdain for mother's indignation over his fondness for father and especially her derogation of behaviours that mimic those of father. While initially having a strong attachment to both parents Jared's relationship with his mother has now been sabotaged by her resentment of father. Jared openly refers to his mother as “mean” and says she “doesn't like it when I act like you.”

As Jared enters the pre-adolescent stage he, like his peers in that group, are particularly vulnerable to being swept up into the anger of one parent against the other. It is the embattled parent, often the one who opposed the divorce, who initiates and fuels the alignment against the other parent. Mothers are more likely to have children aligned with them as are fathers.

Katie, a pre-adolescent girl, is demonstrating signs of a realization of mother's alienation attempts and is rejecting mother. In speaking with her about living with mother and her subsequent husband Katie presented anxiety about exhibiting affection for or attachment to father such as wanting to speak with him on the phone, invite him to school functions or display affection towards him when being returned to mother. Her time with father is relaxed and comforting to her but as the time with him approaches an end she becomes lethargic, somewhat uncooperative and resistant to leaving.

Terrance is an adolescent boy whose mother sought to extricate him from the close bond he felt with father since birth. Denying parenting time, returning or destroying items sent with him to her house and rejecting his desire to engage in activities of interest that were shared by his father were hallmarks of her alienation attempts. Terrance and his father managed to maintain meaningful contact throughout this time without father reciprocating the animosity of mother. Terrance now openly displays rejection of mother to other people, often indicating an intense desire to leave the household of his mother and that of her psychologically abusive current husband.

These children all demonstrate an allegiance to the targeted parent and feel that time with the custodial parent is an unwanted imposition for which they wish to be un-tethered. For younger children in this situation they seek a rescuer to remove them from the instigating parent to which they endure the relationship. As children grow older and experience a natural yearning for independence they also feel empowered to determine their own outcomes.

These children as adults become more steadfast in their resentment of the instigator. Sometimes they completely reject that parent who is banished into the child's past.

Some children are without facility for reconciliation with the targeted parents and become effectually isolated from two living but absent parents – one alienated as a target and the other alienated by imposition upon self. For the irrational parent who instigates the destruction of the child's attachments this potential, and likely, outcome is not foreseen. It is incumbent upon practitioners, family, friends and others in the support network to dissuade an alienating parent from perpetuating this harm to the relationships of the child with the targeted parent as well as to self.

[fn1] The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, 2000 Hyperion - Wallerstein, Lewis, Blakeslee

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©2008, 2013 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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