years have passed…

A long time has passed since my last post. Three and a half years! That post was part one of two, but before I return to part two I will give you a quick update.

My children are all still severely alienated. I didn’t realize how much I had expected that to change, and consequently how sad I became when it didn’t. Although writing this blog has been very satisfying, especially when commenters expressed that it helped them understand their own situations better, I just kept procrastinating because it was too painful.

I know, and I have repeatedly written, that patience is key, and to not lose hope, and that as long as the alienator has frequent access to your children (or sibling, as the case may be) that it is not realistic to expect them to be able to resist. I knew it, and yet I still let myself nourish those expectations.

I have continued reading about alienation and cult-like relationships and I have continued talking to friends who have experience with alienation, and all I have encountered confirms that only separation from the alienator can stop it. On the positive side, I have repeatedly seen that the alienation can dissolve quite quickly when that happens.

I will write more about what has happened to me in relevant future posts, after getting back to part two of the last one.

If you are moved to do so, please write about any experience you have had with alienation that has ended – your own or a friend’s.

Love to all!
Claire

 

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Alienators as Cult Leaders and your Children as Cult Members – Some Insights

I stumbled across an article by Doni Whitsett and Stephen A. Kent about what can happen to families involved in cults. (A link to the article can be found at the end of this post.) It was written for therapists, to help therapists understand the experiences of clients who had been cult members. It is not about parental alienation, but since parental alienators behave like leaders of their own little cults, I recognized many of the problems the authors describe occurring in my family, and maybe you will too. Quotations from the article are in red, and my comments follow in black.

The controlling demands of leaders minimize and often eliminate emotional connections among family members that might compete with members’ loyalties toward them.  The controlling demands of the alienating parent minimize and/or eliminate connections with you.

By their very nature, cults cannot afford to have [… independently functioning individuals] (Deikman, 1994, pp. 50–69). To this end, individual and family boundaries break down as the result of several factors. These factors include intensive resocialization into the new, deviant beliefs and behaviors; the demonization of people’s precult lives; intense punishment and shaming regimes; restrictions on exogenous social contacts; heavy financial and time commitments; and constant demands to value group commitments over [individual] considerations.  

Alienators most definitely “intensively resocialize” children into the “new, deviant beliefs and behaviors“: That you are a bad parent, a bad person, that you don’t love them and are to be rejected. “Demonization of precult lives” describes the demonization of the rejected parent and perhaps other relatives,  and the reinvention of the past. “Intense punishment and shaming regimes” might be an overstatement. These terms suggest violence and aggression and I think alienators are more subtle, but then again, when I think of my own experience when my ex alienated me from my parents, it’s perfectly accurate. And my children saw what happened to me when I was “disloyal”, and therefore the threat is there for them too. “Restrictions on exogenous social contacts: Limiting or preventing contact with the other parent and associated persons is a hallmark of alienation, and in the case of my family the alienator dramatically limited and controlled all the social contacts of our children. He convinced or compelled them to end friendships, only enrolled them in extracurricular activities that he was involved in, promoted family socializing as a group with his (very few) friends, and kept himself and them isolated in many ways. “Heavy financial and time commitments; and constant demands to value group commitments over [individual] considerations”: This doesn’t apply quite so neatly as we are talking about children who generally do not have financial resources, but alienators do often jealously interfere with their children’s time. My children spend far more time with their dad than is typical for teenagers, and far more time together as a group, with him, than I believe is developmentally healthy. 

The alienators I described in an earlier post used most of these controlling techniques too.

Not surprisingly, therefore, in these high-control groups, [alienated] parents’ authority over their children is undermined. The [alienator] usurps the rights and obligations that usually adhere to [both parents].  Although almost always with the exception of financial obligations!

 

A typical dire consequence of dysfunctional leaders running groups is that frequently members are exposed to shaming and humiliating experiences, both in public and in front of their families. Witnessing their parents’ degradation, children lose respect for them. This did happen to me and my children.

Amid such humiliation, […] children must look elsewhere for someone to admire, emulate, and model themselves after. … Cult leaders (alienators) fill this void, as they claim to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfect embodiments of “truth.” 

Cults divide the world into discrete, dichotomous categories: good and evil, the saved and the damned, winners and losers, and so on (see McGuire pp. 39–44, 2002). These represent splitting, which is a primitive defense mechanism that reduces the anxiety of having to live with life’s uncertainties (see Whitsett, 1992, p. 370). They generate deep suspicions if not outright hostility toward nonmembers, especially those who once believed but subsequently left the group. Defectors from these cults…(the former spouse) are (from the perspective of their former groups) the worst outsiders, because they once had “the truth” but now turn their backs on it. When a defector is a parent who desires either custody or visitation rights for children whose other parent [is an alienator], then children likely suffer the consequences of having been socialized into these split and demonizing belief systems. …they may experience…trauma as they move between the two households, one of which the [alienator] will have defined as “good” and the other as “evil.” Because the children are fearful of being drawn into the [rejected]  parent’s reputedly demonic world, their visitations often are contrived and anxiety ridden. Children may be withdrawn, guarded about their everyday lives, and unwilling to engage in [ordinary] activities that the cult (alienator) defines as sinful. That is, activities that would promote being close to and enjoying their alienated parent.

Not surprisingly, therefore, these children may experience nightmares and show other signs of distress before or after visits with the [alienated] parent. Custody evaluators may misinterpret these signs as validation of the cult parent’s claims that the outside parent is harmful. 

Part two to follow.

http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/~skent/Linkedfiles/Cults%20and%20Families.pdf

Doni Whitsett and Stephen A. Kent, Cults and Families, Families in Society, Volume 84, Number 4, 2003

Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services • http://www.familiesinsociety.org

Copyright 2003 Alliance for Children and Families

Posted in Academic Articles, Alienators as Cult Leaders, PAS Families as Cults, Effects on Children, Effects on Targeted Parents, Mind Control, Psychological Interventions, Recommended Resources, The Psychology of Alienation, Understanding the Alienating Parent | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lost this battle…but not discouraged

My dream was that when my kids came to live with me again they would see that I was not who the alienator told them I was, they would open their minds & hearts to me, the alienation would end, and we would live happily ever after. This did not happen. I did not imagine that the alienator, their dad, would end up living a 5 minute walk from my door, and that the kids would see him virtually every day. Essentially today I provide a hostel or dormitory, and they do all their living with him. Well, not all. They do spend time in their rooms, bring friends over, and hang out with each other, but they keep their interactions with me to the absolute minimum, while they have meals and hang out and socialize with their dad.

The easiest way to understand it is to imagine that they were members of a cult like the Moonies or Hare Krishnas and had to move out the cult compound, but had their loyalty to the cult reinforced and maintained by staying aloof and separate from the new environment and by making daily visits to their leader after school or work, and taking meals with him, spending quality time with him.

I realize now that given this situation – daily reinforcement of the alienation – my expectations for reconnection with my children were unrealistic. However, I also think that the very fact that they work so hard to stay away from me is evidence that they actually know the truth (that I love them and am a sane and loving parent) and must stay away to avoid having to deal with this truth. (You’ll have to take my word for it, but I am friendly and warm and respectful, and not critical or intrusive or controlling, and the home I have provided is pleasant and welcoming.)

Three things give me hope and keep me from staying discouraged, because I do slip into feeling discouraged. First, that they obviously have to work at maintaining their alienated state, that it is not easy or natural for them. Second, they do ask for my help with things like making dentist appointments. Why wouldn’t they ask their dad the alienator? At least in this arena, they trust me more than him, and I am grateful. Third, it is impossible that the alienator will be able to maintain his control of four developing individuals. Outside influences and other people will become more important in their lives and challenge them. I just have to be patient.

The key lesson from my experience, which is confirmed by most of the work on parental alienation and PAS, is that the best and probably only way for an alienated parent to overcome alienation is to keep the alienator away. Extended time with you, without the alienator’s influence, is the only solution. If you have the chance, fight as hard as you can for this (see What to Do and What Not to Do and Fighting Back Using the Legal System Part VIII).

In my next post I will write about a fascinating article written for therapists to guide them in working with children and families who have left cults. It provides a lot of helpful insight into why and how children (or anyone) can be alienated from a loving parent and how and why the brainwashing is maintained.

Posted in Alienators as Cult Leaders, PAS Families as Cults, My Story, The Psychology of Alienation, What Should I do? | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Dismayed, Discouraged, Disgusted

I regret that I haven’t written for a while. I realize that I’ve been a little depressed.

I’m dismayed to realize that I wish my children would move out, after I worked so hard to get them back.

I’m discouraged by how severely alienated they remain, despite the fact that three of them now live with me, sort of.

I’m disgusted by the outrageous boundary-crashing of the alienator, my ex.

Let’s start with the ex. In the past month he has been entered MY HOME, without my permission, at least four times, and no doubt more. The kids let him in, or on at least two occasions, gave him their keys so he could come in to get something for them. Just to be clear, he knew that I did not want him inside because he offered to help in the past when they were moving things in. I politely refused, and at that time he seemed to accept that. Then, a few weeks ago, there he was in the living room, tidying up some papers. I was stunned.

“What are you doing? Why are you here!?” I said. Ever so casually he replied, “Oh, Evan was just showing me something, and I’m just cleaning up.” “I’d rather the kids did that” I said. “Oh they do. Don’t worry, we’re leaving in a minute,” he answered. I stood there, dumbfounded and furious. I knew that the kids were in the next rooms and I did not want them to become involved. I stood and stared at him for another minute, then left the room to think about what to do next. Moments later, he and the kids did leave. I was happy that there had been no scene, and that the kids did not end up defending him, but his relaxed and familiar behaviour in my living room and total lack of recognition of anything inappropriate really upset me. I sent him an email telling him not to come into my home without my permission.

This is what he wrote back:

You are paranoid and obviously unbalanced. There is no justification for your message. Please refrain from sending any more memos of this nature.

I did not reply, and thought that would be the end of it. Wrong!!

The next week, I saw him leaving my home as I approached. Two nights later, I met him in my hallway. I told him, forcefully, to stay out. He said it was an emergency, the kids needed something and he had a vehicle. I said, “then call me to let me know! Or call the landlord!” Again, not a hint of a sense of anything inappropriate, in fact, he appeared insulted and angry at me.

The worst part?

A few days later I met my son Evan in the kitchen. I hadn’t seen him in about two weeks. I was friendly, as I always am, and greeted him warmly, although he always ignores me. This time he did not ignore me, and proceeded to lecture me about how I had no right or justification to tell his dad to stay out. Foolishly, I argued with him. I tried to make some rational points with zero success, and just got attacks and accusations in response. In my head I knew this was going badly, and was trying to think of something positive to say to him. He left, I wished him a good day at work, which he probably didn’t hear because he’d put his headphones on.

And the landlord told me that my ex was in the house again since then. (The landlord doesn’t care.)

So, there you have another example of the outrageous, arrogant sense of entitlement of the alienator. It pales in comparison to the destructiveness of the ex of my friend Marie: He coached their children to make false accusations of abuse against her, had her arrested, the children taken away and placed with him. In this case previous assessment(s!) of the family had found him unfit and to be alienating and gave her custody, but the police did not investigate before acting on the accusation, and the poor children will have been with the alienator for about a year before she is cleared and the children returned to her. A year of intensive alienation in the “care” of a psychopath. It’s heartbreaking.

A small and a big example of the malignant narcissism of the alienator, who apparently can’t conceive that others have rights, including the right to think differently from him or her.

I’m trying to figure out how to deal with the alienator violating my right to enjoy my home in peace without making things worse with my children, but this is probably not possible. I hope someday in the future they will see it as a good thing, as an example of standing up to bullying.

In my next post I’ll get to Dismayed and Discouraged, and I hope, have an antidote for myself and for those of you experiencing the same thing.

Posted in Effects on Children, Effects on Targeted Parents, My Story, The Psychology of Alienation, Understanding the Alienating Parent | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Dealing with Questions and Insensitive People

Insensitive others are a sad fact of life. Women who have had miscarriages get told things like “it was for the best”. I know a mother of a child with Down’s syndrome who had someone say “too bad you couldn’t have had amniocentesis”. People with cancer find some others will blame them for causing their illness with bad diet or negative thoughts. People who have suffered a loss through death encounter friends and relatives who are frightened of their pain and don’t know what to do or say, and also expect them to “get over it” after a certain period of time, and judge them negatively if they don’t.

You may already judge yourself for losing your children through alienation, or fear that others believe that you are to blame. It is NOT your fault. Paradoxically, it is often particularly good parents who are the victims of alienation. If you didn’t care and really were a bad parent, the alienator wouldn’t have to put all that effort into manipulating your child’s relationship with you. Still, it is understandable that people who have not encountered alienation before may be uncomprehending, and even disbelieving, and think that you, and I, must have done “something”.

I try to take the questions as an opportunity to educate people about PAS. They may or may not accept what I say as true, but I know that sooner or later they will meet someone else in a similar situation. Other times I may choose to say little, and change the subject.  You will get questions about your kids when you meet new acquaintances, friendly questions from co-workers, neighbours, old friends you run into, concerned questions from relatives… These can all be painful and sometimes awkward. You will probably develop a standard answer for most situations. During the four years that I had no contact with my children and couldn’t answer any questions about what they were doing, I used to say “I have four children but actually I don’t see them. My ex-husband is mentally ill and has convinced our children to hate me. It’s a sort of cult-like situation.  I am in court now fighting for custody and access”. People would usually respond with a bit of shock, a bit of embarrassment, and say they were sorry to hear it. Some people would be freaked out and never bring it up again, but others would be curious and ask more, and many would tell me about a similar situation in their own or a friend’s family. Other times when that amount of information was inappropriate I would say “they are with their dad right now, and we’re still working on our custody and access schedule”. Through trial and error you will develop some ways to answer questions about your kids, but you may find it helpful to practice and prepare a few responses for situations when questions about your kids are going to come up.

You are not alone. They are many of us alienated parents, but sadly there are many more parents suffering over even harder problems – parents of children with terminal or chronic illness or severe disability, parents of children with addictions, parents of children hurt in accidents. Beware of inadvertently being insensitive yourself. I’ve occasionally heard an alienated parent imagine that the death of a child might be easier to cope with, because of the finality of the tragedy, as opposed to the continuing unresolved pain of alienation. Believe me, and one poor mother I know who lost one child to a car accident and another to alienation – the grief of a child’s death never ends. That loss is irrevocable and forever, while the loss of a child to alienation could potentially end at any moment.

Take care, and don’t forget to seek out people who do understand and will provide support and encouragement!

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Being positive in your interactions with your alienated children: “attraction rather than promotion”

I came across this in a list of tips for alienated parents from http://www.mrcustodycoach.com:

#3 – Positive language, always! Avoid the use of negative language.  This is one parents often overlook.  It’s simple and it’s subtle, that’s why it’s missed.  Sometimes we’ll call it “think like the child.”  Examples include:

Instead of, “I miss you…” Use, “I look forward to the next time I see you!” I miss you can put the child in a position to feel guilt or upset.  The second effort is upbeat and positive.

Instead of, “I wish I could have seen that…” Use, “Wow, that’s great to hear and must have been very exciting!” The former conveys a lost opportunity or a regret.  The latter conveys excitement, support, and positive reinforcement regarding whatever experience is the topic.

Find your opportunities to turn a potentially negative message into a positive communication.

Of course sometimes it is also important to tell your kids that you miss them, but I expect that most of us are already doing that! I really like the idea of emphasizing the positive and expressing enthusiasm and excitement about being with your children. I think this would be especially helpful with younger kids. It fits with the goal of being attractive to your children as a pleasant, sane, happy, competent person. 

I know my kids have to listen to a huge amount of complaining and negativity from their dad, mostly about me but about many other people too, and he requires them to be angry along with him. That must be tiring and depressing.

From an organization that I belong to (completely unrelated to parental alienation) I learned the principle of  “attraction rather than promotion”. That is, do not try to convince someone that they should do a certain thing because it would be good for them. Instead, do the thing yourself, and when others see you flourishing, they will be attracted to the idea of trying it too. This seems like good advice for anyone, but it applies particularly well for alienated parents. Promoting ourselves to our children is worse than futile – it is likely to produce a backlash. (see What to Do and What NOT to Do) However we can be attractive to them in spite of the walls they put up. The indirect approach of just being consistently pleasant, reliable, sane and positive will definitely help weaken the hold the alienator has on your child, and shorten the time until your child returns to you.

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Hard Times

My kids have been especially difficult lately. The two youngest, who are teenagers, took and wrecked things of mine, have been defiant, rude, offensive, and demanded apologies from me for “not trusting them” and for ruining their lives to such a degree that, according to them, their disrespect of me is natural and logical and I deserve their anger & rudeness.

I did not remember my own advice – to not take it personally, and I made things worse by arguing with them.

I saw that someone had found this blog by entering the search terms “reasoning with an alienated child”. You cannot reason with an alienated child. Maybe someone can – someone unconnected with you – but you can’t. I can’t reason with mine. With me, they are not reasonable or rational. Getting drawn into an argument with them is disastrous. They are not at all interested in my opinion. It just becomes an opportunity to vent anger and criticize me, to repeat, again, all the accusations they have learned from the alienator. Although they live under my roof, they interact with me as little as they can, and see their dad everyday and have those accusations and criticisms reinforced.

I have heard from their teachers and from the parents of some of their friends that my children interact normally with their classmates and other adults, that they are generally reasonable and kind and well-liked, although I know that they have also ended friendships with other kids when my ex had issues with those friends’ parents. I also believe that my ex has undermined some of my children’s activities and relationships with others in order to promote their dependence on and closeness to him, and I know that he has encouraged them to be arrogant, judgmental, rude and even cruel to certain people, including authority figures, their grandparents and other senior citizens.

Sometimes this makes me panic. I know that I have no control over how they behave with others, but in relation to me I find it very hard to know when to draw the line. Am I being a doormat and accepting abuse and creating monsters? Or do I let it go, knowing that it is not their fault, that they are brainwashed, manipulated, & basically forced into acting as if they hate me? I was alienated. I know what it’s like. I’m sure that they are uncomfortable with their horrible behaviour, and work hard to hate me more to justify it. In fact it would give them relief if I lost my temper and was critical and angry back at them.

So here is my advice to myself:

Don’t take it personally. Impose consequences for the bad behaviour (no allowance until the ruined property is replaced or paid for, in one case, no favours extended for a long time in another), but don’t lecture, don’t argue, don’t take the bait, don’t engage.

Take care of myself so that I have the strength to stay calm and firm and loving. Remember that they are not my enemies – they are victims.

It’s hard!

Posted in Effects on Children, Effects on Targeted Parents, My Story, The Psychology of Alienation | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments