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

Alienators. What motivates yours?

Alienators. Alienators attempt to cause a child to reject a loving mother or father (and/or other loving relatives).  Anyone who does this is perpetrating abuse. Some alienators know but don’t care that the rejected parent is actually a safe and loving person. Some alienators are sincere in their belief that the rejected parent is a bad person and a threat to their child. Even if sincere, those parents are deluded, and demonstrate that their perceptions are distorted, their judgment impaired, and that they should not be trusted with the care of children.

Alienators are not just regular people who are really upset about the divorce and are overreacting. Unfortunately most judges, therapists, lawyers and other professionals assume that this is the case and will admonish the alienator to set aside personal feelings and put the children first, but not do much more. They also assume that the passage of time will mellow the alienator and things will ease up. In an article published in 2005 (1),  Elizabeth Ellis offered the suggestion that rejected parents “Consider ways to mollify the hurt and anguish of the alienating parent”, for example by expressing sympathy for their suffering and offering apologies for any contributions the rejected parent made to the interpersonal conflict. I don’t know about you, but I spent years expressing sympathy and apologizing to my ex for anything I did, or might have done, that upset him. Sometimes this did seem to help, but only temporarily. Nothing was enough to make him happy, and I think it even made things worse by feeding his sense of entitlement! In my personal experience and from my discussions with other alienated parents and from my reading and research, the only thing that will make alienators “happy” is for you to submit completely to their will and their control, either by obeying and venerating them, or by disappearing, and preferably providing money.

Interestingly, the same author in a 2010 article (2)  seems to have changed her attitude to alienators somewhat. She states frankly “the alienating parent will typically have at least some symptoms of a personality disorder” and recognizes that alienators will not be changed by your efforts to be conciliatory. In other posts I will write about the evidence that alienators are mentally ill, and ways to work with or cope with them. Here I would like to describe the alienators that I am personally familiar with, and what appears to motivate them. I would very much like to hear about the alienators that YOU know or are involved with. What seems to motivate him or her, or them? Have you found anything that has improved their attitude to you? Please comment!

All the names are pseudonyms but the situations described are real:

Rejected parent: my friend “Bella”. Alienated from her teenage daughter “Madeleine” for five years by “James”.  James is motivated by hatred for Bella and a desire for complete control. He is a smart, attractive and powerful man with lots of money who makes a great first impression. He first also wanted custody of Bella’s teenage son “Timothy” from a previous relationship. When he couldn’t get it, he cut off all contact with Timothy and even sought a restraining order against him, falsely claiming that Timothy had made threats to harm him. At her father’s urging Madeleine made claims (that were found to be false) that her mother had sexually abused her. James did not allow his daughter to use the internet until she was 16 and had to for school.  He has remarried, and has succeeded in almost completely excising Bella and Timothy from Madeleine’s life, although Madeleine’s relationship with both her mother and brother were previously very close and happy.

Rejected parent: my friend “Matt”. Alienator: His ex-wife “Clarissa”. Clarissa is motivated less by hatred and control and more by insecurity and money. Matt can keep her happy and see the alienation ease when he gives her what she wants, although she always wants more. Clarissa is hypersensitive, paranoid, narcissistic, childish and status-conscious. Matt thinks that she would like to get back together with him, although she was never satisfied or happy with him and the decision to divorce was mutual. She hasn’t worked in years and finds continual excuses for not working. Matt could be financially comfortable but has gone into debt frequently to please Clarissa, by paying for private schools for example, so that he can keep the peace and see his kids. She takes offence at others too, not just Matt, and has changed her children’s schools several times and ended many friendships.

Rejected parent: My friend “Marie”. Alienator: Her ex-husband “Tomas”. Tomas is motivated by hatred and is extremely controlling. He manipulated Marie into rejecting her own parents and siblings for a while early in their marriage, but did it by blatantly lying. She reconnected with them when she found out the truth. He is relatively successful in terms of career and finances, and has family money. He has no need for more money himself but tries to bankrupt Marie to control and punish her. He has twice made false accusations of physical abuse against Marie, getting the children to lie to the police. She has been arrested, and eventually cleared, twice. Both times this allowed him to keep the children away from their mother for months. Psychological assessments for custody and access have been done twice, and Tomas was found to be alienating and damaging and the recommendation was for primary custody to Marie. He succeeded in getting the second arrest made because he made the complaint to a different jurisdiction, and in Ontario it is not illegal to knowingly make false accusations. There is no penalty. Marie is certain to win sole custody this time and probably no contact with the alienator will be ordered, but she worries that Tomas’ motivation to control their children and take them from her is so strong that he will persist. He has clearly shown little fear of the law or the courts, and obviously no conscience at all in regard to his children. The children are just trophies to him and their well-being is irrelevant.

Rejected parent: “Jeremy”. Alienator: “Penny”. Penny is a professional earning a six-figure salary. Penny is very smart, initially very charming, and lies well, easily, and probably compulsively. She initiated the divorce. Their daughter “Felicity” was only two at the time, and Jeremy agreed that it was better for Felicity to be primarily with her mom, but with the understanding that his time with her would continually increase until it was 50-50. This never happened. By the time their daughter was eight he barely saw her. Penny made all kinds of excuses, and at first Jeremy gave her the benefit of the doubt. According to Penny, Felicity has all kinds of allergies and health conditions that are worsened by stress, and she manipulated Felicity to fear and reject her dad, often exploiting the health problems to keep him away or to accuse him of insensitivity if he tried to “force” Felicity to see him. Penny has remarried and has another child. Her second husband appears frightened and submissive. Although Penny has a high income and owns at least one property, Jeremy discovered that she had defrauded her daughter’s private school by falsely claiming financial need and was involved in a lawsuit with them. She has also changed her daughter’s school very often, has defrauded tradespeople, and can’t sustain friendships. Her motivation seems to be a need for control, and also a weird desire to trick people. Or maybe it’s just financial greed. Clearly she wants to have her daughter all to herself. The supposed health problems have kept Felicity out of school for long periods, and been the excuse for changing schools too. This also interferes with Felicity’s friendships and increases her dependency on her mother.

Rejected parent: Marilyn. Alienator: Gordon. Gordon can be charming and was more so when he was younger, but he is paranoid, narcissistic and easily offended. Although talented, he has never managed to keep a job for long. He resentfully sees himself as the noble, suffering victim, and persists in asserting that he knows better than everyone else despite ending up penniless and living in a shelter until, because he had his (alienated) children with him in the shelter, bewildered social workers found him subsidized housing. Although by any objective measure he is a “loser”, his children are fiercely loyal and devoted to him and arrogantly parrot his criticisms of their mother. His motivation seems not primarily to destroy or even eliminate Marilyn, although if that has to happen in the service of his main goal that would be fine with him, but to get everyone including her to recognize his greatness, to apologize for all the wrongs done to him, get revenge for him and give him the adulation he deserves. He uses the children as soldiers against her, but tells himself and them that when she is forced into accepting the truth according to him everyone will be happy. I’d say this is the same thing that motivates my ex.

Rejected parent: Alex. Alienator: Julie. Julie is very much like Clarissa. Unhappy, dissatisfied, very status-conscious. Julie wanted to change her life, and although without a realistic plan, to start her own business. She initiated the divorce. Financial greed was definitely a factor powering the drive to alienate, along with resentment and anger. Like my ex, Julie seizes on any opportunity to badmouth her former spouse to anyone who will listen. I think she found Alex an inconvenient impediment to the new fantasy life she envisioned for herself. However, in both the case of Clarissa and Matt and the case of Julie and Alex the alienation was less severe than in the families where the alienator is motivated by hatred.

Articles mentioned:

(1) Ellis, Elizabeth M. [2005] Help for the Alienated Parent The American Journal of Family Therapy Volume 33, Issue 5, pages 415-426

(2) Ellis, Elizabeth M., and Boyan, Susan [2010] Intervention Strategies for Parent Coordinators in Parental Alienation Cases, The American Journal of Family Therapy Volume 38, Issue 3, April 2010, pages 218-236

Posted in The Psychology of Alienation, Understanding the Alienating Parent | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Being or Becoming Healthy and Strong…the Lemonade, Maybe

If you are an alienated parent your number one job is to keep yourself as strong, healthy and happy as possible. Why? For two reasons. First so that you can effectively fight for your child, and second because you deserve a good life yourself, alienated or not.

Your child needs you. He or she is being controlled by a sick person. Even if your child can’t connect with you now, the fact that you are there and can be counted on to be there matters and makes a difference. Your child needs you as an example of a happy, healthy, nice, sane person. The alienator can’t deceive your child forever. Your child may not even be fooled now, but cannot safely admit, even to him or herself,  that he/she does not agree with the the alienator. If you are depressed and made crazy you won’t be able to fight effectively, and your kids will not be able to see you as a real alternative (now or in the future) to the alienator. I know that’s easy to say. I have been depressed and frantic and panicky and out-of-control angry and desperate and only made things worse for myself. I couldn’t help it and I didn’t know what else to do. I don’t blame myself and I wouldn’t blame anyone else who reacts that way. In fact it’s really logical to react that way! But it doesn’t help. You need to be happy and healthy to be attractive to your kids. You need to be a safe haven for them when they are able to break away.

How do you this? First, recognize that fighting PAS is a marathon, and confusing, frustrating, and very difficult. It is intense, gruelling and likely to go on for years, not months, even in the best of cases. Care for and prepare yourself like an athlete in training. Just maintaining the awareness that this is a marathon can help you maintain the necessary patience and faith. Take care of your body, mind and spirit. Go to the gym, go to yoga, go to the doctor & the dentist, to meditation or church or whatever works for you. Take vacations and breaks, eat well, and be sure to have fun. It is critical that you spend time with people who reflect back to you that you are loved and important to counteract the hostility directed at you by your alienated children. Get help when you need it – from friends, self-help groups, or professionals – to coach and guide and encourage you (and see Support).

About your responsibility to yourself: You deserve a good life, alienated or not. Perhaps you have put your own life on hold, waiting for the alienation to end. Maybe you did this consciously, thinking that it was your duty and feeling guilty if you did anything for yourself. Maybe you have been obsessed and preoccupied with the dilemma of alienation and it hasn’t occurred to you to do anything else. I don’t mean to be flippant, but focusing on yourself and creating a good life for yourself in spite of the tragedy of alienation can be the lemonade in the giant pile of lemons that is parental alienation. Losing what was probably the most important thing in your life, your relationship with your children, may have taken away your very purpose and identity. Now who are you? I thought I couldn’t bear life without my ex and my children, but having lost them, I am still here and I know that I am a stronger and better person, and in fact, a better parent. If you read the previous post you know how weak and diminished I was. It has been a slow process, but coming to terms with the loss and understanding my part in it and getting help and daring to fight my ex and learning to deal with both successes and failures has improved me. Diamonds are made from carbon under tremendous pressure, and steel becomes strong by being tempered – being repeatedly heated, cooled and pounded. I find that very comforting! Everyday I still feel sad about my children, but at the same time I have a deeper appreciation of my life, and I feel that I have more to offer because of what I have been through.
Don’t let the alienator’s illness ruin your life. Life is a gift. The alienator is a sick person who has forced his or her sickness on your family, and made your child ill too. The great thing is that this sickness is situationally caused, and is not terminal. As long as there is life, there is hope, and there is every reason to calmly nourish the faith that you will be reunited with your child. You, strong, happy and healthy, never giving up and always there, waiting with love, can be a beacon, and a refuge and maybe one day even an inspiration for your child.
Posted in Effects on Targeted Parents, Personal Actions, The Psychology of Alienation, What NOT to do, What Should I do? | Tagged , | 3 Comments

I was an Adult Alienated Child – LONG version!

This post is long. I describe how and why I became alienated from my parents, and how and why the alienation ended. I write about how about the alienation distorted my thoughts, behaviour and feelings – how it felt hating people I used to love. Although the particulars of this story are unique, you can extract much that will be applicable to your situation. I hope it will give you some insight into how your alienated child thinks and feels. I will offer some suggestions about how to interact with your alienated child based on my experience.

As an adult, I was alienated from my own parents and siblings for about five years. It’s painful for me to remember how horribly I behaved, and painful and embarrassing to face the reality that I was brainwashed, or allowed myself to be brainwashed. I’ve thought a lot about my own experience, and how it fits with the literature about cults and mind control and the psychology of how we influence each other. I’ll write later about mind control in general. Here is my experience.

I was alienated from my parents (and siblings and all other relatives) for five or six years, when I was 37 to 43 years old. In my case, the alienation was not caused by a parent but by my then-husband. I was so old then that you’d think this would be impossible, but no, it really happened. Before the alienation, for all my life I had a happy and loving relationship with my mother. We went through periods of varying closeness because of geographical distances and the normal busyness of life, but generally I felt very lucky to have her for a mom and any observer would see a warm and comfortable relationship. My relationship with my father was not unfriendly but it was not close.  He could be bad-tempered and irritable; dictatorial, mean and intimidating. Essentially because of these aspects of his personality my parents divorced when I was 25, but they always spoke of each other respectfully and communicated sincere goodwill toward and about each other.

My relationship with my ex was happy for the first 10 years. We never fought. I would describe myself as agreeable, positive, and flexible…all great qualities when balanced with a good sense of self and self-confidence, but that can become problematic without that self-confidence. My ex was insecure, thin-skinned, and at first just mildly paranoid, but this got worse over the years. He couldn’t tolerate anyone disagreeing with him, would interpret it as criticism, and was a very black-and-white thinker. At first I found ways to cheerfully compromise so that I could always agree with him. I thought that my love and devotion would mend his suspicious heart, soothe his fears, and solve everything. (I was wrong.) There was also a great insecurity in me, and it turns out that many partners of alienators share this quality. Fear of conflict, passivity, and anxiety for approval are traits common in many target parents. Anyway, I was flexible and accommodating, and for a long time the compromises I made felt reasonable and worth making, as no relationship is perfect, right? However, I kept on making compromises and sacrifices. I supported the family financially. I cut off friendships with people he had conflicts with. I did whatever was required to make things comfortable for him because it was too uncomfortable for me otherwise. He could not accept any opinions not in accord with his own. When a rift developed between him and my sister, in order to maintain peace with him and keep his “love” I eventually chose to cut her off. Then “we” asked my parents to join in denouncing my sister. They wouldn’t, so they had to be cut off too.

This was a gradual process. First there were many long, agonizing  “talks”. My ex would have to “explain” to me over and over why my family was so bad, because I would disagree and try to change his mind. He wouldn’t stop talking until he had convinced me, even if it took hours, and I was a willing listener. I wanted to be on the same page with him. Over time he began to get angry with me for having doubts and challenging him, which I would do less and less as I became more afraid of upsetting and offending him.

When we would talk to my family members it would basically be basically us criticizing, blaming and making accusations. They were baffled, confused, and hurt. Sometimes they’d be outraged and angry. They tried reasoning with me, and they tried to appeal to the empathy and compassion I used to have.  When they agreed to go to counseling with me, I just complained and attacked and didn’t care that I was wounding them. I found fault with everything they said. Whenever they questioned or said anything critical of the alienator (my ex) I became  defensive and furious. Every instance of their not admitting their wrongness and choosing not to agree with me and him was seen by us as a new crime, and the negativity just grew and grew. As well, alienation made it “us against them”, so every interaction with them was automatically a fight, even when they so obviously wanted just to reconnect. Every interaction became another occasion to take sides against them, which would become an intellectual and emotional pledge of allegiance to my husband the alienator, and another investment in his version of reality. Finally my mom & sister gave up and backed off. My dad kept trying to continue as if nothing was different, which sometimes angered me, and sometimes pricked my conscience.

My then-four year old would say “I miss granny!” and this would pierce my heart, because – “out of the mouths of babes” – I knew he spoke the truth, and that he missed her because she was sweet and loving and fun and was not at all the monster I had convinced myself she was. Interestingly, the older boys did not mention her. They had absorbed the message that they were no longer to love her, to miss her, or even to speak of her. Eventually the younger one forgot to miss his granny any longer too.

My love of my then-husband was intense, and my loyalty to him was fierce. I think  that being forced to choose and give up so much for him polarized and intensified my feelings, both my feelings for him and my commitment to my rejection of my family . I kept trying to prove my love to my husband, but at the same time he was never satisfied and I could never do enough. I had to make many sacrifices to keep his approval, and also to convince myself that I was doing the right thing by following his opinions and beliefs. Deep down I did know I was wrong.  I remember allowing this into my consciousness for a few seconds on two occasions, and also having the conscious thought that I was not ready to deal with it and pushing it away. I continued to invest in the choice that I had made. I was not willing to accept the reality that this was craziness and could not get better, but I was always arguing with my ex’s opinions in my mind, trying to expunge the doubts. I was secretly in turmoil, 98% of the time.

As time went on my ex found more & more wrong with me, and criticized me for not doing enough to keep my alienated family members away, and then he decided that that I was responsible for the way they thought in the first place, and in fact just as bad as them, and so on. Whenever a letter or call came from them it meant I was in trouble with him unless I could come up with a really good response. I’d write angry notes back to them, and show the notes to my ex like a student offering homework to the teacher for grading. Usually what I wrote was not good enough, but the angrier I made it sound the more likely he was to be satisfied with it.

For this reason I dreaded any communications from my family. Perhaps if they had had a means of communicating with me that he wouldn’t know about, it might have been different, it might have helped me break free of the abuse sooner, although earlier on when I was still receiving approval and “love” from him I voluntarily told him about any letters I got. (A “culture of confession” and a lack of privacy is a hallmark element of cults and cultic relationships.) I ignored all of my relatives. I missed weddings and funerals. I didn’t send holiday cards. I avoided places and events where I might meet people connected to my family and former friends.

It is strange to try to reconstruct how I thought at that time. I saw everything in a very two-dimensional, black & white way. My sister says I had an extreme personality change and became hard and tough. She said I had a different look in my eyes.

I was tense and exhausted, arguing with myself constantly in my own mind, trying to convince myself that my then-husband’s views were correct, and worried about him detecting my doubts. When I mentioned aspects of my family life to other people,  or just answered the usual politenesses of coworkers, for example, they tended to ask questions that would expose the irrationality of my actions. I found this disturbing so I tried not to discuss my life. I had no close relationships anymore with anyone other than my ex and our children. Gradually I had broken off most of my friendships because my ex had conflicts with my friends. I still loved him. I had to work hard at it, but I did convince myself to believe what my ex told me – that he, so misunderstood! was the wisest, kindest, most genuinely caring person in the picture,  the one with real insight into everyone’s true motivations and who understood what everyone really needed, unlike all those other people out there “faking it”. Then I’d be able to believe in what I was doing. I could believe that my mom really was awful and that she deserved the heartless treatment she got from me.

My ex got worse. He eventually had conflicts with basically everyone he got involved with. I hung on, trying to “earn his love” even after he told me he didn’t love, want or even like me any more, (but he still wanted to share the same house & parent together – it’s all about control!). He had begun to involve the children against me about 2 years after our marriage problems started, first just the oldest, then the others at progressively younger ages. At a certain point I was getting nothing positive from the relationship to outweigh the anxiety and fear and misery I was living with, and had lost hope that it would get better. Little by little I found the strength to start trusting my own judgment and and to resist his influence and control. A few months after I made the decision that my relationship with my ex was over I called my parents & sister, secretly, and apologized and reconnected with them. Still, my fear of my ex’s disapproval was such that I hid the the fact that I was in contact with them for another year.

I can see much of my behaviour while alienated in my own children now.

Their intense devotion to their dad is not what you’d see in a typical child-parent relationship, especially with teenage and young adult children. The normal ambivalence that you would expect at their age is not there. I see the same ferocity that I used to feel, as if he was both victim and hero. They are compelled to obey, champion and defend him. I think the crux of it lies in the forced choice. They CAN’T love both their parents. He has made me his enemy, and how could they possibly love his enemy? I was alienated from my sister and parents because he saw them as his enemies, and loving his enemies was an impossibility. He forced me to choose. When I would not choose him any longer, he forced our children to reject me. Not only has he forced them to choose, but they have been forced to make a huge investment in his reality. They too have had to make enormous sacrifices that have further deepened their commitment.

Of course every situation is different, but based on my experience here are three important ways you can make things much better or much worse in dealing with your alienated child (By the way, I myself still forget and fall into all of these traps):

1. Do not let your child make you lose your temper! Whenever I was able to provoke my “hated” family members into getting angry and behaving imperfectly I would feel great relief, even joy. Then I could feel some justification for my beliefs and renew my faith in the alienator’s judgment, and feel that I made the right choice in sticking by him and rejecting them. I could be cold and hateful without a tortured conscience.

2. NEVER criticize the alienator. This is guaranteed to backfire and cause your child to reflexively entrench more deeply in loyalty to the alienator, no matter how illogical or irrational this is. Strive to avoid talking about the alienator at all. When you have to refer to him/her, or to something he/she did, be as neutral as possible.

3. Do not argue or attempt to reason with your child about the alienation. Just tell your child that you love them, miss them, care about them. When my “hated” family members tried to reason with me, I got defensive, even enraged, and fought them. When they stopped trying to convince me of anything and just communicated that they loved me, I was disarmed. Although I tried not to show or acknowledge it, the message got through.

Just for the sake of completeness I will end with the summary of my experience of being an (adult) alienated child that appeared in the previous post.

What caused it? Nothing my parents did. It was completely, 100%, caused by my ex demanding that I reject them.

Why did I comply? I loved him. I wanted his love. I wanted to believe in him. I wanted to keep my family together. I wanted to maintain a happy relationship with him for my children, and overcome our conflicts to make it worth it in the end.

How exactly did he get me to shun and hate people whom I really loved, and when I knew that shunning and hating are wrong? 1. Relentless, persistent, unceasing messaging. 2. Suppression of argument by any means necessary – sympathy, flattery, gentle coaxing and “discussion”, anger and outrage, criticism and emotional abuse, and the threat of being shunned and rejected. 3. Isolation from others, removal of outside support and influence, increasing my dependence on him. 4. Requiring me to INVEST in my “choice”, and to make sacrifices and commit more and more heavily to that choice.

What ended it?  His criticism and emotional abuse of me finally became too much. Although my investment had been huge, there was no more payoff, and no more hope of a payoff in the future. To maintain my willingness to perpetuate my alienation from my parents and relatives, I would have had to enter a deeper level of insanity, to give up even more self-respect. Perhaps if he had treated me just a little more kindly, had given me some scraps of affection, I might still be alienated.

How did the alienator react to my defection?  With intense anger and outrage that continues today, and by alienating our children from me.

Posted in Alienators as Cult Leaders, PAS Families as Cults, Effects on Children, Effects on Targeted Parents, Mind Control, My Story, Personal Actions, The Psychology of Alienation, Understanding the Alienating Parent, What NOT to do, What Should I do? | Tagged , , , , , | 42 Comments