> No More Secrets And Lies: Parental Alienation: Today's Invisible Abuse

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Parental Alienation: Today's Invisible Abuse

    It may be the most common kind of child abuse — and the most challenging to deal with. But psychological abuse, or emotional abuse, rarely gets the kind of attention that sexual or physical abuse receives.  
                 by  Laura Blue, TIME,  July 30, 2012

When I first realized my girls and I were victims of parental alienation I went on a wild search across the internet to find out all I could about this problem — this abuse. And what I found is that it's a mixed bag out there: a bag that contains almost as much misinformation on the topic as it does reliable and credible information. And it's not because parental alienation isn't a problem. Far from it. It's because it's a problem that stays hidden, ignored, mysterious, and even silenced for lots of different reasons.

For one, parents who've lost children to parental alienation often don't like talking about it, either because they don't understand it, are afraid others won't, are ashamed and afraid others might think they did something to their children, or are simply too traumatized by it to ever want to talk about it again.

Or sometimes the subject gets muddled in with divorce and custody and that whole morass of family court-related topics with its emotionally-charged biases and polarizing solutions making it all-the-more difficult for parents to find out what's happening to their children.

But the main reason I believe it's so hard to find good information on parental alienation is simply because there isn't much yet. There are some great books, journal articles, blogs, videos, and online support groups, but not nearly enough considering how devastating this problem is for families and how desperate parents are to find solutions.

All of which I take in stride as much as I can realizing that it takes a long time for a society to get to the point where it sees child abuse as a serious problem, let alone to see it as a crime.

At least it's taken our society a long time.

Laws protecting children have come shamefully late in our nation's history. It wasn't until the mid 1960s that child abuse was even seen as a problem requiring investigation. And not until the mid 70s was anything done legislatively to address this problem, when at that time, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. But even then it took until the late 70s before child protection laws existed in both urban and rural areas and later yet before mandatory reporting laws made it a crime not to report child abuse. In fact, there were laws to protect animals in both the United States and Britain before there were laws to protect children.

All of which is a shameful fact.

Some of us remember those days before child protection laws existed. A friend of mine tells the story of a classmate of hers, who, as an elementary student, was taken to the hospital for a broken arm. The doctors treated her arm and got her going again just fine, but they were more concerned with how she had gotten her injury than with the injury itself. Apparently her mother had given this to her and the doctors knew this, and naturally they were reluctant to send her home without some assurance she would be safe. 

But there was nothing they could do other than try to convince the mother to get some counseling to learn how to deal with her anger around her children – not an optimal solution by any means.

There was nothing doctors, or anyone, could do back then to intervene when a child was being abused, even if it was obvious.

And that wasn't all that long ago.

Sexual abuse crimes against children posed an even greater threat and remained largely invisible until the mid or late 70s, when, at that time, a few professionals noted that no literature existed on the topic. And so, like with other child abuse victims, these children too remained helpless at the hands of perpetrators unable to get anyone to listen to their stories. And a big part of the reason for this was because sexual abuse was considered a taboo topic: people didn't feel comfortable talking about something so private, personal, intimate, or unmentionable.

*     *     *

It's taken our society a long time to get to the point where we regard physical and sexual abuse as crimes and to make these crimes visible, all of which makes the present-day invisibility of emotional abuse – which is what parental alienation is – not so surprising. But then it also makes it not so admirable along with not so commendable. In fact it's downright disappointing and shameful, not to mention irresponsible, that we could once again be failing our children in this way.

We should have learned these lessons by now from all the years we ignored physical and sexual abuse in the past. We should have learned the very crucial lesson of listening to parents when they say their child is being abused, because there's a very good chance their child really is being abused.

We should have learned that as a society we have the capability to miss child abuse even when it's right in our midst, and that just because we don't understand how a child can be manipulated and intimidated, as well as terrorized and corrupted in ways that don't make sense to us, or because it didn't happen to us when we were children (or because it did), doesn't mean it's not happening to children now.

And we should know that just because we can't see child abuse doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It could mean we're not seeing the whole picture – that we're missing a big part of the picture.

Because we've done that before.

And we're doing it again, today, with parental alienation.

Like other abuse it too can leave children damaged and can tear whole families apart. It too involves bullying, threatening, and intimidating to degrade and exploit children. And it too remains ignored and silenced while parents, children, and the professionals who understand it, remain helpless and unable to get anyone to listen to their stories.

And this failure of ours to recognize parental alienation as the child abuse that it is, either because it's a different form of child abuse than were used to seeing, or because we don't think emotional abuse is real child abuse, is not only an irresponsible position to have but a baffling one as well especially considering that one of the reasons we instituted laws against physical and sexual abuse in the first place was due to the emotional trauma associated with these crimes – that is a big part of these crimes. 

Possibly the biggest part.

Which is not to say that physical injuries are any less important than emotional ones; because they're not. Stopping the physical abuse and removing the child from danger is always the priority, is always paramount, and is always the first thing treated. 
But it's nowhere near the extent of the treatment the child will need and it's nowhere near the extent of the injuries the child has received.

In a very real sense, once the child is removed from physical danger and the visible wounds have been treated and healed, the real healing begins – healing the emotional or invisible wounds associated with the physical or visible ones. 

And the reason there's such a huge emotionally-damaging component to these physical forms of abuse is because at the heart of these crimes lies a deeply disturbing betrayal of trust. The perpetrators of these crimes are almost always adults, almost always trusted adults, often family members, relatives, guardians or other adults who are emotionally close to the child. 

These are injuries the child has received from someone they trusted to keep them safe, and it's this kind of betrayal that adds the deeply troubling emotional scarring to the already-existing physical scarring these children have suffered. It's also the part that stays with them the longest – long after the physical wounds have healed.

Long after the physical wounds have been treated and healed there's still a whole world of hurt needing attention – needing to be treated – and this is the emotional hurt, or emotional injuries, stemming from the physical injuries the child has received. 
This is the part that we can't see, even though the crimes that brought it to our attention are ones we can see.

It's also the part that gives children the message that they are worthless, flawed, unloved, and unwanted.
It's emotional abuse, that if left hidden and ignored, can leave children walled away in a psychological prison from where they see the world as a frightening and dangerous place. It's emotional abuse, that if not resolved, can follow these children into adulthood saddling them with drug and alcohol problems, academic problems, marital problems, depression, and many other problems throughout their lifetime.

And it's emotional abuse that lies at the heart of parental alienation 
 that is parental alienation.

It's emotional and psychological abuse – the same abuse found in all child abuse, the same abuse we already know is damaging to children, the same abuse we acknowledge exists even if it's not always visible in the same ways other abuse is, and it's this same abuse – emotional abuse – that is equally present when parents place children at the heart of parental alienation campaigns. 

Poisoning a child's mind to make that child hate a parent they previously had a loving relationship with – to the point where they no longer want that parent in their life any longer  is psychological deception of mind-blowing proportions and manipulation and exploitation of a kind not likely to be experienced by that child in any other way during their lifetime. It's extreme emotional abuse and the effect it has on the child has to be nothing less than devastating.

For the parents, who are the targets of this poisoning, it's no less than an abduction since many us never see our children again – an unimaginably tragic experience for us.

But for these children whose lives are forever changed by being transformed into people hardly recognizable to the parents they once loved, it's worse than any broken arm could ever be. It's a broken heart and a shattered soul. It's a loss they can barely comprehend and one they can seldom, if ever, grieve.

Because not only are these children forced to believe a parent they love is worthy of hate, but they are also forced to forfeit the relationship they have with that parent, often for the remainder of their lives. And all this poisoning and deceiving and lying is accomplished by the alienating parent by confounding and confusing children to make it look as if it is their choice to sever the relationship they have with their parent.

By tricking them into keeping this lie of false hatred alive, alienating parents are able to keep the lie hidden from the public. By cloaking the lie in a facade of deception, they're able to keep it hidden from the children themselves.

All the while, unknown to them, these children who are used as messengers of hate and made to believe this is truly what they want in life, become instead, unwitting participants in their own abuse and the embodiment of all that is confounding, confusing, and mysterious about parental alienation, never realizing the real target is themselves.

We on the outside, however, see only the shell of a child spewing hated, which is not their hatred – never was – but rather that of a parent capable of using children in unthinkable ways by taking advantage of our incapability to stop her.

These children don't know they're hurt – at least on one level – but will most likely find out one day, when, at that time, they will be forced to embrace yet another tragedy in their lives when they uncover the veil that has been present for years and discover the truth of what was done to them and what they lost – an unimaginably tragic experience for them as well.

When you think about it, parental alienation is one of the worst kinds of child abuse, and that's inexcusable today.


"P. B." said...

Hi, John... I found your blog because you responded to one of my tweets today, and I looked at your profile. Anyway, now I've read as much as I can without totally losing the ability to breathe. There is no good way to express my sympathy for what you've been through and are still going through. My sympathy extends to your daughters (who would likely reject it) and to all those who have had to lovingly watch you lose so much. Decades ago I thought I'd write about what was happening to me and my family but have only managed bits and pieces. What I would have said is perhaps better expressed in your writing although the facts are very different. I first sensed "parental alienation" when it seemed to me that my children's father was taking them everywhere we had gone as a family but taking along a substitute Mom (one of whom became his second wife) as well so that new memories would overwrite the ones he didn't want to have and didn't want the children to have either. We had three daughters and then a son. We were divorced in 1974 after 13 years of marriage. He was a functioning alcoholic for decades who eventually found AA but is now a barely functioning person who suffers from macular degeneration and dementia. I feel deep sorrow for what his life has become and have forgiven him everything but forgotten very little. Two of our children are dead and one is in prison. Last week was particularly painful for me because our Barbara, who died at 31, would have turned 54 on Wednesday and the 3-year anniversary of our Andrea's suicide was Thursday. She was 47 when she took her life. Both were alcoholics and drug abusers. The craziest fact in all this horror is that I'm the only one in this nuclear family (oh, the irony of that phrase in this context) who has never had an addiction problem, and somehow that truth has been held against me. (I was once called "a fanatic against drinking". As if.) The only family member, besides me, who gets that insanity is our incarcerated son, who has done a lot of rehab work but still relapsed at a cost of 17 more years of his life (and mine). Obviously, I could go on and one but really my intention in commenting is to let you know I get your point and your pain and I'm pulling, praying, for a better outcome in your family than what has happened in mine. I have no advice, but who on earth would take it anyway?

One thing I can say for whatever it's worth. I've been sustained by gratitude and faith. There have been times when I could be grateful only that things weren't worse, but many more times when I've been aware of a certain comfort (I started with consciously attending to the blessing of a warm shower). My faith has lately involved going to Mass but it really depends on a sense that we live in a benevolent universe where a Superior Being is in charge, and it's OK that I don't understand life in general.

I hope your summer was better than some other times you've written about. I hope you keep writing. I thank you for your honesty and effort and generosity in sharing.

Best regards,

Janet L

Post a Comment