February 25, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Joan Meier, are you paying attention? Are your fellow travelers in the movement to asperse the concept of parental alienation?
Here’s yet another authoritative article by a psychiatrist, Dr. Christine Adams, who’s been a clinician for 40 years and a forensic scientist for 20 (Psychology Today, 2/18/20). She’s worked and written extensively about parental alienation. She knows whereof she speaks.
Parental alienation begins long before divorce occurs…
With the birth of a child, each parent forms a bond, or attachment, to the baby. For the alienating parent this bond is based on the parent having his or her needs met by the child. Mostly these are emotional needs. The relationship reverses from one that meets the needs of the child to one that meets the parent’s needs.
In short, the seeds of alienation are planted long before divorce occurs or is even contemplated. They’re planted in the fertile soil that is the psyche of the future alienator who is emotionally needy. The child learns to meet those needs and, when the process of divorce begins, the pressure on the child ramps up.
When divorce begins, the alienator puts more pressure than usual on the child to muster lots of support to this parent. The child finds the situation difficult. He or she is unable to resist this parent’s emotional pull for symbiosis––enmeshed thoughts and emotions that go along with what the alienator desires. The child becomes the emotional caretaker and the parent the emotional care consumer.
And that inverse role of the child as caregiver to the parent exerts a gravitational pull into the alienator’s orbit.
The child parrots the alienating parent’s venom about the other parent, the targeted parent. Eventually the child believes the alienator’s viewpoint because to support this parent, the child must do so.
As I’ve said before, the imperative for the child to believe the lies and distortions of the alienating parent about the targeted parent can result in a seriously damaging conflict between illusion and reality. The child sees the targeted parent and finds love or, in any case, no particularly bad behavior, but must integrate those observations with what the alienator says. Often, the need to care for the alienator prevails over observed facts. That conflict between what is known and what is required to be believed can result in serious mental health problems for children, particularly very young ones.
Adams provides what is perhaps the key to the personality of the alienating parent.
In [our book] Living On Automatic [Homer B. Martin and I] write about the childhoods of people in impotent roles, the roles of alienators. We discovered they are reared in such a way that they believe and behave as if they are helpless and must be inert in the way they conduct relationships. By age three they are emotionally conditioned in this impotent role. They go through life expecting little of themselves. Instead they are skilled at expecting and manipulating others to gratify them by meeting their needs, desires, and expectations.
The hallmark experience of their childhoods is that they are overindulged and catered to by almost everyone. This emotional conditioning affects the ways their emotions are displayed, the thoughts they have about themselves and others, and the behaviors they show throughout their lives. In parental alienation they are superb at demanding and manipulating their own children to get the constant emotional support they crave and the revenge they seek on the other parent.
Significantly, Adams’ first prescription for stopping alienating behavior is the very thing Meier and others attempt to call into question.
What is the best way to get an alienating parent to stop the alienation?
A court order for the children to live with the targeted parent.
Recall that Meier and the others who seek to discredit the very concept of PA sometimes suggest that courts that fail to honor alienators’ demands are, in some way, per se suspect. In fact, removing children from the home of the alienator is often necessary to reverse the toxic results of the alienation.
Finally, Adams has some harsh words for courts and their ability to recognize and appropriately handle cases of alienation.
When caught up in parental alienation, parents seek help from the court system to sort out what is best for their children. Courts handle this with wide variation in all the countries of the world. Mostly they handle these situations poorly and make egregious judgment errors in their legal decisions as to custody and visitation arrangements.
Legal and judicial professionals are not trained in the complex interpersonal issues of either family life or divorce—who does what psychologically and to whom, and how it affects children. This lack of knowledge is compounded because courts rarely appoint highly trained and skilled mental health counselors who regularly work with parental alienation to assess and help make decisions for involved families.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something that Adams also doesn’t mention – that PA is not a gendered phenomenon. Mothers do it, but so do fathers. Adams doesn’t mention it because she takes for granted that alienating behavior knows no sex.
Meier, et al often claim explicitly or implicitly that PA is something dreamed up by fathers to deny “protective mothers” custody of children. It’s an overtly false claim, but they make it anyway. Such are the ways of ideologues with nothing to back up their points of view. They always seem to collide with people like Adams who are scrupulous and experienced observers, care about children’s well-being and let the facts lead them to sensible conclusions.