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  • Writer's picturemwmct

Suffer little children

Parental Alienation and estrangement

Without exception, the greatest source of pain my clients report experiencing is the gnawing, visceral agony that results from being separated from their children. This does not mean a physical separation necessarily. Parental alienation may be described as the psychological manipulation of a child, by saying and doing things that lead the child to look unfavorably on one parent or the other.

Essentially, parental alienation amounts to brainwashing the child, and can be done both consciously and unconsciously. Whatever age the children, time with the narcissist invariably results in sophisticated grooming and a subtle, increasing hostility towards the survivor. They poison their own flesh and blood.

The narcissist will explain events differently. They will present an alternative reality, lavishly presented with fake remorse and crocodile tears. In a spectacular plot twist, the abuser is likely to get ahead of the survivor by pleading poor mental health as a result of the suffering they have endured.

A simple example may be that the abuser chose not to attend school events or graduations. This will be explained by the abuser as the survivor telling him or her not to go or discouraging them from doing so. Plausible? Yes. The truth? In my experience, unlikely.

The abuser may tell the children that their other parent does not love them or tell the survivor that she or he is not loved by their children; that they were too frightened of her or him to say this to them. They are consummately divisive. All the abuser has to do is sow a seed of doubt. Being master manipulators, this is second nature.

I have written in previous posts about the abuser’s “long game”. The survivor may well have lived (or be living) with the abuser for many years, decades even, unaware that the abuser has been promoting propaganda on an industrial scale.

Conditioning is likely to involve family, friends and colleagues. Naturally, a child will want to believe their parents. Who or what are they to believe? Children may become confused and often unwell. In my experience, age does not matter. Adult children are torn apart, too.

I do not have a background in law so my insight into legal processes is informed by legal colleagues, my clients’ experiences and my own research. I am reporting real situations. All too often decision makers are not able to work out what is going on. How could they? Reporting that the survivor is mentally unstable is par for the course.

They may be considered “absent” This may well be right. The stress and ongoing trauma that he or she is experiencing may contribute to a profound deterioration in their mental health. Coping mechanisms are likely to be writ large in any court proceedings often leaving the impression that the survivor is not capable of looking after children and may even be a danger to them.

A judge may hear of rageful outbursts, alcohol/drug consumption, disordered eating, depression, suicidal ideation witnessed by or reported to the abuser during the course of the relationship – nothing will be spared the legal production.

This is high drama and the abuser will have a field day. It is rarely recognised that these may also by symptoms of ongoing trauma or Complex PTSD as a result of narcissistic abuse.

Even if there is recognition of the suffering it is of little relevance, legally.

When a child is told by an abuser that his mother stole money or said she would not let the abuser see them if he divorced her, the child will have no way of knowing whether this is what really happened. All they see is the two people they love most, at war. Whatever the facts, children will likely become worried and distressed. This is child abuse.

In therapy, a child (or adult client) may report what the abuser has told them and then a therapist may suggest there has been parental alienation (towards the abuser}. A therapist may find themselves abusing by proxy, believing the abusers’ narrative because the child finds the truth unpalatable or have not heard the survivor’s experience of the same.

Sickeningly, with a number of my clients this has resulted in child estrangement from the survivor parent. In some cases the alienation process extends to the survivor’s family, friends and colleagues. The abuser is likely to be poised and convincing; the survivor, diminished, humiliated and alone. Unravelled, they present as the raging, resentful, less capable parent. If their mental health is impacted sufficiently, it may be the case.

I cannot pretend there is a happy ending. This is human tragedy on a significant scale. It is trauma with deep and far reaching consequences. Social agencies, schools, health/legal professionals and decision makers cannot know how to make the correct call.

The narcissist’s obsessive desire to be seen as who she or he wishes to be results in them pathalogically focussing on destroying the survivor parent. I have clients despairing how the abuser “got away with it!”. I have clients who have even been abused by their children.

When this is disclosed in therapy I have no alternative other than direct them to set firm boundaries, record events and in some incidences, call the police. Sadly, survivors are often so weakened they cannot do this. Abuse – physical, psychological, verbal, emotional, financial, moral and spiritual is never acceptable.

It is hard to contemplate children abusing in this way. It is heartbreaking to hear a parent with so much love for their child going through such torment. Understandable though the child’s anger may be, discharging it violently will present them with considerable psychological distress. It is a major moral injury.

When parents are in this position I can offer them little succour. It may be that there is pause enough for them to insist that what is being said is not true but beyond that it can become counterproductive and even more damaging to children and survivor. Any attempt to describe the abuser’s behaviour can be traumatic for the child to hear so a simple “that’s not what happened” without unpacking, might be the best response. It is enough.

The work the survivor can do is fearlessly taking responsibility for their coping and maladaptive behaviours, owning their part, making amends to people they have hurt (where appropriate and possible) and rediscovering their own hopes and dreams. Above all, we (as therapists) can bear witness to their truth and acknowledge the ongoing trauma that results from any involvement with the abuser parent.

The best outcome is that, in time, the survivor father or mother will be heard. If not, their truth is still valid and the grief around “losing” children can be explored.

I can offer a glimmer of hope. Sometimes, as they mature and process events, children find their own way back to the survivor parent.

Oftentimes, hope is all we have. Most times it is enough.

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