This is Bob's story part 1.  We will follow Bob over the rough terrain of child abuse, domestic abuse, and mental illness. 

Bob contacted the Alliance through the website and left this message: 

Hi, I’m Bob.  I really need to talk to someone, I’m having trouble with my ex-wife. She’s keeping me from seeing my son.  I don’t want to make things worse, so I don’t know what to do.  I was thinking of going back to court for a second round of mediation.  Or, should I file contempt?

I don’t have any money left, can I do that myself?   I’m pretty new to this parent alienation thing but I heard that there are laws against parental alienation.  Please call me!  xxx-xx-xxxx.  Thank you.

 When Bob and I connected over the phone, I let him describe his situation while I took notes.

His tone was relatively calm and his voice only sped up when he talked about how his son’s attitude and demeanor towards him was changing.  Bob didn’t offer too much information about his ex-wife.  He listened quietly when clarified what he had said.  Bob never tried to cut me off, or tell me I was wrong (even if he thought so).   I asked him a few questions to fill in the blanks.  The following are the questions a summary of what I said related to his situation.  

How old is your son?  11.

Adolescence…the typical time for high conflict parents to triangulate a child into the ex-spousal conflict. Young adults think that they know everything.  The truth is that a child only knows what a child has been exposed to. Our brains do not make up knowledge out of thin air.  We learn through our mirror neurons.  Like the word suggests, everything a child says or does is a reflection of the most influential adults in his or her life.  For emotional issues, learning is mainly nonverbal.  This is why it is so easy for us to see our ex-partner  in our children.

How long since the divorce? 10 years

This got my attention. If this was a true case of narcissistic/borderline delusional persecution, then something had to have triggered it and it wasn’t the divorce.   I listened intently for something that might have triggered Bob’s ex to “melt down” or decompensate into persecutory delusion.   There are many issues besides divorce that will cause our partner’s to feel vulnerable to abandonment or losing their self-inflated status.  Malignant Motives, a chapter in Dr. Warshak’s Book Divorce Poison (2010), describes many reasons a disturbed parent might melt down; including revenge, validation, remarriage or custody litigation.  Whatever the reason, once they turn this corner, there is no turning back.

Have you always had contact with your son?  Yes. 

I have visitation one night a week and every other weekend.  I just accepted that from the beginning. 

Has your relationship with your son been close? 

Yes very, we…(he goes on to describe their time together and things they use to do).

Targeted parents need to have a detailed history with their child and continually document the things that they do right.  This evidence will neutralize the onslaught of false accusations of bad parenting or abuse.  If possible, play this card first using pictures, emails, school records, things your child made for you, etc.   It is critical that you establish that you had a healthy attachment with your child and that it was abruptly disrupted at a time that correlates with your ex’es malignant motive.  

Every state has laws against child psychological abuse.  They may call it mental or emotional abuse but the criteria for confirmation is that the child shows a substantial change in their cognitive, emotional, and/or behaviors, that are outside of the normal range for their age and stage of development.   Certainly the most obvious illustration of this is your child’s 180 degree change in emotional response to you, which is getting worse.  Your child’s increasing distain for you occurs during the time your ex-partner is actively trying to cut you out of the picture.

What are the legal parameters? 

The divorce decree has set visitation/placement and we have joint custody.  I pay child support.  This last September, I got the court to order mental health therapy, but my wife refuses to bring him.

Targeted parents sometimes get so wrapped up in keeping track of everything that the other parent said or did that they forget that the most important papers are the court orders.  Laws are either followed or broken.  Courts or mental health providers do not want to listen to parents complain about each other, or hear or see anything that doesn’t pertain to the motion, order, or treatment plan in front of them.   They will pay more attention to specific, relative  “evidence” whether it is true or not, and dismiss the truth if they think it is hearsay.  

High conflict people know how to manipulate the courts and mental health providers.  Initially, they fly below the radar by doing things to isolate or restrict communication between you and your child.  This usually starts with diminishing and ending phone contact.   In contrast, when the child is with the targeted parent, the child will increase their phone contact with the other parent and highly resist attempts to cut the umbilical cord.  Second, the abusive parent will schedule things that are important to the child during the time the targeted parent has placement.  Bob’s ex-wife scheduled Dylan for hockey on the night that he and his dad always had dinner. If Bob demands his placement time, then he’s not being a supportive dad.  If he tries to see Dylan on a different night, then he’s interfering with her placement.  Of course Bob considers going to hockey, but his ex-wife or Dylan won’t give him the schedule.  Bob’s wife has successfully cut Bob out of 2 of the 3 times he has contact with his son, and she has hardly raised a finger.  He can expect that she will take the next step to cut him off completely.

 Bob’s ex-wife called him and explained that it wasn’t her, but Dylan didn't want to come to his house anymore because it was abusive.   Bob talked to his son and explained that it wasn’t his decision to make.  Dylan replied, “So, I am just a puppet to you!”  and hung up.  Three things were very evident from this conversation. 1) Dylan has been triangulated into the spousal conflict.  His ex-wife made the point that; it wasn’t her denying him of placement, it was Dylan. This shows that she is pretty confident that Dylan will handle the fight for her.  2) Dylan acted out of his normal range of behavior by raising his voice, make false accusations against his dad and hanging up on him.  3) Someone has been talking about how Bob uses Dylan as a puppet, and that his house is abusive, because neither of those things would be in the normal range of behavior for his age and stage of development.  And, even if he did say those things, it is his mother’s responsibility to teach her son to respect his father and follow the court orders.  She herself said that it wasn’t her,  in saying that, both parents are agreeing that Dylan needs to go to his fathers.  Why isn’t he?

With Dylan as her side kick, Bob’s ex is  looking forward to him taking her back to court.  She will play up the idea that Dylan can decide for himself, that something is abusive, that Bob is being selfish, blah, blah, blah.  It’s a slippery slope now and time is not on the side of Bob or his son. 

But let’s not forget that the court ordered therapy too.  A pattern is emerging. There has been a restriction of communication, interfering with placement and refusing to comply with a court order for therapy.  The last that I heard, Bob, was driving to the court house to file contempt charges.  He may be able to turn the tables if he sticks to the plan also knowing that she is going to escalate.  He needs to be prepared for the abuse allegation.

Therapy for what? 

Dylan’s has some extreme anxiety and he appears to being trying to cut off the relationship.

Of course Dylan has anxiety.  Look at the state’s definition of child psychological abuse;

 “evidenced by one or more: anxiety; depression; withdrawal; outward aggressive behavior; or a substantial and observable change in behavior, emotional response or cognition that is not within the normal range for the child’s age and stage of development”.

The sad thing is that mental health providers will try to treat  anxiety or depression or whatever as an isolated condition when there is nothing isolated about it.  Ok, a child has anxiety.  Why?  Is that normal? No.  It has been well established for decades that child abuse causes a broad range of mental health problems and aberrant behavior (that’s why they wrote the statutes the way that they did).    Why do mental health providers look past the obvious?

That question is almost as nonsensical as the fact that we continue to take our children to therapy when we know that NO therapy, of any kind is going to help a child who is being abused.  Only when the child feels free of the abuser, can he or she begin to recover.  And they will recover.  But first, the child needs protective separation.  This will not happen in family court filing contempt, but that order can buy Bob some time to find a mental health provider who is knowledgeable enough to see Dylan and assess for child psychological abuse.

Do you have a lawyer? 

Not anymore, I can’t afford one.  But the last one I had told me that if I push for contact, it would make my son hate me even more.  I don’t have any money left; can I do that myself?   I’m pretty new to this parent alienation thing but I heard that there are laws against parental alienation.

Family Court can be funny about not having a lawyer, but Bob’s lawyer has not only given him bad advice, but wrong advice.

1.     Don’t push placement or your son will hate you more. (how many have heard this-crap?)

Alienated children do not hate their parents.  Even if a parent is truly abusive.  Their “hate” is a manifestation of the shared delusion with the abusive parent’s attachment trauma reenactment where they are the protective parent and the targeted parent is the abuser.  It is also a manifestation of splitting, and the misattribution of grief.    In other words, psychological abusers are really, seriously, disrupting your child’s healthy brain development and function.

2.     Mediation. Wrong.  There is no mediation with a high conflict parent, and it is a waste of time and money.

3.     Please let me know if your state has laws against parental alienation. 

Bob is better off without this guy

Tell me about your ex-wife. (his voice gets a little excited here).

I think she is bi-polar.  She lives with her parents, and I think her mom is bipolar.  It’s very dysfunctional. She hasn’t been in a relationship since the divorce (10 years).  She is a pre-school teacher and very good at what she does.  She scheduled Dylan to play hockey on my visitation night but she refuses to give me the schedule.  I’m sure she has something to do with why I can’t reach my son on the phone at night anymore.  She supports“Dylan’s” opinion that he is old enough to decide his schedule with his parents and that he doesn’t have to come to my house on Thanksgiving.  She said that Dylan told her that my house is abusive.  It’s getting worse. 

Bob's ex-wife is NOT bi-polar but she displays a pattern of behavior that includes narcissistic and borderline personality disorder traits.  Bipolar is a very different mental illness, and as far as I know, has not been correlated with child psychological abuse.  Here’s one of the kickers.  Your ex didn’t just start to be an alienator out of nowhere.  I always ask targeted parents about their exes family and if either or both of his or her parents had problems.  The answer is always YES.  Obviously.  Bob’s ex-wife didn’t develop her problems in a vacuum any more than Dylan is developing his problems without mirroring his mom, and his grandparents.  YIKES!