attachment trauma

You Don't Have to Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater

Healthy skepticism encourages us to check our assumptions, recognize the limitations of our methods, and proceed thoughtfully. When skepticism and controversy about a concept or label still remains as an obstacle, after decades of work to validate it in the eyes of mainstream science, then the validity of the skepticism must be examined.

 

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When all efforts to get society, especially the mental health and legal professional to recognize parental alienation as a legitimate crisis in science and health have failed, then the problem is not on “them;" it is on us.   How can we expect "them" to adopt a concept when we ourselves cannot even define it?     Regardless of the inherent controversy with the term parental alienation, it is short sighted to think that the mental health and legal professions are going to fully embrace a problem that doesn't have a clear, stable definition.  Is it a dynamic?  Is it a mental illness?  Is it child abuse?  No one, outside of our elite little PA community is going to take us seriously until we resolve the confusion about what parental alienation is. 

Recently, a member of the Parental Alienation Study Group (PASG), proposed a far reaching position statement to its members for their feedback and adoption.  The position statement strongly supports using more widely accepted and less controversial terms like "coercive control" and "child psychological abuse" in place of “parental alienation”; recognizing that the controversy about "parental alienation" is more about the term than about the actual phenomenon.

Adopting this position statement (or an amended version) could bring this international group of authors and researches in line with the largest, most powerful organizations and agencies in the world working to change the outcomes for families struggling with child psychological abuse.  PASG could then network with established change agents such as; childhood attachment trauma, psychological maltreatment,   domestic violence association, developmental and personality psychology and a plethora of others, all fighting to stop psychological abuse.

The biggest problem associated with shifting our perception is that many of us are invested and comfortable with using this term.  But, we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater!  Simply put,  parental alienation is not the whole enchilada but a specific set of abusive strategiesor a pattern of abusive behaviors by one parent to alienate children from their other parent. 

Parental Alienation is a set of abusive strategies (or a pattern of abusive behaviors) that a narcissistic/borderline parent uses to exile the other parent from their children’s lives.

It is a subtle but significant difference.  The abusive acts of alienating a parentcannot be separated from the abuser's reenactment of their childhood trauma, or their narcissistic/borderline personality disorder.  

  Below is a diagram of the chronology of how attachment trauma impacts the development of narcissistic/borderline personality disorder and how that disorder plays out in family situations.  The hallmark of these parents is that they are abusive to their family and escalate conflict whenever possible. Most of these families breakdown under the unrelenting stress, which triggers the unstable parent to reenact his or her childhood trauma based on distorted and disorganized memories stored in their internal working model.   During this reenactment period the narcissistic/borderline parent engages in and escalates specific strategies meant to alienate a child from his or her parent.  

       

 

 

 

 The sooner we stop calling psychological abuse parental alienation, the sooner we can engage in meaningful and effective intervention and prevention.

But this is up to us.

 

 

 

 

The End of Parental Alienation

 

                                 When the Moon is in the seventh house,

and Jupiter aligns with Mars.  Then peace will

guide the planets,

                            and love will steer the stars.  

                               –The Fifth Dimension (1969)

 

2016 is the year that parental alienation (as we know it) will end.  It’s only January and already, the traditional framework of parental alienation is disappearing and a new era is emerging.  Almost everyday I find another piece to the puzzle that brings us one step closer to ending this nightmare.  We are light years away from that dark place were there was no hope that people or systems would ever understand and care enough to change. 

Up until now, it’s probably a good thing that we didn’t know how complex and damaging the problem is.   If we had, most of us might have given up in the face of such comprehensive adversity.   What we were unaware of is that many other people have been also been working on aspects of our problem under different names.  It is now becoming clear that any one domain couldn’t possibly have discovered the multifaceted aspects of parental alienation.  And indeed what we call parental alienation is just one aspect of a bigger problem.  This is why we have struggled trying to explain or get others to understand our crisis.  This is also why individual approaches to resolving the issue have failed.  

The attachment-based model of parental alienation1 is the only model that identifies the multifaceted interaction of the clinical psychological definition of parental alienation, but even that does not account for the impact of the longstanding social injustices of custody allocations, parenting and gender role biases that have as much or maybe more of an impact on the problem.  Make no mistake about it, parental alienation is a huge, huge problem, possibly our county’s number 1 public health problem and the solution is just as big, but not insurmountable.

There is nothing that is insurmountable for targeted parents because we have the one thing we need to overcome this worldwide assault on our children, our families and our country.   We have the GOLD bullet; the most valuable possession in the world.  It’s called attachment.

Attachment is the most powerful force on earth.

Attachment is the enduring emotional bond between a healthy parent and his or her children and it is our superpower.  It exists with no boundaries in time or space.  Nothing can destroy it.  Nothing can stop it.  It is how David beat Goliath.  It is how we can be immersed in intolerable pain, but not be debilitated by it.  It is how we endure being stripped of our personal and civil rights and still step forward.  Attachment is how targeted parents can work full time jobs, plus put in 20-30+ hours a week preparing for court, mediation, and still fight for the good of the order.  In addition, targeted parents spend every moment thinking, working, praying, sharing, and caring for our children, whether we have contact or not.   We are either crazy, or invincible and know that I’m not crazy. 

 

I am not going to go into all of the details about why this is true or important, but since so many people have spent so much time advocating for these words, I did want you to know why Gardner himself would carry this sign, if he were here today.

When Dr. Gardner first saw one parent trying to alienate the children from the other parent, he didn’t recognize the narcissistic/borderline personality disorder of that parent (sound familiar?).

Gardner didn’t know that divorce caused this parent narcissistic injury that it triggered a psychological “melt down” into persecutory delusions.  He saw the illogical dynamics but that wouldn’t have given him a clue that the mentally disturbed parent was reenacting his or her childhood attachment trauma.   Gardner described the symptoms of a child who was being coerced and exploited to enmesh with the parent who had no empathy for anyone else, and would do anything, like make false allegation of abuse, just to win.  He saw this dynamic over and over again.  He knew it was horribly wrong, he pointed it out and he called it, parental alienation.

But, Dr. Gardner didn’t have the big picture, like we do now.  If we stand back, we will see the same episode play out with every narcissistic/borderline parent at the time that they get a divorce.  This predictable sequence of events cannot be sliced away from the parent’s personality disorder, attachment trauma, or the abusive family systems strategies they use to severely harm their family.

Look what happened when we did. 

Mental health providers were unable to recognize narcissistic/borderline personality disorder, attachment trauma, delusions, or the painfully obvious severe child psychological abuse.   In family court, targeted parents were/are blamed or at the very least were/are considered partially responsible.   Some of us were/are found guilty of abusing our own children!  Innocent parents got/get blamed for the horrific child psychological abuse that can only come from a delusional parent with a narcissistic/borderline personality who is reenacting their childhood attachment trauma.  But we were blamed, we were re-victimized, we were shamed. And then we would watch and listen as the courts indulged the dangerous parent and listened intently to what the children wanted.  Children, who were so terrified of the abuser and so psychologically corrupted that they would say whatever the abusive parent told them to say.

It didn’t matter whether the courts only gave the abuser 50% placement, he or she had 100%, because we knew before we even left the court room, that we wouldn’t see our children again.   What did the courts base their decisions on?  Where was the proof?  Where was the evidence?  There couldn’t have been any.   None.

As loving parents we have been tortured beyond words, some of us to death, all of us to a point of irreparable harm.  We sacrificed everything to pay the professionals who wouldn’t listen to us.    We were slaughtered along with our children under the all-powerful authorities. 

Good bye parental alienation, you cannot hurt us anymore. 

Hello Attachment trauma reenactment, we are going to expose you, because, we know where you are.