National Coalition Against Parental Alienation

Promoting Awareness and Solutionssm

Parental Alienation: Realistic Perspective

PARENTAL ALIENATION
A Realistic Perspective for Solutions
Richard Purisky – NCAPA

All good advice concerning human behavior has failed a significant amount of the time.  That doesn’t mean that the advice isn’t important or necessary.  It means that human beings are controlled as much by emotion and desire as by logic and reason.  This holds true for any life event in which we partake: relationships, health habits, leisure activities, etc.

Importantly, the same realities of human fallibility need to be acknowledged in the efforts to create and implement solutions for Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).  As a victim of PAS myself, I bring a different perspective to the issues involved in potential solutions rather than the emotionally-removed academic efforts that make sense in a perfect world, where expectations of rational responses to abusive and dysfunctional circumstances are seemingly considered universally plausible.

I have read many of the recent books and articles about PAS.  The proposed solutions can be as confusing and daunting as the reality of losing the relationship with your child.  The “if this, then do that” scenarios make the assumption that every child is somewhat reasonable, unaffected by his or her own personality issues and always affected by stress in the same way.  The biggest issue, I believe, with these proposed remedial actions is that they put the burden on the abused parent to essentially diagnose the child’s behavior and then implement appropriate actions that may or may not help to eliminate or minimize the damage of parental alienation.  In other words, in addition to dealing with their own anger, stress, frustration, and depressed feelings, abused parents are expected to act perfectly and reasonably while navigating the many scenarios advanced in the somewhat clinical articles and books on the subject.

In my opinion, this approach risks making abused parents feel responsible for the damage to the child due to their failure to properly diagnose issues and then counteract them effectively.  Who is to say that there is any effort whatsoever by the abused parent in a given alienation situation that can always mitigate the harmful effects to both the parent and the child?

I am not saying that abused parents don’t need to understand that there is a high likelihood that expressing frustration and anger to a child will significantly increase the stress and damage for both parties.  In fact, I believe the most critical task for abused parents is to undertake their own anger management.  This alone will help to minimize the likelihood of creating a worst case scenario for everyone.  That’s where the starting point needs to be: damage control.  The ultimate damage, however, will be a function of many moving parts: the experience of the parent and child before alienation; the resolve and ability of the alienating spouse to exert control and impose his or her will; the emotional stability of the child; and any mental illness present in either parent or child.  Abused parents cannot control the alienating spouse or the child’s reaction to most of the circumstances of alienation, but they can control their own anger.  That needs to be the main focus: control what you can control.  Believe me when I say that this a hard enough objective in itself for most abused parents.

Even if an abused parent is able to act appropriately, this by itself is not likely to stop the efforts of the alienating parent.  Creating the expectation that anything an abused parent can do in terms of behavior management will affect the overall alienation outcome is dangerous and counterproductive.  However, the reality is that there are few other options currently available beyond making the abused parent the primary “fixer.”  Most family counselors are not effectively educated about PAS.  Even worse, many do not accept PAS as a legitimate and significant issue.  One of the main sources of stress for abused parents is the frustration that develops when they encounter a professional counselor (and/or attorney) who expresses doubt or blatant denial of alienation efforts that a parent knows full well they are experiencing.

Even so, it seems necessary to find a counselor who is as understanding as possible regarding PAS.  In an ideal situation, the counselor would be able to meet with the child and abused parent (assuming the alienating parent won’t participate) to create a useful channel of communication, the objective of which should be to underscore the love the abused parent has for the child.  Regardless of the extent of other issues that may be present on the part of the child or parent (with the exception of dangerous levels of depression or other harmful mental conditions), the establishment and continued confirmation of the parent’s love would serve as a useful foundation for the child to use as a conscious or unconscious barometer to measure the veracity of claims made by the alienating parent.  This counseling can be initiated with or without the involvement of a family court.  Ideally, all family courts should be professionally educated and committed to PAS intervention, but we are simply not there yet.

If the child is unable to attend counseling sessions with or without the abused parent, the parent should seek help from the counselor to help find ways of communicating the continued pattern of love and affection the parent has for the child.  The most effective means of alienation is to undermine the child’s belief in a parent’s unconditional love.  Therefore, the best means of combating alienation is to underscore the existing and ongoing love of the parent.  Barring serious emotional or mental health issues, it seems likely that a child who is convinced of the existence of the love of a parent will be much less likely to be manipulated to a degree of total alienation.

But even with appropriate anger management and effective counseling designed to foster awareness of unconditional love, alienation efforts are not likely to stop.  This should be the next priority.  One of the most critical aspects of any effective solution to PAS must include the ability to bring civil law suits against an alienating parent who continues to undermine the relationship of the child with the other parent.  I believe this very strongly.  The reason is simple.  One of the greatest human motivators is the threat of monetary punishment.  People need money to live, and the less money one has, the lower the standard of living one can expect.  People do many things they might otherwise not do when under threat of monetary penalty.

I can honestly say that if I’d had the ability to take my ex-spouse into court and prove (relatively easily in my case) the obvious and generally accepted PAS behaviors, as well as the resulting alienation and emotional abuse I have suffered, she would have curtailed her alienation efforts long ago.  She would have altered her behavior, not because she wanted to, but because she simply could not afford to pay a judgment of, say, $50,000 (plus my attorney fees).  This would also have gotten her attention since any significant change in her financial condition would have been cause for a custody review.

I also firmly feel that going to court would likely not even be necessary if my ex received a credible letter from my attorney stating examples of provable alienation behavior on her part and the credible threat of civil court action.  Credible legal notification of civil litigation would likely be enough to modify her behavior.  However, currently her attorney tells her that the court does not recognize PAS and that there is no legal basis for me to take civil action against her.  This reality alone is the most significant reason her alienating behavior continues.  She knows she is at no legal risk, which to her means that my claims of alienation aren’t credible or even based on legal reality.  If the law doesn’t recognize it in divorce situations, then why should she feel that she’s doing anything harmful?  The lack of court recognition of the emotional abuse caused by PAS serves to empower the alienation efforts by disturbed parents who are told by their attorneys that “there’s nothing that you can be held legally accountable or liable for.”

In summary, the outline I propose for solutions to PAS are:

  1. 1. Anger management by the abused parent
  2. 2. Confirmation of existing and ongoing love between the alienated parent and child, ideally with the help of a family counselor for both the abused parent and child.  And recognition by the parent of appropriate and effective ways to communicate feelings of love to the child
  3. 3. The ability in all states to bring civil suits in PAS situations on the basis of emotional abuse and loss of affection, and with significant compensatory damages possible

 

The value of the above approach is that it is relatively simple to focus on (although nothing with PAS is simple), and it addresses all three parties in the PAS situation: the alienating parent, the child, and the abused parent.

The solutions as proposed above will require the education and acceptance of PAS by family counselors and family courts, as well as appropriate legislation in each state that provides legal recognition of PAS as a basis for civil law suits.