Monthly Archives: July 2017

Parenting Behavior Used to Sever the Parent-Child Relationship

When I first married, I didn’t realize there was a 50 percent chance that my marriage would end in divorce. During our marriage, we had a child and again, I didn’t realize that there was a one in six chance my divorce would turn out to be “high conflict,” and that my child would be used by an angry and vindictive ex to avenge the failure of our marriage. Over the years since my divorce, the mother’s behavior has only intensified. Eventually, I came to learn the meaning of terms such as Parental Alienation (PA), Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), and Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAP), and experienced how easily the family court system can be manipulated by false allegations.

In 1985, Dr. Richard Garner, a forensic psychiatrist, introduced the concept of PAS in an article, “Recent Trends in Divorce and Custody Litigation,” in which he defined PAS as “a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of programming (brainwashing) by the other parent and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the targeted parent.” Several years later, Ira Daniel Turkat introduced “Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.” Behaviors associated with both syndromes are relatively similar, encompassing hostile aggressive parenting behavior in an attempt to alienate the child from the other parent. However, the latter focuses on the mother’s behavior whereas PAS can relate to both the mother and the father. Presently, PA or PAS are the common terms used to define the practice of attempting to alienate a child or children from a parent, regardless of gender.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) official statement on PAS notes “the lack of data to support so-called parental alienation syndrome and raises concern about the term’s use.” However, the APA states it has “no official position on the purported syndrome.” Advocates against PAS believe it is a form of psychological child abuse, and the APA’s refusal to address PAS leaves “targeted parents” lacking needed resources to fight the problem. At the same time, there are those who discount the validity of PAS and believe it is used as an excuse by abusive parents during custody challenges to explain “the animosity of their child or children toward them.” In certain cases, that may very well be true.

In his article, “New Definition of Parental Alienation: What is the Difference Between Parental Alienation (PA) and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)?” Dr. Douglas Darnall focuses on the behavior and defines “parental alienation (PA), rather than PAS, as any constellation of behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious, that could evoke a disturbance in the relationship between a child and the other parent.” Simply put, PA is teaching the child to hate the other parent, leading to estrangement from the parent. By concentrating on the behavior, Dr. Darnall presents a more pragmatic approach to acceptance of PA by attorneys, therapist and family courts.

The tactics or tools that parents use to alienate a child range from simple badmouthing the other parent in front of the child; encouraging others to do likewise, until the child is bombarded with negative remarks on a daily basis; to reporting accusations of abuse or neglect to child protective services or family court. This behavior is known as Hostile Aggressive Parenting. One tactic that author John T. Steinbeck describes in Brainwashing Children is that some “hostile parents who remarry will have the child or children call the stepfather, ‘daddy,’ as a technique used to devalue the biological parent.” Parental Alienation Syndrome is a condition. Hostile Aggressive Parenting is the behavior.

Hostile aggressive parents are unable to move on. They are stuck in the past and focused on avenging the failure of their marriage and the control they had during the marriage. They manipulate the family court and child protective services in an attempt to continue control over their ex-spouse. They accept no responsibility for their actions, blame everyone, and place themselves above the child’s own interest. Therapist turned family law attorney Bill Eddy notes in his article “Personality Disorders and False Allegations in Family Court” that there is a “prevalence of personality disorders in high conflict divorce and custody cases in which false allegations are used.” The most prevalent of these is Borderline Personality Disorder, followed by Narcissistic Personality, and Anti-Social Personality Disorder. This accounts for the lack of empathy toward the child’s emotional state, and the ability to manipulate family court and child protective services so easily. Parents with anti-social personality disorders will play the “victim.” They are experts at manipulating and lying because they actually believe their lies to justify what they are doing.

Not all children can be taught to hate. Some have a very strong bond with the parent. Steinbeck also notes that in certain cases the “alienating parent feels that the other parent has a strong, highly functional relationship with the child or children and is irrationally worried that this positive relationship will somehow affect their relationship with the child.” A child old enough to decide with whom he or she wishes to live with may result in a reversal of financial obligations, as the non-custodial parent is obligated to pay child support and provide medical coverage for the child. HAP may simply be financially motivated. Regardless of the motives, attempting to alienate a child from a parent using hostile aggressive parenting or parental alienation tactics is psychological child abuse.

It is much easier to alienate a child when the child is separated from the parent. False allegations to family court of abuse or neglect will severely limit the relationship between the parent and child and the limited time spent will be under supervision. The Standard Divorce Decree has already reduced the non-custodial parent to a visitor in the child or children’s lives by a visitation schedule of the first, third, and fifth weekends of the month. Now the parent is limited to a “supervised” visitation schedule of three or four hours per month. Supervised visitation programs are just as easily manipulated as family court, e.g., parents simply need to call in at the last minute to seek rescheduling.

Family court will always side with the allegations and the court moves very slowly. Depending on the skill of an attorney, this period of separation could last for months. This gives the “targeting parent” additional time to teach the child to hate the “targeted parent,” as well as draining the “targeted parent’s” financial resources.

An attorney once told me that “the only place people lie more than in family court is at a bar.” Family court is plagued by false allegations simply because they are such an effective tool to quickly sever the parent-child relationship. Family court does not prosecute against false allegations, which is why false allegations have proliferated. Allegations do not need to be specific. Some attorneys advise clients to keep the allegations vague so as not to chance involving investigative agencies such as child protective services, as their reports carry so much weight with the court. An allegation to family court may be as vague as “The father is a danger to the child.” This is enough for the family court to order visitations withheld or supervised, but not specific enough to involve child protective services.

Family court is a guilt-by-accusation system. Once accused, it is the responsibility of the accused to prove the allegations false. The accused parent will most likely be court-ordered to supervised visitations with the child or children, as well as complete a psychological evaluation and meet with mediators and parent coordinators, all at personal cost. He or she also may pay for a forensic investigation, also referred to as a Social Study Evaluation, to prove the allegations false. The accused parent will spend thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands, of dollars proving the accusations false – and in the end, find him/herself financially drained and psychologically exhausted. An accused parent may lose a relationship with the child or children simply because they ran out of money to continue to fight. Unfortunately, this also results in a child losing a loving parent. David Levy, cofounder of the Children’s Rights Counsel and author of The Best Parent is Both Parents, stated: “President Obama talks a lot about absentee fathers who need to take responsibility. (But) he may not realize that there are millions of parents who want to be involved (in their children’s lives).” Fighting for the “child’s right to both parents” is a costly battle – both financially and psychologically. Many parents simply lose because they ran out of money.

Marriage and Relationship Problems

Couples counseling is designed to understand the behavior patters between people in a relationship to resolve problems more effectively. Couples therapy is a brief, solution-focused technique, which defines specific and attainable treatment goals, and is designed with the outcome in mind. Couples counseling will help people develop strategies for improving their relationships.

The processes of couples counseling teaches you how to take helpful risks to develop a loving relationship. Opportunities to continue personal growth occur throughout life. Individual growth leads to stable committed relationships. Couples therapy encourages emotional growth, which allows people to experience more connected feelings with one another. People develop trust when they feel safe in disclosing your deepest, most private self to their partners. The most effective way to obtain a good outcome in your relationships is to work with an experienced professional, such as a licensed marriage and family counselor.

What types of problems are treated in couples counseling?

The psychotherapy of couples counseling treats specific problems in a relationship such as poor communication, problems getting along, boundary issues with other family members such as parents or grandparents, disagreements about parenting of children, or difficulties with financial stress. Couples therapy shows people a way to live in a more loving and respectful way.

Work or career issues, financial issues, and issues with children and the extended family are the stresses that modern society place on a relationship. In couples counseling, people learn how to deal with the pressures of daily living without destroying their relationship. During the psychotherapeutic process of marriage therapy, couples learn that we are all human and have human flaws. Couples in therapy get the insight that we all have the ability to hurt each other and develop skills to prevent that hurt as much as possible. Partners in the counseling process find they have a safe place to acknowledge hurtful behaviors. People in relationships learn effective communication skills to apologize and express remorse.

How long do people stay in couples therapy?

Couples counseling is designed to address specific issues. Within 10 to 12 sessions, on average, problems will be identified and better behavioral strategies will begin to take effect. The number of sessions is tailored depending on the couple involved and their specific issues.

Often, couples desire to continue sessions with the therapist to reinforce new skills and effective strategies. They realize that cognitive tools can be learned which help produce a more successful relationship. As a couple puts what is learned in the initial sessions into practice, they become motivated to “learn more” as they see they have a more satisfying life with their partner. Often, couples begin marriage therapy in a “crisis” situation. When highly charged emotions begin to retreat, the psychotherapist and the couple can start the real work of learning and refining many skills and techniques to improve the marriage or relationship.

Why use a marriage and family therapist (MFT) for couples counseling and psychotherapy?

Marriage and Family Therapists are specially trained, licensed professionals focusing on relationships, family dynamics and psychotherapy. These professionals diagnose and treat a wide range of emotional and psychological disorders that arise between people in a relationship.

A marriage therapist is specifically trained to listen and analyze issues presented by partners in a relationship in an unbiased fashion. Friends and families of the couple are often very loving and very much want to help but their strong emotional investment with one or both partners makes them unable to understand the psychology of the relationship objectively. Even after the first session with an effective marriage therapist, it is quite common that couples will report a feeling of “hope” that they are doing something positive to help work things out in their relationship.

Will I become a better listener through couples counseling?

During couples counseling, people learn specific methods on how to listen to their partner’s needs. Active listening techniques help people develop empathy with their partner which lets them better understand their partner’s needs and improve their relationship. Relationships and marriages become stronger and more caring and loving when people learn to listen to each other.

Couples psychotherapy involves training in resolving conflicts, eliminating miscommunication, and healing painfully hurt emotions. Any relationship inevitable develops problems. Through therapy, you can to listen fully to your partner’s needs. An experienced marriage, family and couples therapist can teach the people in a relationship specific methods to improve their listening skills.

The therapist can help you stay on track when working on resolving an issue. You learn to resist “making a case” for yourself by bringing in irrelevancies that may only cause pain to the other. Couples therapy can effectively develop communication regarding a difference of opinion, which leads to a comfortable solution for both people.

How will couples counseling help me resolve the conflicts in my marriage?

First, the therapist will help create a safe, warm and trusting relationship for both partners. Next, you work with the therapist understand the nature of the conflict. Often, conflicts result when partners in a relationship differ in a goal or expectation. In couples counseling, the therapist will help you understand each other’s expectations, and help you and your partner learn new ways to communicate to resolve the conflict.

An experienced couples therapist can teach partners in a relationship skills they can use to develop strategies to improve conflict resolution that can adapt over time. People gain an increased ability to listen with understanding to the other person’s views, even though, perhaps, not agreeing on the specific issue. The marriage therapist can demonstrate effective and safe ways to express negative emotions such as hurt and anger in a non-critical and non-confrontational style. Successful conflict resolution results in partners feeling closer and more trusting with each other, strengthening the marriage.

Is couples counseling really effective?

Many studies demonstrate the effectiveness of couples counseling. The vast majority of people in couples therapy report an improvement in how they perceive themselves and their relationship.

Couples counseling is extremely effective in not only helping couples stay together. In fact, as each individual in the relationship continues to grow and maturing, they develop to more functional and positive communication and efficient conflict resolution outcomes in their lives outside of their relationship. Couples counseling, is not a passive thing “done” to a couple, but rather it is “work” done together with the psychotherapist. The counselor and the couple are in positive communion to effect positive results.

Couples therapy is an effective method to understand the behavior of the partners in a relationship and allows effective resolution of relationship problems. A couples counselor treats a variety of specific relationship problems and helps people learn to live more lovingly together. Couples therapy varies in duration, which is designed to provide enough space to address specific relationship issues. Professional marriage and family therapists are highly trained experts that can facilitate therapy for a couple in an unbiased and objective manner. People undergoing couples counseling learn specific skills to become better listeners and resolve conflicts. Overall, people find that couples therapy is effective and report an overall improvement in their well-being and in their relationships.

Family Visits and Focus on Building Strong Relationships

You love it when family members visit. If visits are regular it becomes the norm to not expect any gifts. However, when visits occur during the holidays like Independence Day or Christmas or during special occasions like a birthday or graduation material things become expected. This could be a result of family tradition or societal expectations. Family members expect toys, games, clothes and shoes, and sometimes money too. However, if the central focus of the visits is on material things members are not building strong interpersonal relationships. Families develop negative habits by comparing gifts received to those from past years or from other family members. This also involves forming an entitlement attitude where gifts become an obligation instead of being a privilege. However, by switching the focus to recreation, hobbies and events members will value you as a person and respect your time and attention. You will also notice an increase in confidence and self-esteem levels of everyone.

Test Your Own Family

To test if your family welcomes you based on your gift then at your next family visit do not carry the gifts with you. Instead you could have them brought over by a friend or shipped to arrive a few days after you get there. Then when you show up at their homes watch their faces carefully to see if they still feel great to see you or act disappointed. Some might walk away to get back to whatever activities they were engaging in. You can wait even further to see if they will ask if you brought gifts or if it becomes the center of the conversation. Later, after you have made enough observations then you can let them know that gifts are coming and then watch their expressions then.

Family Visits

Family members that visit very often are a part of everyday life. However, for persons that live far away then seeing them becomes a special event. These visits usually take place during the holidays when they can get time off from work. For e.g. some popular holidays are Christmas Day, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving Day. There are also special occasions when family members feel obligated to visit such as during a birthday, graduation or wedding celebrations.

Material Things

When families visit each other material things are usually a way of expressing love. However, if it becomes an expectation then the focus is on the amount of money spent instead of the time and effort that went into purchasing the gifts. Some popular examples of gifts are cameras, smartphones, sports equipment, toys, video games, jewellery. Older family members usually receive gift cards or money.

Negative Results

When the focus is on material things members use the monetary value of the gifts to grade visits. Hence, family members compare the things that they receive to those that they got in the past years. They might also compare items to those received from others or those owned by friends or neighbours. They might even develop an entitlement attitude and view these material things as an obligation. If nothing is given or they do not get what they expected then they become angry, disappointed and might even ignore members during the visit. Therefore, this causes little or no interpersonal relationships to develop. Interpersonal relationships focus on treating each person as an important member of the group, communicating with each other, having trust in each other and showing commitment to the well-being of that person. Hence, without it the family is not really bonding with each other.

Solution

In order to get each member to focus on the time and effort that it takes you to visit, then do not focus on material things. While you can choose to bring gifts occasionally practice on engaging with each other. This means participating in activities or hobbies such as playing board games, creating scrapbooks, using art and craft supplies, telling stories from your past or reading from a story book. You can also go out to the concerts, museums, parks or to sports games. This would help each other to learn and grow. Use your money, time and effort for building up talents, skills and life experiences. These would strengthen interpersonal relationships and each member would have more self-confidence and better self-esteem levels.