Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tragedy in Norway and Parental Alienation

Earlier this week, a 32 year old Norwegian man named Anders Behring Breivik blew up a government building, killing an uncertain number of people and then went on a shooting spree at a youth retreat, killing even more. The death toll is estimated to 76 at this point. His reason? He was trying to save Norway from Islam. While his acts are obviously heinous and horrible, and the work of a madman, we find that he does not look mad or crazy at all. He is calm, articulate and pleasant looking. He claims that he is guilty of no crime and that his actions are if anything, heroic. This how could this be possible? How is it possible that anyone but a psychotic could do such things?

At this point, you may well be asking, what does this have to do with parental alienation? Unfortunately, much more than you might expect. I believe that the simple answer is this: when motivated by hatred and fear of “the other” from whom they have been separated, unspeakable acts can and do occur, be they in a family context or in the context of politics. In the case of alienated children, they are taught to hate the targeted parent, and this hatred covers over a fear of displeasing the alienating parent. In this young man’s case, he had developed a hatred of the growing Muslim population in Norway, and had been taught to fear its continued growth. Just as alienated children often carry a sense of power, entitlement and a responsibility to protect, this young man seemed to feel a sense of obligation to obliterate what he came to believe was the growing Muslim threat in Norway.

Before appearing before a judge, he asked for trial to be public and even televised, so that he could educate the Norse population and indeed the world of his sense of what he saw as the horrors of the growing Muslim population. He also asked to be able to wear some sort of uniform during court proceedings, in the hopes of suggesting that he was acting in some heroic manner. Both requests were denied by the court. When we look into this young man’s background, we find that he had become more of a loner in the last three years. We learn that his isolation was hastened by his sister’s departure to the United States, when she married an American, and that his spare time became more occupied with internet games, blogging and the creation of a rambling manifesto reminiscent of that of Ted Kysgenski, whom he quoted directly. In other words, his spare time was spent alone in a room with a computer, through which he interacted with other strangers whom he would never actually meet. In this soup of isolation and social distortion, grew a sense of empowerment, hubris, and misinformed heroic obligation.

When children become parentally alienated, they are likewise isolated not only from the targeted parent, but also from adverse opinion as well as even interaction with those with whom may disagree. This sense of isolation and uniformity of perception is likewise intensified and cooked down into a powerful stew that overwhelms all other points of view. It turns out that Anders Behring Breivik parents had divorced when he was young, and that he had no relationship with his father for years. The New York Times described their relationship as being “estranged”. His father had since moved to France. While we cannot know this, it may be speculated that this man might himself be a product of alienation. If this was and is the case, it might be said that a template of isolation, hatred, judgment and cruelty, may have been formed many years earlier, and that it might have invited what later developed in this man’s mind.

As I review more and more cases where parental alienation is present, I see the same patterns. I see isolation from the targeted parent. I see this isolation as a fertile ground for the breeding of harsh judgment and intolerance. I see children claiming to be afraid but acting angry instead. This recipe of judgment, intolerance, distortion and exclusion is the breeding ground of the greatest horrors that we humans have ever created. On the large political and historical stage, examples include Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge, and Jim Jones. The list goes on. However on the more subtle and quiet home front, these same qualities may be seen in the parental alienation of children.