Friday, August 31, 2012

The Symptoms of PAS: The Presence of Borrowed Scenarios

This is the seventh in a series of eight posts on the eight symptoms of the Parental Alienation Syndrome, as first described by Richard Gardner, MD. This seventh symptom is The Presence of Borrowed Scenarios. This refers to to the false and distorted stories and things “absorbed” by alienated children about the targeted parent. One of the most common examples of this is when an alienated child announces that the targeted parent did not want for them to be born, and that they wanted the mother to have an abortion. This obviously could have only come from the alienating parent or her minions. This symptom may also be identified by the age inappropriate use of language by children. For example, I had a 4 year old child tell me that she had nightmares when she was at her father’s house (the targeted parent in this particular case). When I asked her about her nightmares, she said that she did not know, and that I should ask her mother because this is who told her that she was having nightmares at her dad’s. Borrowed scenarios may also be thought of as being the result of coaching. The notion of coaching, that is the alienating parent, either directly or indirectly saying things to the child for the purpose of negatively influencing their perception of the targeted parent, is a hallmark of the alienation process. In terms of the research performed by Amy Baker, PhD regarding the strategies for creating PAS, the concept of coaching may be found in some of the more common and frequent ones, such as Badmouthing, which is statistically the most common strategy employed. Since such badmouthing often involves negative and distorted (or manufactured) stories about the targeted parent, the result would be what Gardner referred to as the Presence of Borrowed Scenarios. It has been my experience that this symptom is easiest to clearly convey to the court when the children in question are very young since the content of the allegations are often clearly age inappropriate, which may be strongly conveyed. However, when children become, say teenagers, this symptom can be more easily hidden. That said, the evidence of this symptom can often be found in the now ubiquitous digital communications of texting, email and social media, which are so strongly engaged in by teenagers. These messages, if obtainable, can be powerful pieces of evidence that can tell the story of alienation in very compelling ways to the court. i have seen this be the case in many such instances. Psychologically however, the presence of the distorted reality found in this symptom, can become a serious obstacle to the reunification process. If, for example, a young girl comes to believe that she was somehow assaulted by her father, when she in fact was not, this persistent false perception can become a serious issue for this young girl. Not only can it make her reunification with her father more problematic, but it can also effect her view of relationships with the opposite sex as well as with authority figures, as well as with her ability to trust in a more global way. So while the symptom of borrowed scenarios may begin as a tactic to gain advantage in a custody dispute, it can also burrow itself deeply into a child’s psyche, where it can inflict more long term harm to the child. Believing one was the victim of abuse tends to have the same psychological impact as if the abuse had actually occurred. I believe that if judges understood this, that they would react more swiftly to intercede into the alienation. As with my earlier posts, I would appreciate any thoughts any of you may have on this topic. Thank you.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Symptoms of PAS: Absence of Guilt over Cruelty to and/or Exploitation of the Alienated Parent

This is the sixth in a series of posts about the eight symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome, first described by the late Richard Gardner, MD. The sixth symptom, and the subject of this post is Absence of Guilt over Cruelty to and/or Exploitation of the Alienated Parent. This symptom is typically found in the more severe end of the spectrum of parental alienation. It is manifested through the alienated child’s angry and critical tirades against the targeted parent. Under these circumstances, the severely alienated child will hurl hateful and demeaning comments directly to the targeted parent and will express or experience no guilt or remorse for doing so. One vivid example I recall from many years ago was a young man who, through the manipulation of the Family Court system, was allowed to testify as to why he did not wish to see his father, who was sitting some 10 feel away from him with his lawyer. The young man stated that he hated his father, that he never loved him, that his father disgusted him and that if his father died suddenly, that he would not attend his funeral and would be happy about his demise. The father, who had spent untold money, time and energy in the attempt to maintain a relationship with his son, was understandably crushed at hearing these cruel messages, all delivered in a cold and hateful tone. The judge commented on how this young man’s delivery and overall demeanor during this exchange was actually chilling. Interestingly, some months later, I learned that this young man had reached the age of majority, had moved out of his mother’s home and was now living with and working for his father. Obviously, in spite of the cruel and chilling speech in the courtroom, once the environment changed, this young man was able to essentially become himself again. I frequently tell parents who have received such cruel treatment, that underneath all of this is most likely an entirely different child. Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of this symptom is that appears so very convincing. In many respects, severely alienated children operate in a kind of trance state where they too may believe the things they are saying, when they are saying them. However, as with trance states in general, once the trance has passed the person returns to their normal state of being. Obviously, in the case of parental alienation, this return to themselves becomes less likely the longer the alienated environment which produces this trance state is maintained. This is one reason why reunification therapy should not be gradually and slowly engaged. This gradual and slow engagement actually helps to maintain the alienating environment and the trance like state that it produces. Some years ago, there was professional discussion about the importance of the alienated child recanting the horrible things that may have been said via this symptom. The general consensus now is that such recantation is not to be sought, as this will most likely re-engage the alienation. Perhaps one way of thinking of this is that the horrible things said via this symptom should be treated more as a bad dream. It should simply be released. As before, I would appreciate any feedback and comments about this most disturbing symptom of the PAS.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Symptoms of PAS: The Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict

This is the fifth in a series of post devoted to the symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome as originally described by Richard Gardner, MD. This fifth symptom is Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict. Within the context of parental dispute, be it divorce or post divorce, unless there as been actual abuse and or neglect in the extreme, children will typically contort themselves to not takes sides in the parental dispute. If a child feels one parent is being ganged up on in some way, they will often go to their aid and support their position. This reaction is certainly common but not universal. In cases where abuse has been present, one may see the child taking the side against the abuser, however this is still more the exception than the rule. However when abuse is not present, this reflex to take one parent’s side will simply not be absent. Suffice it to say, children like to stay out of the middle of their parents disputes. They want nothing to do with it, and will typical head for their rooms or some other exit to get away from it. One of the reasons for this reflex of avoidance of parental conflict is the possibility that they may get drawn into it. If, for example, during an argument between two parents, one parent looks at the child and asks for confirmation of their position, any such confirmation will typically represent a betrayal of the other parent. Again, this is something that children will contort themselves to avoid. It is from this backdrop then, that this symptom of Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict finds its greatest resonance. When an alienated child actively and even aggressively takes whatever position that the alienating parent takes, we can see how unnatural this is. When this symptom is present, the alienated child will support even the most absurd position if it is offered by the alienating parent. In group settings or family counseling settings, even when the child is offered indisputable proof that the position of the alienating parent is impossible, they will continue to support it. It is under these extreme circumstances that the depth of the pathology of alienation is exposed. As Gardner originally described, the parental alienation dynamic is a fear driven phenomenon. That is the alienated child is fearful of displeasing the alienating parent, and this fear is at the core of alienation. As this process takes root and grows, this fear of the alienating parent operates something like the fear of reprisal that a gang member would feel if he or she disobeyed the group. When we are speaking about children and the “gang” is a parent with whom they spend most if not all of their time, the fear is palpable. It is this level of fear and its consequent “identification with the aggressor” or alienating parent, that drives the pathological behavior and distorted thinking of the alienated child. This symptom is one very clear expression of this. This symptom can be baffling and dangerously distorting to the naive custody evaluator who is not familiar with parental alienation. Under this circumstance, they are likely to take what the alienated child says at face value. This symptom is therefore very important for the evaluator, the guardian or whomever else the court should appoint to help determine the best interest of the child to understand. As with the previous posts, I would appreciate any feedback regarding this symptom. Thank you.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Eight PAS Symptoms: Independent Thinker Phenomenon

This is the fourth post in a series of eight centered on the eight symptoms identified by Richard Gardner, MD in 1984, which he coined as being the Parental Alienation Syndrome. The fourth symptom is referred to as the Independent Thinker Phenomenon. Again, we should be reminded that as Gardner saw case after case of divorcing families where a once loving child would suddenly profess antipathy for their once loved parent, patterns were noticed. The pattern became the eight symptoms of the Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS, for short. As a clinician, I can verify that after one sees hundreds and hundreds of patients, in a given context, that the effect of this sort of experience is that one begins to notice repetitive patterns of symptoms and behaviors. When one sees these repetitive patterns, clinical insight begins to develop about what the patient is experiencing. I know that this is exactly the experience that Gardner began to have in the 1970’s, ultimately leading to his first publication regarding PAS in 1984. I mention this because the symptom of this post, the Independent Thinker Phenomenon, is a symptom that can be easily missed, or perhaps given less significance than it deserves. The Independent Thinker Phenomenon refers to the consistent behavior seen in alienated children where they claim that their resistance to seeing the unfavored or targeted parent derives from their own independent thought and is not the result of the other parent’s influence. Very often, this symptoms appears as the child - very much out of the blue - announces that no one told them to say this, and that this is his or her own thought. The significance of this “out of context” expression is that it reveals an agenda, on the part of the child, to carry out their assignment of: (1) arguing that their resistance to seeing the unfavored parent is their independent thought, and (2) that this thought is not result of the influence of the other parent. While these two components are in many ways overlapping, their separate expression is consistent with the kind of urgency that only alienated children experience. The purpose of this symptom is to convince the audience - very often court appointees - that they should not have to see their once loved parent. The urgency that is the fuel for this symptom is simply unseen in other contexts of divorce. When parents divorce and parental alienation is not present, this phenomenon is inconceivable. When parental alienation is not present, and divorce is in process, children make every effort to stay out of the middle, never taking a position in the parental conflict. This symptom is the opposite of this. In so being, it is a quiet hallmark of parental alienation. In this context, the custody evaluator, that is those evaluators who have an understanding of parental alienation, often see this symptom as the spontaneous statement, “you know, no one told me to say this” or perhaps, “my (mother or father - alienating parent) did not influence me”. Again, we see the completely unnatural favoring of one parent and the commensurate rejecting of the other, in one simple statement. I would be appreciative of any feedback about the appearance of this symptom in your experience. Thank you.

The Eight PAS Symptoms: Lack of Ambivalence

This is the third in a series of eight posts which correspond to the eight symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome, as originally described by Richard Gardner. In spite of the fact that the use of the word “syndrome” has fallen out of favor in some camps, it is important to realize that even Gardner’s critics describe alienation in much the same terms as does Gardner. The difference lies primarily in the competing theories as to what causes children to become alienated, but that is perhaps for another post. Suffice it to say that these eight symptoms described by Gardner are substantively similar if not identical to those described in the literature by the so-called reformulation theory psychologists. But this too is perhaps the subject of another post. Back to the eight symptoms. The third one is referred to as Lack of Ambivalence. This symptom refers to the child having no emotional connection to the targeted or unfavored parent. In some respects, this symptom can be a little misleading since severely alienated children can express hatred for the target parent, which is a connection, albeit not a loving one. The term “ambivalence” has a special meaning within the world of psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy. It refers to a remaining emotional positive connection between a person and what is referred to as a “love object” which is a psychoanalytic way of saying, the other person, even in moments of anger and conflict. When human relationships develop and evolve and deep emotional connections are made, the maintenance of an ambivalent connection, even in moments when one is angry with that person, is perfectly normal and healthy. Most have experienced being in a conflict with a loved one, feeling angry or even worse with the other person, but yet still not wanting an end to the relationship. Most parents have experienced their angry teen exclaim anger, disdain or even hatred, yet still remain connected to them. This is all normal. As a contrast to what Gardner was saying about this symptom, we might consider the abusive relationship, where one person is frankly abusive to the other person. In the abusive relationship, the ambivalent connection often actually strengthens, however in a very unhealthy way, such that the abuse victim begins to feel unworthy and somehow responsible for the way they are treated. Such adult abuse victims will go out of their way to avoid triggering the disapproval of the abusive person. In so doing, they essentially give up pieces of themselves and take on the self critical messages they have been receiving. They typically only leave these relationship after considerable abuse, if they leave at all. When children are abused by a parent, they tend to contort themselves into whatever they think the abusive parent wants them to be. When abused children do finally reject an abusive parent, it is typically only after a great deal of real and intense abuse over a very long period of time. Therefore, when we consider that in the context of parental alienation, the deep ambivalent connection between a child and a once loved parent is gone, it simply does not make sense, according to what we know about deep human relationships. In my view, the alienated child’s lack of ambivalent connection to the once loved parent is essentially unnatural. It simply cannot be the result of occurrences only between that child and that parent. Parent-child relationship are simply not that fragile. The deterioration must come from another source. Obviously that source is the alienating parent. When this symptom is present, the child can find no positive thing to say about the targeted parent, past or present. They can offer no positive or endearing quality regarding that parent, nor can they describe any positive or even “light” experience with them. This is one of the most severe symptoms of parental alienation, and I have found it only in severe cases. When these children are questioned about their once loved, now reviled parent, they will go on incessantly and will do their best to convince their audience of how much they should never have to see that parent. One can see that when this child sits before a therapist who is naive about parental alienation, that they can be easily swayed into believing the legitimacy of the child’s feelings. These naive therapists often become then, part of the problem and therefore part of the alienation. I believe that it is often the urgency contained in the Lack of Ambivalence that is so convincing. Anything you can share in your experience with this symptom or this overall dynamic is appreciated.

The eight PAS Syptoms: Weak or Frivolous Rationalizations for the Deprecation

In describing the eight symptoms associated with parental alienation, it occurred to me that this might be a good time to pause for a moment and to describe how Richard Gardner, MD came up with these patterned symptoms. As you all probably know, Richard Gardner was a physician who practiced psychiatry primarily in New York and New Jersey. What some of you may not know is that he enjoyed an international reputation for his original work with children before he ever wrote anything about what he later termed Parental Alienation Syndrome. Prior to all of this he pioneered many of the principles now absolutely fundamental to child psychiatry and created many of its tools such as Play Therapy, and myriad interactive games with children designed for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. Prior to his contribution in these areas, these techniques and tools simply did not exist. Gardner was their creator. He was esteemed throughout the world for these contributions. Then, in 1984 as Richard Warshak wrote in his Introduction to the International Handbook of Parental Alienation Syndrome, he wrote that children can lie about what happened to them, especially in the context of their parents’ divorce, and he became a target. From that point on, he became a target for many groundless and distorted attacks from many sources. It is important to note that Gardner recognized that children can certainly be the victims of abuse and that this is always a serious travesty. He regularly wrote about the deep psychopathology of the Pedophile and was clearly saying that tragically, some children are the victims of these unspeakable acts. He however was the first to say that children, under the right pressures and influences of an alienating parent, can allege things that simply did not happen. He recognized that this was a possibility. Since that time, there has been much research verifying the truth of this. Children can lie rather easily when put in the right environment, such as a contested custody battle. This is not to say that they must, only that it is a possibility. While this is largely recognized now via much research, such was not the case when Gardner published his first article on PAS in a 1984. I was fortunate enough to know and to work with Dr. Gardner and was even privileged to do an evaluation with him as a co-evaluator, so I got to observe his technique and his sharp clinical perceptiveness up very closely. What was plainly clear to anyone who worked with him was that he had an extraordinarily keen clinical eye which was seasoned by a great many years of experience and training. It was through this clinical eye that he began to keep tabs on the things he saw over and over again in cases where parental alienation was present. It is from this clinical perception and extensive experience, that the pattern of the eight symptoms began to take shape. He began to see that the alienation was progressive and that as it progressed, more symptoms were increasingly in evidence to the point of its full blown severe form, where all would be in evidence. In other words, he saw that this was a progressive phenomenon whose course could be charted, and whose future could be predicted. These eight symptoms therefore, became the touchstones of what he eventually labeled as Parental Alienation Syndrome. But enough background. On to the main discussion. The second symptom described by Richard Gardner, MD in 1984 is Weak or Frivolous Rationalizations for the Deprecation. This typically refers to a child offering up trivial reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship with what is now known as the targeted or unfavored parent. During the evaluative process in the context of divorce when parental alienation is present, the alienated child is invariably asked why they do not wish to see the once loved, now unfavored parent. What Gardner began to notice was that when that question is put to them, that there was an obvious searching for some reason to substantiate their position. Since the primary true reason is the influence and wishes of the other parent (which was not to be shared), the child would often come up with reasons which were incongruous with their insistence that they not see the unfavored or targeted parent. In other words, rather silly reasons would be given to substantiate such a serious position. Such reasons might be that they do not like that parent’s cooking, or perhaps they do not like that parent’s home or housekeeping, or perhaps that they thought that the unfavored parent “talked like a hick” too much, or only wanted to take them to theme parks, and not spend time with them, or perhaps they did not like the way that they dressed or did not like the music they preferred. You get the idea. When we look ahead to more serious and evolved forms of parental alienation, we often see more serious false accusations being leveled against the targeted parent. Under this scenario the targeted parent might be falsely accused of abuse or molestation, which would then be given as the reason for that parent not seeing that child. However, even when this is the case, one will typically find that these weak, trivial and frivolous reasons to not see that parent preceded the much more serious ones. As with all patterned things, there can be exceptions to this, but from my experience, even in cases where these more serious accusations begin to appear, one can still find what I think of as a quiet “sound track” of these trivial reasons playing in the background. For example, when evaluating a child who as accused a parent of having abused them in some way, if one asks the right questions, there will be evidence of these trivial reasons being present. This symptom then appears to have greater prominence in the earlier stages of the alienation process. As the alienation becomes more severe, so do - typically - the accusations. When the allegations become serious to the point where law enforcement may become involved, it is these more serious allegations that receive the lion’s share of the attention. However this symptom, the weak and frivolous reasons for the deprecation of the parent remain, albeit more quietly. They are simply less relied and focused on, as the more serious accusations draw most if not all of the attention. As with the prior discussion, I would be interested in your experiences with this symptom.

The Eight PAS Symptoms: The Campaign of Denigration

This post is the first of eight weekly posts focusing on each of the eight symptoms first identified by Richard Gardner, MD. Hopefully, this eight week process can help clarify any confusion about them. I hope that this helps. The first symptom is the “Campaign of Denigration”. This refers to the child’s view of the “hated” parent. It is important to understand that this is composed of two components. First, the campaign of denigration refers to the one being waged by the accusing parent in his or her indoctrination to the child. The other component is the child’s own contribution towards this denigration. This second part is critical and is the actual symptom seen within the child. Without it, the child is not truly alienated, and with it the indoctrinating parent can “sit back” and let the child be the voice of criticism of the Target Parent. This second component - its expression from the child - is what makes this process so baffling and intimidating to those trying to help. Often the child is the primary voice of the criticism, and the indoctrinating parent often appears surprised at what the child is saying, obviously disavowing any contribution to it. But how is such a thing possible? How is it that a loving child could suddenly begin to accuse a once loved parent in such compelling and hated terms? In order to answer this, one must consider what happens psychologically to a child when their parents separate and divorce. Assuming both parents had a loving relationship with the child, and assuming that neither parent was abusive, what happens when divorce occurs is that the child is forced into a situation where he or she is with one parent or the other, but no longer with both at the same time. Consequently, when they are with parent A, they are in some way dealing with the loss of parent B. When each parent promotes and encourages the child’s relationship with the other parent, the parentally responsible position, then the grief over the loss of the absent parent is mitigated significantly. If however, when the child is with parent A, and when with this parent, expresses negative and critical things about the absent parent, the child is placed in a serious divided loyalty conflict wherein if he or she must choose. If the child openly expresses love for the absent and targeted parent, this child’s expression of that love flies in the face of what they are being told by the parent with whom they reside. In other words, if they express love for the absent parent they are betraying the parent with whom they live. After this condition persists for a time, the child’s confusion and turmoil increases to the point where they “cross over” to the side of the Alienating Parent. It is at this point that the child, in the absence of the Target Parent, tends to repress his or loving feelings for that absent parent in order to resolve the inner turmoil. This is what I refer to as the “threshold point “when the child begins to become alienated and begins to actually contribute to the campaign of denigration. The Alienating Parent then typically takes a more protective stance and points to the child's fears as his or her only concern. The campaign of denigration then refers to the child’s criticisms of the targeted parent. It is the result of the influence of the other parent’s coaching, and disapproval of the targeted parent. We must recall than with alienation is not present, it is very difficult to get a child to be critical of either parent. In the normal course of divorce when parental alienation is not present, the child will do anything to stay out of the middle. Therefore, this campaign of denigration is fundamentally unnatural. With all of this in mind, I would be interested in comments about your experiences with this phenomenon.