Monday, August 6, 2012

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.

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