Parental Alienation, Divorce, and Mental Illness
If you’re tempted to put your kid in the middle of your conflicts with your ex, don’t do it — it could lead to serious mental illness.
Dr. Michelle Golland: Children who are caught in the severe emotional struggle of divorcing parents may not only be suffering emotionally, but may now fall under a new definition that is being proposed for the American Psychiatric Association reference tool, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
The DSM may include a new mental illness classification: “Parental Alienation.” Through his research, Dr. Bernet of Vanderbilt University has defined PA as a form of brainwashing that occurs in a small number of highly contentious divorces. Children experiencing PA develop this condition by subtle or explicit signals the alienating parent sends a child.
Parental Alienation involves mental manipulation or bullying of children, which results in the destruction of a loving or warm relationship with the other parent. Parental Alienation and Hostile Aggressive Parenting deprives children coping with divorce of the stable and loving relationships they need when dealing with the divorce of their parents, and in their life in general.
Children experiencing the emotional bullying by one parent against the other can develop a severe opposition to contact with one parent and/or overt hatred for one parent when there is little and often no logical reason to explain the child’s behavior. During the crisis of a divorce, it is key to keep the peace between the parents so as to ensure the children do not feel put in between the conflict. Let’s face it — the couple is divorcing each other, but they should not be divorced from the children.
The healthy and reasonable parent wants to keep their children feeling emotionally safe with both parents. The desire should be to strengthen the bonds between both parents even through the divorce. A healthy parent encourages visits with the other parent, does not talk negatively about the other parent in the presence of the children, and honestly tries to set aside their own hostile feelings to help their child feel less distress. The healthy parent is sensitive to the child’s feelings and needs and encourages positive feelings toward the other parent because they know it is paramount to their well being, now and in the future.
The Alienating Parent may seek emotional comfort from their child (and want validation for their pain and anger against their ex-spouse) by trying to get the child to align against the other parent. They speak negatively of their ex and subtly communicate their anger in front of the children. Alienating parents often learn how to manipulate and use their children to hurt the other parent on purpose — and with a vengeance. The parents who are actively alienating their ex may do such things as telling the children the other parent doesn’t love them or doesn’t want to see them. They may destroy or hide communication from the other parent. They may give into the child’s desire to avoid the parent and actually encourage such behavior rather than encourage them to have a healthy relationship with their ex.
Some Signs of Parental Alienation
• Children perceive one parent as causing financial problems for the other parent
• Children have knowledge of the divorce details or legal procedures
• Children show sudden change in attitude toward a parent, which is hostile and negative
• Child is not being delivered for court-ordered visitation and is being allowed to “choose” if they go to visit the target parent
• Child makes false allegations of abuse
• Parent asks the child to choose one parent over the other
• Parent reminds and reinforces anger and negativity toward target parent
• Parent gives the impression to the children that if they have a good time with the target parent on a visit, it will hurt them
• Parent asks the children about the other parent’s personal life
• Parent “rescues” the children from the other parent when there is no danger
The APA will announce on January 20, 2010, what proposed changes will be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If they are considering including Parental Alienation, they will begin three years of field studies, which will enable them to decide the diagnostic relevance and accuracy of Parental Alienation.
I believe it is important to realize the damaging negative emotional consequences of PA on children in high-conflict divorce. It is why I advocate for divorce therapy for any of my divorcing clients who have children. My goal is to avoid this type of harmful behavior and educate my clients on ways to create a peaceful and less stressful experience for their mutual children.
|Dr. Michelle Golland is a USC graduate and a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY#16974). She works with adults, teens and is an expert in the field of marriage and relationships. Dr. Michelle Golland has given her expert advice on CNN, HLN, MSNBC, ABC, and Fox news. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two wonderfully exhausting children.|