One of the most shocking things about Parental Alienation is how a once loving child can be transformed, seemingly very quickly, into a child who no longer is loving at all to that same parent.
This loss of loving behavior ranges from being resistant to seeing that parent, to being cool and aloof around that parent to angrily refusing to see that parent, overtimes with false accusations of abuse to justify their reaction.
It is a reasonable question: How can this happen?
In spite of how we like to think about ourselves, we humans are very easily influenced by outside forces. We have all heard about the “Stockholm Syndrome” which was based in 4 adult strangers being held hostage during a bank robbery for several days in 1973 in Sweden. When the adults were released, they sang their captor’s praises. They refused to also take part in the robbers prosecution.
Keep in mind: these were four adults who did not know each other, captured by a lone robber, later joined by another. During their time together, their survival instincts kicked in to transform not just the way they behaved, but what they believed, essentially so they could survive. Their change in behavior was no act. They really were supportive of the bank robbers. When we consider that (1) they were adults and not children, and that (2) they were strangers with no prior relationship, it is remarkable that such a transformation could occur.
When, however we consider the case of Parental Alienation, where (1) the victims are not adults but children, and that (2) there is not only a relationship that already existed, but the most powerful relationship that exists in human experience – that between a parent and a child – it is perhaps less difficult to understand and accept.
In both cases however, it is the instinct to survive that drives and guides these transformations and distortions. Richard Gardner, MD, the late Child Psychiatrist who coined the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome” maintained, all of this distorted behavior is driven by fear. Specifically, it is driven by a fear of displeasing the alienating parent.
This is not apparent on the surface, but is virtually there underneath. So just like the adults in the bank robbery unconsciously changed their view of their situation, essentially to survive, likewise do the alienated children. They are truly held hostage to this. As with all hostages, their goal is survival.
These very counter intuitive realities will be the subject of our next blogpost: How to best convey this in court.