In his powerful, must-read book, Divorce Poison, Dr. Richard A. Warshak offers solid advice for anyone whose life has been “poisoned” by divorce or parental alienation (emotional abuse/brainwashing of children for the sake of revenge).
We’ve written posts in the past (see links, below and read the post comments!) about parents and children who are victims of vengeful spouses aka alienating parents. Now we’d like to write a bit about the alienating parents themselves, based on insights from Dr. Warshak among others.
Psychologists, counselors, including (and maybe especially) the armchair variety, seem to not shy away from positing theories about why people act the way they do. With alienating parents, this is hard to do with any measure of objectivity because while we ponder, their victims suffer. And because the victims aren’t just former spouses, but also their own children, it feels rather heartless to analyze and assess. What we long to do is simply scoop up the children and put them in a safe place.
But Dr. Warshak shows that deciding on what that safe place might be isn’t so simple. Despite intensity of the Parental Alienation campaign that’s being waged, most courts and therapists are loathe to remove children from one parent to another. And since the children have been brainwashed for years to hate the alienated parent, they are likely to tell the judge that they “hate” the alienated parent. Sometimes, the children are even coached to say this.
In addition to helping the alienated parent and the children, Dr. Warshak’s book offers hope to brave alienating parents who are willing to look in the mirror. He writes compassionately about and to the alienting parent.
He helps you assess if you are abusing your children in this manner. He explains how your behavior damages those you love. If you are an alienating parent, he also gives insights into the potential pitfalls and failures of seeking therapy as well as possible benefits.
Throughout the book Dr. Warshak points out that the very nature of therapy encourages the therapist to align with the patient. If that patient is an alienating parent, it might be hard for the therapist to step back and do the hard work that needs to be done. (It’s also likely that if the patient isn’t ready to face the truth, he or she will just quit therapy).
But for those patients who are pained by their abusive and irresponsible behavior, and want to understand and repair the damage they’ve done, therapy can help. Dr. Warshak writes:
Therapy with alienating parents helps identify the fears, hurt, and shame that often lie beneath the anger that drives divorce poison.
It helps parents resolve the anger rather than use the children to express it.
It helps parents define clearer boundaries between their feelings and those of the children.
He writes that the therapist must also educate the parent about the long-term effects of their destructive behavior. I agree; patient education, as detailed as possible, is necessary for healing to take place.
If you read the comments on the blog posts about parental alienation, you’ll immediately feel how raw the pain is to the alienated parent. If you watch the video links we’ve included, you’ll see that the children (even the adult children) themselves are also in incredible pain. The alienating parent is also in pain, but tends to project their pain outwards, because it seems just too big for them to bear internally. Divorce Poison shows that effective help might be available if you seek it.