My work with “Rob” continues (see A 1000 tiny poisonous needles with Warshak et al comments). It remains a painful challenge of sustained alienation during contact with his children. On his website Joseph Goldberg talks about the essential place of a parental alienation consultant and the right assembly of professionals in order that the alienated parent can assert control.
Rob (my client) continues to see his children in accordance with the agreed contact rota. The children persist with their group style alienating behaviours towards him with the eldest son determining what they can and cannot do. He considers his father to be unsafe and manages his siblings down to deciding on bed-times and where they are each permitted to sleep…usually in his bed-room rather than in their own. The alienating behaviours of the elder boys (the eldest in particular) have escalated and Rob is showing significant and worrying psychological withdrawal and despair. The behaviours he has to tolerate are humiliating and oftentimes observably intentionally abusive e.g. being pushed aside; having his way blocked; mocking; aggressive demands and instructions and so on.
Our work together has enabled his resourcefulness and in his words has acted as ‘a pillar’ and an important learning curve on which to lean. He is confident that he has rescued himself many a time on this account but the relentless battle continues. He pains at the obvious unhappiness of the children having to behave in these irrational ways and often challenges the point of what he is doing for them. Five years on he says that he is exhausted and no one seems to realise that he cannot go on fielding this level of behaviour.
So where to from here?
Rob fears that to reduce contact in any way will be ‘the beginning of the end’ in that if the eldest does not visit then he will have refusal from all the children to visit or to see him. This is part of his struggle when considering how to see the children separately. Even if their mother might verbally agree to the children visiting on different occasions he is confident (as he believes is she) that they would refuse the visits on those terms.
I consider the alienating behaviours to be extreme and Rob’s mental health is observably at risk. In any other family interaction, I would not doubt these behaviours to be abusive and the targeted family member to be in need of protection and even being prepared to take extreme measures to ensure the well-being of that person.
Now comes the conundrum. I believe that to reduce contact (to offer Rob some respite from the relentless battering) is essential if not inevitable for Rob’s self-preservation and capacity to contribute to his children. This seems counter to the thinking; theory and sheer hard work to preserve that regular and frequent contact.