The usual view of how Alienation starts and stops is that it is a long-drawn out process … years to create and years to repair. But read Richard Warshak and others, and the clear picture is that PA can start and stop in a matter of days.
The quick and slow give us quite different ways to go.
For an account of painstakingly slow starting and unstoppable endurance of Alienation, Myrna Gower’s account of Rob and his family (with famous help added too) is enough to see the slow picture. She further updated it too. There are many sources of advice about how long the road is before a rejected parent may have to wait for their child to return. If at all.
Mostly (see e.g. Karen Woodall’s here) – and with good reasoning for sure – these describe why it is important not to either give up, nor to challenge the children or situation in the way that would be most natural to do to counter the Alienating influences.
There are hundreds of stories of ‘slow’. Adults tell us their Alienation stories – as in
Amy Baker’s famous book, and as in PACT’s 35 minute video. Even by a Judge’s own admission, a court case can take the whole of a child’s childhood and still to fail. See Justice Munby’s guilt trip with  EWHC 727 (Fam):
… Those who are critical of our family justice system may well see this case as exemplifying everything that is wrong with the system. I can understand such a view. The melancholy truth is that this case illustrates all too uncomfortably the failings of the system. There is much wrong with our system and the time has come for us to recognise that fact and to face up to it honestly. … Responsible voices are raised in condemnation of our system. We need to take note. We need to act. And we need to act now. [Written over a decade ago].
Read Pamela Roche’s harrowing family story in Broken Lives Broken Minds and you will see how – in a matter of weeks – her sons not only got Alienated from her by their father in the USA, but (one of them) got so disturbed that he was given severe diagnoses and treatments too. Had the US courts and professionals done any kind of competent job, it would probably have been ended as quickly. But, pending a recent update, this has not turned into one of those quick repair and reunification stories.
Read Moira’s story in Warshak’s ‘Note to the Reader’ in his 2010 edition of Divorce Poison. If you read only one thing about PA, Moira’s story should be it. As a psychotherapist now, she tells the inside story of her Alienation as a child with special insight. Moira was eleven when her parents separated. Her mother’s influence was quick to see, but the Alienation took longer to get going. Warshak highlights her use of the word ‘trance’ to describe the strange “robotic” state of both actively going along with her mother’s “brainwashing” rejection of her father, at the same time as having suspended knowledge of her good relationship with her father. Later in the book he likens the induction of trance to how a hypnotist does it. It may not take long to do that. Years of counselling did nothing for Moira’s depression etc as a girl.
The respectful challenge
Eventually, when she was seventeen, her father approached her and “said that he was hurt by my constant rejection of him and that he felt as though I was being coached to hate him, and was being told things that were not true. He then asked me how I thought he felt in all of this. … my father’s direct but respectful confrontation of our relationship broke that trance instantly.” Moira suggests that her father, who had been careful not to badmouth her mother back, should not have waited so long to challenge things as he did.
In another added Afterword at the end of the book, Warshak features his teaming up with Deirdre and Randy Rand’s successful two-day Family Bridges approach to reunifying a rejected parent and child. For sure this may happen at the end of a very long legal process, but the ordinary fun education about how people are influenced in ordinary ways, is usually remarkably quick given how long and intense the rejection has been. So again, a clear description of ‘quick’. This description of a child’s quick return to healthy attachment with the previously rejected parent – and improved general functioning too – is increasingly found in other reversals of custody.
Another example of ‘quick’ – though in the context of assessment, not lasting reunification – is in Dr Kirk Weir’s review (2011) of his case experience (in Family Court Journal) to show in “Intractable contact disputes – the extreme unreliability of children’s ascertainable wishes and feelings.” A more internationally known version is in the Family Court Review. He assessed a child for a couple of hours – two hours is quite ‘quick’ isn’t it?! – with the parent the child had verbally so rejected and found their behaviour clearly and genuinely positive on actually meeting.
Both the quick and the slow explanation of how Alienation gets induced seem reasonable. And the quick and the slow view towards repair and reunification too. This is one of those things that must be different in different cases and people. That’s not a surprise. So here’s the questions:
- How do you / we know which situation fits which pattern: slow or quick?
- How do you know if it’s worth the challenge?
- How do we work out the best way to make that challenge?
Nick Child, Edinburgh