Steps to Healing (Part Four)

Throughout my 20-year ongoing exploration into Parental Alienation (PA), I have uncovered various aspects related to this form of child abuse and pathology. It is an expansive subject, continually undergoing research and developmental refinement.

Similar to any other field, theories regarding Parental Alienation (PA) undergo development, and my personal perspectives also evolve as I acquire more knowledge and take the time to contemplate various aspects related to it. One ongoing evolution is evident in my four-part series titled “Steps to Healing.” It’s worth noting that additional segments may be added to this series beyond the existing four, with this being the fourth installment.

In the first two parts of this series (here and here), I delve into the spiritual, biblical aspects of reconciliation between alienated children and the alienated/rejected parent from my perspective as a believer in God and the importance—in my view—of confession and forgiveness in dealing with the fallout and the oftentimes severe consequences from PA.

But I am not a psychotherapist, trained counselor, or any type of mental health professional who is an expert in dealing with PA. And according to such experts, my belief in this need for confession from alienated children who have falsely accused their other rejected parent of sometimes horrific crimes is counter productive to the needed healing which must come for reunification to occur.

I write this because of this scholarly article titled, “A qualitative exploration of reunification post alienation from the perspective of adult alienated children and targeted parents.” It was written by professionals from the School of Psychological Sciences, College of Health and Medicine, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS, Australia, 2 School of Education and The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia.

The introduction from this article plainly states the object of this particular study: “The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of voluntary reunification from the perspectives of adult alienated children and targeted parents.”

The “Discussion” section states this: “Findings from the present study offer novel insights into the experience of voluntary reunification from the perspectives of both adult alienated children and targeted parents. They illustrate that voluntary reunification is a process that takes time. This process can span decades and can include periods of connection and rejection.”

This article addresses a crucial and important aspect of PA that holds particular interest for me, helping to answer the question, “What is the process by which alienated children and their rejected parents are one day finally brought back together?”

The Chinese philosopher Laozi wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The linked Wikipedia article states: “This saying teaches that even the longest and most difficult ventures have a starting point; something which begins with one first step.”

The process of reunification between an estranged child and their rejected parent, resulting from Parental Alienation (PA), undoubtedly mirrors the proverbial “journey of a thousand miles.” I often contemplate the myriad steps required to complete this extensive journey. This article aims to shed light on the descriptions of the countless steps involved in the reunification process.

The article lists at least 11 steps: “There is limited research exploring voluntary reunification. Research to date has focused on catalysts for voluntary reunification. Baker (2007) explored the experience of adult alienated children and identified 11 catalysts for reunification. This included maturation of the child that allowed for the cognitive capacity to reflect on their childhood experience more objectively. The alienating parent turning on the child. Experiencing parental alienation as a parent. The targeted parent coming back into the child’s life thus giving the child experiences with the targeted parent that challenge the alienating parent’s narrative. Attaining a milestone that triggered a need to reconnect with the targeted parent. Engaging in therapy that was a safe and non-judgmental space facilitating reflection. Intervention of extended family. Intervention of significant others. Seeing the alienating parent mistreat others. Discovering that the alienating parent was dishonest. Becoming a parent. Voluntary reunification can also be prompted by a crisis or significant change the adult alienated child’s life…”

Further down the above paragraph is this statement: “Darnall and Steinberg (2008a,b) noted that successful voluntary reunification could partly be attributed to targeted parents resisting any desire to convince the child that the child’s interpretations or recollections of past events were wrong...”

The preceding statement is the reason behind my writing this specific post: it suggests I am wrong in my belief for my alienated children to acknowledge the wrongs—including serious false allegations— committed against me before reunification can occur. And if I have made a mistake, it would certainly not be the first, nor the last, in my ongoing efforts to reconcile with them.

At this point in my journey with PA, I’m not quite ready to wholeheartedly agree with the point just raised that it is wrong for me—or any other alienated/rejected parent—to want to “set the record straight” concerning any and all false memories and/or allegations our alienated may carry with them. I believe truth is one of the most important aspects of life, and part of knowing the truth is being able to point out any and all lies that distort or misrepresent that truth.

But truth is arrived at and found by different people at different times and places in their lives. Not everyone seeks or finds the truth at the same rate other people do. Sadly, many people never find the truth concerning certain subjects and are more than content to believe in lies and myths.

All this to say, I’m willing to admit I could be wrong (or at least too hasty) in this aspect of my desire for reconciling with my alienated children.

The next paragraph in this article offers further insight with this sentence: “…They (the researchers) found that reunification was possible when the targeted parent never gave up hope of reunification, could see the alienation experience from the child’s perspective, had realistic expectations of the child and moved at the child’s pace…”

What caught my attention is the phrase “…and moved at the child’s pace…” This relates to my earlier observation about truth, highlighting that individuals seek and find truth at their own pace. I cannot expect my alienated children to uncover the truth of what happened to them according to my schedule; it must unfold at their own pace. Since discovering the truth on any matter is often a lengthy and challenging process, imposing my standard for when they should grasp the necessary truth is unreasonable. It fails to recognize their journey is likely to differ significantly from mine. It wouldn’t be fair to hold them to my preconceived notion of what a “one size fits all” ideal looks like.

Alienated children are often dealing with a parent (known as the “alienating parent”) who is controlling their lives, brainwashing them to hate and reject those children’s other, once beloved parent. These alienating parents often have deep psychological problems of their own, and being control freaks, make unreasonable demands on the poor children who can’t stand up to them.

One troubling aspect of alienating parents is their inflexibility and rigidity of thinking, adhering to the old adage of “it’s either my way or the highway” type mindset. To be honest, I have to admit I’m guilty of this type of thinking myself and understand it is a weakness on my part.

As I acknowledge having the same weakness, I’m open to the possibility of being mistaken on any topic. I’m aware of the rigidity of this mindset and aspire to overcome this character flaw. Unfortunately, for severely alienated children, if one or, worse, both of their parents maintain rigid and inflexible mindsets, the journey to understanding what has happened to them may be prolonged and arduous.

I have mentioned British psychotherapist Karen Woodall in several posts on this section of my blog. In this article, in the comment section, she wrote:

“Not all children need to talk it out, some need to live it out, some need to feel it out, what your children need is what you need to do most of and they will show you what they need.

An adult child who wants to come back but not discuss the past should be welcomed with open arms and the past should not be discussed with them. Discuss it with someone else but not the adult child. The worst any parent can do with a returning adult child is force them to go over the past, if they don’t want to do it, don’t force it but enjoy the reunion and show them they are safe and loved and you are well and when and if they need to talk they will.

I greatly respect Woodall’s perspective on alienation; she has brought much insight and comfort into my thinking and life concerning this pathology. It was through reading her works and the links she provided in her blog articles which prompted me to re-examine my thinking on this particular topic of what to say, or not to say, to my alienated children if they ever reach out to me in the future.

Though her stance is counter intuitive to what I have been raised to believe in, since I am painfully aware I am most often incorrect in my thinking processes, I’m willing to have my mind change and my behavior altered.