Steps to healing (Part One)

(Edited and expanded on Sept. 11, 2022)

In the Judeo Christian tradition that spans thousands of years, the first step toward reconciliation with God is our acknowledgement that we are sinners and have sinned against Him. Though this lengthy discussion on divorce and PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome) and PA (Parental Alienation) is probably not the time to delve deeply into the intricacies of this fundamental belief, we can glean insights on how the fractured relationships from high conflict divorces might be restored.

I am not a trained psychologist, psychotherapist, guidance counselor or similarly trained professional in the field of mental health and family issues. But I am a father who has first hand experience of the devastating reality of PAS/PA and feel some confidence that my experiences and understanding of the issue might benefit someone else who has also suffered through this nightmare. Understanding my lack of professional credentials, do your own “due diligence”; research and check, if needed, with professionals who may hold a different opinion than what I offer here.

This acknowledgment of a spiritual worldview is important for me so that my readers will know where I am coming from and from where I gain my understanding of this issue. If you do not share these beliefs, you are certainly free to reject what I have to offer. Every man, woman and child is free to walk according to the dictates of their own conscience as I am free to walk according to mine.

This said, I wish to point out a fundamental biblical truth as referenced in my first paragraph above: the first step toward reconciliation with God is our acknowledgement that we are sinners and have sinned against Him. From this point, we are able to learn a fundamental truth which is also applicable to human relations: fractured relationships begin the healing process when each party acknowledges wrongs they have committed against each other.

Not surprisingly, this, in some areas of our modern western society, is a radical concept. Why? Because we have become a society marked by a “victim mentality.” Wikipedia has some helpful insight into what this is:

Victim mentality is an acquired personality trait in which a person tends to recognize or consider themselves as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to behave as if this were the case in the face of contrary evidence of such circumstances…In some cases, those with a victim mentality have in fact been the victim of wrongdoing by others or have otherwise suffered misfortune through no fault of their own. However, such misfortune does not necessarily imply that one will respond by developing a pervasive and universal victim mentality where one frequently or constantly perceives oneself to be a victim…”

The article continues and I urge my readers to explore this concept further, but for our purposes here, understanding this concept is critical, in my opinion, to achieving genuine and lasting healing with relationships damaged by PAS/PA. But such healing cannot take place if those involved in the fractured family are held prisoners in the strait jacket of only looking at themselves as victims.

Let me emphasize something again that I touched on in this first blog entry about divorce and PAS: normal families. In a normal family, absent of physical, sexual, alcohol, and other forms of severe and serious abuse that would legitimately call for the separation of the offending family members from remaining in the household, no family member can claim they are perfect and never did anything wrong. This “normal” family is what I’m speaking about here…not a criminally abusive one. This distinction is important.

In such a family, the father, even if he is a good and decent man who goes to work every day to support them, can never claim to have done nothing wrong. Every father can look back on certain things he did or decisions he made (again, not criminal in nature but in matters of poor or unwise judgment) and find areas of regret. He can look back and say, “I was too harsh in my words to my daughter when I found out she lied to me,” or, “When my son disrespected his mother with that awful ‘rolling of his eyes’ look when she asked him to clean his room, making him stay in his room for three days and missing baseball practice was too extreme. I regret that now and wish I could take that punishment back.”

Moms can say the same thing…they regret some things they did or said when their kids went out of line and did or said something they should not have said or done. Perhaps their punishment for such things was too extreme, or perhaps not extreme enough. In essence, parents can always look back on things they did nor did not do with their children and admit they made mistakes….perhaps even serious ones.

Children can say the same things. They can look back on many of their behaviors and admit, “I should not have said what I said to my mom and dad when they caught me lying…” or, “I had a terribly disrespectful attitude toward my dad when he asked me to spray the yard for weeds” or, “I stole $20 out of my mom’s purse and never admitted to it…” You understand what I mean by these examples and I could have easily included multiplied dozens more.

In this “normal” (non-abusive) family, if say, a family of five (where all the children were now adults) were to gather around the dinner table and look back on their times living together under the same roof, each of them could do some soul-searching and say to each other, “I was wrong when I did this” or “I was wrong when I said that…”

This is simply a general, broad snap-shot of what might be considered a typical family trying to live each day together and finding they are humans prone to mistakes and acts of selfishness, stupidity, and foolishness. I’m not trying to cover every possible scenario or mistakes that happens in a family but simply painting the picture with a broad brush. Do families go through more serious blunders? Of course. This is simply the ways things go and life rushes forward.

But in families affected by PAS/PA, the dynamic between the alienated parent (or the “targeted parent”) is greatly different than in a normal family. In this pathological family, the children and alienating parent are working against the targeted parent. As I wrote in a prior article, PAS/PA affected children will routinely lie about the targeted parent, even to the point of accusing him or her of sexual abuse.

For deep and meaningful healing to occur in this family, there must be an awareness of, and repenting from, lies told about and against the targeted parent by both the child or children who told the lies and—most importantly—by the alienating parent who brainwashed and unduly influenced the child/children to tell the lies against the other parent.

My belief in this is not enthusiastically shared by others who are experts in the field of reunification of families split apart by PAS/PA. In the ones I have investigated, there is an emphasis on “forgetting the past and moving forward.” At least one of these reunification programs (that charge over $20,000) prohibit any mention of the past; it’s all geared toward being “positive” and not being bogged down by the past.

I understand this. At first blush, it sounds wise. And no doubt many families benefit from such an approach. My opinion? If a family is reunited by such an approach, I’m all for it—full steam ahead.

Most methodologies that seek to reconnect children estranged from one parent—the “targeted” or “alienated” parent—because of PAS/PA always, from my reading on this aspect of this pathology, insist on putting the needs and concerns of the alienated children first and foremost. Those of us affected by PAS/PA understand why this is so because we know our innocent children have been psychologically, emotionally and mentally abused (oftentimes physically abused as well) and they are the true victims in this grim reality of being disconnected from a once loved and respected parent.

Counseling and reunification efforts for these children are “child focused.” Because they have been abused and are children, best practice has been to adopt a “moving forward and not look at the past” strategy. In other words, never bring up the problems of the past but only concentrate on the “here and now” and work on making tomorrow a wonderful experience without bringing in the baggage of the past hurts.

So that my above paragraph is clear, what I mean is that the past problems or failures experienced by this family that resulted in the divorce should not be brought up. For example, if an alienated father, who was accused of being an absent and uncaring dead-beat dad who never paid his child support, might want to bring evidence of all the support payments he made to the attention of the child or children that would prove otherwise.

I spoke to one father who said that him and his ex wife spent seven years in court after their divorce. If memory serves me correctly, he had 14 boxes filled with legal papers accumulated from the years him and his ex spent in court, most of this paperwork generated in his relentless attempts to gain custody of his child and refute false allegations of sexual abuse leveled against him.

Years later, as his efforts resulted in him gaining back a relationship with his daughter, he wished to show her all of these boxes so she could read for herself the years of effort he went through for their relationship. These 14 boxes were, in his eyes, proof to his daughter that he always cared for her and to refute the lies of his ex that he wasn’t there for her and did not care about her.

Experts seeking to reunite this father and daughter would warn him that this was not a good strategy, that him wanting his daughter to see these boxes and read for herself whatever she needed to prove to herself that her father did indeed fight for her, was wrong: it is “dredging up the past” and forcing this daughter to face something she does not want to face. And in fact, this daughter expressed to her father that she did not want to see or read any of it and that she knew her dad loved and cared for her.

He threw all of those boxes away.

In this case, the prevailing wisdom of not bringing up the past obviously worked and happily, this father and daughter did reunite and have a wonderful relationship today. (As a side note, this daughter has cut off all contact with her mother when she realized what her mother had done to destroy the relationship with the father.)

Again, as noted above, if this strategy worked for this father and daughter to reunite, I say “God bless them” and put my seal of approval on what this father did by tossing those 14 boxes without ever showing them to his daughter.

But saying this, I fear there may be a hidden land mine buried somewhere in the future of this reunited father/daughter relationship that perhaps might be stepped on at a point in the future. If this happens, there could be severe damage done to the healed relationship.

As is true in most of life, there is no “one size fits all” scenarios. Each family is different and each alienating strategy an alienating parent uses to separate a child(ren) from the other parent is equally different, at least in some respects.

Perhaps in some cases an innocent father might need to show his alienated children his divorce paperwork. For example, an alienated child who was falsely led to believe her father never paid a dime in child support might benefit from seeing a long list of support payments he made to the court, effectively combating the lies made to her by her alienating mother.

I don’t want to get bogged down with other examples or delve into the innumerable other scenarios that would show that “bringing up the past” might be helpful. Nor am I stating that the strategy of not bringing up the past is always wrong. What I am suggesting is that there must be some amount of flexibility, some acceptance that “there is more than one way to skin a cat” when it comes to reunification efforts. And one of those efforts, I strongly believe, is the subject of this particular post: the necessity of repentance and forgiveness.

I wish to explore more of this in Part Two.