Parental Alienation Syndrome: Don’t Make Children Choose
When we part with a partner, passions rage in our souls. And therefore, it is especially important to be attentive to your own words and actions so as not to harm the children. Indeed, if there is a war between adults, not only they suffer from it, but also their common children.
Which side are you on?
The author of the term “parental exclusion syndrome” is a child psychiatrist Richard Gardner. The syndrome is characterized by a special condition in which children are plunged during a conflict between parents when they are forced to “choose” which side to take. This condition is experienced by children whose mothers and fathers do not allow the second parent to participate in the child’s life or severely restrict communication between family members.
The child begins to experience rejection in relation to the parent with whom he is separated. He can be angry, declare his unwillingness to see mom or dad – and do it absolutely sincerely, even if he had loved this parent very much before.
Let us make a reservation: this is not about such relationships in which violence of any kind was present – physical, psychological, economic. But we may suspect that the child has experienced parental exclusion syndrome if his negative feelings are not caused by his experience.
Children can react differently to what is happening: someone is sad, someone feels guilty and directs aggression on himself
We are talking about parental alienation syndrome if the child broadcasts the message of the parent with whom he remains, rejecting the one who is no longer part of the family. The child becomes an instrument of revenge on the partner when there is no good reason to prohibit communication with the second parent, and before the divorce, the family members had a warm and tender relationship.
“Dad treated me badly, so I don’t want to see him” – this is the child’s own opinion. “Mom says that dad is bad and does not love me” – this is the opinion of the parent. And far from always such messages are dictated by concern for the feelings of the child.
“It is important to understand that it’s extremely difficult for a child when his parents curse or quarrel. And if one sets him against the other, the situation is much worse, ”says Inga Kulikova, clinical psychologist and gestalt therapist. – The child feels a strong emotional stress. It can be expressed in different ways, including in the form of aggression, irritation, resentment against one of the parents, or both. And these feelings will be manifested towards the parent with whom it is safer to present them. Most often this is precisely the adult who is present in the child’s life sporadically or does not take part in it at all. ”
Talk about feelings
What does a child feel when he has experienced the effects of parental exclusion syndrome? “When one of the parents is nurtured in a child, he experiences a serious internal conflict,” Inga Kulikova says. – On the one hand, there is a significant adult with whom relationships and affection are formed. The one he loves and the one who loves him.
On the other hand, the second significant adult, no less beloved, but who has a negative attitude towards his ex-partner, impedes communication with him. It is extremely difficult for a child in such a situation. He does not know who to join, how to be, how to behave and, thus, remains without support, alone with his experiences. “
If the family did not split up by mutual consent, and the quarrel was preceded by quarrels and scandals, it is not easy for adults to hide their negative emotions in relation to each other. Sometimes the parent with whom the child lives prefers not to restrain himself and, in fact, transfers the child the function of a psychologist or girlfriend, pouring all his pain and resentment on him. It is categorically impossible to do this, because such a burden is beyond the reach of children.
“In this situation, the child feels bewildered: on the one hand, he loves the parent, wants to sympathize with him. But he also loves the second parent! And if the child takes a neutral position, and the adult with whom he lives does not like it, then the small hostage of the situation may experience toxic guilt, feeling like a traitor, ”says Inga Kulikova.
Children have a certain margin of safety, but each one is individual. And if one child can overcome adversity with small losses, then they can affect the condition of another in the most negative way.
“Children can react differently to what is happening: someone is sad and sad, often starting to get sick and catch a cold, someone feels guilty and directs all aggression to himself, which can lead to symptoms of depression and even suicidal thoughts – warns expert. – Some children become isolated, stop communicating with parents and friends. Others, on the contrary, express their internal stress in the form of aggression, irritation, behavior disorders, which, in turn, leads to a decrease in academic performance, conflicts with peers, teachers and parents. ”
According to Gardner’s theory, there are various factors that influence whether the parent’s rejection syndrome will manifest itself. If the parent with whom the child is left is very jealous of his ex-spouse, gets angry at him and talks about it out loud, it is likely that the children will join these feelings.
Sometimes a child begins to participate very actively in creating a negative image of a mother or father. But what psychic mechanism makes a child who loves both mom and dad strongly unite with one parent against another?
“When parents quarrel, much less get divorced, the child feels intense anxiety, fear and internal emotional stress,” Inga Kulikova says. – The usual state of affairs has changed, and this is stress for all family members, especially for the child.
He may feel guilty about what happened. May be angry or resentful of a parent who has left. And if at the same time the parent who is left with the child begins to criticize and condemn the other, expose him in a negative light, then living with the parental gap becomes even more difficult for the child. All his feelings are intensified and aggravated. ”
Children can have a lot of aggression towards the parent, who speaks badly of another and prevents communication with him
The situation of divorce, separation of parents makes the child feel his own powerlessness, which is difficult for him to accept and accept that he can not influence what is happening. And when children take the side of one of the adults – usually those with whom they live – it becomes easier for them to put up with the situation.
“Combining with one of the parents, the child feels more secure. So he gets the legal opportunity to be openly angry at the “estranged” parent. But this relief is temporary, because his feelings are not processed and integrated as experienced experience, ”warns the psychologist.
Of course, not all children accept the rules of this game. And even if their words and actions speak of loyalty to parents, their feelings and thoughts do not always correspond to what is declared. “The older the child, the easier it is for him to remain with his opinion, despite the fact that one of the parents broadcasts a negative attitude towards the other,” Inga Kulikova explains. “In addition, children may have a lot of aggression towards the parent, who speaks poorly of another and prevents communication with him.”
It will not be worse?
Many parents who are forbidden to see their children give up and stop fighting for communication with their children. Sometimes such mothers and fathers motivate their decision by the fact that the conflict between parents will adversely affect the children’s psyche – they say that they “protect the feelings of the child.”
What role does the fact that a parent disappears from radars altogether or simply rarely appear in the field of vision of children play a role in the development of the situation? Does he not confirm with his behavior their “guesses” that the parent is really “bad”?
“If an estranged parent rarely sees his child, this exacerbates the situation,” Inga Kulikova emphasizes. – A child can perceive this as a rejection, feel guilty or be angry with an adult. After all, children tend to think a lot, fantasize. Unfortunately, often parents do not know what exactly the child is fantasizing about, how he perceives this or that situation. And it would be nice to talk to him about it. “
What to do if the second parent completely refuses to let go of the children with the former partner, even for a couple of hours? “In an acute situation, when one of the partners is very negatively inclined towards the other, it may be useful to take a short pause,” the psychologist believes. Then you can begin to slowly build a new contact. No matter how difficult it is, you need to try to negotiate with a second partner, indicate the distance that suits both, and continue to communicate with the child. At the same time, try not to ignore the former partner and his feelings, otherwise it can lead to an aggravation of the conflict and aggravation of the situation. ”
Between you and me
Many grown children, whose mom and dad could not find a common language after the divorce, remember how the second parent tried to communicate with them while the other adult did not see. They also remember the feeling of guilt before those with whom they lived. And the burden of keeping secrets …
“There are situations when an estranged parent secretly seeks meetings with children, comes to them in a kindergarten or school,” Inga Kulikova says. – This can adversely affect the child’s psycho-emotional state, as he is between two fires. He wants to see one parent – and he will have to hide it from another. ”
Sympathize with yourself
In the heat of resentment and despair from the fact that we are not allowed to communicate with the closest and dearest, we can talk about this, which we will later regret. “For an estranged adult, it is tempting to try to form a coalition with the child against the other parent, allowing yourself to make negative statements and accusations against him. This information will also overload the psyche of the child and cause unpleasant feelings, ”said Inga Kulikova.
But what to answer if the child asks complex questions to which we ourselves cannot find the answer? “It will be appropriate to indicate that there is a very complicated and tense relationship between parents, and it takes time to figure this out, and this is the responsibility of adults. It should be noted that love and warm feelings for the child remain, it is still significant and important for both parents, ”says the expert.
If for various reasons you can’t contact with children and suffer from this, you should not think that your feelings are not worthy of attention. Perhaps taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do now. “It is important for a parent who is not allowed to communicate with the child to maintain the position of an adult. And this means – to understand that the negative feelings of the child towards him can be caused by a traumatic situation.
If you are very worried, you should contact a psychologist for help. A specialist can support, help to realize strong emotions, live them. And, most importantly, to figure out which of these feelings you feel for the child, which – to the former partner, which – about the situation as a whole. After all, this is often a tangle of different emotions and experiences. And if you unravel it, it will become easier for you, ”Inga Kulikova sums up.
Working with a psychologist, you can also learn about how to communicate with a child and a second parent more effectively, get acquainted with unusual, but effective strategies for communication and behavior.
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