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Parental Alienation Syndrome: a horror story

(41 Posts)
stargirl04 Mon 21-Sep-15 13:21:41

(Warning: this is long, sorry.)

Hi, I just wondered if anyone had heard of this? It's recognised in America but less so in Britain, but I believe that it is an epidemic and there is a conspiracy of silence that perpetuates it.

My dear friend is heartbroken after her son moved out to live with his father a year ago or so. She is still struggling to come to terms with it, but the worst part is that her ex seems hell bent on turning the son against her and will stop at nothing to hurt her. He is embittered ever since she ended the marriage well over a decade ago.

She didn't cheat, steal from him or neglect him - she was in love with him and was a great wife - all she did wrong was divorce him after many years of being abused.

He cheated on her and was emotionally abusive - he is a misogynist and a bully - she was and is still terrified of him and even his own mother is afraid of him. She finally left after he slapped her and pushed her, fearful of worse to come.

Her son was only small at the time. The sad thing was that she thought she was getting out of the marriage for a better life for herself and her boy. But the ex continued to abuse her by sending nasty texts and making access handovers deeply unpleasant - he once spat in her face without any provocation whatsoever - my friend is too terrified to antagonise him.

He didn't even want to see his son much when he was small, only taking an interest as the boy got older.

I have known my friend 35 years and she a moral, decent, hard-working and wonderful person who adores her son and has only ever done her best for him. She's never bad-mouthed her ex in front of her son and never stopped him seeing his dad - indeed she encouraged it - because she wanted what was best for him.

The injustice is heartbreaking.

Her ex didn't even want her to have the child in the first place. He had his own business which was failing but refused to give it up, so she worked full time and paid the mortgage and all the bills.

When she had their son his abuse of her got worse and even though he'd stopped running his business he refused to get a job, so she carried on working to pay the bills. To this day he blames her for his business failing and reckons she "cost him thousands", which is laughable, as she was the one paying for everything. He is delusional.

I have been witness to all of this over the years.

As the boy got older and spent more time with his dad, things got worse. In the last year or two before he left, he was very disrespectful towards her. She knew what was coming and sadly her worst fears were realised when her son told her, aged 15, that he was moving out to live with his dad.

The tales he is being spun are incredible and he is having poison dripped into his ears by the ex. The way her ex has framed it, he was such a devoted father - up all night with the baby, feeding him, changing nappies - when the fact is he didn't do any of that. The fantasy he's woven is such that he virtually gave birth! He just lies and lies and lies.

He's harassed my friend via the CSA, alleging that she was refusing to pay child support, when the reality was that he wouldn't set up a bank account for her to pay the money into because he "didn't want her having access to his accounts".

She pays him nearly £300 a month, yet when she sees her son there are holes in his jumpers and his trousers are too short.

Her ex badmouths her and tars her character at every opportunity. Her son now cancels their arrangements regularly and has now resorted to telling her that he will only see her if "the rules are followed". He wants to park his "expensive" bike in her newly decorated hallway, when there is a perfectly good garage he can put the bike in, but refuses to.

She's caved in over the bike issue but it still isn't good enough.

Now her son has sent her a text saying she needs counselling and that he is not a child anymore and can make his own decisions. He's 16. He treats his mother abominably but she is still there for him, telling him she loves him and waiting patiently for him to see the light and be the lovely son again that he once was. What else can she do?

The father is also at war with his employers - he is the union rep and is currently off long-term sick with an imaginary work-induced "injury". The reality is that he is idle and resents having to work for a living. A rebel without a cause.

My friend is on the phone to me most days upset.

She wonders if she made a mistake ending the marriage, or if she should have moved far away with her son from her ex, or goes back over everything she's said and done wondering if she's a bad mother.

I try to support her as best I can but feel helpless and wondered if there is anyone out there who has any good advice to offer. She can't afford legal advice, unfortunately.

Sorry this is long. I just wanted to get my thoughts out. I seriously think this issue needs bringing out into the open - there should be a huge media campaign about it because, from what I am hearing from other people, it is endemic.

Twinklestein Mon 21-Sep-15 13:46:43

This scenario is not uncommon in abusive relationships, sadly. The US has given it a label whereas there isn't a specific one here.

Your friend didn't make a mistake ending the marriage & she is not a bad mother. Even if she had moved far away it's quite possible that the end result would be the same. That the father exercises a malign influence over the boy to 'win'.

The root of the problem is simply having a child with an abusive man. It sounds like she's done everything right, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to save her son.

He may wake up when he's older and see the light.

She could take a free half hour with a solicitor for legal advice. Or she could contact the CAB. I would also suggest she looks up her local 'Domestic Violence One Stop Shop'. It's not just for dv but domestic abuse in general. She could get an appointment with one of their lawyers who are experienced in dealing with abuse. And she also might get in touch with Women's Aid. Both these charities will be familiar her situation.

I'm not sure legally that there's anything much that can be done. Even if she took her partner to court to enforce contact, the wishes of a 16 year old would be take into account, and if he doesn't want to live with her, there's not much she can do. But I'm not a lawyer.

PoundingTheStreets Mon 21-Sep-15 13:50:34

The origin of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is very controversial and refers to Richard Gardner's explanation as to why mothers tried to prevent their children from having access to their fathers (parents now being separated). He coined the term and labelled the mothers as deliberately sabotaging the relationship. What he failed to mention was that in these cases the fathers concerned were child abusers and the mothers had very good reason to prevent access.

All that said, children are very, very vulnerable to emotional manipulation from their parents, particularly from the parent that they feel less secure with and feel a desperate need to impress/win over (so that they can feel more loved and secure). That's not a syndrome. That's basic psychology.

Sadly, parents of both genders can be absolute shits when it comes to their children. None more so than the sort of parent who abused their child's other parent.

Given that domestic abuse features in 75% of cases of child abuse, I would say that this alone shows that parental access to children where domestic abuse has been a feature should necessarily involve supervision. In some cases, it should be stopped altogether. Research is showing more and more that inconsistent and abusive parenting from a non-resident parent is more damaging than no contact at all.

I don't subscribe to this idea of never saying anything negative about the X. All protecting children from the reality of their other parent's behaviour really does is set them up for a fall when they learn (usually traumatically) about the real nature of their other parent. Instead it is better to manage expectations as neutrally as possible, providing an objective, age-appropriate explanation. There is nothing wrong in saying "I left your father/mother because he/she was abusive to me and I was very unhappy." You can stick to the facts and still find good points to praise (e.g. an ex's ability at maths, fixing things, entertaining etc) so that your child does not feel ashamed by the other half of their parental heritage.

I feel for your friend. She may lose her son for good. However, he may also see the light and come back to her at some point, and that's all she can hope for. flowers

Twinklestein Mon 21-Sep-15 13:52:17

I meant to say is that this can happen in non-abusive relationships too.

Twinklestein Mon 21-Sep-15 13:54:14

xpost - really good post pounding

stargirl04 Mon 21-Sep-15 14:03:52

Thanks for these helpful and extremely informative replies.

I think sadly, because the boy is 16, there isn't much that can be done by way of the courts.

Twinklestein, I think it would help my friend just to talk to people who understand - would WA be prepared to do that, even though she is not being directly abused by her ex anymore?

My friend still attempts to see her son as often as possible but the son will see her sometimes and not at others - six or seven weeks can pass sometimes.

Poundingthestreets: I hadn't realised the origins or backstory behind PAS
so thanks for this.

My friend, however, has found it helpful to read about - I guess it is some small comfort for her as she struggles through this.

I can't believe that a decision she made at 18 - to pick this guy - is making her life hell 30 years later.

I hope you're not right about her losing her soon for good. Although in truth, maybe she lost him a long time ago.

Thanks once again. flowers

Twinklestein Mon 21-Sep-15 14:23:07

If she rang Women's Aid she could definitely have a chat with them. They can give her a list of counsellors in her area who specialise in abuse who will understand the challenges she has faced and is facing. There may be a self help group too in her area.

Walkacrossthesand Mon 21-Sep-15 15:04:55

I have no experience or knowledge of this, but I suspect your friend would be better served maintaining her principles and self-respect, in the hope that somehow her son will see this and may come to see her as a person 'deserving' of respect. Things like giving in to (unreasonable) demands are unlikely to achieve the desired effect, and may reinforce the misogyny that the poor lad is doubtless learning from his father. In this situation, it's unlikely to be his mum who opens his eyes to what's going on.

stargirl04 Tue 22-Sep-15 02:59:15

Twinkle, thanks, I will suggest this to her as I think it would be really helpful for her to talk to others who know about this or have been through it.

Walkacrossthesand: Yes, sadly I think the boy is learning misogyny from his dad. However, when his mother last saw him she told him that the bike in the hallway saga wasn't the real issue, the real issue was his lack of respect and she told him this was unacceptable. So she does stand by her principles.

After that she got the "You need counselling" text from him.

The damage is already done with this boy, it seems.

Atenco Tue 22-Sep-15 03:53:14

I don't subscribe to this idea of never saying anything negative about the X. All protecting children from the reality of their other parent's behaviour really does is set them up for a fall when they learn (usually traumatically) about the real nature of their other parent

I agree 100% with this. With my dd, att first I went in the other direction, making it sound like a visit from him was like a visit from royalty, something to get very excited and very pleased about. Then I realised that I was setting her up for a lot of disappointments as he is someone who is incapable of ever keeping his promises. So tried to be a bit more sanguine about his visits, while trying not to slag her father off to her. It's a fine line.

goddessofsmallthings Tue 22-Sep-15 08:24:38

There's no 'epidemic' or anything 'endemic' about the fact that some dc who've lived with one of their parents after divorce choose to live with their other parents when they're old enough for their wishes to be taken into account. With regard to your friend's situation there is no legal advice to be given as her ds has made his wishes known and he is now living with his df.

However, from the way you've described your friend, it seems she continued to allow her to bully her after she divorced him. This won't have gone unnoticed by her ds and it may have caused him to lose some respect for her which has been encouraged and capitalised on by his df. And now she's letting her ds bully her by allowing him to bring his bike into her newly decorated hallway when there's a garage he can park it in.

It seems to me she's too soft by half and instead of "patiently waiting for him to see the light" she needs to start asserting herself and making it clear that she's not eating her heart out over his absence, nor is she willing to let him walk all over him just as his df did, as this young man needs to hear some home truths about how his behaviour is unacceptable and the only "rules" to be followed are those which require him to show respect for all women and for his dm in particular.

How does she pay maintenance? Is it paid direct to her ex's bank account or does she send him a monthly cheque? In any event, I suggest that the next time she sees her ds she casually mentions that she's noticed his clothes appear to be a bit worn at the edges/too small
and that, as he's now 16 and "not a child any more", she was thinking that perhaps it would be more appropriate for him to have the £300 a month she's been giving to his father for his upkeep.

If your friend doesn't harden her heart towards her ds and start fighting fire with fire laying down the law now, it's highly likely that she'll find herself in the same position as her ex's mother "who is afraid of him"

stargirl04 Tue 22-Sep-15 12:12:08

Hi goddessofsmallthings:

I wasn't saying that kids leaving one parent to go and live with another is an epidemic, I was saying that the situation in which one parent is willing to turn the child away from their ex, - or sometimes grandparents, aunts or other relevant parties - after a relationship break-up seems to be endemic.

In the case of domestic and/or child abuse, as a PP points out, this is justified, but surely in the majority of cases this is not the case.

This is what's happening with my friend. She did nothing wrong - she didn't lie, cheat on her ex or steal from him, wasn't drunk or neglectful and was a devoted mother. Her nutty ex is hellbent on making her life a misery all these years later because she had the audacity to leave him when the physical abuse started.

My sister has the same problem. Her ex has tried to turn her kids against her by slagging her off to them repeatedly for more than 10 years since she divorced him. He blames her for everything and fails to acknowledge that the reason she left is because he was violent and tried to strangle her.

Thankfully those kids are now in their mid and late twenties and can see what their father is like, but it took a long time. Her son in particular was very loyal to his dad after the divorce and it is only recently, in his mid-20s, that he told his mum he realises his father is a nutter.

My friend's son is only 16 and worships the ground his father walks on.

Goddess - I accept completely what you're saying about respect. I am like you and would fight fire with fire - but my friend is not this type of character at all. She is a gentle person and is small physically. She lives in fear of setting off her ex - who is massive, and well over 6ft tall.

She feels that anything she does will just be used against her as ammunition by her ex.

Thanks for your thoughts, as it is all helping in the way forward. If I can help my friend in any way, I will.

stargirl04 Tue 22-Sep-15 12:15:37

Just to be clear, when I say my sister "left" I didn't mean that she left the marital home and deserted her kids! It was merely a figure of speech.

Coffeethrowtrampbitch Tue 22-Sep-15 12:40:00

There is an organisation called Hearts Apart in the UK which campaigns to recognise the problems caused by parental alienation.

It was set up by my friend, who had her child taken away by her parents, in collusion with her ex husband, and he has been told that she does not love or want him, even though she is prevented from seeing him, not indifferent to him.

They have a website and facebook group which may help advise your friend.

Sadly not very much seems to be done, the answer from all agencies is to take it through the courts to force access, not ideal if you don't have lots of time and money, and it doesn't address the damage to the child who has been told their parent doesn't love them.

MatrixReloaded Tue 22-Sep-15 13:17:23

I think this is far more common than people realize.

stargirl04 Tue 22-Sep-15 14:02:38

Thanks Coffeethrow - I will mention this organisation to my friend - anything at all is a great comfort to her at the moment.

I keep thinking about poundingthestreet's idea too, of mentioning the ex's failings while acknowledging the good points - which I might mention to my friend as she adheres to the mantra of "never badmouthing his father".

stargirl04 Tue 22-Sep-15 14:04:03

Thanks also Attenco and Matrix for your comments. It is indeed a tricky situation.

stargirl04 Tue 22-Sep-15 14:09:06

Coffeethrow - admittedly I'm in a bit of a hurry as have to go out but did a quick Google search for that organisation you mentioned and looked on Facebook but can only find websites supporting military wives and families etc.

Would you be able to post the link, or PM me if you prefer?

Many thanks.

MatrixReloaded Tue 22-Sep-15 14:10:35

This book is very good and I think the author also has a forum.

www.warshak.com/divorce-poison/

stargirl04 Tue 22-Sep-15 14:21:44

That's brilliant thanks Matrix - I've posted my pal the link. flowers flowers

Twinklestein Tue 22-Sep-15 14:31:48

There's no 'epidemic' or anything 'endemic' about the fact that some dc who've lived with one of their parents after divorce choose to live with their other parents when they're old enough for their wishes to be taken into account

The OP was referring in this instance to an abusive parent turning a child against the other parent.

However, from the way you've described your friend, it seems she continued to allow her to bully her after she divorced him. This won't have gone unnoticed by her ds and it may have caused him to lose some respect for her which has been encouraged and capitalised on by his df. And now she's letting her ds bully her by allowing him to bring his bike into her newly decorated hallway when there's a garage he can park it in

The idea that abuse occurs because the victim 'allows' it is wrong-headed.
This man is abusive and nobody can change that, the only thing to do with such men is cut contact as far as possible. However, some contact is necessary if there are children in the case. (Personally I would not have had mobile phone contact and insisted on third party handovers, but she may not have received this advice).

It's deeply unfair to imply that ds has lost respect for his mother because she found it hard to stand up to his father. This woman is afraid of her ex. Many children in these cases lose respect for their father due to his dreadful behaviour, which is as it should be. The real reason the boy has lost respect for his mother is because his abusive father has brainwashed him.

Given this lady was in an abusive relationship for some time, it's not surprising that she also finds it hard to deal with her son.

It seems to me she's too soft by half and instead of "patiently waiting for him to see the light" she needs to start asserting herself and making it clear that she's not eating her heart out over his absence, nor is she willing to let him walk all over him just as his df did, as this young man needs to hear some home truths about how his behaviour is unacceptable and the only "rules" to be followed are those which require him to show respect for all women and for his dm in particular

I have to take issue with some this advice. Telling a minor that you're not missing him will be understood by him to mean she doesn't really care about him. However tough his outward demeanour, that will be emotionally damaging to a 16 year old. Furthermore it will confirm every bad thing his father has ever said about her, potentially even lead to complete loss of contact.

How does she pay maintenance? Is it paid direct to her ex's bank account or does she send him a monthly cheque? In any event, I suggest that the next time she sees her ds she casually mentions that she's noticed his clothes appear to be a bit worn at the edges/too small and that, as he's now 16 and "not a child any more", she was thinking that perhaps it would be more appropriate for him to have the £300 a month she's been giving to his father for his upkeep

I'm not sure what you're implying here. If you mean that she might point out what she contributes to her son's upkeep and that his father is not clothing him properly, that's all well and good; but if you are implying she should actually give £300 a month to a 16 year old, that is loopy.

If your friend doesn't harden her heart towards her ds and start fighting fire with fire laying down the law now, it's highly likely that she'll find herself in the same position as her ex's mother "who is afraid of him"

Fighting fire with fire in cases of abuse may simply lead to escalation of the problem. And an aggressive 16 year old boy can be physically intimidating to a small woman.

That's not to say that this lady should not learn to stand up to her son. Absolutely she should, which is why I recommended specialised abuse counselling. But she does need to be careful, because if he's going the way of his father, it's quite possible that he may get physically violent in time. Unfortunately there teenagers abusing a parent is not uncommon.

OP, I would further add to my suggestions of yesterday with the following:

That your friend tries the Freedom Programme which will help her deal with the legacy of her ex and the ongoing issues with her son.

Equally, she could try an organisation called Respect which run perpetrator programmes for domestic abuse, they have a 'young people's service' and run courses for teenagers who abuse their parents. The likelihood of being able to get him onto such a programme at this point is fairly small, but Respect will certainly be able to advise her.

stargirl04 Tue 22-Sep-15 14:41:52

Twinkle, just a quick post to say a really big thanks for posting these support resources - I will pass them all on to her.

I think she feels isolated and that she can't talk to anyone about it but me and reading about Parental Alienation/Syndrome was a huge help to her.

I think she just needs to know she's not alone and that others are going through it. This will help her, I think.

flowers flowers

Harridanshandbag Tue 22-Sep-15 14:46:56

Thank you for posting this.

MatrixReloaded Tue 22-Sep-15 17:30:33

Lundy Bancroft also explains this abuse in his book why does he do that.

springydaffs Tue 22-Sep-15 18:16:40

It has taken me years to get tough with my kids (similar situation) and I am no shrinking violet by any stretch. But I was so utterly devastated, so desperate (craven) to see them I put up with unbelievable shit. I was in so much shock I was practically comatose.

It was, of course, yet more abuse from the ex, channeled through my kids - ime he moved in on them big time during the vulnerable, easily-swayed teenage years, capitalising on the 'natural' teenage rebellion against parents - or me, as I was their parent throughout. Whereas he was Disney dad, showing money all over them (money I desperately needed for essentials...)

But following cancer dx and current treatment the worm is beginning to turn. Suddenly something came along that was more important and knocked my terrible grief off the top slot. I knew the situation was 'killing' me but i realised it actually was - and, ultimately, i don't want to die tho it has been a close call sometimes

Therefore I have to agree with goddess. Getting tough is where it's at - but easy to say when you are poleaxed and can't find your footing. I am a resourceful sort and it has taken me a long, long time to find my mojo.

Your friend's first mistake (and mine) was to encourage a relationship between her boy and his horrific father. I know now it was a mistake but I was cowed by popular opinion - plus even I didn't fully realise what he was capable of. Nothing prepares you for abusers like this: they abuse EVERYONE and EVERYONE is fair game as fodder for their machinations, resoundingly their own children: a rich seam. Abusers play the long game and are constantly poised to exploit every opportunity to the max.

Hang on, I have to take a break.

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