When a parent endures parental alienation, various emotions materialize. Some are angry and others feel helpless. On the other hand, a number of rejected parents evolve into dedicated empowered advocates, but just as many are depleted both physically and financially. Some parents may ask, when do I let go? Clearly, alienated parents (also known as rejected parents) are grieving parents. In 2002 Dr. Richard Gardner wrote, “For some alienated parents the continuous heartache is similar to living death.” Sadly, for many rejected parents, the sorrow never ends.
Most are familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grieving. First is Denial. Denial is not recognizing reality. As noted by Dr. Gardner (2002), denying reality is obviously a maladaptive way of dealing with a situation. In fact, denial is generally considered to be one of the defense mechanisms, mechanisms that are inappropriate, maladaptive, and pathological. Obviously, it is hard to deny that one is a rejected parent. However, at times, it may seem easier to deny that the situation is not real. To deal with the unreal, some parents may resign. Studies indicate that some rejected parents, similar to survivors of domestic violence, become passive. (Kopetski, 1998).
Anger is another stage of the grieving process. However, underlying anger is hurt and a loss of power and a loss of control over a situation or an event. Unquestionably, alienated parents become angry as their cases are dismissed and their cause is mocked. Third, is bargaining. As an example, a bargaining parent may believe if they try hard enough, or say the right thing, his or her child will suddenly have a change of heart. Fourth is depression. Self-blame, hopelessness, and despair consumes their thoughts. The fifth stage, is acceptance. Clearly, rejected parents do not happily accept their plight, but they may be forced to give up “the fight.” That is, some may cho0se toloosely let go.
It is vital though, to consider what letting go signifies. Letting go is not to cut oneself off, it’s the realization that one person can’t control another. As applied to parental alienation, one cannot force an ex-spouse to cease his or her hate campaign. Secondly, letting go is not to deny, but to accept. Acceptance is realizing that some ex-spouses refuse to co-parent. Some alienating parents intend to turn the child against the other parent–permantely. They stop at nothing. One study depicts this unfortunate, but true, reality, “a minority of parents who suffer from personality and mental disorders may ignore the court and spend their waking hours finding ways to exhaust the other parent emotionally and financially” ( Jaffe et al. 2010). Yes; you may realize that you, or a loved one, are in the minority.
Parents may also have to accept that they may be blamed for the rejection– blamed not only by family and friends, but blamed by society. No one likes to point fingers these days, after all; it is socially unacceptable. As noted by Dr. Richard Warshak (2011), attributing a parent-child problem to both parents, when one parent is clearly more responsible for destructive behavior, is a misguided effort to appear balanced and avoid blame.
When to let go? First and foremost; it is personal. Dr. Warshak’s book, Divorce Poison (2010), notes that the parent may see no viable option other than to let go of active attempts to overcome the problem. As a caveat, he notes, “I just urge all alienated parents and relatives, and all therapists who work with these families, not to wave the white flag of surrender too soon.” He offers seven suggestions about the possibility of letting go. One suggestion is when all legal channels to improve the situation have been exhausted.
Some parents, unfortunately, have discovered the aforementioned exhaustion. As Dr. Amy Baker reported, “alienating parents did not respect the court orders, the attorneys were not interested in or able to force the alienating parent into compliance. Apparently, once the alienating parent determined that this was the case, noncompliance became the order of the day.” Rejected parents know all too well, that non compliance works. A second suggestion by Dr. Warshak is when, “your ex is so disturbed that a continuing battle could provoke him or her to violent action against the children or against you or other members of your family.” Clearly, not all rejected parents have the funding to continue the battle.
As a conclusion, should you come into contact with a rejected parent it may be helpful to offer grace for his or her grief. Each and every rejected parent differs in his or her stage of sorrow. They will also display unique feelings. Some may feel discouraged, dejected, and depressed. Or, others may feel angry and outraged. If the parent recently read about parental alienation, and discovered there is a name to the irrational rejection; they may feel relieved. Perhaps, they are baffled, broken, and bewildered. If they have pleaded with the courts for 15 years, they may feel helpless and guarded. When their families blame them, they may become withdrawn and detached. Regardless of the stage or feeling(s) that accompany the pain of parental alienation, rejected parents require empathy, exultation, and esteem.