Posted in Notable Themes and Findings from research by Amy Baker

Notable Themes and Findings from research by Amy Baker

Five notable findings emerged from an examination of these 40 cases. The
first is that, alcoholism, maltreatment, and personality disorders co-occurred
in most of the cases included in this study. Although the proportion may
not be as high in the general population of parental alienation cases (due
to sampling bias in which perhaps the worst cases were most likely to want
to participate in the research) the findings still suggest that this occurs in at
least some portion of the cases. Future research should aim to determine
Patterns of Alienation 75 in a random and representative sample the actual proportions.

However, in the meantime, these data suggest that when cases of parental alienation are
brought to the attention of the mental health and legal professions, assessments
of these factors should be part of the basic intake protocol. Implications
for interventions are many. For example, if an alienating parent also
has an alcohol problem, part of any intervention protocol should include
participation in abstinence programs and drug and alcohol testing. Second,
determination of personality disorders should be taken into account when
devising methods for overseeing visitation schedules since such individuals
are not likely to comply with court orders. People with narcissistic personality
disorders tend to be arrogant and, therefore, are likely to devalue authority
figures and emphasize their own ability to make judgments and decisions
(e.g., Golumb, 1992; Hotchkiss, 2002). Without real teeth in a visitation or
shared parenting order, it is not likely that such a person will comply. The
legal system has developed measures for tracking and enforcing payment
of child support; it is now time for methods of ensuring compliance with
visitation to be developed as well.
A second notable finding from this study is that parental alienation can
occur in intact families. The majority of the attention to parental alienation
syndrome has emerged from the legal system in response to problems dealing
with high conflict divorces, custody disputes, and false and real allegations
of parental alienation (Darnall, 1998; Warshak, 2001). To date, there has been
minimal if any attention to the fact that parental alienation can occur outside
of the legal system. The strategies that the alienating parents used were the
same as strategies that parents in post-divorce cases used. The experience
of the alienation was quite similar as well. Despite the fact that the targeted
parent lived in the same household, the participants rejected them, avoided
them, denigrated them (in their hearts and mind) and essentially lost out on
the experience of having a healthy rewarding relationship with that other
parent. One implication of this finding is that those who come in contact
with parents and children should be familiar with the concept of parental
alienation syndrome and not assume that it could not apply to a particular
situation simply because the parents are not divorced.
Third, alienation occurred in some of these families that were not involved
in post-divorce litigation. Again, the typical parental alienation scenario
discussed in the field is that of a family involved in intense and chronic
legal conflicts around custody and visitation (Gardner, 1998). This was not
always the case. In some of the families the targeted parent did not seek
remedy in the court, either because they did not have the financial resources
to do so or because they did not know they could or did not believe that
they would win. Combined with the finding above (that alienation can occur
in non-divorced families) it appears that it may be time to broaden our understanding
of parental alienation syndrome. Parents who feel that they are
being targeted for alienation by the other parent of their child (ren) should
76 A. J. L. Baker take this seriously and not assume because they are in an intact marriage
or because they are not in divorce litigation that they are not experiencing
parental alienation. These parents should become familiar with the concept
and the best thinking about how to intervene and prevent it from becoming
entrenched. Likewise, teachers, social workers and other mental health professionals
who come into contact with parents and children should become
versed in the patterns of parental alienation syndrome and the strategies parents
use so that they can identify them when they are present. Only then can
the targeted parent rethink their current parenting style and relationship with
their child. Without knowing what they are dealing with, they may assume
that there is nothing unusual about their situation and that there is nothing
to be done to improve it.
Fourth, the parents who were the target of the alienation appeared to
play a role in their own alienation. In some cases these parents were passive
and uninvolved (even when living in the same household) and did not work
particularly diligently to establish and or maintain a positive and meaningful
relationship with their own children. Many did not write letters or make
phone calls to their children during periods of non-visitation, they did not
attend school events and sporting competitions, they did not follow through
on planned visitations, and in some respects appeared to be casual about
their relationships with their children. Of course, it must be noted that these
reports were made by the adult children, and because they were children at
the time of the alienation, they may not know everything that the targeted
parents did or tried to do for them. Some might have written letters that were
thrown out or made phone calls that were intercepted. However, some of
the targeted parents seemed to do less than everything possible. In fact some
actively removed themselves from the situation—apparently out of defeat or
anger—conveying the message to the participants that they were not worth
fighting for.
Although criticizing the targeted parents for the alienation may appear to
be a case of blaming the victim, it is not intended as such. Unless the targeted
parent understands what role, if any, s/he plays in the alienation, s/he is doing
less than everything possible to ameliorate the situation. Hearing the stories
of the participants, it is easy to imagine how shaming and frustrating being
the target of parental alienation can be. Although the rage rightly belongs
directed at the message (the alienating parent) it is also easy to see how
it could be directed at the messenger (the child). As Gardner (1992) has
noted when he coined the term Independent Thinker syndrome, the children
affected by parental alienation are very convincing in their presentation of
disaffection for the targeted parent. Thus, these parents may very well be
tempted to respond to the messenger and say “If you don’t want to have a
relationship with me, fine. I will remove myself from the picture and spare
you all of the unpleasantness.” However, such abandonment is the very fuel
that the alienating parents used to convince the participants that the targeted
Patterns of Alienation 77 parent did not love them. These alienating parents were very quick to point out to the participants any lapses in the targeted parent’s parenting, sowing
the seed of doubt in their minds about their relationship with the targeted
parent. As one young woman explained, “She’d bring up the lack of him
writing me. She’d bring that up a lot. She’s say every once in a while, ‘You
were so misbehaved, such a bad child, look he doesn’t even want to be
around you. Look he doesn’t write you.’ That had some type of proof to it.”
The final finding that emerged from a review of these cases is that
the alienation was not always completely internalized. That is, despite the
unambivalent protestation of hatred toward the targeted parent, many of
the participants reporting holding on to good feelings about that parent
somewhere deep inside them. That is, there was variation among the
participants in the extent to which they believed what they said. This was
probably unknown to the targeted parent who only saw the rejection and
hatred directed toward them. For example, one participant recalled being
made to call his father on the phone and spout vile curses at him. “She would
be telling us what to say and I remember repeating it. For the most part it
was cursing. Sometimes she would make me say that he was a womanizer.”
He really had no understanding of what he was saying and shared that at the
time he was saying these things he had been secretly hoping that his father
knew that he didn’t mean it. “I don’t know whether he believed we really
felt that way or not because we were saying these things to him. I am hoping
in my heart he knew but it must have hurt anyway.” This is yet another
reason why targeted parents should not assume that what they are hearing
is the complete truth about how their child feels about them. This should
help them “hang in there” despite the intense negativity being directed
toward them and should provide them with a motivation for continuing to
show their love and commitment to the child, who is after all the victim.