A look at the psychological impact PA can have on an alienated parent.
What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is a strategy whereby one parent intentionally displays to the child unjustified negativity aimed at the other parent. In some cases, one parent will completely shut the other parent out indefinitely. The purpose of this strategy is to damage the child's relationship with the other parent and to turn the child's emotions against that other parent.
It sounds awful and it is awful but what's worse is it's actually far more common than people realise. Parental alienation has been considered as a "driving force" in higher male suicide rates, a link that's not too farfetched given the amount of father's that have committed suicide after being kept from their children. I myself know of some members of PAPA and beyond who have sadly succumbed to their feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. It happens and it happens at an alarming rate. I also had similar feelings of despair when I couldn't see my son which brings me to the next section.
What is the impact of Parental Alienation?
The impact of PA is so widespread that I couldn't possibly cover everything in this article. It can psychologically impact the whole family, including having severely negative consequences for the children and wider family like grandparents etc but for the purpose of this article I'm going to look at the impact it has on the alienated parent.
My personal experience when I was stopped from seeing my son was truly harrowing, it is by far the darkest time of my life and the hardest thing I've ever had to go through.
I fell into a period of depression that actually outlasted the amount of time I was alienated from my son, which I think illustrates how detrimental it can be to a person's mental health. While I never reached a point where I attempted suicide I'd be lying if I said such thoughts never crossed my mind. It's only when you're in that moment and suffering from such acute pain can you begin to understand the traumatic effect it has on your mental health and how you contemplate the future. For me I did for a period of time feel hopeless and worthless, it felt like I was never going to see my son again. It didn't matter how long it had been, it just mattered that I could not conceive a way to see him when the door had literally and figuratively been slammed shut on me.
For me I fell into bad habits while I couldn't see my son, I ended up becoming semi-reliant on alcohol and using it as a crutch. I'd go out 2-3 times a week just because I found it "helped" speed up time and mask the pain. This was self-destructive behaviour and it ended up making me feel worse and worse.
As time passed, I continued to fight for my son, I started PAPA and I slowly but surely started to regain more and more contact.
However even as my contact increased, I was still not in the position that I wanted to be in, I was still being dictated to and I hadn't regained the equal arrangement I had previously so while I was one of the "lucky" ones to regain contact fairly quickly, I still spent roughly another year trying to work my way back to what I should never have lost in the first place. I don't even want to think about all of the days and nights I missed out on in that time, all of the extra memories we could have made. Instead, I'm grateful for what we have now and that I never gave up on myself or my son.
How to cope with the trauma of PA
As I've mentioned, I initially engaged in destructive behaviours as a way to cope but it only made things worse for me.
My best advice would be to concentrate on a purpose or a hobby, find something you're passionate about and invest your time and knowledge into that. For me, I started PAPA and spent a lot of time pooling other people's advice as well as involving myself with other people's cases to both familiarise myself with what I'd need to know but also to help others in a similar situation. Once you are feeling satisfied in your purpose or your passion your mind will be much clearer on what future steps you need to make to see your children again.
Once you're in a better frame of mind and feeling more confident you'll be in a good position to start working on a strategy to regain contact with your children. I'd recommend using the PAPA resources at your disposal to familiarise yourself with the processes you may need to implement as well as pooling the forums for invaluable knowledge and experience. The more information you have, the better prepared you'll be.
To those who are in a position to seek therapy I would highly recommend it. I spent 6 months in therapy, which I started after I'd already regained contact with my son because I hadn't yet worked through the trauma, and it was impacting my life and relationships. Not only was therapy a cathartic release, but it also taught me where I could improve in the future as well as showing me the growth I'd already been through. I learnt a lot of techniques that although small, when done every day I found them to have a positive residual impact on my overall mental health and outlook. Simple things like listening to a guided meditation before bed and making a list of all the positive moments in the day helped me to rationalise that even bad days have a lot of good in them and it's powerful when you allow those positive thoughts to take precedence over the negative ones. I mean even the smallest pleasures should be made note of, like a tasty lunch or even the weather or maybe lack of traffic on the way to work? When you recognise all of the small positives in life, you'll notice your outlook improving.
Therapy was and I'm sure still is very expensive so I can completely appreciate that it's not viable for everyone. For those who are unable to go to therapy but feel they need some extra support or guidance then I would recommend joining our website forum as well as our Facebook support group. We have so many kind and compassionate members as well as some awesome admin members who I'm sure will be more than happy to help and support you through this difficult time.