When I hear people simplify parent alienation dynamics into those with personality disorders vs those without, or the abnormal vs the normal, it troubles me.
The act of alienating one parent from their own children on purpose, despite full knowledge of what that will do to the children in particular, may seem like the work of a disturbed individual, a monster. But life is never all black or all white, all good vs all evil, so let’s not pretend it is.
See I’m not a great one for stereotypes whether they’re gender, race or even culture based. So I see personality as a tad more nuanced.
Call me a cynic if you will, but I’ve read and studied too much art and culture to see the representation of us vs other, like cowboys vs Indians or cops vs robbers and good old boys vs reds under the beds to not be taken in by polemics that are usually driven by people with an agenda. When it comes to family law matters, the ones with the agenda are usually those making money from it.
Most people are actually shades of all sorts of colours. No parent, despite what Mumsnet tries to make people believe, is perfect. Our odd imperfections are called character and most of us have one of those!
I do believe, however, that some people have more finely attuned social sensibilities. And in my experience of associating with a lot of them, I also believe that, ironically, many of the targeted parents who fall foul of alienating behaviour are sensitive and have a high proportion of empathic traits, at least the ones who talk about it.
I also have little doubt that it takes a special kind of stupid, selfish, cruel and messed up to become a targeting parent and to persist with the abuse of both your children and their other parent for years by deliberately and systematically undermining their loving relationship. That certainly makes them bad people. But are they all mentally ill?
I’m not so sure that it helps to label all of these people narcissists or their personality disordered. Why? Because I think it gives too many of them a cache they don’t deserve and an excuse they are not worthy of.
I firmly believe that most people who set out to deliberately and systematically alienate the other parent do so in the full and clear knowledge of what they are doing and know that what they are doing is fundamentally wrong, That is certainly true in our case. Because I vividly recall the call in the middle of the night when she told me what she felt she “had” to do to keep her mother happy. Then she did it. That’s not a narcissist. That’s a different kind of “special”.
I’m aware that this does not fit comfortably into the linear narrative of the narcissist vs empath, not at all. But I’m not sure I care.
Therapists may try to sugar coat the spoonful of medicine we’re all having to stomach, but the hard news is that parent alienators are emotional and usually financial parasites and they now monopolise our kids, passing on those traits. They don’t create, they take, they steal, they rob. They don’t make, they break.
For all the power they gain from using children as shields and bullet-proofing to protect them from the consequences of their appalling behavior they remain weak, back-stabbers, morally bankrupt, psychological child abusers, lacking in appropriate moral fibre. What they have created is not an achievement, it’s an idol made of fool’s gold.
Some therapists claim they lack self awareness. Well I contest this assertion as I believe they know precisely what they are doing. But rather than front up and take responsibility for it and cut a fair deal, they take everything because they are so racked with self-loathing they need as much in reserve as they can because they know they can never survive alone. And those “reserves” include our children who effectively become their emotional chattels who will “never leave”
So, I’m not prepared to pop alienators into a neat file called “narcissist”. It gives them an excuse, a get out and the label really doesn’t describe the full range of contrived sociopathic behaviour they are capable of.
Sorry if that ruins a convenient narrative for some.
Like many targeted parents, I do believe I have well adjusted social skills. But I’m not averse to feeling some of the traits attributed to the other lot when it comes to being confident and proud of my own achievements and those of my children. I worked hard for the things I’ve done, my successes and I refuse to be defined as a dupe, a fool, a chump as that would, again, afford the abuser an excuse and more respect than they deserve.
I am empathic, but I don’t blame this trait for what my former partner has done to me and my children. I must accept and take my share of the blame for many things:
- For not adapting to parenting fast enough and for trying to approach it like another challenge while others struggled.
- For not reaching out in different ways to address the issues we were facing as a family, especially when faced with the unexpected deluge of other people’s issues raised when our own children arrived.
- For coping on our own during the tough times and not consulting specialists in post natal depression when we had the chance
- For seeking legal backup when we should have focused on counselling support.
- For standing up to and fighting back against the storm when I should probably have simply opened the doors and windows, letting it blow itself out.
But I’m an adult. I’m half intelligent and I made decisions about how I would deal with the trauma we were all subjected to. And, uncharacteristically, I got many of those decisions wrong, partly because neither of us had children before and were learning on the job and partly because I underestimated how cruel and frankly malicious some people are capable of being. And I also expected people to cut us some slack while we learned to cope. But they didn’t.
In life, we all make mistakes. We live and we learn. Personally, I’ve done with the learning and need to get back to the living bit or I am literally going to be no use to the children at all in future when their mother and her mother have decided for them how the rest of their lives will progress.
Cool me foolhardy. But please don’t describe me as the victim of a narcissist, a targeted dupe, a sop, a mug as that helps no-one.
I had several sliding door moments when I could and possibly should have walked away from my relationship with their mother before we had children, made different choices. I knew that our relationship wasn’t ideal, but chose to work at it and did everything I could, probably too much, to make our relationship work instead. I can’t take credit for all of our great times and won’t blame her for all the the dark times.
I’ll take my share of responsibility for bad decisions in the past. But responsibility for how she behaves with our children has to rest squarely on her shoulders. It is wrong on every level, will come to define her and not on a good way. And THAT has been entirely her choice.
So call me arrogant if you must, but don’t portray her as the victor and me as the fool. Nobody has won anything here. Because relationships are more complex than that, especially the ones we have with ourselves. But we all owe it to our children, and ourselves, not to view people as all good and all bad or life as all dark and all light. Because if we don’t seek out the subtlety and the shades, then millions of people are doomed to fail in the future as a knock-on from the decisions we make, including our own children.
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