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Current Issues in Family Law
Disenfranchised Grief Within the Walls of Parental Alienation by Paul Michael Marinello | Jul 13, 2022 | 12 Step Programs, CPTSD, Gaslighting, Grief, Healing, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Parental Alienation |
“I will admit, in my darkest moments my hope for others is much clearer than my hope for myself.” Anna-Maija Lee
For the purposes of understanding this post, please review the following terms as it comes to parental alienation, alienating parent (a parent or loved one that uses forms of abusive behavior to assist in convincing a child the other parent is not worthy), and targeted parent which is a parent that has been partly or wholly eliminated from their child(ren)’s lives due to explicit targeting by the other parent.
If you were asked a polling question where you swore to be truthful, take a moment to think of how you’d answer: What is grief, and how has it affected or influenced your life?
Merriam-Websters definition seems a bit too lighthearted: deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.
National Cancer Institute states The normal response to a major loss, such as the death of a loved one. Grief may also be felt by a person with a serious, long-term illness or with a terminal illness. It may include feelings of great sadness, anger, guilt, and despair. Physical problems, such as not being able to sleep and changes in appetite, may also be part of grief.
You can Google and receive many answers about the medical or socio-accepted belief on the definition of grief, however, for the purposes of this article, I am choosing to adopt Dictionary.com as defined: keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret. (I also like the statement: a feeling of vacancy due to loss.)
Grief is something normal that we all experience on a common basis. For many of us, we have been to funerals, wakes, and sit shiva, which served the purpose of allowing the families of those who have loved someone to honor someone’s light at the time of their passing. We understand this as grief and allow ourselves the moments we need in order to process a normal life cycle.
For a parent that is alienated from their child(ren) grief is slightly skewed. The grief embodies not only a loss but the true disconnect of a normal and healthy relationship – one that all parents assume will last their lifetime. The grief also sticks to the heart in the way of guilt by association. What good parent would ever be alienated from their own child?
The term disenfranchised is simple: to deprive (someone) of a right or privilege.
As an alienated parent, disenfranchised grief plays a substantial part in everyday life. As parents, we grieve for the loss of our children, yet the unintended circumstances surrounding the reason for the vacancy are what lead to disenfranchisement.
When we lose a loved one to a natural occurrence we qualify and quantify our feelings very succinctly. “I recently lost my mom, so I am going through a bit of an emotional time.” This seems like a common-sense answer you may have given or received a number of times throughout your lifetime. It’s topical in nature for a reason: even if the passing of an individual who you once loved was under normal circumstances, others still have issues deliberately seeking to penetrate another layer. Some might say, “I’ll be here if you need me,” or another supportive answer. Yet rarely do we or are we asked to go a bit further. “What was your mom like?” A simple question that could garner a set of tears or perhaps even a humorous story about mom. (There is nothing wrong with either or both.)
Some tend to shy away from these follow-up questions simply as a defense mechanism. It is to protect both ourselves from getting emotional and showing weakness while we are trying to lift someone up from despair. We are also perceiving that if someone is emotional at the time, we are partly responsible for adding to their pain. I am not sure any of this is true.
When an alienated parent is asked how their children are in blindsight (the person asking has no idea that you have been alienated) the answers can come off easily. During the beginning stages of complete alienation, I might have said that she was fine, studying and working while living with her mom. That usually keeps folks at bay and can often lead to some less traumatic discussion. Make no mistake, whether an alienated parent is asked by someone they love, a therapist, a friend – whether the person knows – we immediately go through a set of answers in our head to help them understand. Interestingly, most of these responses stay inside.
I realize how ineffective this strategy is.
However, a targeted parent must remain prepared for the inevitable; despite its prevalence for generations (and proven time and again with science, fact, and undeniable theory) few actually want to discuss something ugly like being abandoned by your child(ren). It’s quite similar to talking openly about drug abuse or mental illness and its effect on one’s family life. We don’t like to discuss it because it is sticky. Trauma sticks to the walls inside your skin. We can fight it, or we can succumb to it, but we are always living with it. These family traumas make our grief disenfranchised; difficult or almost wholly misunderstood, and are often lined with family secrets, and troubling pasts, and at the center of it all – unfortunately, is not our child(ren), but the alienator themselves. The ultimate puppet master.
I asked Shirley Davis, Chief Staff Writer, and Trauma Expert with CPTSD Foundation, about this specific type of grief. She added, “Originating with a narcissistic or emotionally unstable parent, parental alienation has the power to overwhelm and injure children. The alienated parent (perhaps the father) is made into a pariah when the other parent (perhaps the mother) makes disparaging comments to their children. Parental alienation causes children to grow up to be adults feeling grief and loss because they love the alienated parent and cannot process what has happened.”
With generational familial disease, like parental alienation, healing from the trauma of grief can be overwhelming. Unlike finding online support groups for alcohol or drug abuse, mental health resources, and trauma support groups like CPTSD Foundation, when a targeted parent wishes to share – few can understand or even care to grapple with the thoughts we need to process. There are often times – when we do share with those outside our trusted walls that we feel our grief is minimalized. That is not a result of our feelings or truths, but the result of wondering what another might think to hear you have been estranged from your own child(ren). It’s a tough starting place, so my only urging is that alienated parents continue to tell their stories, align, and educate health care professionals, the legal system, and educational systems. When someone tells you they have been a victim of alienation, process those thoughts with an open mind. There are resources available to help you better understand what we survive through.
One draining aspect is a continued sense of hypervigilance within our communication. With this hypervigilance, a steady stream of tension surrounds targeted parents on how to and with whom to communicate these feelings forming a somewhat isolating tendency. And, in my opinion, this is a tough place to reside. Find the people in your life that are willing and able to do the research to correctly identify your feelings – even if they don’t quite understand them.
Written for and Inspired by the members of Parental Alienation Anonymous, for without you, my personal journey to find peace within would not have been restored.
Paul Michael MarinelloPaul Michael Marinello serves as a writer and blog editor for CPTSD Foundation. Previous to this role he managed North American Corporate Communications at MSL, a top ten public relations firm where he also served on the board for Diversity & Inclusion for a staff of 80,000. Paul Michael grew up in New York and attended SUNY Farmingdale before starting a ten-year career at Columbia University. He also served as Secretary and Records Management Officer for the Millwood Fire District, appointed annually by an elected board of fire commissioners from 2008 – 2017.