In a recent post, I wrote for the first time about a deeply personal issue that is happening in my family – parental alienation. In that post I introduced the issue, and discussed that it, like many other tragedies in peoples’ lives – was not manifested, resonated or vibrated into our experience – but is instead the result of an unfortunate relationship between a family member and someone with deep mental health issues.
In this post I want to describe some of the hell that many people live through with similarly unstable people, and suggest that instead of love being “all there is“,… choosing to forgive over and over, and respond in love resulted in years of tolerating and hoping and supporting someone who had no interest in helping themselves. Our collective naivety about how seriously ill that person was/is and what extreme damage was being done has resulted in a terrible family tragedy.
TRIGGER WARNING. I am going to describe what one family lived through, and some of the experiences may trigger a reaction in those who have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV).
The behavior I am about to describe happened on a regular basis – usually about every 6 to 10 weeks. In fact, the first time that this behavior was witnessed, the person was sent, along with their girlfriend to the psych Emergency Department. Being teenagers (19 years old), the family should have known that they were prone to fibbing, but they came home several hours later and reported that the doctors told them there was nothing wrong with (the young man). Years later the girlfriend would confess that they lied and had never gone to the hospital.
The concerning behavior continued, and since they were living with family at the time, his parents were called and told that they needed to come get their son. This child had been homeschooled, and came from a rural, conservative evangelical family that attended a non-mainline Protestant church. It was clear that he was emotionally much younger than the years on the birth certificate, and there was deep concern that this was going to be nothing but trouble.
His parents came into town (from out of state) and since they viewed the girlfriend’s family as agents of Satan, they were more than happy to have an opportunity to take their son home – except that he didn’t want to go. He clung to his girlfriend like a lost puppy, and she was unwilling to tell him that he needed to go home.
Her family hoped, but wasn’t sure, that this “close call” at being sent home would serve as a warning that he needed to shape up. Unfortunately things did not get better.
The meltdowns of the type that caused a summons of his parents continued, happening about every 6 to 10 weeks. They always started and ended the same way.
Something would happen that made him upset (like his girlfriend not fawning all over him when he wanted her to), uncomfortable (such as an upcoming family get-together that he didn’t want to attend), or that he just didn’t like (such as my family member suggesting on a weekend morning that it would be fun to go to the trail and ride bikes instead of sitting around and watching TV) and he would fly into a rage. The names used on his girlfriend were not very original and his favorite term for her when in one of his rages was “fucking cunt” (was this learned in Sunday School at that evangelical church? Most “heathens” I know have never spoken to someone like that).
The girlfriend’s family BEGGED her to leave before any kids came along – before something WORSE happened. For likely many reasons, including the fact that she loved him, the girlfriend could not leave; and for the next 15+ years, she paid a steep price, and the children that came paid – and continue to pay – a much steeper price.
The meltdowns would follow a consistent progression. They began with screaming and then moved on to property damage, more screaming, cursing and throwing things, and then as the energy waned, he would collapse in a corner and sob and sob and sob. He would cry and slobber that he didn’t “feel good” and would allow snot to run out of his nose and run down his face – not wiping it off.
For most people, this is a sure sign of some serious mental health issues; but he would always assure everyone that there was nothing wrong – that he just needed his girlfriend to “be nice” and “talk” to them.
For whatever reason, the family’s begging, pleading and bribing had no impact on the girlfriend and before anyone knew it, a baby was on the way.
And no the “episodes” had not stopped.
A couple months later, this doomed duo moved into a duplex. They both worked full-time jobs and the girlfriend was pregnant. It was Winter and they were talking in bed before going to sleep one night. He was going on and on and on (as he is prone to do) and his girlfriend fell asleep.
The next morning, she got up to get ready for work and got into the shower. A few minutes later, he burst into the bathroom, screaming and cussing because she fell asleep last night. He cursed at her, continued screaming and then grabbed the shower curtain, ripping it off the wall which ended up pushing the rod through the bathroom window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter all over his pregnant fiancé.
He then stormed off to work and her family came over to clean up the mess – glass and otherwise. They foolishly thought (hoped!) that once the kids came along, this behavior would stop, but that hope went out the window when the first baby was only 6 weeks old, and a glass of orange juice was thrown at his now-wife when she was holding the baby – their first born. He was apparently stressed out that he had to go to work.
You may be asking yourself why she didn’t leave and go back home right there and then. Her family begged her to, and can’t explain it, but she did not. Sadly, this is not an uncommon story in situations like this.
If you’re shaking your head and screaming at your monitor/phone that this young woman was in an abusive relationship, you’re right. And it seems simple enough to say “she should have left“, but it’s never that simple.
While I will share more of these stories in future posts, I want to pivot to the issue of what happens when someone with these issues experiences rejection such as happens in a divorce. NOTE: I’m NOT diagnosing anyone. I am ALSO not a psychologist or therapist. I’m not a car mechanic either, but I know when my vehicle needs help, so…(you get my point).
Experts on parental alienation note that the alienating parent is almost always suffering from a Cluster B personality disorder. These disorders include antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic personality disorders. In this mix of disorders, the following characteristics are commonly seen (from Mayo Clinic):
Antisocial personality disorder
- Disregard for others’ needs or feelings
- Persistent lying, stealing, using aliases, conning others
- Recurring problems with the law
- Repeated violation of the rights of others
- Aggressive, often violent behavior
- Disregard for the safety of self or others
- Impulsive behavior
- Consistently irresponsible
- Lack of remorse for behavior
Borderline personality disorder
- Impulsive and risky behavior, such as having unsafe sex, gambling or binge eating
- Unstable or fragile self-image
- Unstable and intense relationships
- Up and down moods, often as a reaction to interpersonal stress
- Suicidal behavior or threats of self-injury
- Intense fear of being alone or abandoned
- Ongoing feelings of emptiness (probably but we’re not sure)
- Frequent, intense displays of anger
- Stress-related paranoia that comes and goes
Histrionic personality disorder
- Constantly seeking attention
- Excessively emotional, dramatic or sexually provocative to gain attention
- Speaks dramatically with strong opinions, but few facts or details to back them up
- Easily influenced by others
- Shallow, rapidly changing emotions
- Excessive concern with physical appearance
- Thinks relationships with others are closer than they really are
Narcissistic personality disorder
- Belief that you’re special and more important than others
- Fantasies about power, success and attractiveness
- Failure to recognize others’ needs and feelings
- Exaggeration of achievements or talents
- Expectation of constant praise and admiration
- Unreasonable expectations of favors and advantages, often taking advantage of others
- Envy of others or belief that others envy you
The behaviors demonstrated by the male described above for 15+ years are highlighted above in BOLD. While we all know that the internet tends to make arm-chair diagnosticians out of many of us, I want to be clear: I am not diagnosing anyone, but am commenting on behaviors that were observed and that have impacted me personally for almost 2 decades. In my observations I have noticed a very interesting intersection of behaviors and actions; so I am reporting the things I witnessed at the hands of what was an intimate terrorist in the midst of my family.
By the time the woman in this story walked away from this mess, she was fragile and the children had endured years of unimaginable upheaval in their home. I highlighted in a previous blog post what happened mere months after the separation. More on that later.
As this mess unfolded, at times on a slow-roll, it became clear to me that many of the (spiritual) beliefs that I had adopted were wholly unable to a) support me during something like this, b) provide any solutions to address these real world problems, and c) provide any hope – even as I lived, breathed and believed in the “love is all there is” mantra.
The larger, extended family LOVED this man, and forgave him 70×7 times. He was encouraged, supported, and treated them like one of their own. One examples includes the time that, not for a holiday or birthday gift, his grandparents-in-law bought him a $1,200 motorcycle to restore (a hobby he claimed to miss). The family thought if he had something to do other than sit around when not working, it would help; but it sat for years in their garage, untouched while the raging meltdowns continued.
He was included in their circle as family, but was asked (begged) to get therapy. He would go – for a bit – but only to female therapists, whom he cunningly manipulated. He always said that he didn’t need therapy or medication – he just needed his wife “to be nice” (we’re still not sure what that means other than he didn’t want to take any responsibility for his behaviors). When he stopped going to therapy, he would call family members to vent.
When he first started calling he would be sobbing uncontrollably and crying, “I don’t feel good“. When asked what was wrong, the answer was always the same: “my wife isn’t being nice to me“. There was never any specific action or incident – just “not being nice“. After a few years, the sobbing and crying calls turned into angry calls. The explanations then became an angry “would you please tell my wife to be nice to me!?” he would bellow into the phone.
It got so bad that every time the phone rang and family members saw that it was his number on caller ID, we got a knot in our stomachs. We started avoiding his calls to the point when things were NOT in an uproar and he was calling, his wife would text the family member and tell them to answer the phone.
Some of you are wondering why we didn’t call the police. In a future post I will describe a time (early on) when I wanted to call them, but my family member begged me not to. What I can tell you is that this person was (still is) a master at manipulation. He never hit his wife, although he threw a lot of things and damaged property regularly. If his wife had called the police, they would have showed up, and he would have pulled it together and talked to them, man-to-man as these types do, assuring them that this was just a misunderstanding. Here’s another cold, hard fact that treatment, affirmations and meditation can’t fix: while the legal system is (finally!) able to deal a bit better with physically abusive people in marriages, it has very few resources and even fewer clues about what to do with someone who is a psychological terrorist.
More on this later.
Today I hold my family members in my heart, and I work to support this legal journey. I am grateful beyond words that we have the ability to secure the resources needed to provide support – emotional and financial. Many people in similar circumstances (having their children alienated) end up not seeing them/having a relationship with them for YEARS, and even decades because they could not afford the fight.
I am doing what I can, which includes delivering guest lectures for college classes that are part of the curriculum in social work, psychology and related majors for students in training to become mental health care professionals. My belief is that the more people who can recognize the SIGNS of parental alienation; the better chance kids of the future have in being saved from this terrible fate when relationships fall apart and children are involved.
I will close with this quote from a journal article, available on the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed site:
“Induced parental alienation is a specific form of psychological child abuse, which is listed in DSM-5, the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), under diagnostic code V 995.51 “child psychological abuse”. Untreated induced parental alienation can lead to long-term traumatic psychological and physical effects in the children concerned.”
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