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Divorce Poison? In a day and a time when we are more conscious than ever before of the harmful effects of toxins and pollutants on our natural environment and our own physical health, we still have much to learn about the poison that we are exposing our children to in the arenas of divorce, separation and all of what that entails.
Up until now, we have been learning about what some of the consequences of divorce and separation are on children and the strategies to employ to protect them. These include preserving their relationships with both parents, keeping them out of the cross-fire of parental conflict, and in far too few reported cases, co-parenting beyond divorce in a positive and proactive way for the well-being of the children.
What has been surfacing, and what author and expert Dr. Richard Warshak has so successfully brought to the forefront in his book Divorce Poison, is a devastating phenomenon that ranges from the badmouthing by one parent of the other, to a concerted brainwashing campaign to turn children against the other parent in an effort to completely alienate them and sever the relationship. Badmouthing, bashing and brainwashing are all forms of divorce poison.
Parental alienation not only turns children against one biological parent, but encourages the children to actively engage in degrading that parent and severing the relationship themselves. When a parent masterminds this plot to turn their own children against the other parent Dr. Warshak refers to this activity as “enlisting their children as agents in their own deprivation” – meaning they don’t just do it to them, they enlist their children in depriving themselves of the relationship. He likens it to a form of kidnapping – a stealing of a vital and important relationship that the child needs.
Warshak’s work in this area is an attempt to bring awareness to the issue of parental alienation and its effects, which are far too under-recognized in our culture. His intent is to help parents on both sides of the equation to recognize the damaging effects of alienation on the real victims here which are the children. His hope is to help parents who are engaged in this kind of campaign, even to the mildest degree possible, to become aware not only of their intentions and their motives behind the behavior, but also of the damage that it causes. Warshak’s goal is to make it possible for parents to make a choice to not act on their destructive impulses.
For those parents who are on the receiving end of the alienation by their own children, he offers new and enlightening advice as to how to react and proceed when they suspect that their children are being turned against them. This is information that should be studied and understood by any professional working with divorced parents and children of divorce. Up until this research has come to light, the advice of well-intentioned, although not always well-informed professionals, has actually further exacerbated the plight of parents who are desperate not to lose their relationships with their children.
Parents who find themselves in this situation, are often counseled “not to push” or “force” their children into seeing them, in the hopes that they will not further sabotage the relationship, and in hopes that in time the children will come back to them of their own accord. The problem with this kind of advice is that the behavior of the alienated parent who backs off and does not attempt to maintain or force the issue of contact with their children, feeds nicely into the clever lies of the other parent who is attempting to convince the children that “mommy or daddy” doesn’t really care anyway.
When we appear to give up as parents, we run the risk of reinforcing the false belief in the child that they are indeed not worth the effort after all. What a travesty and a sad tale -- of parents who unknowingly and unwittingly play into the demise of their own role and further contribute to their own alienation from their children, simply because they are trying to do what they think is the best thing. Dr. Warshak’s book and the advice that he has for parents in this position reshapes the way we think about parental alienation and how to deal with it.
Our hope at Blended-Families.com is that by interviewing Dr. Warshak we can have an impact and keep more children from becoming estranged and alienated from their biological parents. The cost to the children, to the parents, and to our society is far too great, as children alienated from a parent carry with them the burden of loss and deprivation throughout their entire lives.
Dr. Warshak presents excellent criteria for being able to identify the warning signs of alienation. He also gives sound advice for how to counteract these efforts and their negative effects. He describes parental alienation as a phenomena that not only effects parents and children, but is more widespread and far-reaching. In families where there is a concerted effort to alienate the children from the other parent, it is not uncommon for the child to reject the entire family of the parent in question, thereby portraying the absurdity of the attempts being made and the full extent of the damage that can be done.
How likely is it that a child, without coaching, would decide that they not only reject their parent, but everyone who is connected to or related to that parent, in one fell swoop? In cases like this, it is often easier to identify what is going on as children are choosing not to sever just one relationship but many, thereby cutting themselves off from a host of potentially supportive relationships that once held great meaning and value for them. This is a good example of the brainwashing-like quality of alienation and the disastrous impact it can have on entire families.
Dr. Warshak has written this book for families, for parents, and for professionals, and his motivation is mainly for the benefit of the children whom he is very aware are the true victims of this form of abuse. At a time in the life of a child or young person, when their family is in the wake of divorce, separation or family breakdown, they are learning that life is not as dependable as they had once imagined. This is a time when they need, more than ever, the complete love, nurturing and protection of both parents and where possible, their extended family network.
Many children are not receiving the unconditional love and support which could help them heal and grow from the loss of their family. A growing number are finding themselves caught in the middle of the crossfire between bitter and angry adults, while still others are being conscripted into a form of warfare which involves choosing one parent to the exclusion of the other.
How can this even be happening?
How can we condone this on any level?
First we have to accept the reality that it IS happening and stop denying the existence of parental alienation.
Next we have to take action. Becoming familiar with Dr. Warshak’s work is a great action step to take – because each chapter of his book provides specific action steps you can take which are antidotes to the poison to which he refers. You can order Divorce Poison here.
At Blended-Families.com we are making this easy through free articles about the topic and an inexpensive recorded interview with Dr. Warshak which Emily conducted on April 10th, 2008. We invited our website visitors and subscribers to our free newsletter to submit their toughest questions for Dr. Warshak. Subscribers were able to join the call at no charge. We are offering an online recording of the interview to our newsletter subscribers for $1.95, and to non-subscribers for $4.95 to help defray the costs.
Dr. Warshak has dedicated much of his professional career and certainly his book to bringing about awareness and education about an issue that is far too prevalent in our world today. “When we know better – we do better” is the hope. Divorce Poison will hopefully educate and inspire all of us to raise the bar in terms of how we love, protect and nurture our children, and as a society to raise the bar in terms of our own consciousness about what is acceptable and how to recognize when irreparable harm is being done in our families and communities, and how to reverse it.