Do you feel like you are dealing with more than one mental illness at one time when it comes to your family and divorce? Do you know what it means to have a co-morbidity or dual diagnosis?
First, let’s start with some technical jargon. When a doctor or counselor uses the term co-morbidity, it literally means that there are two or more occurring issues at one time or a dual diagnosis. What this means is that there is not one problem going on that needs to be addressed but more than one and they often interplay on each other. It was not too long ago, that the mental medical community believed that you could only have one mental illness diagnosis at a time. In fact, because of this misbelief, many clients were never able to get well because the doctors would be treating only one of their problems and not the route cause.
Let me give you an example. My daughter’s biological father definitely had a substance abuse problem. He was placed in and out of rehabs as well as the jail. Through some 30 years of his life or more, the doctors and counselors were constantly treating his substance abuse but not the real heart of the problem. Her father was extremely jealous type person. He constantly found himself in fights or battering women. He had extreme low self-esteem and probably depression. More than likely he was bi-polar/manic depressive and using substance abuse to control this problem. Because no one ever bothered to look into his other issues but only address his substance abuse, he never got well and continued to have problems his whole life. Eventually at age 42, after having been in jail 3 times for Assault and Battery, and in the rehabilitation centers no less than 4 times, he was found dead of an accident overdose of drugs and alcohol. As no one addressed his true medical condition, bi-polar manic depression, coupled with substance abuse, and only addressed the substance abuse, there was no possible way for him to ever get well.
Why is this important to Parental Alienation? In the context of high conflict divorce families, there is a co-morbidity of issues that are going on. It is not just about the children having a relationship problem with one parent. It is not just about a parent who is unable to control their anger and grief to the point of using the children as pawns. And it is not just about the targeted parent whose whole world is turned upside down and devastated by the loss of their relationship with their kids. It is about a combination of all of these issues rolled up into one Relational Problem. Just like the above case scenario where the undiagnosed manic depression/bi-polar issue was led to substance abuse, so is the case in Parental Alienation, where one parent, the aggressor, is unable to properly move forward in their lives, despite any outward image, and their actions (the bi-polar/manic depression) in turn cause additional problems (the substance abuse) for the children and targeted parent. When we can look at Parental Alienation as a combination of diagnoses, we have a better chance of solving it and for that matter classifying it in the DSM or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
Furthermore, when the professionals misdiagnosis or do not attend to the initial cause of the problem, the alienator or aggressive parent can actually slide even further backwards into a more antisocial diagnosis. These individuals will actually begin to hover on the borderline of narcissistic and sociopathic behaviors. If not addressed immediately, the aggressor can eventually become a full -blown narcissist and sociopath.
This does not bode well for the children or targeted parent. Sociopaths and narcissists are extremely convincing people who know how to control their surroundings and the people in them. They can be extremely successful or complete failures, but the key for them is total control by convincing everyone else around them that they are the perfect person and parent and therefore anything they say about the other parent must and has to be true.
For the children from a scientific community view, the children have a Folie a Deux complex or shared delusional belief system with the aggressive/alienating parent(AP). The children actually parrot the AP’s words and feelings, taking them on as their own. If not eradicated early on, the children become to believe this is their own thoughts and feelings. Like a child taught to hate and discriminate by a family that follows the KKK (KluKluxKlan), they believe this is the only truth there is. But in the case of Parental Alienation, these kids are also grieving the loss of the Targeted Parent (TP) and are filled with anger, hatred, rage and mistrust even after the TP is replaced with a surrogate parent. These children are brainwashed, programmed and trained to hate the other parent because they are no sharing the same warped anger, hatred and rage that the AP is dealing with.
For these reasons, it is imperative that preventive measures be implemented from the start by the courts, counselors/therapists and others involved. There need to be consequences for violated court orders and impediments. If this is not done, then the aggressive parent gets too much control of everyone from the children; to the targeted parent; to the courts, therapists and agencies. Once they have this undying control and power over everyone, they are pretty hard to stop. It would be like trying to stop a train with no brakes. The only way to stop that train is to literally put something in its way. That something has to be removal of all custodial rights and unsupervised visitation. A situation, I am quite sure no one, not even the courts, agencies or persons involved ever wants to be put into the displeasure of having to do, let alone enforce.
So what can be done? The courts need to start ordering specialized counseling for grief and low self-esteem issues for everyone. The courts need to start penalizing for court violations and contempt of court orders with loss of custody or time with the kids for any parent that does not comply. Counselors need to keep the courts up to date on all progress with all family members so that if one of the parents or children is NOT cooperating, it can be dealt with immediately and not after the damage is done. For those situations, where the aggressive parent is now sociopathic or narcissistic in nature, it may be necessary to remove the child(ren) from this parents care until proper counseling with progress has occurred. Or threaten them with loss of custody and jail if they do not stop their antics. Or worse case scenario, if the child(ren) become a danger to themselves or others, them in mental hospitals or juvenile detention centers. The point is to stop the process of NOT allowing the children to spend the time with the other parent without interference and unadulterated by the aggressive parent. Judges need to put their feet firmly on the group when it comes to the parents who are impeding or they will loose total control and the children will suffer along with the targeted parent for the rest of their lives.
Parental Alienation is not just one diagnosis but should be viewed as a Co-morbidity that affects the entire family. It starts with an alienator who can look perfectly normal on the outside, but who's grief, anger and need for total control mars the family dynamic, thus causing psychological problems for the children and the targeted parent. There is a co-morbidity of issues that are going on that need to be addressed all at the same time.
At the end of the day, we need to stop treating just the symptom, the children and targeted parent, instead treat the cause, the alienating, aggressive parent. Even if the alienator never completely heals or stop, it may just make it easier for everyone else involved.
Joan T. Kloth-Zanard, Life Coach and Family ConsultantExecutive Director/FounderParental Alienation Support & Interventions (PASI) 320 North George’s Hill Road
Southbury, CT 06488 203-770-0318 www.PAS-Intervention.comPASIntervention@aol.com