By Daniel J. Benor, MD
When parents separate or divorce, children are usually stressed. Even when parents separate amicably, children end up having to adjust to living part-time in each of two households. Single parents often note that children have problems with their attitudes, emotions and behaviors in the day or two prior to and following a visit to the other parent’s home.
I call these “re-entry problems.” They are related to the grief reactions of the involved children and their parents – over losing a family; over losing promises of good times shared together; over losing the comfort of a more substantial home and having to settle for lesser living accommodations and other belt-tightening adjustments; and on and on, as the reverberations of a major life change unfold.
Grief reactions include sadness, depression, anger and guilt. These feelings tend to come in waves, in no particular order or combinations, but often accompanied by distress. Children often feel responsibility and guilt for what happened between their parents, believing that they might have contributed to or caused the breakdown of the relationship. And grief reactions come in waves of greater and lesser intensity. Shifting from one home to another keeps reawakening the grief, rubbing salt in the wounds of all.
This is a baseline for much more severe problems that develop with Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), where one or both parents blame the opposite parent for the breakdown of the relationship and for the difficulties that ensue. When parents are in conflict, children may become pawns or soldiers for one parent or the other to manipulate in attacking the other parent.
A parent may act in this way out of anger at the other parent. Often, there is deep hurt behind the angers, but the hurts are buried outside of conscious awareness. Anger can easily blind a parent to the damage that they are doing to their children.
Terry was furious with Bram when he left her for another woman. She felt betrayed; deeply disappointed in Bram and in herself for having trusted and relied upon him; and embarrassed to have to admit the failure in their relationship to friends and co-workers who had known them both.
Terry blamed Bram for the failure of their marriage, telling her ten year-old son, Tom and fourteen year-old daughter, Elena, all the dirt she could muster about Bram, with considerable embellishments.
The children were resentful and angered by their mothers’ stories and vented their feelings on their father when they were with him. This soured further their already strained relationships with their father. Gradually, over a period of months, Bram and the children found increasingly frequent excuses to avoid spending time with each other, and they ended up visiting in a dutiful but very distanced manner with each other during major holidays, only a few times a year.
In the long run, both children suffered emotionally crippling consequences from the unresolved conflicts between their parents. Elena found it impossible to trust men, and never developed a satisfying, long-lasting relationship. She had two brief, unhappy marriages and then lived the rest of her life alone. Tom, in addition to having similar difficulties in developing relationships with women, was sorely lacking in self-confidence and never achieved the promises of his earlier successes in school.
This is the bad news: PAS may occur without deliberate incitements by separated and divorced parents. The strains of having to shift constantly between homes, and the re-entry stresses alone may be sufficient to sour relationships of children with either or both of their parents.
The worse news is that PAS also exists in intact families where the parents are in conflict. One parent may subtly and unconsciously or grossly and deliberately incite the children against the other parent. The results may be just as devastating as in a separation or divorce situation, and sometimes moreso.
The good news is that in a separation or divorce situation, the PAS is more likely to come to the attention of parents, extended family, schools, lawyers, legal authorities and other caregivers. It is also more likely to invite investigation, clarification and healing.
The further good news is that there are new methods for handling stresses that enable adults and children to release their angers, disappointments, depression and hurts. One such self-healing method is TWR: Whole Health – Easily and Effectively®. TWR is easily learned, rapidly and deeply effective, and available to people who are stressed whenever they may need it. TWR can also help to release earlier life traumas that often contribute to the difficulties between parents.
Gwen and Bob came for family therapy when nine year-old Sally, the youngest of their three children, was having difficulties with anger management in school. While the focus initially was on Sally’s behaviors, it very soon became apparent that Bob and Gwen were also struggling with issues of anger with each other.
This couple had had what appeared to be a good relationship for six years, until the children arrived. Bob had to work extra shifts to make ends meet, and was tired, cranky and generally unavailable to help with parenting. Gwen, resented having to bear most of the burden of parenting responsibilities and refused to return to work more than half time after her first child was born. Each parent carried resentments towards the other that they expressed in subtle and not so subtle manners. Arguments that reached crescendos of shouting matches were common, with Bob often slamming the front door on his way out to join his buddies in the bar.
The children, feeling the tensions between their parents, each responded differently. Sally sided with her father, berating her mother for angering him to the point that he frequently stormed out of the home. Eleven year-old Bert clammed up and retreated to his room when the atmosphere grew heated at home, and fourteen year-old Selma sided with her father and was increasingly fresh towards her mother.
Though Sally was the most overt of the children in letting people know when she was angry, the other children were also struggling with the stresses generated between their parents, each responding internally in their own way. Bert had grown silent and moody over the previous two years and Thelma was frequently on house restrictions because she had become sullen and disobedient and was staying out beyond her curfew.
Using TWR, all of the family members were able to reduce the intensity of their angers, depression and hurt feelings. More importantly, Bob and Gwen were both able to connect quickly through the TWR process with buried feelings from traumas in their childhoods that had left them with unresolved early hurts, fears and angers that were coming out in the marital relationship – stimulated by the burdens of parenting.
After two months of weekly sessions, the fires of angers that had been fueled by accumulated past hurts and fears in each of the family members, were no longer burning. TWR had enabled them to remove the kindling that had ignited in the heat of marital friction.
While this may seem to be a fantasy story of fairy-tale proportions, it is actually a common and often-repeated one. The new field of Energy Psychology (EP) is pioneering methods for stress release that are revolutionary. It is no longer necessary to suffer with PAS or other stresses and traumas. There are many tools and methods for healing these. The best news is that these tools are all in the form of self-healing, so that people who use them are able to release troublesome feelings on the spot – at the very moment when they are developing into what could be a current conflict.
Even better, the current issues become doorways into the past traumas that have contributed to creating and perpetuating the conflicts. EP transforms stress, worries, frustrations, anxieties, fears, angers, hurts and other negative emotions into invitations for further self-healing.
The guidance of a therapist is extremely helpful in learning and starting to apply these methods. It is often difficult for people to see how to apply these techniques because they are caught up in intense feelings that are overwhelming. They need the aid of a trained, neutral, outside observer/ coach/ therapist to be able to see their dysfunctional patterns and to choose alternatives to their habitual, self-perpetuating vicious circles of negativity.
Better yet: once learned, these methods are available for dealing with all future stresses. Over time, the stresses become windows and doorways of new opportunities to clear old issues as well as the new ones. People who learn these methods find them transformative.
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