I love learning about relationships and psychology. In part it is because I have spent my life working on my own personal psychology and relationships.
I know firsthand that if you don’t address your own childhood crap, you’re going to eke out your issues all over the place. I didn’t want that for my life.
No matter how hard you try to push and shove the pain down, your childhood dramas and traumas are still with you.
So, besides going to a counselor for years, I also received a Master’s degree in psychology and now I am finishing a program in marriage and family therapy.*
As a student in MFT, I have to learn all of the different types of therapy available. This week it’s been the contextual approach (Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy is the developer). Contextual therapy has a couple of terms I found highly relevant to parental alienation (PA), which some readers can relate to because they are or have been going through it. Even if you aren’t familiar with PA, you will probably be familiar with these dysfunctional behaviors.
The first term is destructive entitlement.
Destructive entitlement is best described as “I have a right to be resentful because I had a crappy childhood and I feel so pissed off or I feel sorry for myself because I felt helpless, so I’m going make others pay for it.”
Sound familiar? Maybe you know someone with this attitude?
A person who is angry at their parents at the lack of support or caring may feel scared or not know how to express their anger to their parent(s), so when they “grow up,” they direct it outward to their partner, to their children, and to their ex if they go through a divorce or break-up. Their lack of remorse at hurting others is seen in parental alienation (PA), where the alienator is incapable of seeing how their dysfunctional and entitled behavior is affecting the alienated child or the targeted parent. The lack of remorse can also be targeted toward themselves as well, and might be seen, for example, with the person having substance abuse problems.
Many people have had less than idyllic childhoods, but there are some who choose to act in ways that are constructive (as compared to destructive).
You’ll see this in people who choose to make a better life for themselves and turn their challenges into inspirational living. They may start a cause, become a lawyer to advocate for others, become a therapist to help others, or a physician. There are many ways to turn pain into joy, fulfillment, and to contributing to society in a better way.
Issues occur when the pain is misdirected and is not processed in a healthy way.
Another term that will sound familiar to targeted parents is the parentification of a child. This can refer to an adult taking on a parenting role to their spouse, but here I am referring to the child who becomes a parent to their parent. They, for instance, hold back socially so they can take care of their parent’s emotional and social needs. The child will stay home on weekends instead of going out with friends because they’re worried about their parent being lonely or depressed.
Contextual therapy centers on fairness, trust, and loyalty. While this approach doesn’t help explain some of the symptoms families have, it can help explain others. The primary goal of this type of family therapy is to build trust in families. This would be great for co-parents who want to work at establishing a baseline of respect and trust in their relationship with one another. There are so many underlying issues of mistrust when a break-up occurs. If these aren’t addressed, the parents can begin to act these out and one of the ways to do this if you’re not conscious, is to use the children as a pawn.
When children choose loyalties–one parent over another–that’s a huge red flag. #parentalalienation
*UPDATE: I have since graduated with my second master’s degree. The first was in Psychology and since writing this article, I have another master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy.