Understanding Stages of Grief applied to Parents Affected by Parental Child Abduction / Alienation / Retention
“The death of a child is indisputably one of the most incredibly horrible tragedies one can imagine. Whether by sudden accidental circumstance, or by a more lengthy cause as in illness, the loss of a child is undeniably painful to experience. Painful to the parents, parents to the family, and painful to anyone related to the child. Never knowing the laughter of that child again or the tears, the joys and the accomplishments is a pain no parent should ever have to endure, and yet it happens. No one might be to blame. It can just happen”. (Tim Line)
Imagine a similar pain and the same sense of loss, with one exception-the parent is very much aware that the child is alive.
The effects of Parental Alienation, Parental Child Abduction and retention are very similar to the loss of a child in some other way. However, the bereavement cannot end.
This feeling of bereavement can also affect the child that an abducting/alienating parent claims to love and can have serious emotional scars that can remain for a long period of time - If not for a lifetime.
Yet, parental child abduction and parental alienation remain as silent abuses that the effects never seem to be fully understood unless you or your family have to cope with this trauma yourselves.
Even parents that are lucky enough to have any contact whatsoever with their children, Parental Alienation, where a custodial parent maliciously tries to destroy the relationship between the child and target parent, rips the innocent child from their arms slowly. They witness the suffering. They witness the effects but they feel powerless to do anything about it.
The very sad part of this is it is not unique. There are hundreds of thousands of children and parents affected by Parental alienation and also thousands of cases involving parental child abduction but it is only recently that law professionals are starting to sit up and take notice of the traumatic emotional damage that this can cause target families and children.
If you are a parent, spend a moment to look at your children and imagine what it would be like if you woke tomorrow morning to find that they are not there and you have no idea where they have been taken to or if you will ever see them again. Imagine the minefield of legal litigation required to locate and reunite with your children once they have been found to have been abducted abroad?
Imagine pleading for help from authorities, courts, family, friends and groups but they are powerless or reluctant to help to reunite you with your child and can even facilitate the abduction, alienation and retention by their inaction.
People find it very difficult to understand the effects on a target parent. Many feel that eventually, time should allow you to "get over it" and just carry on with life but it is not that simple.
Let us look at an extended Kübler-Ross model that tries to explain the stages of grieving and see how that can be applied to a parent who is retained from their children’s lives.
Stage 1: SHOCK AND DENIAL.
In many cases, a target parent can actually identify the signs that abduction and alienation might occur but they are often given false reassurances that this will not happen or is not happening by authorities and legal professionals. When it does, the initial trauma is one of shock and numbness. However, there is a belief that everybody around will be just as horrified at the situation and will do everything they can to find a resolution to return the child to the situation prior to abduction/retention
Stage 2: EMOTIONS ERUPT.
Unlike a bereavement resulting from death, the shock never really passes as a target parent fails to understand how the situation could have occurred and begins questioning people around them. One minute they were a loving parent sharing their children’s lives and the next, it is taken away from them, often through no or little fault of the affected parent. Emotions can overflow their usual boundaries. They are expressed in ways ranging from wrenching sobs to gentle tears.
The strongest try to look for a resolution quickly and place their trust in authorities, lawyers, courts and organisations to help them resolve the situation. These emotions heighten even further if heinous “tactics” are used by the other parent to achieve their alienating objectives such as false allegations. This stage in the grieving process is also without end.
Stage 3: ANGER.
Mixed with the hurt, many people feel angry. “How could the other parent do this to them?”, “Why aren’t people doing enough to help?”, in cases where false allegations are used as a mechanism to aliene and retain their child, “Why are the authorities listening to them? This is NOT me that they are talking about!” They sometimes want to retaliate. Although the anger is towards the other parent for their actions, it can also be transferred to other areas such as the lawyers and authorities for their apathy and inaction. The anger can also be misdirected at people closest to the target parent through their absolute despair of the situation and this can affect friendships, relationships and support. This anger one feels can reappear so once again is another stage in the process than can be without end
Stage 4: SICKNESS.
Often the body acts out the pain being felt through actual physical symptoms. Nausea, headaches, diarrhoea, extreme fatigue, lack of sleep are common. In some cases, panic attacks can occur that can be compared to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) especially in situation such as family court proceedings. Once again, as these litigation processes can be ongoing, so can recurrences of the sickness stage.
Stage 5: PANIC.
Along with a time of sickness and emotional upset, people begin to realise that they aren’t acting like themselves anymore. They begin to worry, wondering if they are becoming mentally ill. They frequently ask themselves “What is happening to me?”. From the outsiders point of view, this is often met with wrongful judgement. They can lose sight of the person they really are and just start to see the shell of the person that the target parent might be becoming without the help to keep them strong and focused. The longer it takes for resolution, the harder it is for the target parent to cope. Apathy often occurs in other aspects of the target parents lives that could affect their work and personal lives.
Stage 6: GUILT.
Personal guilt feelings build up as people wonder whether they are somehow to blame for the situation they find themselves in. They ask themselves if they could have done something to make it different…. “if only . . .”
Stage 7: DEPRESSION AND LONELINESS.
The pain of their loss often causes people to withdraw into themselves. As the depression deepens, friends and family find it harder to draw the person out, to talk them into participating in regular activities again. Many suffer detachment issues in their relationships with others. Mixed with the other stages that are still present in some form, without understanding of family and friends, it can appear as though the target parent does not WANT to be around people who care when it is, in fact, quite the opposite.
Stage 8: RE-ENTRY TROUBLES.
Once the effort is made to get back into the normal routine, the pain of loss makes it difficult to be as trusting and open as before the loss. Suspicion must be battled constantly. Friends and families are tested again and again.
Stage 9: HOPE.
Only the very strongest emotionally of the target parents can maintain this. They focus on areas that might be able to help others in a similar situation. They identify the failures in the system that do not seem to protect and try to do something about it. Some try to become advocates or write a book about their experiences. Raise awareness in whatever way they can. Some affected parents can never reach this stage as they feel defeated, betrayed and can even result in major depression or even suicide.
Stage 10: ACCEPTING AND AFFIRMING REALITY.
Sadly, a parent who continues to be subjected to alienation and retention can never fully reach this stage. Many are forced into a position where they have to box all of the emotions that they feel and “give up” on finding a solution as a means of self preservation. Although they do not give up on their love for their children, they give up hope of ever being a parent to that child again.
In conclusion to this short paper, it appears that when a child is retained, alienated and/or abducted the grieving processes begins but can NEVER end until there is resolution. Unfortunately, in many cases, this forced "living bereavement" goes without deterrent or accountability in the family courts or by authorities which continues to subject families to this abuse.