By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
Depression — a mental illness marked by unrelenting sadness and hopelessness that permeates the lives of an estimated one in 18 people — is among the most prevalent medical disorders in today’s world, affecting 12 percent of women, 7 percent of men, and 4 percent of adolescents in a given year. Eight percent of adults will develop depression sometime in their life, and women are most prone — their lifetime risk is 20 percent.
Depression is a devastating illness. In its mildest form, it drains the happiness out of a person’s life. In its most severe form, depression kills. It can lead to suicide or, in cases where depression symptoms manifest as anger and rage, as assault or worse.
Treatment of depression, overall, is usually complicated. There are many severities of depression, from mild but chronic to seasonal affective disorder to anxiety to major depressive episodes. Chemical imbalances in the brain often contribute to the development of depression, but that is rarely the only cause. Additional contributing factors may include recent events such as a death in the family or a job loss; a traumatic upbringing, such as a childhood marred by abuse; low self esteem; major life changes, such as a new baby or moving to a new city; natural disasters; physical illness; and others. Therefore, treatment often includes not only medication but also long-term counseling; very severe forms of depression can also lead to hospitalization. Continue reading The Role of Attachment in Healing Infant Depression →
From API’s Publications Team
According to an article on InTheNews.co.uk, “One in Four Aussie Kids Have Parent with Mental Illness,” mentally ill parents are more likely to form insecure attachments with their children.
A study published in the January 6 Psychiatric Bulletin explains the correlation between the more severe mental illnesses and less sensitive and competent parenting, insecure infant attachment, lower quality bonds between mother and child, and a greater risk of mental illness developing in the children. However, the authors stress that mental illness in parents does not guarantee poor outcomes in children, only that there appears to be a greater risk.
To read the entire article, go to www.inthenews.co.uk/news/health/autocodes/autocodes/australia/one-in-four-aussie-kids-have-parent-with-mental-illness–$1258690.htm.
From API’s Publications Team
According to an article on the United Arab Emirates’ TheNational.ae, “More than Sadness,” the rate of children with depression in the UAE is on the rise.
According to Dr. Timo Brosig of the German Center for Neurology and Psychiatry in Dubai Healthcare City, one in 33 children under 12 years old – and one in eight adolescents – suffers from significant depression. Experts blame the rising divorce rate, more stress in general, and family anxiety are to blame. With concerns over an economic recession and the financial worries families will have, the rate of childhood is only expected to increase.
Another factor in the UAE is that more children – especially expats – are being cared for by someone other than Mom or Dad. Parents aren’t taking the time to connect with their children, and television is replacing the caretaker position. Continue reading UAE Childhood Depression on the Rise →
From API’s Publications Team
An article on the United Kingdom’s TimesOnline.com, “Tackle Child Obesity: Teach Mums to Eat,” explains how the solution to rising childhood obesity is in teaching parents that their eating behavior is how children themselves learn to eat.
According to a study published in the Paediatrics journal, one in four children ages four to five years old is overweight, despite normal birth weights. The reason, writes a convinced Susie Orbach, is that children are learning from their parents’ troublesome eating habits – their fear of food, preoccupation with body size, frequent dieting, and bingeing.
“You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to know that childhood is formative and that one’s earliest eating experiences – entwined as they are with our fundamental feelings of security, love, attachment, and caring – form the basis of how we approach food and succour throughout our lives,” Orbach writes.
Continuing, she discusses how children learn to eat unhealthily from parents who eat to fill an emotional void. Children who watch their parents struggle with eating will grow up believing this is normal. These children grow up learning that eating is done not necessarily to meet a physical need but to curb negative feelings of boredom, anxiety, anger and conflict, sadness, and overexcitedness. Instead of dealing with their upset feelings, people with a tendency toward obesity turn to food for soothing, Orbach wrote.
To read the entire article, go to http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article5361106.ece.
By Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, founder of the Beyond Consequences Institute
**Orginally published in the Winter 2007-08 Adoption issue of The Journal of API
The typical scenario of a young married couple adopting an infant from birth has changed dramatically and has been redefined. Historically, a traditional adoption was defined as a healthy infant placed with an infertile, middle-class white couple.
Today, adoptions can be characterized from a much broader spectrum. Many children being adopted are not infants, but are older children of various races being adopted from either the public foster care system or orphanages overseas. Often, children in these groups have suffered abuse, abandonment, and/or neglect.
Due to a history of trauma, these children are considered “special needs” and require special parenting once adopted into permanent homes. Many of these children are dealing with mental health issues such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), reactive attachment disorder (RAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and/or depression. Continue reading Issues Facing Adoptive Parents of Children with Special Needs →
From API’s Publications Team
An article on France’s InfosJuenes.com, “Risk of Maternal Depression on the Infant,” reveals research that shows the negative effects of depression in mothers on their babies.
Compared to children of nondepressed mothers, children of mothers with postpartum depression typically perform worse on cognitive and behavior measures, and exhibit higher rates of insecure attachment. The reason: Depressed mothers tend to be withdrawn and disengaged when interacting with their infants, and to be less attuned to their infants’ needs.
In one study, the age at which these poor cognitive measures become most apparent is 18 months. In another study, depression in parents was the number-one predictor of negative parenting behaviors like yelling, hitting, and shaking once factors for socio-economic status, ethnicity, education level, parent age, and employment status were taken out of consideration.
Research has also found a direct correlation between preventing postpartum depression and prevention of behavior issues, insecure attachment, and decline in IQ in infants.
By Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection of the New York Foundling
The problem of children allying with one parent against the other has been noted for decades, yet little research has been conducted on the problem of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and especially what happens to the children who grow up alienated from one parent by the other parent. In the fall of 2004, such a study was conducted, the purpose of which was to ask three general questions:
- Do some alienated children grow up to figure out that they had been manipulated by one parent to forgo a relationship with the other parent?
- What are the catalysts for such a realization process?
- What are the perceived long-term effects of such an experience?
It was the aim of the study to give a voice to individuals who had been at the center of intense conflict between their parents. These are people for whom so many others have spoken but who have not yet had a chance to speak for themselves.
Forty adults participated in in-depth interviews about their experience growing up turned against one parent by the other parent. Based on the content analysis of the interviews, the following conclusions were developed:
- The children were not necessarily allying with the “better” parent – Many of the adult children of PAS experienced physical and/or sexual abuse by the alienating parent. This finding is consistent with epidemiological research on the co-occurrence of different forms of abuse. That is, parents who abuse their children in one way tend to abuse them in other ways. This finding should put to rest the idea that, when children chose sides, they are always selecting the better parent, the one more likely to be responsive to their needs.
- Alienating parents function like cult leaders – The parents who perpetrated parental alienation utilized techniques similar to those employed by cult leaders. Alienating parents were described by their adult children as using emotional manipulation strategies such as withdrawal of love, creation of loyalty binds, and cultivation of dependency. They were also described as using brainwashing techniques, such as repetition of negative statements about the targeted parents and black-and-white thinking.
- Parental alienation strategies disrupt the attachment between child and targeted parent – The adult children of PAS described 32 different parental alienation strategies their parents used. These can be considered through the lens of attachment theory, as described by John Bowlby. Within this framework, the strategies are viewed as effective tools for interfering with the developing or existing an attachment relationship between the child and the targeted parent.
- Alienating parents may have personality disorders – The descriptions of the alienating parents provided by the adult children led to the conclusion that many met the diagnostic criteria for having a personality disorder, a pervasive and distorted relational style. Narcissism was the personality disorder most likely to have been present in these families, although some of the parents might have had borderline or antisocial personalities.
- Parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse – The strategies that the alienating parents used to effectuate the alienation were emotionally abusive in and of themselves. That is, the alienating parents verbally assaulted, isolated, corrupted, rejected, terrorized, ignored, and over-pressured the children in order to alienate them from the targeted parent. These behaviors are part and parcel of what constitutes emotional abuse of children. In addition, it is proposed that separation of a child from a parent for no reason also constitutes a form of emotional abuse.
- Realization of parental alienation is a process, not an event – Realizing that one has been turned against a parent by the other parent was usually a slow and painful process. For most of the adult children of PAS, it did not occur in a single transformative event. The defense mechanisms constructed to support the alienation – denying that the alienating parent is selfish and manipulative, denying that the targeted parent has positive qualities, denying that the child wants a relationship with the targeted parent, denying that the child is afraid of losing the love of the alienating parent – take time to be broken through. Although all of the adult children interviewed for the study had come to realize that they had been alienated from one parent by the other, the length of time they had been alienated and the age at the time of the awareness varied.
- The impact of parental alienation is lifelong and may be intergenerational – PAS has negative long-term effects including depression, low self esteem, inability to trust self and others, substance abuse, and becoming alienated from one’s own children. Three different patterns of the intergenerational transmission of PAS have been identified.
These findings from this study refute three common myths about PAS:
- That parental alienation is only perpetrated by mothers against fathers – Although this was the case for many of the adult children, it was not true of all of them. In 6 of the 40 interviews, fathers were the alienating parent. Because the sample was neither random nor representative, it is not possible to calculate the actual proportion of gender in the general population of alienating parents. But it can be concluded definitively that some fathers do practice parental alienation. This was also borne out in surveys of targeted parents that produced samples that were evenly divided between mothers and fathers.
- That PAS only occurs in divorced families – While PAS was first identified as a phenomenon in the context of post-divorce custody litigation and evaluations, it is now evident that PAS can take place in intact families.
- That PAS is only effectuated by custodial parents – Again, a prototypical PAS case was a custodial mother alienating the children from their father, following a bitter divorce. However, this is not the only PAS scenario. The custodial parent has a far greater degree of access to the child in order to effectuate the alienation, but this does not preclude the possibility of alienation being perpetrated during visitation with a non-custodial parent, especially if visitation is frequent and the parent is especially effective at thought control and emotional manipulation techniques.
By Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection of the New York Foundling
When parents separate, the goal and the hope is that they can work together in some fashion for the sake of the children. They may imagine that, at the time of the separation, they will have an amicable divorce in which the children freely move between each home and the parents can celebrate family events and holidays together.
Such a “good divorce” is possible but is not the reality for many families. There is a continuum along which separated or divorced families function, from the type of cooperation that represents the ideal at one end of the spectrum to something known as parental alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) at the other end.
Parental alienation is a set of strategies – attitudes and behaviors – that some parents use in order to emotionally manipulate children, often but not always in divorce situations, to reject the other parent. Based on research with adult children of PAS, as well as “targeted parents,” the following strategies have been identified as the major tools used by one parent to alienate the other:
- Badmouthing the targeted parent – such as telling the child that the other parent does not love him or her; or telling the child that the other parent is crazy, dangerous, and unworthy when this is not true.
o Interfering with the child’s contact with the targeted parent such as throwing out gifts and letters from the other parent; calling excessively during the other parent’s time; picking the child up early or dropping the child off late; forbidding mention or pictures of the other parent; scheduling competing activities during parenting time; or excessive monitoring or forbidding communication or visitation with the other parent.
- Manipulating the child to reject the targeted parent – such as withdrawing love or making child feel guilty for having a relationship with other parent; forcing the child to choose between his or her parents; creating conflict between the child and the other parent; encouraging dependency on him or herself; interrogating the child after visits with the other parent; providing inappropriate information to the child (details of the marriage, divorce, finances, or court); or allowing child to decide whether to be with the parent when the schedule has been contractually specified.
- Undermining the child’s relationship with the targeted parent – such as asking the child to spy on the other parent; encouraging or allowing the child to call the other parent by his or first name; encouraging or allowing the child to call someone else “Mom” or “Dad”; or asking the child to keep secrets from the other parent; changing the child’s name to exclude the role of the other parent.
- Undermining the targeted parent’s role in the child’s life – such as refusing to provide the other parent with information (medical, school, or activities); refusing to provide others (school, doctors, or coaches) with the other parent’s information; having stepparents refer themselves to others (schools or doctors) as “Mom” or “Dad”; preventing the other parent from attending medical, academic, sport, or social activities; saying bad things about the other parent to school, doctors, or other authorities; not inviting or acknowledging the other parent at important events (birthdays or graduations); or diminishing the importance of the other parent’s role in rearing the child to the child and others.
- Interfering with the child’s relationship with friends and family of the targeted parent – such as limiting contact with the extended family of the other parent; or saying bad things about the extended family to the child or within child’s hearing.
When parental alienation strategies are exhibited by an effective and obsessed alienating parent, it may result in a child succumbing to the pressure to choose sides. Such a choice – although it entails the loss of the targeted parent – reduces the stress on the child by removing him from the middle of a power struggle and loyalty conflict. When children ally with one parent against the other, they tend to exhibit the following behaviors of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS):
- Campaign of Denigration – The child becomes obsessed with hatred of the targeted parent. Parents who were once loved and valued, seemingly overnight, become hated and feared. This often happens so quickly that the targeted parent cannot believe that a loving child has turned into a hateful, spiteful person who refuses to so much as share a meal. It must be kept in mind that when there is legitimate reason for the child’s fear or hostility towards the targeted parent, such as founded abuse or neglect, the negative reaction to the parent is not considered PAS. It is only when there is no legitimate cause, and yet the child behaves as if the targeted parent is to be feared and despised, that the most likely explanation is PAS.
- Weak, Frivolous, Absurd Rationale for Denigration – The objections made in the campaign of denigration are often not of the magnitude that would lead a child to hate a parent, such as slurping soup or serving spicy food. One alienated child was reported to complain that the targeted parent did not punish her enough. Another’s major complaint was that the parent did not allow the child to nap on the couch.
- Lack of Ambivalence – It is a truism of development that children are ambivalent about both of their parents. Even the best of parents are imperfect or set limits for children that cause resentment and frustration. A hallmark of PAS, however, is that the child expresses no ambivalence about the alienating parent, demonstrating an automatic, reflexive, idealized support. The child acts as if she has no mixed feelings or ever has negative reactions to the alienating parent. Alienated children describe the alienating parent as perfect, brilliant, and heroic. One parent becomes all good, while the other becomes all bad. Even much older children who typically express mixed feelings about all sorts of people in their lives – teachers, friends, coaches, and so forth – claim to have no mixed feelings whatsoever about the alienating parent. As one PAS child proudly proclaimed, “I love my father to death, and I would do anything for Daddy.”
- Independent Thinker Phenomenon – The child adamantly claims that the negative feelings towards the targeted parent are wholly his or her own, and the alienating parent defends the child’s right to make decisions regarding visitation. These children deny that their feelings about the targeted parent are in any way influenced by the alienating parent. An alienated child may say, “Dad, I don’t want to see you again, and Mom had nothing to do with this. I made this decision all on my own.” The independent thinker phenomenon contributes to the difficulty in countering PAS. An observer might conclude that the child has been brainwashed or unduly influenced but, to the child, the experience is authentic. The more one tries to talk a PAS child out of these beliefs, the more attached to those beliefs he or she becomes. The ownership children take of the alienation through the independent thinker phenomenon is one of the strongest weapons alienating parents have at their disposal. The child no longer requires the alienating parent to tell him what to believe because he has adopted those beliefs.
- Absence of Guilt – PAS children will assert that the targeted parent does not deserve to see them. Gratitude for gifts, favors, or child support provided by the targeted parent is nonexistent. PAS children will try to get whatever they can from the targeted parent, believing that it is owed to them and that because that parent is such a despicable person, he doesn’t deserve to be treated with respect or gratitude. Psychologist Richard Warshak has noted the particularly negative effect of this aspect of PAS on the character of the children, who are encouraged to be selfish, manipulative, and exploitive.
- Reflexive Support for Alienating Parent – There is no willingness or attempt to be impartial when faced with disagreements between the parents. The PAS child has no interest in hearing the targeted parent’s point of view. PAS children often make the case for the alienating parent better than the parent does. Nothing the targeted parent could do or say would make any difference to the PAS child. Their mind has been made up (for them). A targeted parent could wave written documentation proving the rightness of his or her case or point and the child will have no interest in even looking at or acknowledging the existence of the evidence.
- Use of Borrowed Scenarios – PAS children often make accusations towards the targeted parent that utilize phrases and ideas adopted wholesale from the alienating parent. One clue that a scenario is borrowed from an alienating parent is the child’s use of language and ideas that she does not seem to understand, such as making accusations that cannot be supported with detail or using words that cannot be defined. For example, an alienated child called his father a womanizer when he had no idea what the word meant. Another alienated child was provided with a script written by the mother, which the girl was to enact with her father during visitation. At some point in the “play,” the girl was to scream that her father was a bad father and run out of the room crying. This is what lends PAS its feel of programming. Children will adamantly claim things to be true when they do not even understand the words they are saying or it appears as if they are following a script provided to them.
- Spread of Alienation to Extended Family of Targeted Parent – Finally, the hatred of the targeted parent spreads to her extended family. Not only is the targeted parent denigrated, despised, and avoided but so too is her entire family. Formerly beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are suddenly avoided and rejected. Alienated children have been known to miss funerals, weddings, and other important, once-in-a-lifetime events.