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Chronic Conflicts: What are they and how they may affect your family?

Through research, I have come to the conclusion that while most of us know about Domestic Violence, not surprizing, very few people are aware of the concepts of Hostile-Aggressive Parenting and Parental Alienation. All of the above, are human behaviors which may be present — more or less — in the context of divorce and separation, and they are acting like a chain reaction, triggering one another. In the vast majority of cases, when these behaviors occur in the context of divorce, they are used as court strategies.

Domestic Violence is a sphere of behaviors that range from verbal hostilities — yelling, screaming, put-downs, name-calling, harsh criticism, blaming, mocking, and sarcastic remarks — to threats of harm, intimidation or physical attacks.

Hostile-Aggressive Parenting and Parental Alienation – which anti-domestic violence Organizations argue that are nothing more than Domestic Violence by Proxy – are considered by many health care, and legal experts, to be unhealthy, anti-social, abusive behavior, which is emotionally damaging, and contrary to the best interest of a child.

Although Hostile-Aggressive Parenting and Parental Alienation, are often confused with Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), they are not the same. HAP and PA refer to the behaviours, actions and decisions of a person, whereas, PAS relates to the psychological condition of the child. In the vast majority of cases HAP and PA are the cause of PAS.

Hostile-Aggressive Parenting and Parental Alienation, are both, very serious and damaging forms of abuse and maltreatment that parents, and even other family members engage in. Although PA is more severe than HAP in terms of behavior patterns, in the vast majority of cases, Hostile-Aggressive Parenting serves as a starter for Parental Alienation. Anger and resentment towards the other parent builds up and escalates over time to the worst cases of PA – where contact of one parent and his/her children, is completely severed.

PA, and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), was defined by Dr. Richard Alan Gardner (April 28, 1931 – May 25, 2003) – an American psychiatrist known for proposing the controversial hypothesis in 1985. He developed the idea through personal observation in his private practice to explain what he considered to be an epidemic of false accusations of child sexual abuse.

Since then, Parental Alienation has taken a life of its own, but still remains, a very highly disputed term by men’s groups, women’s groups, experts and those who work in the legal and health profession. Everyone has an opinion about its existence and validity, and they usually are as various and as many as their possessors.
According to Dr. Gardner, PA refers to the behavior of one parent or guardian, who tries to interfere with the relationship of the child with the other parent.

Parental Alienation Syndrome, is referred to, as a behavior of a child who expresses unjustified hatred, or unreasonably strong dislike of one parent, making access by the rejected parent difficult or impossible. These feelings are influenced by the negative attitude, and comments made by the other parent in front of the child.
Parental Alienation is also referred to, as a social dynamic, generally occurring due to divorce or separation. Terms related to Parental Alienation, include child alienation, pathological alignments, visitation refusal, pathological alienation, the toxic parent, and parental alienation syndrome; the last term is the specific formulation proposed by Dr. Gardner, and is not well accepted in the medical world. Parental Alienation lacks a single definition, its existence, and characteristics, and in particular the description of the term as a syndrome, has been subject to still-unresolved debates.

Despite the concept being poorly-defined, as well as some premature conclusions, a survey of mental health and legal professionals indicates that there is increased support for the existence of Parental Alienation, but reluctance to accept the concept as a Syndrome because of a variety of other descriptions of behaviors believed to represent the underlying concept of PAS.

The parent that the child aligns with — the aligned parent — may engage in alienating behaviors, by undermining the other parent: these behaviors may be conscious and deliberate, or alternatively may reflect a lack of awareness of how their actions affect their children.

Direct alienating behaviors occur when one parent actively undermines the other parent, such as making derogatory remarks about the other parent or telling the child that the other parent is responsible for the separation or the cause of financial difficulties, etc.

Indirect alienation behaviors occur when one parent fails to support access or contact with the other parent, or implicitly accepts the child’s negative behavior and comments towards the other parent.
Nonetheless one fact remains undisputed: Regardless of name and definition, PA is known to be an unhealthy behavior, which damages the child psychologically, and it unjustly deprives the child of one parent.

HAP was defined by Family Conflict Resolution Services, of Oakville, Ontario in the late 1990’s. Vernon Beck who was the Program Coordinator, has done extended research about HAP and its underlying causes. Early in 1998, as a result of research in the multitude of problems involving children and families affected by separation and divorce, Family Conflict Resolution Services, applied the term “Hostile-Aggressive Parenting (HAP)” to describe the multitude of damaging behaviours that parents – who were involved in separation and divorce – exhibited. Since Family Conflict Resolution Services first introduced this term in 1998 and released the first draft copies of Understanding and effectively dealing with Hostile-Aggressive Parenting (HAP) to the public, use of the term Hostile-Aggressive Parenting or HAP as it is commonly referred to, has grown significantly world-wide. The publication has been written with a purpose to bring greater clarity, awareness and understanding of Hostile-Aggressive Parenting and its remedies, and was meant to be used as a tool by professionals and laypersons to clearly identify parents/guardians who may be suspect of being classified as HAP.

HAP was defined as a general pattern of behaviour, manipulation, actions or decision-making of a person that either directly or indirectly creates undue difficulties or interferences in the relationship of a child with another parent; promotes or maintains an unwarranted unfairness or inequality in the parenting arrangements between a child’s parents and/or guardians; promotes ongoing and unnecessary conflict between parents and/or guardians which adversely affects the parenting and the well-being of a child.

FCRS hoped that the article would assist legal and health care professionals, the courts and others in the community who work to assist children and families in situations where high conflict divorce and separation is a problem.

FCRS maintain in their report that HAP is not a difficult issue to deal with providing it is dealt with effectively and promptly through the collaborative efforts of the court system and the community.
The recommendations and procedures contained in the document can, with the meaningful support from the court, legal and health care professionals and other supportive persons in the community, effectively control and in most cases eliminate this form of child abuse and maltreatment as well as reduce much of the needless, most severe and protracted litigation in our family courts today, which is causing so much harm and trauma to children and families.

HAP is most often identified in individuals with controlling and bullying personalities or those with mild to severe personality disorders. HAP can be a factor in all types of parenting arrangements including sole maternal custody, sole paternal custody and joint custody. While HAP can be present in almost any situation where two or more people involved in a child’s life are at odds with each other over how a child may be raised or influenced by the parties, to some extent even when couples are still living together, PA can only be present in the context of separation.

Hostile-Aggressive Parenting as well as Parental Alienation are most apparent in child-custody disputes, and are used most often as a tool to align the child with one of the parents during litigation over custody. Hostile-Aggressive Parenting is not limited to the biological parents but also applies to any guardian – grandparents, extended family members, daycare providers, and to any other person who may be involved in caring, and rearing of a child. In some cases, it may even involve a parent in dispute with the child’s grandparents, sometimes the parent’s very own parent.
Any form of interference to a normal, healthy relationship between a child and a person caused by another person or agency having some control or influence over the child, is considered by experts to be wrong, and to ultimately cause emotional and psychological harm to the child.

In my view, Parental Alienation and Hostile-Aggressive Parenting are chronic conflicts – long-lasting and recurrent disputes, which happen when couples litigate. They steam from anger, need of control and retaliation. I see Hostile-Aggressive Parenting as the bridge between Parental Alienation and Domestic Violence, and yes, as ill-fated as it sounds, I believe that some parents, use easily PA and DV as weapons in our Family Courts – for instance, parents lie in court about being alienated from their child to divert attention from their own abusive behavior; parents also lie in court about the other parent abusing them, or the children, because they are looking for some sort of revenge against the other parent, and they see this as a sure way for the court to intervene and to break all ties between them and their former spouse, and in many cases between the children and the other parent.

Each case is unique in its own way, and it can never be categorized as ‘one size fits all’; however, chronic conflict is considered to be as damaging as any other form of child abuse, because it inflicts emotional pain upon the child and it can absolutely run an entire family down – financially, and emotionally – if not contained in time.

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