The very nature of the form of abuse called Parental Alienation is one that has the power to turn every aspect of the lives it touches seemingly upside-down. Powered by subtle and not so subtle, conscious and unconscious implementation of mind-control and brainwashing, the alienating parent systematically turns a child against the "target" parent.
In their book A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, Michael Jeffries and Dr. Joel Davies present for alienated parents a case study that offers several perspectives on this upside-down world that the entire, fractured family begins inhabiting at the onset of this form of abuse.
Jeffries and Davies began their work together when Jeffries enlisted the psychologist’s help in dealing with his own family issues following his divorce. In A Family’s Heartbreak, Jeffries, a journalist by trade, has crafted a resource that reads with all of the real suspense that naturally goes along with the mounting tension of an alienator’s gradual overtaking of their child’s mind in an effort to use the child as a weapon against the other parent.
One of the difficulties with describing or discussing or writing about parental alienation is the seemingly knee-jerk dismissals of the condition as nothing more than a misogynistic attack on women. Though all experts on the behavior agree that both men and women can exhibit alienating behavior. Jeffries deals with the problem of gender pronouns in the book’s introduction, explaining that in his case the alienator was a woman, but making clear that this is not true in all cases. "I sincerely apologize to all alienated Moms if I make it appear that only Dads are victims of parental alienation," Jeffries writes. "I tried not to confuse [the reader] by using one set of pronouns to tell my family’s story and another set of pronouns for generic references."
The book itself is constructed of several storytelling elements that keep things fresh. Narrative sections tell the story of the divorce and the subsequent escalation of abuse delivered via the words and actions of Jeffries youngest son who bore the weight of the abuse and, as children will, played the role of "caretaker" for the emotionally crippled abusive parent. Dialogues similar to scripts allow Jeffries and Davies to "explain" the background and motives for this form of abuse to the reader as Jeffries asks the real questions that a target parent is puzzling over: "Why is my child acting this way? Do they really hate me? Why is my ex doing this? What will happen? What should I do?" The third story-telling element used by Jeffries is the open journals and letters to Adam (the child in the middle) where a target parent tries to make sense of what is happening all around him, and writes down the things that he wishes he could say to his child, but which would surely be spat back in his face if he dared try voice them.
The story will resound in a particularly comforting and familiar way to a targeted parent as Jeffries describes the warning signs that he unwittingly dismissed during the marriage, but which resurfaced after his announcement that he was filing for divorce. Also explored are the particulars of increasingly dysfunctional relations within the fractured family, and the desperation of a parent powerless to intercede and stop the abuse.
Through its use of client/professional dialogues, A Family’s Hearbreak offers not only a case study, but professional insight into the psychology that leads a parent to cling unfairly to a child to supply their emotional stability at great peril to the child’s own developing personality.
One of the most difficult challenges facing the targeted parent is the difficulty in relying upon professionals such as psychologists, counselors, attorneys, guardians ad litem, and judges who truly do not understand PAS and who have not dedicated any serious studied to it. In a DadsDivorce inverview with Jeffries he admits that he was lucky to find a psychologist who truly understood the dynamics of PAS.
Jeffries handles the difficult subject with a mastery that comes from not only his personal experience but also his professional understanding of how to make the incomprehensible as clear as it can be. Suggest this book to a friend who doesn’t know where to go for help.
Rick Ortiz is the editor of DadsDivorce.com