All too often I find myself reflecting on recent events in my life. Arguably, this could be called pro-crastination, but I prefer to see it as self-reflection.
During such a recent period of self-reflection (okay, lets call it pro-crastination for arguments sake!) I considered the recent positives in my life that have come out of this ongoing battle of mine against parental alienation. This in itself presents itself as somewhat of a paradox. The very idea that a physically and mentally draining battle to simply be a father to my three beautiful children has provided me with beneficial opportunities that I would otherwise have not been presented with.
“Although the tragedy of losing a child was never really minimised, there was in fact a personal gain within the loss itself for many of the parents.”
I recently read an article that informed me that the above idea I was reflecting on is known within psycological terms as post-traumatic growth. This term was coined in 1995 by Richard Tedeschi, PhD and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD to focus on the concept of one growing as a result of managing trauma. This term came from a decade long study of theirs regarding bereaved parents. Their findings were that although the tragedy of losing a child was never really minimised, there was in fact a personal gain within the loss itself for many of the parents.
Tedeschi and Calhoun found that some of the parents in their study chose to extract meaning from their loss. These parents found themselves moving towards and engaging in activism and acts of compassion and altruism that they wouldn’t have otherwise found themselves engaging in had they not experienced their trauma.
Targeted parents affected by parental alienation often describe their suffering and trauma as that of grieving for children that are still alive. As such I can see a clear parallel between Tedeschi and Calhouns’ observations of their grieving parents altruistic behaviours and that of the behaviours of alienated parents I have come across. There is an incalculable number of alienated parents across the developed world passionately campaigning, advocating and pleading online for some kind of social change that will effectively challenge the abuse that is parental alienation. They also ultimately showing, providing support for others in similar cicumstances. I have covered this subject in more detail in a previous article entitled The Awe-Inspiring Online Community of Parental Alienation.
In returning to the discussion of positive opportunities that present themselves from traumatic events, it could be argued that we have some kind of influence on our environment and in turn can often maximize our odds of a favorable outcome with good information in any given situation. However due to the very nature of life itself there will always be a chance factor. Trauma can occur to anyone of us and invariably it will be unexpected. In such cases we have little to no control over such events.
“The key component in attempting to maintain a realistic level of stability with regards to our own happines, is our ability to adjust our expectations.”
We can, however, to some degree control our responses. In such situations we are faced with two options: We can choose to respond with a sense of acceptance and seek meaning and growth. Or alternatively, we ultimately give in to such circumstances. In essence the resulting response will be the difference and all too often a pivotal point in one’s life. At the risk of stating the obvious how we respond will affect the way we feel. And how we feel will ultimately determine whether or not we are unhappy with our life overall.
The argument I’m putting forward here is that the key component in attempting to maintain a realistic level of stability with regards to our own happines, is our ability to adjust our expectations. The point being that we can attempt to limit our unhappiness by cultivating our ability to constantly adjust our internal expectations.
Any resulting feeling that we experience in response to an event will generally fall into two categories: good and bad. Over time, good feelings will collectively nurture and encourage conditions for what we define as happiness. And obviously too many bad feelings are the cause of unhappiness.
An easier way of viewing this last point is to view good and positive feelings as sensations and emotions that occur when reality meets or exceeds our internal subjective expectations. And with that in mind, the point is that bad and negative feelings as sensations and emotions occur when reality falls short of our internal subjective expectations.
So in essence, it all comes down to our internal subjective expectations. Many of those that subscribe to this point of view often allow themselves to come to an all too easy conclusion. And that is that the key to happiness is to have low expectations. With this point of view the objective reality almost always meets or exceeds internal subjective expectations. And on the surface, at least, it should make sense.
However, here in lies the problem. Living a life with low expectations is just not feasible. For example. If a professional football player started every match not expecting to play to their best, they likely wouldn’t stay a professional fotball player for much longer.
“Periods of unhappiness are required for true happiness to be much more appreciated.”
Therefore the argument shouldn’t be to eliminate happiness, but in actual fact to limit it. In reality, elimination of happiness would just not be sustainable. And more importantly, periods of unhappiness are required for true happiness to be much more appreciated.
So therefore, arguably the secret lies in our ability to modify and adjust the level of our expectations when such a shortfall presents itself to us. In simpler terms, we must allow ourselves to be flexible in how we manage and navigate our perception as and when various scenarios present themselves to us.
Most of us are aware that having meaningful relationships, purposeful work and gratitude are all key to a happy enough life. And all available research informs us that the way in which we perceive, understand and work towards happiness is very much driven by our genetic make-up. However the vast majority of us, attempt to pursue happiness in whichever way we believes suits us best. However my point here is that far too many of us don’t understand, comprehend or simply know enough about minimising happiness.
In order for anyone of us to have a good enough chance of reaching a reasonable level of happiness we must first familiarise ourselves with the strategies and actions that limit dissatisfaction in our lives.
“I used to see my three beautiful children every single day. I have now not seen them for over a year.”
And this is where I would like to re-introduce the link between the above discussion and managing the trauma that is parental alienation. If someone had told me in 2016 that my then partner and I would separate resulting in her denying me any contact with my children and then attempt to abduct them abroad, well of course I would not have believed them. However this is not the point I’m trying to make. The point is this, since 2016 I have had to, like so many other alienated parents deal with, manage and live with the traumatic fallout of the emotional abuse that is parental alienation. I used to see my three beautiful children every single day. I have now not seen them since 2016.
I fight day in and day out against a judicial and legal system that is out-dated, misinformed and ultimately not fit for purpose. This trauma, again like so many other alienated parents, has taken me through a severe depressive episode. However I now find myself in a different state of mind. I do not love my children any less. I do not miss them any less. I am no less motivated to fight to be a part of their lives. However, I have had to modify and adjust the level of my expectations regarding my ongoing battle against parental alienation. Either consciously or subconsciously I have become flexible in managing and navigating my own perceptions as and when certain battles are won or lost, regarding fighting parental alienation. The harsh reality is that I have had to accept that for the foreseeable future, however long that may be, that I no longer have the privilege of seeing my children everyday. In actual fact I do not see them at all. This is just one of the many harsh realities I have had to accept in order for me to have and maintain a certain amount of happiness in my life. During my severe depressive period I had no happiness at all. Obviously that was not sustainable in the long term.
To conclude, in order for me to cope and manage with the acceptance of such harsh realities, I have found myself extracting some kind of meaning from my loss. And this in turn is where we return to the theory of post-traumatic growth. Like so many other alienated parents I have found myself drawn towards and engaging in activism and campaigns for social change. I have also found utlising unused skills and even drawing on skills I was previously not aware of being in possession of. Despite my ongoing loss, there has been a personal gain, I have exponentially grown more as a person than had I not been dealt the cards I were given.
John Green, author of The Fault in our Stars writes “Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”
I am an alienated parent of three. Part-time psychiatric nurse, part-time writer. I am also an online activist against parental alienation. I use my knowledge of mental health and lived experience of parental alienation to promote awareness of parental alienation.