Meaning of Empathy – APA
empathy n. understanding a person from his or her frame of reference rather than one’s own, or vicariously experiencing that person’s feelings, perceptions, and thoughts. Empathy does not, of itself, entail motivation to be of assistance, although it may turn into sympathy or personal distress, which may result in action. In psychotherapy, therapist empathy for the client can be a path to comprehension of the client’s cognitions, affects, motivations, or behaviors. See also perspective taking. —empathic or —empatheticadj.—empathizevb.
Definition of psychopathology – APA
1. the scientific study of mental disorders, including their theoretical underpinnings, etiology, progression, symptomatology, diagnosis, and treatment. This broad discipline draws on research from numerous areas, such as psychology, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychiatry, neurology, and endocrinology. The term in this sense is sometimes used synonymously with abnormal psychology.
2. the behavioral or cognitive manifestations of such disorders. The term in this sense is sometimes considered synonymous with mental disorder itself. —psychopathological adj. —psychopathologist n.
I was about to write about children who are triangulated into the divorce or separation of their parents this morning, when I opened the comment section and found a comment under the article I wrote about the death of Steve Miller M.D. The comment was anonymous and said “good riddance.”
Whilst I am used to this kind of commentary on the matter of the abuse of children in divorce and separation (I wonder why we ever called it anything else), the fact that someone came here and, presumably in a fit of indignantion, posted those words in order to relieve themselves of rage, made me stop and think. It made me wonder what happened to this person in their childhood perhaps, to cause such a lack of empathy and compassion and how much this absence of humanity infects the child protection world we work in.
Pyschopathology underpins what we call alienation of children, from the shared psychotic delusion which was written about in the UK in 2006 and which I first wrote about in 2013 (and which was being used in Court in the eighties and nineties by Dr Hamish Cameron, my mentor in this work), to pathological enmeshment, which Steve Miller spoke and wrote about extensively. The most extreme on this spectrum is the conscious and deliberate triangulation of children into parental rage, so much so that the child is murdered in an act of revenge, which is defined by psychiatric conditions such as the Medea Complex.
Medea complex a mother’s wish to kill her children as a means of revenge against the father. The term is derived from Greek mythology, in which Medea killed her children fathered by Jason after he deserted her for a younger woman. See also filicide.Source – APA
The recent death of Daniel Hodgson, at the hands of his mother Carol, explains exactly why children of divorce and separation urgently need protection from parents, whose psychopathology, plus complete control, puts them in serious danger. The lack of empathy and compassion for a child and in a child, which is the defining feature in alienation cases and which is seen in the child who hyper aligns and rejects a parent with contempt, is what underpins the parental behaviours which cause alienation. It seems it also underpins the behaviours of some of those who oppose the work being done to bring the problem to light.
What is known popularly as ‘parental alienation’, was and still is in the UK, recognised via psychiatric and psychological diagnosis of parental behaviour, which is performed I hasten to add, by psychiatrists and psychologists not psychotherapists (as twitter would lead one to believe). Steve Miller M.D. worked with the concept of pathological enmeshment as an underlying behaviour seen in parents whose children reject a parent outright and having been mentored by a child/adolescent psychiatrist, my own work in treatment of children affected by alienation, is focused upon protecting children from parental psychopathologies. The very reason we must protect children from those behaviours, is that harm done to children by psychopathology is on a spectrum from mild, in which the child becomes unsettled due to anxiety in the family system, to severe, in which a child loses their life in the care of a parent with control over them.
The risks to children, of being in the care of unwell parents in divorce and separation are extraordinarily high and when the rejected parent is placed at the margins of the child’s life, they are helpless to protect the child. This is why raising awareness of the underlying psychopathologies in alienation of children is so utterly essential, there is risk to life, health and wellbeing in not doing so. Currently, with the label parental alienation, being surrounded by campaigns to portray it as something which doesn’t exist, shining a light on the underlying psychopathologies involved is vital.
So thank you to the anonymous commentor for stopping by and showing us what contempt plus lack of empathy and compassion looks like, on an article about a man* who worked tirelessly to protect children from contempt and lack of empathy. The irony is not lost on those of us who do this work and provides yet more evidence of why this work is so important and why we must continue to raise awareness of the plight of children who are abused in divorce and separation.
I am very sure that Steve, if he were here, would have been the first to point that out.
*Steve Miller M.D, was board certified in both Internal and Emergency Medicine and was also on the teaching faculty at Harvard Medical School where he helped physicians make better clinical decisions in, for example, heart surgery. He had many years experience in Behavioural Medicine – a speciality that focuses upon the interface between medicine and psychology.
Karen your work continues to be excellent and your insight into this phenomenon is outstanding. Our cultures, both in the US, UK and elsewhere have degraded to the place where any descending thoughts, ideas or opinions are met with hatred and distain. Many of our peoples are no longer of the ilk to discuss various ideas or thoughts or even work toward a mutual understanding and we see this in the courts every day when addressing parental alienation. Thank you for what you, Steve Miller was a good friend and colleague to us all.
Karen, While the circumstances giving rise to this article – someone’s death and an anonymous commentor ridiculing the deceased and his work helping children – is shameful to say the least, this contemptuous, unsympathetic and appalling comment brought about one of the most reasoned, informative and succinct post from you on what is behind one parent’s motivation to destroy the relationship their children have with the other parent in separation and divorce. Thank you and keep on doing what you do. Sincerely, T.O.
The difficulty for most of us is our utter ignorance of the existence of alienation until we’re rejected and trying to understand why.
Whilst we’re in a healthy relationship with our children we cannot conceive of our children ever rejecting us. We assume that their attachment to us, is as unassailable as our attachment to them. We can’t apply any advice on responding to alienation when we’re ignorant of the existence of alienation.
Two of my 3 previously alienated daughters are now in contact with me. And the third has spent time with me but made it plain that she doesn’t want a “relationship” She prefers something more akin to casual acquaintance.
I lost children and got adults back to some degree.
I guess this is progress and that I am very lucky – but in truth, I no longer believe in anything related to human relationships.
I support my girls as well as I can and I conceal my sense of loss. But I don’t think I’ll ever recover. I still lost my children. I was still rejected by the most important people in my life and I carry that trauma and loss every waking moment.
I tell myself that it’s my purpose now to help them recover from their abuse by being available as much as they want me and by pretending everything is good. But it will never be good again, each of them has some manner of psychological problems- panic attacks, depression, drug use, promiscuity.
And they haven’t returned thinking that their view of me was a distortion, rather that they’ve “forgiven” me.
They still regard their father as a vulnerable victim. All exhibit parentification and spousification
I think every solicitors office should carry a leaflet informing parents about the damage caused by alienation and identifying sources of support.
During the divorce, it was a legal requirement to attend meetings to try to agree financial arrangements – at our own cost. Why is it not a requirement to attend training about behaviour that has the potential to inflict serious psychological harm upon our children.? This could also be at our own expense.
I don’t believe that most alienating and abusive parents recognise that they are being abusive, nor do they appreciate the consequences for their children.
If they had emotional maturity, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. I don’t think self awareness is a predominant aspect of their personality.
Can we not engage all the agencies involved in children’s well-being to lobby government to require attendance at child welfare courses that illustrate and inform divorcing parents about alienation, and the emotional needs of children of divorced parents.