Targeted parents who are harshly cut out of their children’s lives are experiencing a painful unresolved loss. This type of loss is often described as an “ambiguous loss,” which is used to describe the nature of trauma, grief or mourning people endure when they have experienced a loss that is open-ended (Boss, 1990).
Parents encountering alienation from their children are experiencing an open-ended loss. This type of loss is more difficult than morning a death. When someone we love passes, the absence of the person is final and the mourner recognizes this finality.
When a family breaks up through divorce or parental alienation, it is very difficult for any parent to believe in the permanence of the situation. Targeted parents know that their children are physically alive and although they cannot get near them, their children remain psychologically/emotionally alive in their minds.
The overwhelming panic and emotional pain that the targeted parent feels is thus real and hope is kept alive by knowing that one day things may change. The targeted parents grieving never stops unless they are reunited with their children. Yet, fantasies of reunion persists and the targeted parent feels that by saying I love you and I miss you, their child will return. This rarely works. In turn, the targeted parent becomes more and more frustrated as their wishes are not answered. Suddenly they find themselves in a depression because they become drained from their failed reunification efforts.
Losses that remain vague and uncertain create a sense of waiting and wondering which is extremely stressful for people. Of all the losses experienced in personal relationships, ambiguous loss is the most devastating because it remains unclear, undetermined and immobilizes you. Parents cannot begin to grieve this type of loss because the situation is undetermined. Targeted parents plummet from hope to hopelessness and back again.
Without knowing for sure that you can reconnect with your child, the absent child stays emotionally present. As the targeted parent, you may feel that you are caught in limbo not knowing if the separation is permanent or temporary. This feeling of limbo therefore disallows the targeted parent from reaching total acceptance of the loss and moving on with his or her life.
Dr. Sue Cornbluth is a nationally recognized parenting expert in high conflict parenting situations. She is a regular mental health contributor for an array of networks and television shows such as NBC, FOX and CBS. Dr. Sue has also contributed to several national publications. Her new best-selling book,Building Self Esteem in Children and Teens Who Are Adopted or Fostered is available now. To find out more about her work, please visit Dr. Sue’s website.