For numerous reasons, like so many of us, I love Brené Brown’s work. Her latest book, Braving The Wilderness, really knocked it out of the park! Chapter four is titled “People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.” YES!
While she doesn’t specifically address it, the topic of parental alienation came up for me during the explanation of dehumanization. For almost a decade, I have witnessed the gaping distance between my beloved and his biological children. Before I even entered the picture, their relationship was on shaky ground. With the three kiddos all under the age of ten when the divorced happened, it is safe to assume who was influencing the negative view they had of their father.
Brené writes, “the term ‘emotional safety’ is often used to mean I don’t have to listen to any point of view that’s different from mine, that I don’t like, that I think is wrong, that will hurt my feelings, or that is not up to my standards of political correctness.” After she dug deeper, her discovery was people were using dehumanizing language and behavior to establish their boundaries.
Michelle Maiese, the chair of the philosophy department at Emmanuel College, defines dehumanization as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.” It starts with creating an enemy image. “As we take sides, lose trust, and get angrier and angrier, we not only solidify an idea of our enemy, but also start to lose our ability to listen, communicate, and practice even a modicum of empathy.”
Within months of the start of us dating, I became the enemy and was labeled “dangerous” to his children. It was so unbelievable because his ex-wife had NEVER met me. She would declare that anyone dating the likes of me certainly did not care about the well-being of his children. That was that and she refused to listen.
For years, I tried to be a good woman/mom in the eyes of the eight-year old boy who spent a few hours a month with our family. Walking on eggshells was useless because even one misstep made it back to his home in the form of an exaggerated story of pain and drama. My lovely beau was so torn up from this distorted rigidity. He loved me, he loved his children and they were demanding he make a choice. One or the other. Right or wrong.
From the stories I’ve read about parental alienation, disgruntled divorced parents do this quite frequently. For us, it started with the girlfriend invading their territory and has now evolved into a complete and total blackout mode against their father. The heartbroken man in my home has not spoken to his son in over a year or his daughters in almost three.
This is all so wrong. However, to read the book and having their behavior be explained was helpful in wrapping our minds around the how. Of course, the pain is not less. These children were robbed of a loving father. Their perception of him has been tainted by untruths rooted in fear.
If only their mother had chosen the path of courage. It would have been more difficult to hate us and their world would have forever been different.