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The Destructive Sole Parent Custody Model

Adapted by Peter van der Voorde.

"Most people who brainwash… use methods similar to those of prison guards who recognize that physical control is never easily accomplished without the cooperation of the prisoner. The most effective way to gain that cooperation is through subversive manipulation of the mind and feelings of the victim, who then becomes a psychological, as well as a physical, prisoner." -  from an Amnesty International publication, "Report on Torture", which depicts the brainwashing of prisoners of war.

Isolation

- Deprives children of social support, effectively rendering him/her unable to resist

- Makes children dependent upon abusive sole custodial parent.

Develops an intense concern with self. Once a child is away from longstanding emotional support and thus reality checks, it is fairly easy to set a stage for brainwashing. Psychologically abusive sole custodial parents work to isolate children from friends and family, whether directly, by requiring the individuals to forsake friends and family for the sake of the sole custodial parent, or indirectly, by preaching the necessity to demonstrate one's love for her/him by "hating" one's father, mother, family, friends.

Abusive sole custodial parents are not outward-looking, but inward-looking, insisting that their children find all comfort and support and a replacement family within the new sole custodial parent household. Cut off from friends, relatives, previous relationships, abusive sole custodial parents surround their children and hammer rigid ideologies into their consciousnesses, saturating their senses with specific doctrines and requirements of the sole custodial parent.

Isolated from everyone but those within the sole custodial parents' group, children become dependent upon group members and leaders and find it difficult if not impossible to offer resistance to the sole parent's ideologies. They become self-interested and hyper-vigilant, very fearful should they incur the disapproval of the sole parents' group, which now offers the only support available to them which has the approval of the sole custodial parent.

Warning signs

The seed of extremism exists wherever a sole custodial parent demands all the free time of a child, insisting their child be at her/his beck and call when he/she demands it, and calling the child to account if she/he isn't, is critical or disapproving of any involvement with friends and family outside their sphere of influence, encourages secrecy by asking that their children not share what they have seen or heard at home with outsiders, is openly, publicly, and repeatedly critical of other biological family members of the child such as the other parent or family members who don't share the sole custodial parents' ideology, is critical when their children visit or come into contact with anyone with a different view of reality from that of the sole custodial parent, checks up on the child in any way, i.e., to determine that the reason they gave for being in contact with others outside of her/his control was valid, or makes contact with those who share the views of the sole custodial parent mandatory, in order for the child to maintain the emotional support of these abusive parents.

Once a child stops interacting openly with others, the sole custodial parents' influence is all that matters. The child is bombarded with the sole custodial parent groups' values and information and there is no one outside this group with whom to share thoughts or who will offer reinforcement or affirmation if the child disagrees with or doubts the values or power of this group.

The process of isolation and the self-doubt it creates allow the sole custodial parent and her/his followers to gain power over the child. These controlling parents may criticize major and minor flaws of the child, sometimes publicly, or remind them of present or past sins. They may call the child names, insult them or ignore them, or practice a combination of ignoring them at some times and receiving them warmly at others, thus maintaining a position of power (i.e., the sole custodial parent calls the shots.)

The sense of humiliation makes children feel they deserve the poor treatment they are receiving and may cause them to allow themselves to be subjected to any and all indignities out of gratefulness that one as unworthy as they feel is allowed to share their life with the sole custodial parent at all. When these abusive parents treat the child well occasionally, they accept any and all crumbs gratefully. Eventually, awareness of how dependent they are on the custodial parent and gratitude for the smallest attention, contributes to an increasing sense of shame and degradation on the part of the children, who begin to abuse themselves with "litanies of self-blame," i.e., "No matter what they do to me, I deserve it, as sinful and wretched as I am. I deserve no better. I have no rights but to go to hell. I should be grateful for everything I receive, even punishment."

Monopolization of Perception

- Fixes attention upon immediate predicament; fosters introspection

- Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by sole custodial parent

- Frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance

Abusive sole custodial parents insist on compliance with trivial demands related to all facets of life: food, clothing, money, household arrangements, conversation, activities and contact with others. They monitor the children's appearances, criticize language and any sign of a child's independent  behaviour. They insist on precise schedules and routines, which may change and be contradictory from day to day or moment to moment, depending on the whims of the sole custodial parent.

At first the child in this situation may think these expectations are unreasonable and may dispute them, but later, either because they want to be at peace or because they are afraid, or because everyone else appears to be complying, they attempt to comply. After all, what real difference does it make if they are not allowed to wear a certain color, or to wear his/her hair in a certain way, to eat certain foods, or say certain words, to go certain places, watch certain things, or associate with certain individuals. In the overall scheme of things, does it really matter? In fact, in the long run, the child begins to reason, it is probably good to learn these disciplines, and after all, as they have frequently been reminded, they are to submit to the authority of the sole custodial parent as unto the Lord. Soon it becomes apparent that the demands will be unending, and increasing time and energy are focused on avoiding the sole custodial parents' disapproval by doing something "wrong." There is a feeling of walking on eggs. Everything becomes important in terms of how the sole custodial parent or her/his associates will respond, and the child's desires, feelings and ideas become insignificant. Eventually, the child may no longer even know what they want, feel or think. The sole custodial parent has so monopolized all of the child's perceptions with trivial demands that children lose their perspective as to the enormity of the situation they are in.

Abusive sole custodial parents may also persuade their child that they have the inside track with God and therefore know how everything should be done. When their behavior results in disastrous consequences, as it often does, their child is blamed. Sometimes these abusive custodial parents may have moments, especially after abusive episodes, when they appear to humble themselves and confess their faults, and the contrast of these moments of vulnerability with their usual pose of being all-powerful endears them to the child and gives hope for some open communication.

Threats sometimes accompany all of these methods. Children are told they will be under God's judgment, under a curse, punished, chastised, chastened if they leave the sole custodial parent and her/his associates or disobeys them. Sometimes the sole custodial parents, themselves, punish the child, and so children can never be sure when abusive custodial parents will make good on the threats which they say are God's idea. The child will begin to focus on what they can do to meet any and all of the sole custodial parents' demands and how to preserve peace in the short run. Abusive sole custodial parents may remove children from their other parent and other members of their biological family, control all the money of the child, arrange marriages, destroy personal items of  their children or hide personal items.

Warning signs:

Preoccupation with trivial demands of daily life, demanding strict compliance with standards of appearance, dress codes, what foods are or are not to be eaten and when, schedules, threats of God's wrath if the sole custodial parents' rules are not obeyed, a feeling of being monitored, watched constantly by the sole custodial parent and/or  her/his associates. In other words, what the sole custodial parent wants, believes and thinks their child should do becomes everything, and the child feel preoccupied with making sure they are meeting the standards. It no longer matters whether the child agrees that the standards are correct, only that they follow them and thus keep the peace and in the good graces of their sole custodial parent.

Induced Debility and Exhaustion

People subjected to this type of parental abuse become worn out by tension, fear and continual rushing about in an effort to meet the sole custodial parents' standards. They must often avoid displays of fear, sorrow or rage, since these may result in ridicule or punishment. Rigid sole custodial parents' demand and require that their child comply with all of their unreasonable and abusive demands, making the exhaustion and ability to resist the emotional and psychological  pressure inflicted on them even worse.

Warning Signs:

Feelings of being overwhelmed by demands, close to tears, guilty if one says no to a request or goes against the abusive parents' standards. Being intimidated or pressured into volunteering for duties attending to the demands of the non custodial parent and subjected to scorn or ridicule when one does not "volunteer." Being rebuked or reproved when the child's interest, desires, needs or wishes are put before the child's responsibility to attend to the demands of the sole custodial parent.

Occasional Indulgences

- Provides motivation for compliance

Abusive sole custodial parents often sense when their children are making plans to leave and may suddenly offer some kind of indulgence, perhaps just love or affection, attention where there was none before, a note or a gesture of concern. Hope that the circumstances of their troubled relationship will change or self doubt ("Maybe I'm just imagining it's this bad,&quot then replace fear or despair and the children decide to stay a while longer. Other sole custodial parents practice sporadic demonstrations of compassion or affection right in the middle of desperate conflict or abusive episodes. This keeps their children off guard and doubting their own perceptions of what is happening.

Some of the brainwashing techniques described are extreme, some sole custodial parents may use them in a disciplined, regular manner while others use them more sporadically. But even mild, occasional use of these techniques is effective in gaining power.

Warning Signs:

Be concerned if as an older child you have had an ongoing desire to leave a sole custodial parent you believe may be abusive, but find yourself repeatedly drawn back in just at the moment you are ready to leave, by a call, a comment or moment of compassion. These moments, infrequent as they may be, are enough to keep hope in change alive and thus you sacrifice years and years to an abusive parent.

Devaluing the Individual

- Creates fear of freedom and dependence upon the sole custodial parent

- Creates feelings of helplessness

- Develops lack of faith in individual capabilities

Abusive sole custodial parents are frequently uncannily able to pick out traits their children are proud of and using those very traits against their children. Those with natural gifts in the areas of music may be told they are proud or puffed up or "anxious to be up front" if they want to use their talents and denied that opportunity. Those with discernment are called judgmental or critical, the merciful are lacking in holiness or good judgment, the peacemakers are reminded the Lord came to bring a sword, not peace. Sometimes efforts are made to convince their children that they really are not gifted teachers or musically talented or prophetically inclined as they believed they were. When a child begins to doubt the one or two special gifts they possess which they have always been sure were God-given, they begin to doubt everything else they have ever believed about themselves, to feel dependent upon the abusive sole custodial parent and afraid to leave the abusers' "care" ("If I've been wrong about even that, how can I ever trust myself to make right decisions ever again?&quot.

Warning Signs:

Unwillingness to allow their children to use their gifts. Establishing rigid boot camp-like requirements for the sake of proving commitment to the sole custodial parent before gifts may be exercised. Repeatedly criticizing natural giftedness by reminding their child they must die to their natural gifts, that Paul, after all, said, "When I'm weak, I'm strong," and that they should expect God to use them in areas other than their areas of giftedness. Emphasizing helps or service to the sole custodial parent as a prerequisite to acceptance by the abuser. This might take the form of requiring that any child wanting to be accepted in any way first have the responsibility of cleaning toilets or cleaning the house for a specified time, that the child wanting to engage in any personal hobbies or activities must first attend to the demands of the sole custodial parent, or that before exercising any gifts at all, members must demonstrate the ultimate loyalty to the abusive sole custodial parent by faithfully demonstrating this loyalty by denouncing the other parent. No consideration is given to the child's age or vulnerability, powerlessness or his/her unique talents or abilities by the sole custodial parent. The rules apply to everyone alike. This has the effect of reducing every child to some kind of lowest common denominator where no one's gifts or natural abilities are valued or appreciated, where the individual is not cherished for the unique blessing he or she is to the body of Christ, where what is most highly valued is service, obedience, submission to authority, and performance without regard to gifts or abilities, vulnerability or, for that matter, individual limitations.

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