Baldwin’s Blunder

Alec Baldwin has definitely blundered. As you likely have seen, he recently left an explosive message filled with insulting and threatening words on his daughter’s cell phone. Following the rant, there was an emergency hearing to determine Baldwin’s visitation rights. The case is ongoing and the hearings are closed to the public at this point. Since the incident, Baldwin has apologized on his web site and two talk shows and, allegedly, has asked to get out of his contract from his most recent show, “30 Rock” in order to deal with his family problems.

This story has brought a difficult problem into the spotlight. That problem is the “parental alienation syndrome” that refers to one parent turning a child against the other parent. This problem usually occurs during periods of high conflict for the parents, especially during divorce. The acrimonious split and divorce of Baldwin and his ex­wife, Kim Basinger, is well known. The years­long custody battle for their daughter Ireland is now also well known. Ireland has been in Basinger’s custody since December of 2000 and apparently Baldwin has had to fight for visitation the whole time. In this situation, it is alleged that Basinger has alienated Baldwin, whether consciously or not, from Ireland and that Ireland reflects that in some of her interactions with her father.

If indeed Baldwin has been a target of parental alienation, his tirade likely came from many years worth of frustration building to the point that he exploded like a volcano. In cases of parental alienation, this commonly happens and plays against the target parent because it makes him or her look worse. On top of this, Baldwin was already vilified as he has been considered by some to be a bully in the past in relation to Basinger and Ireland. Who knows if that really is the case? We don’t know what has really gone on between Baldwin and Basinger and who the real bully is (if there is one).

With all of the rage and vindictiveness that Baldwin and Basinger have toward each other, one can only imagine how this has affected Ireland. The saddest part of this situation is that the parents, who I am sure both love Ireland, have placed her in the middle of their hatred for each other and have likely hurt her psychologically. It’s almost as if she is being used by the parents to get back at each other. The parents may be conscious or totally unconscious of doing this. Either way, the child involved often internalizes the intense emotions of the parents and feels at fault for the problems. This places him or her at great risk to develop depression and anxiety, behavior problems, problems with peers and school performance, and difficulties in their own relationships in the future.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a child in this situation or to be one of the parents, for that matter. From an outside vantage point, seeing how the parents are behaving and seeing how the child is hurt by it, it is easy to see what needs to happen. The parents have to stop putting the child in the middle of their issues and have to put the needs of the child first. These concepts are not complicated, but often do not happen. You can conclude, therefore, that when actually embroiled in an acrimonious marriage or divorce, the intense emotions involved, especially rage, can overcome one’s common
sense and affect his or her insight and judgment. This is what I mean when I say that the parents may be unconsciously putting their child in the middle of things.

I remember coming across a term a long time ago at a conference I was attending. It was roughly called “The IQ negative 30 effect”. The presenter was talking about how, when a person is angry enough, his or her IQ actually seems to drop 30 points and that person does things he or she would never do otherwise. This is probably exactly what happened to Alec Baldwin that day when he left that message. I sincerely doubt he would ever hurt his daughter. He is now, however, stuck in a deeper hole than before in trying to get custody and in being considered by some to be a bully. I certainly hope he is given every opportunity to redeem himself and that the judge will make a custody decision based on Ireland’s best interests, taking into account how both parents have contributed to what has happened.

And what is the message to all of us? When that anger starts to rise, when you feel your blood boiling and it is tempting to act on the anger, take a deep breath, step back, remember poor Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger and Ireland and think of the IQ negative 30 effect. I bet that will help in finding a more productive way to deal with the anger.

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