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Parental Alienation

   Divorce is one of life’s most painful passages.  It is painful for the spouse who wants it, painful for the spouse who feels rejected, and painful for the children.  We can understand and empathize with the spouse who feels wronged and wants revenge, or the spouse who is overwhelmed with anxiety at the thought of losing the children, or the spouse who prefers to forget that the marriage ever was.  But using the children to get revenge, to cope with anxiety, to erase the past, is unacceptable.  Parents must hold themselves to a higher standard.  Parent-child relationships are particularly vulnerable when children are first informed of the impending separation, or  when one parent actually leaves the home.  If your spouse manipulates the children to blame you for the divorce, or to believe you have abandoned them, affection can dissolve overnight as their distress and hurt feelings are channeled into hatred.  The risk becomes multiplied if, for any reason, you have no communication or contact with the children after you leave the home. This keeps you from reassuring the children of your love and helping them understand that they do not have to choose between their parents.

A child who feels caught between two homes may feel that the solution to the conflict is to declare a clear allegiance to one household.  This motive can result in alienation from either parent.  A child who is anxious or angry about the remarriage may channel these feelings into unwarranted hatred of the remarried parent and stepparent.  Or the child’s alienation may express the disappointment of reconciliation wishes that have been dashed by the remarriage.   Regardless of the child’s underlying motivation, if the favored parent welcomes the child’s allegiance and fails to actively promote the child’s affection for the other
parent, the child may cling to a maladaptive solution. Excepted from:  Dr. Richard A. Warshak.  Divorce Poison, Protecting the Parent-Child Bond from a Vindictive Ex, Regan Books, New York
2001
.

The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent. Excerpted from: Gardner, R.A. (1998). The Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition, Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

   PAS is more than brainwashing or programming, because the child has to actually participate in the denigrating of the alienated parent. This is done in primarily the following eight ways:

  • The child denigrates the alienated parent with foul language and severe oppositional behavior.
  • The child offers weak, absurd, or frivolous reasons for his or her anger.
  • The child is sure of him or herself and doesn’t demonstrate ambivalence, i.e. love and hate for the alienated parent, only hate.
  • The child exhorts that he or she alone came up with ideas of denigration. The “independent-thinker” phenomenon is where the child asserts that no one
    told him to do this.

  • The child supports and feels a need to protect the alienating parent.
  • The child does not demonstrate guilt over cruelty towards the alienated parent.
  • The child uses borrowed scenarios, or vividly describes situations that he or she could not have experienced.
  • Animosity is spread to also include the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent.


   In severe cases of parent alienation, the child is utterly brainwashed against the alienated parent. The alienator can truthfully say that the child doesn’t want to spend any time with the other parent, even though he or she has told the child that he has to, it is a court order, etc. The alienator typically responds, “There isn’t anything that I can do about it. I’m not telling the child that he can’t see you.

Alienation advances when the alienating parent  uses the child as a personal therapist.  The child is told about every miserable experience and negative feeling about the alienated parent with great specificity. The child, who is already enmeshed with the parent because his or her identity is still undefined, easily absorbs the parent’s negativity. They become aligned with this parent and feel that they need to be the protector of the alienating parent.

The obsessed alienator is a parent, or sometimes a grandparent, with a cause: to align the children to his or her side and together, with the children, campaign to destroy their relationship with the targeted parent. For the campaign to work, the obsessed alienator enmeshes the children’s personalities and beliefs into their own. This is a process that takes time but one that the children, especially the young, are completely helpless to see and combat. It usually begins well before the divorce is final. The obsessed parent
is angry, bitter or feels betrayed by the other parent. The initial reasons for the bitterness may actually be justified. They could have been verbally and physical abused, raped, betrayed by an affair, or financially cheated. The problem occurs when the feelings won’t heal but instead become more intense because of being forced to continue the relationship with a person they despise because of their common parenthood. Just having to see or talk to the other parent is a reminder of the past and triggers the hate. They
are trapped with nowhere to go and heal.

The characteristics of obsessed alienation are:

  • They are obsessed with destroying the children’s relationship with the targeted parent.
  • They having succeeded in enmeshing the children’s personalities and beliefs about the other parent with
    their own.

  • The children will parrot the obsessed alienator rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other parent.
  • The targeted parent and often the children cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings.
  • Their beliefs sometimes becoming delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince
    obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries is the enemy.

  • They will often seek support from family members, quasi-political groups or friends that will share in their
    beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent and the system. The battle becomes “us against them.” The obsessed alienator’s supporters are oftenseen at the court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.

  • They have an unquenchable anger because they believe that the targeted parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the children is
    justified.

  • They have a desire for the court to punish the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted parent from seeing the children. This
    confirms in the obsessed alienator’s mind that he or she was right all the time.

  • The court’s authority does not intimidate them.
  • · The obsessed alienator believes in a higher cause, protecting the children at all cost.

   The obsessed alienator will probably not want to read what is on these pages because the content just makes them angrier.  ( Three Types of Parental Alienation Copyright 1997 by Douglas Darnall, Ph.D.)   Also see Article by Forensic Family Services, Inc. 

   From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia it defines Parental Alienation as any behaviour by a parent, a child’s mother or father, whether conscious or unconscious, that could create alienation in the relationship between a child and the other parent. Parental alienation can be mild and temporary or extreme and ongoing. Most researchers believe that any alienation of a child against (the child’s) other parent is harmful to the child and to the target parent. Extreme, obsessive, and ongoing parental alienation can cause terrible psychological damage to children extending well into adulthood. Parental Alienation focuses on the alienating parents behavior as opposed to the alienated parent’s and alienated childrens’ conditions.  This definition is different from Parental Alienation Syndrome as originally coined by Dr. Richard Gardner in 1987: “a disturbance in which children are preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of a parent-denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated.” Parental Alienation Syndrome symptoms describe the child’s behaviours and attitude towards the targeted parent after the child has been effectively programmed and severely alienated from the targeted parent. Parental alienation, on the other hand, describes the alienating parent’s or parents’ conduct which induces parental alienation syndrome in children.  Parental alienation is a form of relational aggression by one
parent against the other parent using their common children. The process can become cyclic with each parent attempting to alienate the children from the other. There is potential for a negative feedback loop and escalation. At other times an affected parent may withdraw leaving the children to the alienating parent. Children so alienated often suffer effects similar to those studied in the psychology of torture. (Sources: External link articles below and late adulthood consciousness of parental alienation)  Alienating parents often use grandparents, aunts/uncles, and other elders to alienate their children against the target parent. In some cases, mental health professionals become unwitting allies in these alienation attempts by backing unfounded allegations of neglect, abuse or mental disease. Courts also often side with the alienating parent against the target parent in legal judgements because parental alienation is so difficult to detect.  Extreme forms of parental alienation include obsessive brainwashing, character assassination, and the false inducement of fear, shame, and rage in children against the target parent. Moderate forms of parental alienation include loss of self control, flare ups of anger, and nconscious alliances with the children against the target parent. In it’s mildest forms, parental alienation includes occasional mild denigration alternating with a focus on encouraging the children’s relationship with the other parent.

Parental alienation often forces children to choose sides and become allies against the other parent. Children caught in the middle of such conflicts suffer severe losses of love, respect and peace during their formative years. They also often lose their alienated parent forever. These consequences and a host of others cause terrible traumas to children as studied in Parental Alienation Syndrome.  Parents so alienated often suffer heartbreaking loss of their children through no fault of their own. In addition, they often
face false accusations from their alienated children that they cannot counter with the facts. Finally, they often find themselves powerless to show that this little-known form of cruel, covert, and cunning aggression is occurring or has occurred.

Often the problem can be cured only by realizing the underlying causes. The reasons are very numerous and varied. These are examples:Parental Alienation Syndrome by Lynn M.Swank   

  • Money. The custodial parent may wish to have more than the non-custodial parent is willing or able to provide and the children are leverage pawns.
  • Retaliation. ‘You wanted a life without us. Now you have it.’
  • New family member. The mother forms a new romantic relationship and wants her new man to be the father. The non-custodial parent is a hindrance to that new relationship, an unwanted reminder.  
  • New partner’s interference. Mother’s boy-friend or new husband wants to be the man in the child’s life and works to exclude the father.
  • Jealousy. Mother’s empty life is in stark contrast to Father’s recovering one. Mother may not wish the father’s new partner to have the role of ‘rival mother’ – particularly if she is insecure about her own abilities.
  •  Property rights. Mother regards child as her property and is unwilling to share.
  •  Social appearance. Mother could never admit that she is not the sole focus of her child’s life.
  • Depression, poor health. General negative view on life interpreted by her as being a result of the marital breakup and therefore his fault.
  • Simple hatred by the mother of the father.
  • Hostility from the father toward the mother is viewed by her as a risk to the children as well, so she feels that she must ‘protect’ the child by preventing the father from visiting.  Mother may have no basis whatsoever for feeling that the father will be hostile to the child.
  • Possessiveness of the child’s attention and affection. The Mother may have no other close family and be envious of the father’s friends and  relatives.
  • Mother convinces herself that the father is a dangerous human with extreme character flaws to which the child should not be exposed. Mother assumes that activities enjoyed by the father are risky to the child, even though other children may engage in those same activities.
  • Mother has taken a gender approachand is hostile to all men. This can be particularly true if the mother has limited her own contacts to other single mothers. She may be unable to sustain a wholesome relationship with a man.
  • Punishment. Mother eliminates visits or shortens contact with the father if the children do not behave. “You have not finished your homework. You cannot go to dinner with your father.”   “You did not obey me about your bedtime. You are grounded here and while you are with your father this weekend.”
  •      Perceived competition with the former spouse. This is particularly true when the non-custodial father spends more on the children than the mother is able to do. Also called “Disneyland Dads”,  the father uses his time in high dollar activities while the mother has to make do on free and low cost amusements for them. This also works in reverse with the “competitive” mom – where the non-custodial parent plans an activity, such as a driving vacation and then the custodial mom has to ‘trump’ it by flying the children out of the country on vacation. Neither parent seems to notice that the TWO vacations are far more than the child would have received if in a pre-divorce home and that the child’s values are being distorted on a very subconscious, but permanent
    level.
  • Self-esteem.  The mother’s interests and activities may be so focused on the children that she has no life if they are not around. She does not wish to, or cannot admit, that they have fun if she is not part.
  • Fear of abandonment. Mother worries that children may choose the father over her if given the opportunity.
  •  Control. The children may be the only means the parent has of directing the life and emotions of the former spouse.  
  • Reverse control. The mother may have never wanted a man except to sire the child and, once that role is complete, the mother wants him well away from her child.  Watch for parents who say ‘MY child’ when talking to the other parent.
  • Punishment to the Father for forming a new marriage.  ‘You were supposed to stay single and grieve for me forever.’
  • Mistaken belief that the father was actually not interested in the child.Many men are not granted much of a role in baby care, so as the child grows older and the father is ‘learning how to parent’ he may not spend as much time with the child –which may be viewed in retrospect as disinterest. Parenting does not come naturally to everyone and non-custodial parents have less of a chance to practice, with their mistakes being more visible.
  • Lifestyle conflicts. Mother and father have different choices in cultures, religions, and values and she wants to isolate the children into hers.
  • Emotional dependence. The mother may feel that the child has only so much capability for affection and wants it all for herself.
  • Resentment of reminders of failure.The mother may view the dissolved marriage as a failure and wish to avoid all memory of it
  • Concealment. The mother may be having difficulties and does not want the children to provide information about her situation to the father.

    I have dealt with theses cases involving Parental Alienation.   It is frustrating to the targeted parent. Many times the offending parent feels totally justified in their actions.  They cannot see the damage they are causing their children.  I attempt to help my clients:  to keep their
    perspective, to contact the right professionals, open up communication with their children, recognize early warning signs of trouble, respond appropriately to rude and hateful behavior and avoid common errors made by rejected parents.   Recognition of the problem and obtaining the proper experts is crucial in developing a custody case.  If necessary, I will get the courts to order an evaluation and treatment to reverse the damages caused by such conduct.

 

James Piedimonte has been involved with many divorce and custody cases concerned with Parental Alienation.  He has witnessed the damage to the children and the pain it has caused parents.  It is important to attack the problem quickly and with professionals.  If parental alienation continues too long, the damage could be irrepriable and completely destroy the parent-child relationship.