In my research this summer, I have been amazed and frankly quite upset at the prevalence of parental alienation from mild to extreme in the cases I’ve been studying. Unfortunately, the victims (primarily the children, but also the target parent) may never realize the abusive manipulation to which they have been subject.
Two excellent articles. (direct link at the bottom) As well, please read Melanie Anders article, which I posted on June 23.
Symptoms of Parental Alienation
Copyright by Douglas Darnall, Ph.D.
To prevent the devastating effects of Parental Alienation, you must begin by recognizing the symptoms of PA. You will notice that many of the symptoms or behaviors focus on the parent. When the child exhibits hatred and vilifies the targeted parent, then the condition becomes parental alienation syndrome. After reading the list, don’t get discouraged when you notice that some of your own behaviors have been alienating. This is normal in even the best of parents. Instead, let the list help sensitize you to how you are behaving and what you are saying to your children.
1. Giving children choices when they have no choice about visits. Allowing the child to decide for themselves to visit when the court order says there is no choice sets up the child for conflict. The child will usually blame the non-residential parent for not being able to decide to choose whether or not to visit. The parent is now victimized regardless of what happens; not being able to see his children or if he sees them, the children are angry.
2. Telling the child “everything” about the marital relationship or reasons for the divorce is alienating. The parent usually argues that they are “just wanting to be honest” with their children. This practice is destructive and painful for the child. The alienating parent’s motive is for the child to think less of the other parent.
3. Refusing to acknowledge that children have property and may want to transport their possessions between residences.
4. Resisting or refusing to cooperate by not allowing the other parent access to school or medical records and schedules of extracurricular activities.
5. A parent blaming the other parent for financial problems, breaking up the family, changes in lifestyle, or having a girlfriend/boyfriend, etc.
6. Refusing to be flexible with the visitation schedule in order to respond to the child’s needs. The alienating parent may also schedule the children in so many activities that the other parent is never given the time to visit. Of course, when the targeted parent protests, they are described as not caring and selfish.
7. Assuming that if a parent had been physically abusive with the other parent, it follows that the parent will assault the child. This assumption is not always true.
8. Asking the child to choose one parent over another parent causes the child considerable distress. Typically, they do not want to reject a parent, but instead want to avoid the issue. The child, not the parent, should initiate any suggestion for change of residence.
9. Children will become angry with a parent. This is normal, particularly if the parent disciplines or has to say “no”. If for any reason the anger is not allowed to heal, you can suspect parental alienation. Trust your own experience as a parent. Children will forgive and want to be forgiven if given a chance. Be very suspicious when the child calmly says they cannot remember any happy times with you or say anything they like about you.
10. Be suspicious when a parent or stepparent raises the question about changing the child’s name or suggests an adoption.
11. When children cannot give reasons for being angry towards a parent or their reasons are very vague without any details.
12. A parent having secrets, special signals, a private rendezvous, or words with special meanings are very destructive and reinforce an on-going alienation.
13. When a parent uses a child to spy or gather information for the parent’s own use, the child receives a damaging message that demeans the victimized parent.
14. Parents setting up temptations that interfere with the child’s visitation.
15. A parent suggesting or reacting with hurt or sadness to their child having a good time with the other parent will cause the child to withdraw and not communicate. They will frequently feel guilty or conflicted not knowing that it’s “okay” to have fun with their other parent.
16. The parent asking the child about, or involving the child in discussions about his/her other parent’s personal life causes the child considerable tension and conflict. Children who are not alienated want to be loyal to both parents.
17. When parents physically or psychologically rescue the children when there is no threat to their safety. This practice reinforces in the child’s mind the illusion of threat or danger, thereby reinforcing alienation.
18. Making demands on the other parent that is contrary to court orders.
19. Listening in on the children’s phone conversation they are having with the other parent.
Five Signs of Parental Alienation
When Esther shared her experience with parental alienation and how her ex used religion against her, I commented that I could see how she would be puzzled by her children’s behavior, wondering if it was real, wondering what exactly she had done to warrant the rejection, wondering what her ex and others had said to have such an impact. Sometimes parental alienation can start off quite benign but the seeds are planted and the indoctrination grows. By the time it’s clear what’s happened it’s often very difficult to counteract. My guest blogger today is divorce coach Nancy Kay and she says there are five signs that your child is being brainwashed. Here’s Nancy:
Parental alienation is a problem that most often arises when parents engage in bitter and extended child custody litigation. Although intense feelings of anger and mistrust are common when parents are beginning to transition from the tidal wave of emotions surrounding divorce into a co-parenting relationship, most parents experience less anger and anxiety over time as they make efforts to co-parent in a way that is healthier and more productive for the children.
“Parent alienation occurs when a child is influenced by one parent (often called the alienator) to completely reject their other parent (often known as the target.) In severe cases, parent alienation results in the child’s complete rejection of the target parent. Typically, the reasons for the child’s rejection are frivolous or unjustified,” explains parent educator and author Christina McGhee in her book, Parenting Apart.
Due to the intensity of emotions that erupt during the often lengthy process of separation and divorce, many parents experience strain and frustration within the parent-child relationship. Some parents engage in harmful or destructive behaviors that lead to the natural consequence of the child distancing themselves from that parent.
In contrast, true parental alienation takes place when one parent unduly influences the child to respond to the other parent in a consistently negative manner despite there not being evidence of destructive or harmful parenting behaviors.
There are five common signs that a child is being affected by true parental alienation. And the term “child” can apply to an adult child as well.
- The child views the alienating parent as the good and honest parent and expresses only negative feelings toward the target parent who is seen as all bad. This black-and-white thinking is consistently reinforced by the alienating parent until the child expresses hatred, contempt and fear regarding the target parent while not showing any guilt or remorse.
- The child denies being coached or influenced by one parent. “Mimics accusations and opinions of the alienating parent yet insists they have formulated ideas about the target parent on their own,” explains McGhee.
- The child’s negativity extends to the targeted parent’s extended family. The child refuses visits or contact with relatives of the target parent, even if they had a warm and interactive relationship prior to the alienation.
- The child’s contempt, hatred and rejection toward the target parent are based on frivolous and unwarranted reasons. The rejection is not based on personal experiences that are justified by harmful or destructive behaviors, but more on perceptions than actual actions.
- The child consistently rejects one parent and refuses to have contact with them. “Many parents describe having a formerly loving and close relationship with their children only to become completely leveled by the fact that their children no longer want to have any contact with them,” explains McGhee.
The direct and collateral damages that result from parental alienation lead to long-lasting effects that are enormously destructive and destabilizing to both the children and the parents involved.
“Alienation of affection damages the child’s core of her sense of self and her ability to form lasting, intimate relationships with friends and family. The loss of a connection with the alienated parent also damages the child’s psychological road map for understanding where she came from, since she will now lack one parent as a role model,” explains psychotherapist and author Aleta Koman, in her book, My Ex is Driving Me Crazy!
Since parental alienation has such destructive long-term consequences for both parents and children, it is extremely concerning that more is not being done by professionals to clarify when early stage alienation is taking place and take strategic actions to turn things around before the alienation has reached a critical stage. Unfortunately, many courts and other professionals who deal with parties experiencing high-conflict divorces are not trained about how to detect alienation early on when professional intervention could have the greatest impact.
Alienation is often hard to clearly define and legally prove and many target parents come to realize that trying to prove parental alienation in court is quite challenging, expensive and time-consuming.
Even if these parents are able to do so, many court systems are not equipped to deal with such high-conflict parenting situations that need intensive intervention. When the courts are reluctant to deal with such cases or not able to effectively intervene in a consistently effective manner, these parents often find that the family law attorneys they consult with either minimize the situation or are reluctant to pursue the issues in court.
Complicating matters further, some parents refuse to participate in parent-child therapy or respond to guidance from a therapist or parenting coordinator unless it is court-ordered and carefully monitored and evaluated on an on-going basis. In addition, since the alienating parent is usually well-experienced at using litigation as a means to control the target parent, many target parents are exhausted and depleted by previous litigation and may fear that more legal intervention will only make things worse.
McGhee recommends that parents seek out professionals who truly understand the underlying dynamics of the problem, try hard not to take the child’s rejection personally and stay committed to positive co-parenting behaviors. She also advises parents to not give up hope despite the complexity of the situation. “The journey to repair your relationship with your child can be long and often requires an enormous amount of patience and persistence. In some parent-child relationships, it may take years before you will see the results of your choices and effort. Never make the mistake of thinking you do not matter to your children—you do.”
Are you experiencing any of these signs? What strategies do you use to cope?
Nancy Kay, Divorce Management Coach at Moving Forward Through Divorce provides guidance to women and men as they learn how to manage the chaos that comes along with divorce. She combines her experiences as a Family Law Paralegal with Coaching Training to provide clients with the resources, skills and strategies they need to save time, money and avoid headaches as they navigate through divorce. Connect with Nancy on Facebook or Twitter @NancyKay7.