During the holidays, millions of children from divorced families will be spending time with their parents separately. But what happens when one parent begins a systematic campaign to discredit the other parent and make their child hate their ex?
Systematic Campaign of Alienation: Parental alienation is a systematic campaign of character assassination. One parent is determined to alienate the child’s affections toward the other parent or toward a grandparent. It is most prevalent in child custody cases and it is worst at the holidays as parents tend to compete for the affection of their children.
Spans the Range: Parental Alienation spans the range from outright malicious intent, legal battles and reckless accusations to careless, self serving comments that undermine the child’s view of their parent.
Emotional Abuse of Children: Parental alienation not only hurts the ex, it’s a form of emotional abuse of the child. Beyond the confusion and pain of divorce and losing a parent, children take their parent’s qualities and characteristics as their own. As one expert says, “ Bad mouth your ex and you simultaneously bad mouth your child.”
Legitimized by Self Absorbed Culture: Most divorces involve pain and suffering and parental alienation flourishes in a family culture of conflict. However, the epidemic of narcissism that has defined our country in recent years legitimizes winning at any cost. Savage and unethical behavior is justified even if it involves waging war against an innocent person.
Revenge: There are complex reasons to explain this behavior but all explanations boil down to one principle reason — Revenge. Some people feel pleasure from inflicting pain on people they believe have wronged them. The mind of the child becomes the battlefield for hurting their ex.
Child Is Perceived As A Possession: For some parents, adequate boundaries with their children are absent. The child is perceived as an extension of themselves. They inflict parental alienation on the other parent to banish him or her so that they can have the child to themselves.
Compensating for Inadequacy and Guilt: Parents may try to resolve their low self-esteem and sense of failure by reinforcing their belief that they are the better parent. Posturing as the superior parent makes them feel better even if it is at the expense of their child. They have no conscience about the suffering of the child or the other parent – it’s really all about themselves.
Brainwashed by Lies: These kids are basically brainwashed and now regard their targeted parent as the enemy or as a worthless afterthought. This kind of betrayal can poison even in the most tender and loving relationships.
Rehearsed Answers: Divorce is very scary for children. Often they feel unstable and they may be worried about the approval of the parent that they are living with. In an effort to feel safe, they orient to the controlling needs of the alienating parent at all costs. They are often unable to specify why they dislike the targeted parent or they exaggerate faults of the parent to justify their rejection. Their comments parrot the alienator’s words and feelings.
Long Term Damage: There is minimal data on the long-term effects of such alienation on kids. However, we do know that the earlier the separation from a parent, the more traumatic it is for the child. The basic tenants of loving relationships—trust, loyalty, and forgiveness–are never learned and the child may struggle for a lifetime because of these experiences.
Remain Calm: Understand that you have been systematically undermined and that you are taking every step to remediate the situation. Focus on what you can control and don’t stress about other factors. Do not lose your temper, reject your child or insult your ex in front of your child.
Educate Yourself: Parental alienation can be an elusive phenomenon to prove especially in a highly intense forum such as child custody. There are several books with great resources that are “must reads” for parents. Please see the sources for this story for some suggestions.
Work with Great Experts: Hire a psychologist and a lawyer who are proven experts in parental alienation. The therapist must acknowledge the massive psychological impact such alienation has on the child and the targeted parent. Your attorney needs to possess a solid understanding of this type of emotional abuse and they must have the substantial legal skills to protect your child and your interests.
“Divorce Poison,” Dr. Richard Warshak
“The Custody Revolution” by Dr. Richard Warshak
“Divorce Casualties: Understanding Parental Alienation,” Dr. Douglas Darnall
We had the opportunity to spend some time with a parent who was spending her first Christmas apart from her children, because the children were spending the holiday with their father. My husband and I were both listening to this woman stress the importance of her children’s relationship with their other parent — and were in awe at her strength and unselfish behavior.
Is she unhappy that her marriage ended? Yes. Does she harbor some animosity toward her ex-husband? Yes. Does she allow that unhappiness and animosity to affect her children’s relationship with their other parent? No.
That is the true sign of a good parent who loves her children. Anyway can talk about being a good parent, but when it comes right down to it — and you have to decide to put your own feelings of jealousy, hatred and anger aside, how many can really do that?
It was such a refreshing change to spend some time with this wonderful mother. She is truly a good parent, in every sense of the word.