What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?
Divorce is always hardest when little ones are involved.
The separation process becomes less focused on repairing the lives of two people who have fallen out of love and more about working out the logistics of uprooting your little one’s life. In low to medium conflict divorces, parents are often concerned about how filing for divorce will affect their child’s ideals about love and the lasting nature of relationships. But in instances of high conflict divorce—particularly when one parent seethes with hostility or bitterness toward the other parent—children can become caught in the emotional crossfire, embattled in a fierce contest of “tug-of-love” between parents.
However, sometimes this tug-of-love can take an even more sinister turn. Parental Alienation Syndrome refers to a form of psychological child abuse, in which a child of divorce is manipulated into internalizing the negative attitudes of a resentful parent toward their ex-spouse.
Surprisingly, the parent who loves their child unconditionally is often the victim of the attack. When children fear the love of the manipulating parent is provisional—or likely to become subsequently revoked—children panic, redoubling their efforts to please and appease the offending parent. In addition, children are often indoctrinated into the offending parent’s belief system using the same control tactics that cult leaders use to recruit adult members. Children are taught to recite the falsehoods of the antagonistic parent; fear the repercussions of displaying signs of affection toward the alienated parent; and are bribed or rewarded for committing acts of bad behavior that align with the offending parent’s viewpoints.
What Are The Warning Signs Of Parental Alienation?
If you fear your child may be suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome, keep a watchful eye out for the following characteristic behaviors in your child or ex-partner:
- Sudden rejection or vitriolic hatred of the alienated parent by the alienating child, as evidenced by:
- A refusal or reluctance to spend time alone with the rejected parent
- Abrupt paranoia or fear of the estranged parent, including false allegations of child abuse made by the alienating child
- Overt hostility, disrespect, defiance, abusive language, or aggression directed toward the scorned caregiver
- Vandalism of the non-preferred parent’s property
- Spurning the alienated parent’s attentions or affections (resisting love; declining or destroying gifts; sullenly refusing to return hugs or to engage in good-natured conversation)
- Co-occurring evidence of the alienating child’s psychological manipulation by the “preferred” parent, as demonstrated by the following persuasion or control tactics:
- Blame: Your child echoes your ex-partner’s indictments of your behavior and blames you as the responsible party for the divorce and its associated consequences (e.g. new sources of financial strain or scheduling difficulties; the need to maintain separate households, etc.)
- Vilification: The antagonistic parent badmouths or “vilifies” the alienated parent and rewards the alienating child for engaging in similar acts of backbiting, defamation, or criticism
- Withholding Affection: The hostile parent demands that the child chooses one parent over the other and withholds affection from the child until the “right” decision is made
- Guilt: The child is programmed to feel guilty for demonstrating affection toward the non-preferred parent
- Denying Visitation: The combative parent incentivizes the child to forgo visitations with the alienated parent by presenting carefully crafted temptations, bribes, and scheduling conflicts (e.g. outings to the arcade; sleepovers; showering the child with presents, etc.)
- False Allegations: The manipulating parent unjustly convinces the child that the alienated parent was a perpetrator of child/spousal abuse, infidelity, drug use, or illegal activity
- The White Knight: The biasing parent brands himself or herself as martyr, protector, redeemer, or savoir—reinforcing the stark contrast between his or her role as white knight and the “vile” conduct of the alienated parent
- Dependence: The abusive parent brainwashes the child into a sense of thought-prohibitive, psychological reliance, discouraging the child from formulating objective assessments of the rejected parent and revoking love when the child disobeys
How Can Therapy & Counseling For Parental Alienation Improve My Relationship With My Child?
Effective and comprehensive interventions to counsel sufferers of parental alienation should adopt a three-pronged or triangulated approach to bridging the parent-child divide that investigates the motives of all parties involved, including: the alienated parent, the alienating child, and the offending parent. The course of treatment is usually as follows:
- For alienated parents (i.e. the “victims”): An introspective and honest reflection on your own behavior at the outset of therapy. Asking yourself:
- How could my own actions be contributing to my child’s estrangement or hostility?
- How do I maintain the moral high ground while my ex is laboring to destroy my relationship with my child?
- Are any of my behaviors intentionally or unintentionally alienating (promoting discord between my child and his or her other parent)?
- Mending (where possible) the relationship that exists between the alienated parent and the offending parenting:
- Learning how to co-parent your child effectively despite the resentment or emotional heartache of a contentious separation
- Examining how parental friction adversely affects your child (academic or behavioral consequences; mental health challenges; or risky behaviors, etc.)
- Putting an end to “backbiting”, or criticizing the other parent in the presence of your child
- When the combative or offending parent refuses to cooperate…
- Understanding your legal recourses, including: court-mandated family therapy, parental visitation rights, and court orders or civil laws
- Deprogramming your child without bashing the other parent
- Equipping your child with the skills to recognize and resist psychological manipulation
- Liberating your child from “reflexive” thinking patterns, or “parroting” the beliefs of the offending parent
- Extending unconditional love to your child
- When your relationship with your child cannot be rectified…
- Managing the lifelong sting of a child’s rejection and always leaving the passageway to your affections open… just in case…