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Monday, October 3, 2011

What is Parental Alienation?

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After the divorce it is not uncommon for one or both parents to share their frustration about the other parent with the children or in front of the children.  After fighting hard for custody, it's not easy to wake up the next day and be instantly healed from the wounds of battle - but this is what is what is best for the child. To share frustration about the other parent is inappropriate and unfair to the child as it places them in an adult situation and asks them to make adult assessments.  If, as parents, we truly love our children, we will heed this warning, act like adults, and do what is necessary to spare our children.  Fortunately, in most cases,  parents eventually get the message when they see articles like this one. In most cases, the children are resilient and  learn to adapt while the parents get their acts together.

It's easy to see when on our ex-spouse steps over the line - we are often slower to see it in ourselves.  We sometimes feel justified because the other "ex" is doing it or because the ex is a jerk or because we feel we are helping the children grow up.  It is important that we evaluate our own behavior and the all events that lead up to the conflict.  Often, we need to reach out to heal the divide.  There is as much art to this as science and timing is very important.  Healing typically happens in steps and the other party my not join in on the onset.

At BPDFamily, we often recommend for parents to start out with a parallel parenting plan after the divorce with the intent of using the space that it creates for healing and gently probing, over time, the best ways to co-parent.  A good parallel parenting plan often sets co-parenting as the ultimate objective. 

Unfortunately, in a few cases the fight between the parents can become a post divorce obsession - sometimes evolving all the way to what is known as "Parental Alienation Syndrome" - a very difficult sitation.

In this video, Jane Major, PhD. will help you look at yourself, look and ex-spouse, and assess what is happening with your children; is is the garden-variety post divorce frustrations that often abate, or is is significant and requiring of cooperative action of the parents, or is a severe parental alienation brewing with the need for court intervention?

It is important to carefully and maturely assess the situation and select your course of action carefully.  You don't want to be impatient, controlling, or take actions that will make matters worse.  You also don't want to sit by and let matters deteriorate.

Below are some helpful summary points form the video:

What is "parental alienation"?

The behavior of a parent that engages a child in a discussion so that the child can either participate or hear them degrade the other parent. Some parents are so upset they will reveal too much information such as "court papers." Alienation happens when the parent does not recognize the bounds of what they can say or do.

Why do parents engage in parental alienation?

Parents that engage in parental alienation are acting out their own drama and upset about what's occurred. For most people, parental alienation is mild, and it's very common in divorces, where an unkind thing is said, a name called or something, where a parent doesn't have boundaries. Mild parent alienation is, "you tell me if you get scared at your daddy's and I'll come," so planting a seed that you're not safe with your daddy. Another form of parental alienation is saying, "is anybody over at your mother's spending the night?" Parental alienation is being inappropriate with those kinds of questions and fishing to find information from the child that the child shouldn't be involved in. So mild parent alienation often occurs and most people get a grip. Most people understand it's not appropriate to engage in parental alienation. Eventually somebody will tell them parental alienation is inappropriate, or the child can adapt. They say, "aw, there goes mom again." " Aw, there goes dad again." They can cope with parental alienation. Not adapt, but cope. In moderate parent alienation, the parent goes ballistic and calls names upon seeing the person, or speaking on the phone, and is just in a rage and a tirade about the other parent and is terribly inappropriate. And if the child sees this parental alienation often, they may be involved in aligning against the other parent. So this form of parental alienation is very serious, but those parents can be helped with parenting classes, with mentoring, with therapy, with anger management, with other things to enable them to finally calm down.

What type of parent is likely to engage in parental alienation?

We do know that even within a marriage parents maybe doing parent alienation. This is anytime a parent speaks negatively about another parent so that a child could here it. Children can cope with that usually and adjust. When parent's get a divorce its more frequent that that is likely to occur. Unless the parents are really sophisticated parents and understand it and have thought this through and don't do that and we do have those people god bless them. Some parents become so irate at the other parent that they just lose all control and they go into a rage and the child witnesses this and the parent in the moderate is likely to be programming the child to also hate the other parent or never ever say to that parent that they enjoyed any kind of time with that other parent or they had fun with that parent at all. They would never tell this parent that is so difficult anything about the other.

How do I know if my spouse is actually committing parental alienation?

If a parent is engaged in parental alienation, it is more than we are getting a divorce and we have got to figure out a parent plan. A parent engaged in parental alienation is a person who is obsessed, is very ugly, and nasty and will stop at nothing to get their way. Now you really need to figure out if you have an enemy engaged in parental alienation, what it is that makes this person your enemy, and how can you best protect your children. And at that point this is more than ordinary stuff, this is the small percentage of very sick people. Now you need to educate yourself because you are in a different kind of a war when one party is engaged in parental alienation. It's a lot at stake.

What is "severe parental alienation"?

In the most obsessed and severe kind, severe parental alienation is where parents become ugly or nasty. You can't work with them or solve problems with them by reasoning. Severe parental alienation are cases where you have to go to court to get any kind of resolution and these parents so nasty they will allege all kinds of lies to get their way. This is when what prevails in truth is often not the truth but what appears to be truth. The parents will allege all manner of horrible things, and they will take the least little negative issue and turn it into a huge issue. They will create their own reality and then they will end up believing their own fabrications with all their heart and soul, and are very convincing. Evidence, truth and facts are not part of severe parental alienation because they've made up their own facts. The fact that they are so believable is why judges have to rely on evaluators to sort through all of that and come up with recommendations.

How will parental alienation affect the targeted parent?

The person who's the targeted parent, wonders what the hell happened here. Because that was never their intention, they didn't marry this person or have a child with them with the idea that the person could become so unglued and become so ugly and nasty. It takes a horrible toll on the targeted parent. Psychologically they have to cope with being accused of all kinds of things that they did not do. They are always on the defensive, they are always back peddling, trying to figure out "what am I going to do about it?" Even in the relationship, when they were in a together relationship, there are some people that are so disturbed that when the targeted parent tries to solve problems with them they get a two-by-four between the eyes, and they back off and they say "that hurt!" Then they go back and they regroup and they try to solve problems with this person again, the nasty one. By the way, it's men or women. It is not more women do this than men do which is a common concept. Now that there is so much shared custody, very disturbed men can do this as much as women. So at any rate, whoever it is it's a very disturbed person because healthy people don't act like that.

How will parental alienation affect my child?

When you have a parent who's in the moderate or obsessed category one of the things that they cannot allow is for the child to love and have a positive relationship with the other parent. Now, guess who is the healthier parent? This is the target parent almost always. The obsessed person is not a healthy parent. They're very nasty and ugly, and they don't play fair at all. They will stop at any lengths to win and what they're winning is the mind of a child. They will brainwash a child (another word for it is to program a child) to hate their targeted parent; the healthier parent, the other half of their heritage, the other half of their whole family construct. Half of that child's family, if this obsessed parent is successful, is now ‘x'ed out of the child's life. We call that a “parentectomy” where the parent has been cut out of the child's life; a “parentectomy.” The child then loses all contact with the individuals that would be most likely to love that child, nurture that child, and care for that child, and provide. They lose out on all of that and if the really disturbed parent prevails, and they often do, this child grows up with a very serious situation where one parent is psychologically disturbed. The characteristic is always that the disturbed person is expecting the child to take care of them. This is called parent role reversal, where the child is always in the position to take care of the most disturbed parent. So how does that help children? It doesn't.

How will parental alienation affect my child when he grows up?

If the alienating and obsessed parent is successful in their agenda then the child will no longer have any access or influence from the other parent, they will lose that side of their family, that side of their whole heritage, and they will grow up with a person who's a very damaged individual. So they will not be adequately parented. We do know that the picture is not a pretty picture for them in their lives, that they will have many psychological issues, relationship issues, they're going to have a very hard time in their life. Just recently, Amy J.L Baker, a researcher in child development that teaches college at Columbia University, has published a book called 'Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties That Bind'. This is an enormously valuable book for anybody that doesn't understand parental alienation and what the consequences are. She researched 4, adult children where passes had occurred in their childhood and the outcome was really extraordinary, to point out what, we need to do everything we can to get a handle on what this problem is and how to do something about it.

How do I prevent parental alienation?

Prevention is the key that, but in some people they're already psychiatrically disturbed people. And usually people don't know that when they start having babies with them or go into business with them or any kind of other relationship until something happens that the person really becomes crazy - undone. So I don't know that you can stop. I think you could do an awful lot more of preventing yourself from leaping into situations where you don't know who this person really is. Having children with somebody who is already difficult is likely to turn more difficult. So it behooves people to be very careful in their relationships with people. So it starts right there. Know who you're involved with. Take the time to get to know this person.

How do I cope with parental alienation?

One of the ways not to cope with parental alienation is to be passive, because that's the trait of most people that get involved with obsessed parental alienators. They just don't know what to do. So go and find somebody that does know what to do about parental alienation. You're not the first person that's had the problem of parental alienation. Believe me. There's a lot of literature available for people with parental alienation problems. There's a lot of experts that specialize in parental alienation. I say the best thing you can do is educate yourself about parental alienation. Go online. There's a lot of resources about parental alienation online. There are also many excellent books about parental alienation. "Stop Walking on Eggshells" is one of them. There are a lot of helpers, a lot of mentors out there who can show people the way to deal with parental alienation. Join up. Don't stay in isolation with parental alienation. Educate yourself as to what parental alienation is and what other people have done. I have an article on our website called "Parents Who Have Successfully Fought Parental Alienation Syndrome." That's been on the website for years and years, and it's gone all over the world. I've heard from people that said you've exactly described my family. I have another article that will be on our website called "The Cost, Causes, and Controversies of Parent Alienation and Parent Alienation Syndrome." Educate yourself. There's a whole education possible.

What is "parental alienation syndrome"?

Parent alienation describes what the parent is doing. Parent alienation syndrome describes what the child is doing. It is a very important distinction to make. They are not one and the same. Parent alienation syndrome was originally identified in 1985 by a psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Gardner. He was the pioneer in parent education syndrome, when there was a burgeoning of divorces in the early 80s, when joint custody first became a reality, starting in California. James Cook lobbied the California legislature for joint custody laws, and they were passed in 1980, and then swept the country as the concept that the best parent is both parents and you have to figure out how to share these children. Not one parent takes all the custody and the other one becomes a visitor, not in the child's life at all. So many fathers started clamoring to go to court to get access to their children, and this created a tremendous burden on the courts which has not been alleviated to this day.

How does parental alienation syndrome affect my child?

Another curious thing about children who are involved in parent alienation syndrome. That means they're no longer adapting and coping, that they've gone over and aligned with the most disturbed parent. In some cases, it's a shared psychosis that the child shares with the disturbed parent, the mother or the father. And they become one unit. The child then will make up scenarios of their own about how horrible the targeted parent is. They have no basis in fact whatsoever, it's nothing they ever experienced, but just as kids can create wonderful stories and fairy tales, and all of that, they use that technique to describe horrible things that the parent has done, which in truth they haven't done. And they can be very convincing, because they are passionate, and they're angry. Their brains have been seriously altered into such a state of confusion that they don't know the truth.

How do I cope with a child experiencing parental alienation syndrome?

If your child is already in the syndrome and the syndrome is where they are brainwashed, you want to stand up for yourself and say, "That didn't happen." "You didn't experience that." "I never did that to you." "You are loved by both of your parents and I love you and I will always be here for you." You know, there just isn't any kind of panacea for these. If people really have the worst case scenario, the only thing that's going to turn it around is getting a judicial order for the other parent to be contained; for the disturbed parent to be contained. This is why there is such heavy litigation in these kinds of families. If they can't litigate, if they can't get a judicial order containing the disturbed parent, then they may just lose those children.

How do I stop parental alienation if it is occurring?

The only way is to get a court order that would contain the disturbed parent, and to get legal custody to the healthier parent and to work with the family. There are actually protocols that are being developed now because prior to this there hasn't been anything that we know to do with the obsessed parent, there's just, there's no protocol whatsoever, in fact there still isn't. But there are being developed ways to detox or unbrainwash or unprogram a child if they can get it soon enough, but there gets to be a tipping point or turning place where you're not going to really reach that child. In Doctor Baker's research, she found children that finally understood that they were brainwashed, and so therapy, you know, a lot of times people's hands are just tied. It has to be a court order, the judge has to really get it, who the good guy is and who the bad guy is.

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Author: Skip provides support, education, tools, and perspective to individuals with a loved one affected by Borderline Personality Disorder. BPFamily is a non-profit, co-op of nearly 75,000 volunteer members and alumni formed in 1998. We welcome you to join our free 24 hour on-line support community with its nearly 3 million postings and grow with us as we learn to live better lives in the shadow of this disorder. For more information or to register, please click here.

Write comments
  1. The video is a little dry, but it is a very good overview. I especially appreciate Skip's advice in the article about keeping things in perspective. Not all parental alienation leads to Parental alienation Syndrome and we need to be careful not to unintentionally polarize the situation and make it worse. As Jane Major said, most alienating parent believe that the other parent is the problem - we don't want to fan that flame if we can avoid doing so. Philip Stahl, Ph.D wrote Parenting After Divorce which is useful for clients going through a divorce or for divorced parents who remain in conflict.

  2. Great Video tackling a serious issue,the video is informing with no agenda, no propaganda, no bias,I hope that people with an honest interest in safeguarding families and children will have more influence on the government policies

  3. What about the disturbed parent who uses very subtle, even 'good intention' type of behavior with the child, but it is VERY subtly negative to the other parent, and over time continues to make the child against the other parent? Or when the disturbed parent sort of 'sets up' situations that they know will trigger the other parent and then they can twist the situation to be the one who looks good? Some of the disturbed parents can be very convincing and make themselves really look good even though they have created the situations that entangle the other parent. This is even harder when the child is over 18 and there is no longer any legal recourse....

    Any suggestions?