What is Parental Alienation?

Do you have a child that rejects you and refuses to have anything to do with you?  Are you currently involved in a very contentious child custody battle?  Are you being accused by the other parent of things you have not done?  Does the other parent describe you as an incompetent parent to anyone who will listen?  Do you feel isolated and without a relationship with your child?  Parental alienation has many forms, but the outcome is always the same.  A child is influenced by an emotionally unhealthy parent to reject the other parent.  This is an intentional act by one parent to turn the child against the other parent.  To the alienated parent, this rejection can sometimes occur literally overnight or can occur through a gradual degrading of the parent-child relationship.  Ultimately, the child decides that he or she does not want to see one parent anymore.

How does the alienating parent accomplish this?

1. Rejection

Any time the child shows affection for the target parent, the alienating parent will reject or verbally attack the child.  The alienating parent, consciously or unconsciously, hopes that the repetition will instill a fear response in the child so the child internalizes the criticism. Eventually, the child will resist going to the targeted parent because of the repercussions from the alienating parent.

2. Corruption

Going a step beyond rejection, the idea of corruption is to place false ideas into the mind of the child, from lies about the target parent to complete misstatements about the law (such as you do not have to go to the target parent if you do not want to). This particular method interferes with the child’s ability to discern reality.

3. Denial

A more common form of alienation, denial is a series of behavioral responses that create a perverse reward system – if you say nice things about the target parent, you get punished; if you say mean things about the target parent, you get a reward. The child is being trained, or at least incentivized, to reject the other parent in favor of the alienating parent.

4. Isolation

A severe form of alienation, isolation removes the child from the target parent for as long as possible. For example, when the child is with the alienating parent, the child will be unable to communicate at all with the targeted parent.

5. Denigration

Another common form of alienation, denigration is the repeated insulting and verbally abusing the targeted parent in front of the child. Over time, the child begins to believe that the target parent deserves this behavior and will imitate it.

As you can see, these forms of parental alienation can all qualify as forms of child abuse when carried out over a period of time and can lead to physical and mental health issues for the child beyond the harm to the relationship between the child and the target parent.

Some common signs suggesting that you are being alienated include:

1. Your child tells you that they do not want you to attend their extracurricular activities.

2. Your child refuses to follow the parenting plan and they insist it is their decision.

3. The alienating parent insists that they can’t force your child to go to your home.

4. Your child views the alienating parent as having only good qualities and you as only having bad qualities.

5. Your child’s reasons for the rejection seem frivolous and they cannot provide a detailed account of why they are rejecting you.

6. Your child may repeat the same words over and over, typically to figures of authority, such as mental health professionals.

7. Your child uses age-inappropriate language.

8. Your child calls the alienating parent to “rescue” them while with you.

9. The alienating parent texts and calls the child intrusively while the child is with you.

10. Your child rejects any form of affection from you.

What Can You Do if You are the Target of Parental Alienation?

So, what is a parent to do to counter the negative influence the alienating parent has on their child? 

1. Educate Yourself

Knowing how the alienating parent thinks is important to successfully counter their bad acts. Understanding your child’s perspective will change the way you perceive your child’s behavior and the way you react to it. What many alienated parents do not know is that they sometimes engage in behaviors that unwittingly reinforce the alienation. Gaining a deep understanding of parental alienation will help you to avoid some common pitfalls.

2. Reduce Conflict

Alienating parents thrive in conflict.  In fact, they go out of their way to ensure that the child associates conflict with the alienated parent. Unfortunately, you cannot control anyone but yourself. Therefore, you must always reduce conflict.  You will feel more in control of the situation.  Your stress level will go down.  In turn, you provide the alienating parent less ammunition to work with, and you look like the good parent in court and to any mental health professional involved in your case.

3. Become Proactive

The alienated parent is always on the defensive because he or she is always being accused of something.  However, being reactionary leaves you feeling completely out of control and appear unstable to the court and to any mental health professional involved in your case.  Meanwhile, the alienating parent remains cool, calm, collected to those same individuals.  Think of what the alienating parent’s next move will be and plan for it to occur.  If you are being falsely accused of being an alcoholic, invest in Soberlink monitoring so that you have proof that these allegations are false rather than waiting for a judge to order the testing.  Take coparenting or conflict resolution classes.  Prepare yourself mentally for the next parenting exchange and think about what you can do to deescalate any expected situation the alienating parent may create.

4. Document Patterns of Behavior

Documenting the alienating parent’s behavior is key, and you should be journaling daily.  Then organize all of that that information into a format that can be easily understood by your attorney and allows him or her to present long-term patterns of behavior by the alienating parent over the course of months or years.

5. Speak With a Mental Health Professional

If your child is already starting to pull away, or is refusing to speak to you and have you blocked on all channels, the only recourse you may have is to seek family reunification therapy.  But there is something very important to understand – there is no set formula for reunification therapy”.  The first step is to find a therapist who is highly qualified and experienced in parental alienation.  If you are asking the court to order therapy, it is important that both parents and the child be ordered to attend therapy.  This will provide the therapist with the source of the problem which is necessary for family reunification therapy to be successful.

Should you need the advice of a divorce, family law, or child custody attorney, know that we are here to help and discuss those issues with you.

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