The dissolution of marriages often leads to parentectomy. The effects of parentectomy are more severe on children than adults. Alienation from their parents leads them to become emotionally scarred for life. These kids are unable to relate to their peers normally.
Something that needs to be made clear is that it’s easy to understand the tendency of a parent to alienate their ex-partner. There manifests a need to validate one’s past choices, a need to have an ally, and especially a need to take solace in knowing that the child doesn’t take anything against the parent they live with.
Broken marriages and conflict-ridden families are sad realities of our world today. While everyone is affected, the most challenging blow of pain is always received by the children.
The heart-pounding reality is when once happy and beautiful marriages break apart in divorce, parents, who were just moms and dads before, start playing different roles in the life of their children. According to William Bernet, M.D. and co-authors, “We define parental alienation as a mental condition in which a child—usually one whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict divorce—allies himself or herself strongly with one parent (the preferred parent) and rejects a relationship with the other parent (the alienated parent) without legitimate justification.”
Ideally, parents and children have a bond that is incomparable to any other relationship. As it starts with the birth of the child, a healthy relationship grows over time. However, such is not the case for many. Unfortunately, there are many cases of abusive or negligent parents, and now, a relatively new term has made waves in many child custody cases.
When one parent exerts effort in alienating the other, it can be due to a lot of different reasons that are usually concerning both parties. So how does one know if he or she is gradually being alienated out of his or her children’s lives?
The Messy Truth
Parental alienation occurs when a parent mentally manipulates his or her child into expressing hostility or fearing the other parent. Unfortunately, parental alienation is a common issue brought up in chaotic divorces. Worse, it can have an indelible, negative impact not only on the couple but also primarily on the kids. According to Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, “the parent doing the bad-mouthing is called the alienator and the parent who is the subject of the criticism is the alienated.”
Any suspicion of parental alienation being perpetuated by your spouse must be dealt with. Before doing so, you first have to know what parental alienation looks like and how it is done.
Signs Of Active Parent Alienators
Psychiatry identifies the usual signs that the alienator is at work when:
The Child Displays Alliance With The Alienator
Children are allowed to be upset and angry towards their parents who are undergoing divorce. However, if the feelings become disproportionately addressed at you and are more in favor of your spouse, and if you notice that your children have been standoffish against you ever since you and your partner have separated, chances are, your ex-better half might be exacerbating circumstances in their favor. Children who side with the alienator usually exhibit this by refusing visitations, displaying overly defensive behavior regarding the other parent, or entirely blaming you for the separation. “Alienated children parrot the alienating parent’s excessively negative views of the targeted parent, expressing these as their own much as cult followers parrot the beliefs of a cult leader,” Susan Heitler Ph.D. says.
Your Child’s Belongings Are Heavily Controlled
Even if your spouse paid for your child’s belongings, he or she does not have any right to impose your child not to bring the items when he or she visits you. A good example would be a toy that was gifted by your spouse to your child last Christmas that he or she is not allowed to bring whenever the child goes to your house. The child now becomes conflicted whether or not it is still a good idea to see you without bringing the toy, especially if that item is his or her favorite. This kind of behavior done by your ex-partner is unnecessary and unfair because it creates a rift leading to parental alienation.
The Alienator Divulges Too Much To The Child
Children, especially those under 18 years old, are especially sensitive and are still incapable of fully understanding the gravity and scope of the situation or the reason behind the divorce. Their minds are incredibly susceptible; therefore, it is inappropriate to divulge and discuss specific details about the separation with the child. If you notice that your child is all-knowing of particularly sensitive subjects about the divorce, such as abuse, infidelity, or finances, you have to address this issue immediately.
The Alienator is Non-compliant
One of the most evident warning signs that your spouse is becoming an alienator is when children’s choices regarding visitation are disregarded. Non-compliance with court-mandated visitation rights is a usual scenario in divorce cases especially with minors who are not legally authorized to negotiate with the schedule. Remember, parents, are obliged to follow and ensure that visitation requirements are met. “Dealing with parental alienation is not easy. It can be exceedingly painful when your children resist your attempts to connect or view you as the “bad” parent, which is often the case,” Sharie Stines, PsyD shares.
Other signs of parent alienators are the failure to adequately communicate essential details about the child, undermining the other parent’s spousal authority, and using the child to spy on the other parent or gather personal information. Alienators will do what it takes to brainwash your child into thinking that you are the “bad guy,” which is why you have to be adamant in identifying parental alienation before your relationship with your child crumbles.
Parental alienation is a severe act committed by one parent to another while their children are caught in between. The moment one parent commits alienation, it can be challenging to reverse primarily because the act of severing marriage ties in a despicable manner and including the kids in the process is tantamount to ongoing mistrust and anger. Just as Sharie Stines, PsyD said, “some of the alienated parents I’ve worked with have called this a battle, while others found this term too light and preferred “war.” Even when you don’t want to fight with your co-parent, their behavior may force you to take action to maintain custody or visitation of your children.” For this reason, counseling is put into play.
What Counseling Means To Parental Alienation
When a parent who has been alienated is attempting to re-enter his or her child’s life, the conflict will immediately arise. Regardless of the intention for estrangement or the incentive for coming back, the primary goal of counseling is to help repair families and people who were deeply affected by the separation in the most therapeutic way possible.
A lot of children, especially those who are undergoing puberty, are unable to fully understand the reasons why the other half is returning to their lives after all the nasty things that occurred. This scenario is quite complicated especially if parental alienation has been so ingrained that the child’s perspective regarding the alienated parent has been entirely on the negative side. Mark L. Goldstein, Ph.D., says that “when alienation is severe, the child often refuses to see the other parent, even though there is no evidence of physical or sexual abuse and no obvious emotional abuse. In addition, the child will usually be unable to provide even one positive quality of the other parent (In one case, I reminded the child that her father would take her to a toy store every visitation and let her choose a present. She responded that he should have allowed her to have unlimited gifts, and as a result, was still “all bad.”).”
Likewise, conflicting parents who have decided to reconcile are often baffled why children find it difficult to accept the other parent back into their lives; then the struggle becomes more complicated than expected. Counseling deals with this kind of family dilemma that usually manifests when the parent who was alienated decides to reclaim their right or repair a broken relationship with his or her significant other.
Expectations In Parental Alienation Counseling
Methods and treatments that are used to confront and console various parental issues are dependent on the circumstances the family is encountering. Counselors often use customized approaches to meet family needs and address complications.
In a way, counseling for parental alienation has various forms – individually, with the child or children, or as a family. Initially, both parents are required to attend the session first to gain a better comprehension of what happens during therapy, the parameters to be followed, and what to expect after the program.
When To Seek Counseling
The thing about parental alienation counseling is that it’s not that popular and is sometimes known by the mandate of a judge or if recommended by other family-related groups and agencies. But as responsible parents who are mainly concerned about their children’s psychological and emotional welfare, they can easily schedule a meeting with a therapist whose specialty is dealing with family issues like parental alienation.
One of the main reasons why parents opt for family therapy is due to their children’s behavior that often leads to a number of consequences, such as mental illness, addiction, suicide, and other factors that are detrimental to their overall safety and well-being.
Other reasons to seek therapy after going through parental alienation are:
When both parents want to make amends and make their marriage work
When children display worrisome behaviors like self-harm or cutting
When the alienated parent wants to reconnect with his or her children
When children manifest physical symptoms like panic attacks, disrupted sleeping pattern, and eating disorders
When school performance and relationship with friends are severely affected
Alcohol or substance use
Parental alienation therapy can be quite overwhelming at first. As parents who have undergone a painful moment in their lives and can surpass it, the recovery is never easy. Therefore, therapy is recommended. If unsure, you can always schedule a meeting with a therapist and air your concerns to gauge if a professional relationship can be formed for the sake of your children and if you can possibly rebuild your family. According to Susan Heitler, Ph.D., “while initial preparatory individual sessions may be helpful, treatment of alienation begins with therapeutic parent/child interactions. The therapists’ job is to foster positive parent-child connecting. One technique is to ask the parent to bring memorabilia of fun prior experiences they can recall together.”
Why should a child be caught between warring parents? Why is his innocent mind to suffer the consequences of immature actions and decisions of adults?
It is a heartbreaking scene to see a child coming in front of a judge inside a courtroom, having to choose between his two beloved parents. It’s damaging enough that the two adults are not getting along well, and these adults make things more detrimental to the poor child making him lose one of his parents.
Some parents have to deal with a difficult decision in their lives. They have to leave their children to the other parent or other relatives. It can to divorce, financial reasons where a parent has to work someplace else, or some personal reason.
The absence of a parent can make the child’s feelings and emotions vulnerable. Edward Kruk, PhD, explained, “Fatherless children have more difficulties with social adjustment, and are more likely to report problems with friendships, and manifest behavior problems; many develop a swaggering, intimidating persona in an attempt to disguise their underlying fears, resentments, anxieties and unhappiness.”
It is vital that they are not left with people who have ill-feelings toward the parent. If this happens, they can manipulate the child to hate or have a negative thought about the parent.
If you have experienced or are experiencing parental alienation, there are simple ways you can do to reclaim your place in your child’s life.
David J. Palmiter Jr., PhD, noted that the time parents set aside for their children only comes after all of life’s other obligations. He said, “We often treat our relationships—which are like orchids—like a cactus, and then when inevitably the orchid wilts or has problems, we tend to think that there’s something wrong with the orchid.”
Time is a crucial factor in every relationship. We need time to cultivate trust and love, just like growing a flower. You need to devote your time and effort to see it bloom beautifully. Set a date and time every week. Pick an activity that your kid loves, like watching a movie, watching a football game, or anything that would bring happiness to him.
Some children, especially teens, may enjoy more time with friends. Adolescence
We all need privacy, and it’s one thing you need to give your child. “Establishing these personal spaces means setting up boundaries which other people may not cross without permission. Since that includes parents, negotiating those boundaries is a major challenge in the parent-child relationship,” wrote Romeo Vitelli, PhD.
It is a way of showing your trust. If you are troubled by something like cigarette smoke in his clothes, it is better to address him directly instead of talking to his guardian or other people close to him. Give him the authority to defend and stand up for himself.
Ask for your child’s opinion whenever you have to make significant decisions in life. Make him feel that his thoughts and feelings do matter. Support his dreams and interests and never impose on something you want if it’s not what they want. Be a supportive parent, but be sure to help them distinguish right from wrong.
Be a good role model. Show your child that you deserve to be his parent. Be someone you would want him to be. You should be a positive influence that inspires him, not a shadow that will terrorize him. Be yourself but better. Make an effort to make your child want to spend time with you. Never give him any reason to avoid you.
Reclaiming your role as a parent is challenging when there’s parental alienation. Children’s minds are fragile. They develop and build their foundation based on the thoughts they are fed with, but you could always prove them wrong, especially if the people who want to turn him against you are just doing it to despise you.
It is a battle not only for yourself, but think of it as saving your child from being drowned in an environment that compromises his potential for goodness. Be the best parent and redeem your place. Cultivate love but always demand respect.
Parental alienation is a looming concern not only for families separated because of having divorced parents. It can also occur in families that are still intact. It usually entails one parent suffering from psychological issues that are passed on to the child. It is sinister because one has to take a closer look at the child to recognize its symptoms.
I was on the verge of separation from my ex-husband when I tried convincing my child to choose me over his dad. It was a toxic situation where I forced my kid to make some automatic adjustments. The process involves a complex mental manipulation that destroyed my son’s emotional well-being. He was unaware of what he was doing and subconsciously lashing out his connection with his father.
This is called parental alienation. Stanton E. Samenow, PhD, explained, “The alienating parent deploys a variety of tactics to gain control over the child. Consequently, the child experiences distress from being in the middle of his parents’ warfare.
How I Apply Parental Alienation
The process of getting my child’s custody was complicated, and I honestly admit that it was emotional abuse. His relationship with his dad was basically from what I told him. I tried brainwashing him about the stress and depression that his father had given me and it seemed to work faultlessly. I detailed out reasons for our separation and informed him about the negative consequences that can occur in our marriage. I even made false allegations of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual and verbal abuse as well as physical and mental abuse. I acted hurt and betrayed every time my son wanted to make a positive move towards his dad. I even told my son that our family got ruined because his dad doesn’t show effort in keeping us together and asked him to lie about his personal life. Because of all that, he lost the sense of interest towards his dad and blamed everything on his father’s unclear behavior. I was unaware of what I was doing at first, and I thought that seeking attention from my son was only part of relieving my stress from the failure of my marriage, but the results were in my favor, so I continued to manipulate him to turn against his dad maliciously.
How It Affected My Child
According to Susan Heitler, PhD, “Severely alienated children have little if anything positive to say about the targeted parent and often rewrite the history of their relationship with the targeted parent.” The consequences of parental alienation occurred when a change of behavior happened to my child.
He became hateful when he used to be a loving person. His perception of positive bonding experiences distorted into blame, uncontrolled anger, and arrogance. He developed a sense of entitlement and disrespected elders, (especially his dad.) Though it was already part of what I wanted, I eventually felt guilty for feeding him damaging information that made him hostile and irrational. He then experienced poor eating habits and started to lose weight. Because of the negative ideas that I implanted on his thoughts, he developed social identity problems and poor decision-making functions and lost the ability to think logically. He used technology as a means of escape and diminished his attention span. He became lonely as he isolated himself from his friends and family.
The effect of parental alienation on my child was lethal. His anxiety and depression have become worst, and I lost a sense of control over his pure nature. “We bring children into this world and owe them innocence, for as long as we can,” wrote Mark Banschick, MD. “They need not worry about adult matters. They deserve their childhood. On Divorce Island that innocence is threatened constantly, but it can be maintained.”
I was too focused on the attention that I have, so I ignored the signs of his sufferings. Unfortunately, it was too late to realize that hatred doesn’t come naturally to any child because it comes from teaching. I intentionally endangered my son’s emotional and mental health just because I was selfish enough to understand his needs.