What to Do About Parental Alienation
As an excluded parent, as an alienated child, and as a bystander.
What is Parental Alienation
“Parental Alienation” is the common name for a pattern that can happen to a family, usually after separation, when one parent harmfully turns their child or children against the other parent in a lasting way, and with no good reason. This rejection can happen to mothers as well as to fathers, and can extend to the whole of one extended family network. Justified rejection is not called Alienation (eg, proven abuse by the rejected parent).
In Parental Alienation, one parent implacably rejects and resists collaborating with the other parent. The child cannot resist that parent’s coercive pressure to side with them. Whether this pressure is strategic or unwitting, the child typically becomes as loyal to their parent as if they were in a mind-control cult. More commonly a mixture of the behavior of both parents, and of the child too, combine to produce the pattern.
All of this amounts to emotional abuse of the child, but that focus is lost under the child’s loud loyalty, and the escalating tribal side-taking on both sides by the adults – the parents, the wider family, and by the multiple social and legal agencies involved. If one or both parents are involved in a high-control group, the effect of the Alienation can be compounded exponentially, especially if one of the parents has exited or is attempting to exit the group as well as the marriage.
The range of severity and of factors involved means that each situation has to be carefully considered as unique. Until professionals learn more, even well-meaning counselors can often make the Alienation worse. Everyone should judge the competence of the professionals they turn to, and make sure that they are aware of the dynamics of Alienation..
As an Excluded Parent
As soon as you feel you are being unjustly excluded as a parent, you should urgently find out more. Towards your ex-, you should take reasonable and collaborative steps, in writing too, if only to show that you have tried and that it has failed. Do not “give it time”. Do not accept it when a professional says “trust me, I know what I’m doing” (because most do not).
There are also many helpful websites (such as OurFamilyWizard.com), which offer divorced or separated parents a selection of apps designed to schedule child custody, track and schedule shared custody time, and manage expenses – all while creating an accurate, unbiased record of all communication.
Finding the label “Alienation” can be a mixed blessing, as few know what it means and there is much controversy surrounding it. Flourishing the label like a weapon can make things worse. But the term certainly helps you to Google vast amounts of validation and resources online. Much of that information is simplistic and polarized, so it may not fit or help your own case. Every situation is unique. Your country and locality will also be different, so you need to follow your nose to find what works best for you where you are.
Whatever is going on, do everything to keep any kind of contact going with your child or children. Long arduous legal processes may be your only course of action, yet often ignorance and expense is the only outcome. As for loved ones trapped in any coercive situation, keep ordinary rapport going if you can, to keep the door open for more and better communication.
As an Alienated Young Child
As an alienated child, eg under 18 years old or even younger, you will likely not have any chance at all of knowing what’s happening to you. Nor will you have any access to anyone else who could help you understand your situation any better. You are under the influence of a very powerful family dynamic, of powerful emotional pressures, and of unwitting support from people and social systems all around.
As in other coercive family patterns, Alienation is part of “undue influence”. Alienation is the same brand of social isolation found in cults and all the other situations that the Open Minds Foundation campaigns about. The key purpose of Alienation is to keep you away from your other parent, from healthier relationships, from information and other constructive support for your healthy development.
Your main “life-and-death” preoccupation when Alienated will be to keep in with the parent you’ve got … even though they need you to meet their needs. They are not really looking after your needs. At the back of your mind will be your genuine feelings: you hope that your other parent will realize you don’t mean the hateful things you say – you have to say them, to keep in the good graces of your close parent.
As an Alienated Grown-Up Child
As an alienated more grown-up child, you may begin to think for yourself, discover something’s wrong, talk to others, read things that make you aware of what has happened to you. You may look for your other parent on social media. Google and read all you can about Alienation. You may need friendly or professional support to help you work out what to do. You will want to find the truth. That may include making a new relationship with your rejected parent. It may mean distancing from your close parent, at least while you develop your understanding of the situation.
As a Bystander
Given this picture, bystanders may wish to stand well away, rather than get caught up in such a nightmare. But this is a situation where standing back actively helps the nightmare continue. Often it is only the bystanders – family, friends, neighbors, ordinary and specialist professionals – who can make a difference to such an entrenched situation, by saying something to someone, by reading about alienation, and by talking to other bystanders or professionals.
Bystanders: please do more than stand by and watch a child’s true self be rubbed out.
Here is a (UK- based) example of an online resource for anyone to start with and to plan the next steps: TheAlienationExperience.org.uk
Here is one example of a serious, concise, comprehensive overview: Off-putting relationships: the essentials of Child Alienation