What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation, in laymen’s terms, is the toxic practice of one parent keeping a child away from the other parent. This usually occurs for malicious intent such as accusations of infidelity and/or remarriages. Professionals consider parental alienation a form of emotional and psychological abuse. The practice of withholding a child from his or her other capable, willing, and fit parent derives from a place of control, which in itself is a form of psychological abuse.
Child custody is an inevitable by-product of many divorces. The judicial system in our country can oftentimes treat child custody as a topic of an understatement. Either that, or it is front-and-center in the proceedings. Either extreme pits the parents against each other and forces them to do battle over their children. If you have experienced divorce with children in tow, you understand the emotional aspect of these issues and how their presence can play a big part in custody “battles.”
Society encourages us to “go to battle” for our children. To do whatever it takes to keep our children, even if there is irreversible harm. Are we pre-programming our minds to fight for the best interest of our children? Or is this a message hardwired in our brains by a malicious and controlling society?
Another term often used is “broken family.” Using the term “united family” in place of the phrase “broken family” encourages positive thinking not only for the children but the families, as well. This article describes parental alienation in professional terms and outlines the different types of parental alienation.
What Effects Does Parental Alienation Have on the Child?
An alienated child can become hostile to the rejected parent and may express fear or even hatred of them. Even if they had a good relationship before, the child may say he or she can’t remember any good times or positive experiences. He or she will resist talking to or seeing the rejected parent and may try to curry favor with the custodial parent by being negative and dismissive toward the other parent.
According to Amy J. L. Baker, Ph.D., a nationally-recognized expert on parental alienation, some children are able to resist the pressure to choose one parent over the other. But when they can’t, they become alienated. “They reject the targeted parent without justification. Their relationship with the targeted parent is based on the emotional manipulation of the favored parent rather than on actual experiences with the targeted parent,” she explains.
What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?
The theory of parental alienation syndrome was introduced by psychiatrist Richard Gardner in the 1980s, but there’s disagreement about it among experts. The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize it, and it is not listed in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, though Baker points out that it does meet the APA’s definition of a syndrome. Still, she says, there has been confusion as to whom PAS refers to (the parent, the child, or the family), and she prefers to focus on the tactics alienators use and the behavior of the alienated child. “That way, everyone is clear about what we’re talking about,” she says.
In her article Parental Alienation, Symptoms, and Its Impact, Tracy Guth-Spangler outlines three types of parental alienation: Naïve, Active, and Obsessive Alienators. Each type displays different behaviors and exhibits different reactions to common situations.
The naïve alienator wants the child to have a good relationship with the other parent but will occasionally do or say something hurtful (“Tell your dad it would help if he was on time to pick you up”). Still, decent communication between the parents and their mutual desire to support their kids is apparent. The kids will generally weather the divorce well and will not become alienated from one parent over the other.
Active alienators also believe their kids should have a good relationship with the other parent, but they have a harder time not letting their own pain and frustration affect their behavior. They lash out at or about the other parent in front of the children and maybe rigid and uncommunicative with their ex. This can cause pain and confusion for children around how they should feel about or act toward the other parent.
Obsessive alienators actively try to win the child to their side and aim to prevent or destroy any relationship with the other parent. If they feel anger, hatred, or fear toward their former partner, they assume or decide the child must feel the same, and they choose to “protect” their child at all costs. The child may begin to parrot what this parent is doing and saying, and his or her negative feelings toward the rejected parent can become extreme.
Tactics of parental alienation are also addressed. Dr. Baker says research has identified five categories of alienation tactics. These tactics can foster conflict and distance between the child and the targeted parent:
- Portraying the targeted parent as unloving, unsafe, and unavailable.
- Limiting contact and communication between the child and the targeted parent.
- Erasing and replacing the targeted parent in the child’s heart and mind.
- Encouraging the child to betray the targeted parent’s trust.
- Undermining the targeted parent’s authority.
Ms. Guth-Spangler further explains the understanding of behaviors associated with parental alienation: “Parents should avoid engaging in behaviors that are likely to result in a child falsely believing that the other parent is unsafe, unloving, and unavailable,” Baker says.
“Many parents claim they never bad-mouth the other, but bad-mouthing is only one of a number of behaviors that constitute parental alienation. Some claim they want the child to have a good relationship with the other parent and that they are not intentionally sabotaging it, but intentionality is not really relevant — the behaviors a parent engages in and the attitudes they convey are what matters, not their intentions.”
Behavior Indicators that a Child is Alienated
According to Baker, children display eight behaviors that can be read as symptoms of alienation. “Any parent concerned that a child is becoming alienated should be on the lookout for even a hint of these behaviors,” she says.
- Extreme negative views toward the parent, including denying past positive experiences, and lack of investment or interest in improving the relationship.
- Frivolous or absurd reasons for hurt and anger with the parent.
- Seeing one parent as all good and the other as all bad.
- Always siding with the favored parent, no matter what he or she says or does.
- A lack of remorse for hurting the rejected parent’s feelings.
- Claiming to reject the parent with no influence from the favored parent, even though that parent is an obvious influence.
- Repeating the favored parent’s words without always understanding what they mean.
- Becoming cold and hostile toward friends and family of the rejected parent.
Society is negatively affected on many levels, due to the subsequent damage of parental alienation to our future generations. Social, economical, and political matters can all influence parental alienation. The family court rarely recognizes parental alienation syndrome. Judges presiding over child custody cases are not professionally suitable to oversee psychological and emotional abuse. They are not required to obtain a degree in child psychology, merely a law degree. The testimony of experts can sometimes sway a judge’s ruling, but ultimately, it is up to the judge in the case, not the experts.
Unscrupulous Judicial and Attorney Tactics
The majority of countries around the world do not have legislation protecting families from parental alienation syndrome. Brazil is one of the few countries that recognize and create legislation to combat parental alienation. Furthermore, in the United States, evidence suggests that judicial misconduct is a rampant issue within the judicial system. Such violations by family court judges against one’s constitutional rights are becoming more common. Due process, pursuing witness testimony, neglecting to call present witnesses to the stand, and neglecting to exclude evidence of perjury within witness statements are all fairly common.
Misconduct can also extend to negligent and otherwise incompetent attorney representation. Deliberately not subpoenaing written requested witnesses, refusing requested testimony by the other party, etc. are all very common tactics used by unscrupulous attorneys.
Never Forget What is Best for the Children
The emotional well-being of the child — and his or her relationship with both parents — is paramount. “The most important thing to remember in a co-parenting situation is that you and the child are not the same people,” Baker says. “You may be hurt and angry with the other parent, but your child deserves to have a relationship with both parents, regardless of how the parents feel about each other.” She adds, “I applaud any parent who asks him or herself, ‘What have I done that may be interfering in or undermining the child’s relationship with the other parent?’ That’s the best place to start.”
Parental alienation is deeply harmful to innocent children. This unhealthy abusive behavior warrants restructure and reform of family law and psychology. After all, a parent that denies a loving relationship with a fit parent is using a form of “lawful kidnapping” and should be recognized for what it is and abolished within family law.
Children need love, attention, and devotion from both parents, for their wellbeing. In order for them to live their best life filled with ample opportunities and in pursuit of happiness, we must put grudges and vengeance aside. Affected parents and mental health professionals all over the world are using their voices effectively and efficiently to speak for each child that is distanced from his or her alienated parent and aiding corrupt court systems to end the toxic practice of parental alienation.