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Battling Parental Alienation

You can’t battle what you don’t understand. The first step is to identify if alienation tactics or symptoms are present. The second is to develop a plan to fight this insidious form of abuse.

Identifying Parental Alienation

A primary manifestation of parental alienation: When a child whose parents are engaged in a high conflict divorce allies themselves strongly with one parent while rejecting the relationship with the other previously loved parent without legitimate justification.

Signs of Parental Alienation

  • The child no longer wants to be with the targeted parent for no apparent reason.
  • The child seems to parrot statements previously made by the alienating parent. An example is a seven-year-old who says they don’t want to see their father because he’s “always late on child support because he spends all his money on his girlfriend instead of his children.”
  • They are rude to the targeted parent and the child shows no remorse for being so.
  • They may swear at the targeted parent or hit them.
  • The child is adamant that it’s their choice to no longer engage with the targeted parent. And that no one else influenced them or told them to do it.
  • The child supports and feels a need to protect the alienating parent.
  • They call the targeted parent by their first name when they used to call them mom or dad.
  • The alienation extends to the targeted parent’s family. The child refuses to spend time or communicate with once loved grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends of the target.
  • A child accuses the targeted parent of doing things that never happened.

Parental Alienation can occur rapidly. Alienators are master manipulators. They often bribe children with toys, vacations, and privileges, enabling them to brainwash the child to believe that they are the “good” parent and the targeted parent is the “bad.”

Parental Alienation From a Child’s Perspective

Common Alienation Tactics

  • Speaking negatively or disparaging of the targeted parent
    Making derogatory statements to the child, or in front of the child about the other parent.
  • Limiting contact with the other parent
    The alienator may tell the targeted parent that the child doesn’t want to see them, or they’re busy, or have lots of homework, or they’re not feeling well. Once alienation tactics have become effective, the alienator won’t need to lie anymore because the child becomes the one to tell the parent. The brainwashing is complete.
  • Interfering with communication
    Usually employed after a separation or divorce has taken place. The alienator may intercept or disallow phone calls, emails, or other methods of communication. In severe cases they will obtain a PPO (personal protection order) against the targeted parent using false allegations of neglect or abuse.
  • Withdrawal of love from the child
    This can be communicated in a variety of ways. Usually unspoken but strongly inferred until the child begins to align themselves to the alienator’s demands, emotions and way of thinking.
  • Telling a child, the targeted parent doesn’t love them
    Lying means nothing to an alienator. It’s simply a tool to be used to achieve their goal. They are unable to have a healthy and normal sense of empathy and concern for the effects on their child or remorse at targeting their ex-spouse with such a lie.
  • Forcing a child to choose
    This is something that every cult leader or dictator does. You must swear allegiance to only them and their way of thinking or suffer the consequences. They must win at all costs.
  • Creating the impression that the targeted Parent is dangerous
    It isn’t enough to alienate the child. The alienator is driven to instill fear in the child so they will never be tempted to love, accept, or interact with the other parent. Thus, solidifying the child’s loyalty to them and their agenda. They often use authority figures such as teachers, police officers and judges to reinforce this belief whenever possible.
  • Confiding in the child
    This isn’t the normal and healthy sharing and bonding that all parents do. The alienator sees the child as an adult confident to share all their thoughts and emotions with. But more than that, they seek to project and transfer their thoughts and emotions onto the child, so they become the child’s. Obviously, this is harmful to the child’s healthy development and best interests.
  • Forcing a child to reject the targeted parent
    This is mandatory for a severe alienator. It isn’t a biproduct of their behavior. It’s the goal.
  • Asking the child to spy on targeted parent
    The alienator thinks nothing of dividing the child’s love and loyalties. This is part of them recruiting the child to their side. And it also provides intel for them to use against the targeted parent with the child or in many cases, in court as well.
  • Asking a child to keep secrets from the targeted parent
    This accomplishes multiple goals. If the child complies, it protects the secrecy of the alienator’s behavior. It also reinforces the child’s allegiance to the alienator as the “good” parent that can be trusted. And the targeted parent as the “bad” parent that they need to keep things from.
  • Teaching a child to call the targeted parent by first name
    This not only disrespects the targeted parent but drives a bigger wedge between the child and that parent. It disassociates them from that parent at a deeper level. Ultimately hurting the child’s development as much as inflicting pain upon its intended victim, the targeted parent.
  • Referring to a stepparent as “Mom” or “Dad” and encouraging the child to do so
    This is commonly used as one more tool to “replace” and disrespect the targeted parent in the child’s life. But if the child is young and as they grow older request to call the stepparent mom or dad, that’s different.
  • Withholding Important Information from the targeted parent
    Alienators are vindictive controllers. One of the ways they maintain control is by keeping the targeted parent’s name off medical, academic, and other documents. Also, not letting the target know about special events taking place in the child’s life. Such as academic achievements, sporting events, or artistic achievements in music etc. And the alienator will almost always tell the child that the target parent was too busy or didn’t want to attend the event.
  • Changing child’s name to remove association with targeted parent This particular tactic is a dramatic escalation or perhaps culmination of their campaign of alienation. And in almost every case, the alienator convinces the child that it is the child’s idea, not theirs.
  • Cultivating dependency
    Healthy parents realize that the end goal of every parent should be to raise a healthy, well adjusted and independent child that becomes an adult. And we do everything we can to help our child become one. Not the alienator. They continuously put their own selfish needs and desires above their child to feel better about themselves. They WANT their child to maintain an unhealthy dependency on them because they have an unhealthy dependency on their child. It is, and always has been about them.
  • False accusations of abuse or neglect
    We would all agree that valid concerns over abuse and neglect need to be investigated and addressed. But the alienator lives in a world of lies, drama and control issues. Regardless of the undeserved, and lifechanging negative effects this would have on their child and the targeted parent, they get an almost euphoric high from the power this tactic gives them. And even when their allegations are proven to be false, (according to family court over 90% of the time), they still usually accomplish disparaging the target parent’s reputation and further isolating and alienating their child. And the saddest part is, there’s almost no legal repercussions for their malicious actions and accusations.

Fighting Parental Alienation

This section requires a candid conversation about a very difficult subject.

Fighting alienation is difficult at any level. And the more extreme the level and duration of parental alienation is, the more extreme the measures to counteract the effects will need to be. And sadly, the are no guarantees of success. None.

I lost contact with my sons when they were ages 4 and 7. Through a series of legal maneuvers and alienation tactics, my ex was able to isolate and brainwash them very effectively. So much so, that even though we were extremely close before the alienation, they have refused to respond to my numerous efforts to reach out to them through the years.

I didn’t even know that PA existed until the psychologist working to reintegrate my sons and I recommended reading Divorce Poison by Dr. Richard Warshak because of concerns he had about my ex. Unfortunately, by that time my relationship with my sons had already been severed and the brainwashing completed.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope of you winning this fight. I didn’t have access to the information we share on this site to help me understand what I was up against or how to effectively fight this battle. You do.

There are specific actions you can take to greatly increase your odds of counteracting this poison. After extensive research and helping others, the list below seems to be the most effective.

Actions you can take to address Alienation Tactics

  1. Educate yourself about the symptoms, tactics and dangers of PA
  2. Assess your situation (the level and intensity of the alienation)
  3. If the assessment is Mild Alienation
    a. Speak with the other parent about the behaviors that concern you and agree that both of you will do your best to avoid speaking negatively about each other to the children. Speak in terms of we need to, as opposed to you need to, even if you’ve never done this. Consistently monitor the situation moving forward for positive or negative changes
    b. Suggest family counseling if needed.
    c. The key to working through these issues with the Mild Alienator is that there’s no malicious intent by the alienator. They aren’t actively trying to destroy the relationship you have with your child. They’re simply having a hard time controlling their words or actions but realize what they’re doing is harmful and want to stop.
  4. If the assessment is Moderate or Severe Alienation
    a. Confront your ex if you see or hear a flagrant example of alienation, about the specific statement or action that was destructive (unless you anticipate a violent response). Let them know it’s wrong and harmful to the child. But I would NOT use the term alienation or address your recognition of their goal of destroying your relationship with your child. And do NOT threaten them with court or CPS etc.
    b. Get help immediately!
    c. Find a qualified attorney – they need experience winning PA cases and must be willing to work with a PA expert
    d. Find and work with a qualified PA expert or coach
    e. Develop a game plan with attorney and coach
    f. File a motion in court to modify parenting time – request a psych evaluation for ex, etc.
    g. Speak with potential witnesses of the child’s and or alienator’s behaviors.
    h. Document everything in a diary with supporting evidence (pictures, texts, videos, voice mail messages, social media posts by alienator or child), examples of child exhibiting PA symptoms, and patterns of alienation tactics.
    i. Counseling with qualified counselor – therapy for child (possibly court-ordered) – they must have extensive experience with PA.

Actions you can take to address Alienation Effects on your child

  1. Intervene as early as possible before the alienation causes severe damage.
  2. Work to maintain a positive, loving relationship with your child so they feel safe with you.
  3. Be who you’ve always been. Don’t try to gain favor with the child using toys, trips, permissiveness, etc.
  4. Love your child unconditionally. Let them know you’ll always be there for them.
  5. Listen to your child. Allow them to speak their mind.
  6. Consistently spend time with and engage your child.
  7. Develop a fun hobby or shared interest with them.
  8. Always be on time with your calls and parenting time and don’t cancel unless there’s an emergency. Even if the alienator doesn’t allow them to accept the call or keep your scheduled parenting time, you will document these times as proof of alienation later.

Avoid these mistakes

  1. Never speak badly of the other parent to your child
  2. Don’t accuse the children of merely repeating what the other parent has said about you. Even if you’re sure it’s true, the child will adamantly deny it and feel attacked by you.
  3. Don’t lose your temper or harshly criticize your child.
  4. Never blame your child for what is happening. Focus on a positive relationship with them.
  5. Don’t waste your time trying to talk children out of their negative attitudes and perceptions about you. Engage in conflict-free, pleasurable interactions instead.
  6. Never tell your child that if they don’t want to see you, you don’t want to see them.
  7. Don’t tell the child that they’re not really angry or afraid of you. The child will likely feel that you’re wrong and you just don’t understand them.
  8. Don’t allow the child or your ex to dictate the terms of your contact with your child. Don’t wait patiently until the children supposedly “cool off” or feel “comfortable” being with you. Alienated parents find out too late that the time will never be right.
  9. Don’t delay obtaining legal help to enforce court ordered contact with your child and rescuing them from a toxic parent.
  10. Never show a child any court orders or other sensitive documents.
  11. Don’t let the children overhear inappropriate conversations on the telephone.
  12. Stay rational, reasonable, and keep the best interest of your child at heart.

Credits:

This information is a compilation tactics and strategies we have gleaned from the following experts: Dr. Richard Warshak, Dr. Michael Bone and Dr. Amy Baker

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