Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome
Parental Alienation Syndrome - A term used to describe the process by which one parent, typically divorced or separated from the other biological parent, uses their influence to make a child believe that the other parent is bad, evil or worthless.
The most widely reported form of alienation is parental alienation - where a parent tries to sabotage the relationship their child has with the other parent. This is quite common when divorcing someone who has a personality disorder.
Parental Alienation can take many forms including:
Verbal criticism of the other parent - derogatory comments, telling stories about the other parent, portraying their bad side, picking up on their faults, highlighting their mistakes, drawing unfavorable comparisons between them and others.
Withholding or discouraging contact with the other parent - not allowing visits or keeping visits inappropriately short. Moving to another geographic location to limit contact, forgetting or impeding visitation rights, forcing the other parent to jump through hoops or meet inappropriate criteria or conditions in order to see the children.
Denying phone contact - sabotaging phone contact by not picking up the phone, turning the phone off, being out when the phone call comes, etc.
Intimidating the child - making the child feel bad for loving the other parent, criticizing or mocking the child's interest in the other parent or discouraging the child from spending time with the other parent. Forcing the child to meet stringent criteria or perform extra chores or pass certain tests in order to be "rewarded" with contact with the other parent. Punishing the child by removal of affection or privileges after spending time with the other parent.
What it feels like:
Parental alienation is a form of emotional child abuse. Children instinctively love both parents and feel immense stress when asked by one parent to choose between them and the other parent. When a child is told that one of their parents is bad they identify with that parent and they feel as though they themselves are bad. They feel shame for who they are and they feel shame for secretly loving the other parent.
It is critical to a child's sense of security and self-esteem that they be allowed to love both of their biological parents. That doesn't mean you have to condone bad behavior. It does mean though that you have to allow the child to love who they love and to feel what they feel without shame or punishment or control or manipulation.
It is very common for divorcing parents to feel anger at the other parent and to express that anger in front of the children. However, it is highly inappropriate for parents to put children in that position. If you need validation for the way you feel towards your ex-spouse you should talk to a friend or a therapist about it - not to the children.
It's also common for people with personality disorders to launch their distortion campaigns about the other parent in front of the children. This is highly destructive.
What NOT to Do:
Don't verbally berate your child's other parent in front of them - no matter what they have done. When a child hears that his parent is bad he hears you say that he is bad.
Don't try to discourage your child's love for their parent. Separate your feelings from your child's feelings and understand that they will make up their own mind about what they think.
Don't limit your child's contact with the other parent - except when they are in danger of abuse.
Don't lie to your children. Be honest with them if they ask a question - but don't take it as a license to say more than you really need to. If, for example, your child asks you "did mommy do something wrong?" you can say "I think mommy made a mistake" and leave it at that.
Don't discuss grown up issues with children.
Don't interrogate your child about what the other parent says or does. If they want to tell you something let them, but leave it at that.
Don't try to compensate for a parent who is trying to alienate you with gifts or strange behavior. Just be you. Your child is able to separate fact from fiction in cartoons. They can do it in real life too.
What TO Do:
Put the best interests of your child ahead of any personal feelings you may have.
Affirm your child. Tell them you love them. Praise their accomplishments; encourage them to be all they can be.
Be consistent and reliable. Keep your promises.
Document clearly incidents where you feel the other parent is trying to alienate your children from you.
Consult with a COMPETENT attorney about your options. In general, courts do not look favorably on parents who try to alienate their children from the other parent. However, your complaints should be specific and unemotional - with the best interests of the child at heart.
Confront the other parent unemotionally and clearly - in writing is best - if you feel that they are making a mistake. Keep a record of what you have written.
Report any acts of violence, threats of violence or self-harm immediately to the authorities.
For More Information & Support...
If you suspect you may have a family member or loved-one who suffers from a personality disorder, we encourage you to learn all you can and surround yourself with support as you learn how to cope.
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