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What is "parental alienation"?

Parental Alienation

Jayne Major, Ph.D. (Parenting Educator & Child Custody Consultant, Breakthrough Parenting Services, Inc. ) gives expert video advice on: What is "parental alienation"?; Why do parents engage in parental alienation?; How do I prevent parental alienation? and more...

What is "parental alienation"?

The behavior of a parent that engages a child in a discussion so that the child can either participate or hear them degrade the other parent. Some parents are so upset they will reveal too much information such as "court papers." Alienation happens when the parent does not recognize the bounds of what they can say or do.

Why do parents engage in parental alienation?

Parents that engage in parental alienation are acting out their own drama and upset about what's occurred. For most people, parental alienation is mild, and it's very common in divorces, where an unkind thing is said, a name called or something, where a parent doesn't have boundaries. Mild parent alienation is, "you tell me if you get scared at your daddy's and I'll come," so planting a seed that you're not safe with your daddy. Another form of parental alienation is saying, "is anybody over at your mother's spending the night?" Parental alienation is being inappropriate with those kinds of questions and fishing to find information from the child that the child shouldn't be involved in. So mild parent alienation often occurs and most people get a grip. Most people understand it's not appropriate to engage in parental alienation. Eventually somebody will tell them parental alienation is inappropriate, or the child can adapt. They say, "aw, there goes mom again." " Aw, there goes dad again." They can cope with parental alienation. Not adapt, but cope. In moderate parent alienation, the parent goes ballistic and calls names upon seeing the person, or speaking on the phone, and is just in a rage and a tirade about the other parent and is terribly inappropriate. And if the child sees this parental alienation often, they may be involved in aligning against the other parent. So this form of parental alienation is very serious, but those parents can be helped with parenting classes, with mentoring, with therapy, with anger management, with other things to enable them to finally calm down.

What type of parent is likely to engage in parental alienation?

We do know that even within a marriage parents maybe doing parent alienation. This is anytime a parent speaks negatively about another parent so that a child could here it. Children can cope with that usually and adjust. When parent's get a divorce its more frequent that that is likely to occur. Unless the parents are really sophisticated parents and understand it and have thought this through and don't do that and we do have those people god bless them. Some parents become so irate at the other parent that they just lose all control and they go into a rage and the child witnesses this and the parent in the moderate is likely to be programming the child to also hate the other parent or never ever say to that parent that they enjoyed any kind of time with that other parent or they had fun with that parent at all. They would never tell this parent that is so difficult anything about the other.

What is "severe parental alienation"?

In the most obsessed and severe kind, severe parental alienation is where parents become ugly or nasty. You can't work with them or solve problems with them by reasoning. Severe parental alienation are cases where you have to go to court to get any kind of resolution and these parents so nasty they will allege all kinds of lies to get their way. This is when what prevails in truth is often not the truth but what appears to be truth. The parents will allege all manner of horrible things, and they will take the least little negative issue and turn it into a huge issue. They will create their own reality and then they will end up believing their own fabrications with all their heart and soul, and are very convincing. Evidence, truth and facts are not part of severe parental alienation because they've made up their own facts. The fact that they are so believable is why judges have to rely on evaluators to sort through all of that and come up with recommendations.

How will parental alienation affect the targeted parent?

The person who's the targeted parent, wonders what the hell happened here. Because that was never their intention, they didn't marry this person or have a child with them with the idea that the person could become so unglued and become so ugly and nasty. It takes a horrible toll on the targeted parent. Psychologically they have to cope with being accused of all kinds of things that they did not do. They are always on the defensive, they are always back peddling, trying to figure out "what am I going to do about it?" Even in the relationship, when they were in a together relationship, there are some people that are so disturbed that when the targeted parent tries to solve problems with them they get a two-by-four between the eyes, and they back off and they say "that hurt!" Then they go back and they regroup and they try to solve problems with this person again, the nasty one. By the way, it's men or women. It is not more women do this than men do which is a common concept. Now that there is so much shared custody, very disturbed men can do this as much as women. So at any rate, whoever it is it's a very disturbed person because healthy people don't act like that.

How will parental alienation affect my child?

When you have a parent who's in the moderate or obsessed category one of the things that they cannot allow is for the child to love and have a positive relationship with the other parent. Now, guess who is the healthier parent? This is the target parent almost always. The obsessed person is not a healthy parent. They're very nasty and ugly, and they don't play fair at all. They will stop at any lengths to win and what they're winning is the mind of a child. They will brainwash a child (another word for it is to programme a child) to hate their targeted parent; the healthier parent, the other half of their heritage, the other half of their whole family construct. Half of that child's family, if this obsessed parent is successful, is now ‘x'ed out of the child's life. We call that a “parentectomy” where the parent has been cut out of the child's life; a “parentectomy.” The child then loses all contact with the individuals that would be most likely to love that child, nurture that child, and care for that child, and provide. They lose out on all of that and if the really disturbed parent prevails, and they often do, this child grows up with a very serious situation where one parent is psychologically disturbed. The characteristic is always that the disturbed person is expecting the child to take care of them. This is called parent role reversal, where the child is always in the position to take care of the most disturbed parent. So how does that help children? It doesn't.

How will parental alienation affect my child when he grows up?

If the alienating and obsessed parent is successful in their agenda then the child will no longer have any access or influence from the other parent, they will lose that side of their family, that side of their whole heritage, and they will grow up with a person who's a very damaged individual. So they will not be adequately parented. We do know that the picture is not a pretty picture for them in their lives, that they will have many psychological issues, relationship issues, they're going to have a very hard time in their life. Just recently, Amy J.L Baker, a researcher in child development that teaches college at Columbia University, has published a book called 'Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties That Bind'. This is an enormously valuable book for anybody that doesn't understand parental alienation and what the consequences are. She researched 4, adult children where passes had occurred in their childhood and the outcome was really extraordinary, to point out what, we need to do everything we can to get a handle on what this problem is and how to do something about it.

What is "parental alienation syndrome"?

Parent alienation describes what the parent is doing. Parent alienation syndrome describes what the child is doing. It is a very important distinction to make. They are not one and the same. Parent alienation syndrome was originally identified in 1985 by a psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Gardner. He was the pioneer in parent education syndrome, when there was a burgeoning of divorces in the early 80s, when joint custody first became a reality, starting in California. James Cook lobbied the California legislature for joint custody laws, and they were passed in 1980, and then swept the country as the concept that the best parent is both parents and you have to figure out how to share these children. Not one parent takes all the custody and the other one becomes a visitor, not in the child's life at all. So many fathers started clamouring to go to court to get access to their children, and this created a tremendous burden on the courts which has not been alleviated to this day.

How does parental alienation syndrome affect my child?

Another curious thing about children who are involved in parent alienation syndrome. That means they're no longer adapting and coping, that they've gone over and aligned with the most disturbed parent. In some cases, it's a shared psychosis that the child shares with the disturbed parent, the mother or the father. And they become one unit. The child then will make up scenarios of their own about how horrible the targeted parent is. They have no basis in fact whatsoever, it's nothing they ever experienced, but just as kids can create wonderful stories and fairy tales, and all of that, they use that technique to describe horrible things that the parent has done, which in truth they haven't done. And they can be very convincing, because they are passionate, and they're angry. Their brains have been seriously altered into such a state of confusion that they don't know the truth.