Parental Alienation

The impact of parent/child disconnect can be devastating and long-lasting for children and adults. Children of divorce and parental split are most at risk. Let’s unpack and discuss the symptoms of parental alienation syndrome.
BY CELESTE STRYDOM

What Is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation refers to a situation in which one parent manipulates a child in order to distance that child from the other parent. Through a process of pressure and programming, the child rejects the other parent and might express resentment, suspicion, or fear of the other parent.. To win the approval of the manipulative parent the child might become dismissive and derogatory toward the targeted parent.

Types of Parental Alienation
There are three types of alienators.

  1. Naïve Alienators
    • Want the child to have a good relationship with the other parent.
    • Maintain civil communication with the other parent.
    • Prioritise supporting the child.
    • Occasionally say hurtful things about the other parent.
    Children are not expected to become alienated from one parent over the other.
  2. Active Alienators
    • Want the child to have a good relationship with the other parent.
    • Are unable to maintain decent communication with the other parent.
    • Allow their emotions to rule their behaviour.
    Children may experience pain and confusion around how they should feel toward the other parent.
  3. Obsessive Alienators
    • Aim to destroy any relationship with the other parent.
    • Expect children to hold the same view of the other parent that they do.
    • Try actively to win the child over.
    Children’s rejection of the other parent may be extreme as they mirror the manipulative parent’s behaviour

The devil is in the detail
Parents might claim that they never bad-mouth the other, but many behaviours contribute to alienation.
The intention is not particularly relevant, rather, attitude is.
Alienation tactics that create
conflict and disconnect:

  1. Undermining the targeted parent’s trust.
  2. Limiting contact and communication.
  3. Creating an image of the targeted parent that is unsafe, unloving, and unavailable.
  4. Encouraging the child to betray the targeted parent’s trust.
  5. Replacing the targeted parent in the child’s mind.

The damage done
The impact of parental alienation on children is well documented, although still a largely overlooked form of child abuse. Candice Warner, Child and Family Therapist, and Mediator at The Care and Contact Centre in Cape Town warns that this coercion can have
serious and long-lasting mental and emotional consequences for the child. She advises that children who are alienated from
a parent may experience:
• A lack of trust
• Increased feelings of anger
• A sense of neglect (or run the risk of having basic needs met while caught in the middle of the parents’ fighting)
• Low self-esteem
• Depression
• Guilt

Later they may:
• Become combative
• Lack empathy
• Become prone to lying about others
• Be rigid in their views, seeing things as starkly black or white.
“The best security blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other.” – Jane Blaustone

How to co-parent in harmony
Candice recommends caution and a parenting plan. “Children are resilient, but they are also impressionable. Obviously, if a parent is abusive or otherwise harmful, a different set of rules needs to apply. However, in normal circumstances, where two reasonable parents exist, the child benefits most from retaining a relationship with both, even after a split. A parenting plan allows a legal framework to outline, guide, and protect the rights and responsibilities of all concerned.’’

Choose the child
The feelings fostered in the child who is manipulated are rooted in believing that they are unloved while being denied the opportunity to mourn the loss of the parent.
When you view the expense to the child as trauma and grief, you can start appreciating the value in counting to ten and letting your negative feelings go.
You must remember that you and your child are not one person.
Although you might have been hurt by the other parent, your child deserves to have a relationship with both of you.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
• Unreasonable anger toward the other parent.
• A lack of remorse for hurting the rejected parent.
• Repeating the favoured parent’s words regarding the rejected parent.
• Denying past positive experiences with the other parent.
• Showing no interest in improving the relationship.
• Viewing one parent as wholly good or wholly bad.
• Rejecting any friends or family of the targeted parent