What Does Parental Alienation Look Like?

For a time, no one wanted to talk about parent alienation, even though just about everyone knew someone affected by it. No one wanted to acknowledge that a parent would knowingly cause harm to his or her own children. No one wanted to believe that a parent would make use of half-truths and lies to accomplish their own destructive gain in much the same way that no one wanted to acknowledge the social evil of child molestation before it came out of the family closet.

If you once had a loving relationship with your son or daughter, and now you have diminishing, or little or no contact, through no fault of your own, barring parental mistreatment, you are an unwitting participant to Parent Alienation (PA). You are, what is known as, the rejected, target,  or alienated parent.

If you are a targeted parent, you have nothing of which to be ashamed. There may be people blaming you, but this is done by uninformed people, much the same way that people once said that spousal abuse was the fault of the victim, not the abuser. You may feel like you are watching a movie written and produced by a mentally unhealthy, narcissistic, or vengeful ex-spouse with your children and support characters acting in a very distorted drama. You, your children, their future, and their future with you are suffering from it.

Although the term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is controversial, whether it is called PAS or simply the most severe form of parent alienation, the result is the same. There will be a constellation of factors that have all come to play a role together. The factors center around a theme, the object of which is to create fear and distrust. The parent doing the brainwashing is sometimes called the aligned parent because the child becomes aligned with that parent against the targeted parent.

The brainwashing often includes false accusations of abuse. If this is happening to you, or you suspect it might, Dean Tong’s book Elusive Innocence may be helpful to you. It provides solutions for refuting allegations and tools for fighting back. Most importantly perhaps, it instills courage for those facing this additional ordeal.

The brainwashing of the aligned parent takes different forms ranging from obviously malicious to subtly harmful. What has sometimes been referred to as the “Medea syndrome” occurs when the aligned parent is motivated by revenge and seeks to destroy the relationship between the child and his/her other parent. (Medea in classical mythology killed their children when deserted by her husband, Jason.) Research tells us these parents who use strategies to encourage complete rejection of the other parent are often significantly pathological and angry. Their ability to judge reality is impaired and they project their own pathologies onto the other parent. Some may even offer lip service to the children and others about the importance of the other parent to the children, but their actions indicate otherwise. Some experts have referred to this technique as brain twirling.

Some of the brainwashing behaviors of ALIENATORS that you might observe are:

  • Showing disrespect or disdain toward you in front of your children;
  • Hanging up on you when you call to discuss the children or talk to them;
  • Refusing to speak to you in front of the children and forbidding other family members to either;
  • Rejecting the children or withholding expressions of love or privileges for talking to you;
  • Intimidating children for expressions of love and or enjoyment of you, or scowling or using another body language to convey disapproval;
  • Telling lies and half-truths about you or exaggerating your small faults into abuse or mistreatment of the children;
  • Rewriting history to the children to “prove” your “badness,” instilling in them fear that you are dangerous, negligent, untrustworthy, or unsafe;
  • Scorning family members who do not join in the program of alienation against you.

Whatever the behavior, the cumulative effect is the same for the child: Loving feelings go underground and are replaced with various superficial rejecting behaviors. Depending on where on the continuum of parent alienation the child is, some of the children’s rejecting behaviors that might be observed are:

  • Showing intense anger and disrespect in public and private to you, often imitating the attitude and behavior of the brainwashing parent;
  • Being hostile and sometimes verbally abusive;
  • Refusing to speak to or visit with you and having trivial reasons that sound good but lack substance;
  • Joining in the programming parent’s lies, and often adding to them;
  • Condemning you as “bad”;
  • Distorting your previous parenting relationship;
  • Scripting your mistreatment without real supporting details but in ways that sound superficially convincing;
  • Claiming rejection is his/her idea;
  • Showing neither regret nor remorse for their behavior and rejection;
  • Seeing you in “black and white” with no good, only bad.

It is very important for alienated parents to understand that children may choose alienation because it gives them a psychological “timeout” from being torn up by divorce hostilities. It is equally important for rejected parents to deal with their own natural feelings of being offended, without acting on them, and to look behind the child’s rejection to the cause of it.

There may also be some behaviors on your part that have contributed to the complex process. These behaviors in no way explain the disproportionate alienation, but are cited by some researchers as contributing factors. Among these are being too passive in the face of conflict, becoming immobilized by the spousal conflict and withdrawing, failing to provide adequate emotional support to counterbalance the extreme pressure the child is under and failing to provide corrective communications to the child regarding the alienating parent’s inappropriate behavior and lies. Perhaps you see yourself in one of these behaviors or perhaps not.

This is a general description of PA. Your awareness of it will help to break the cycle of ignorance surrounding it. Sadly, you are also perhaps wiser about an aspect of life that many people prefer to keep hidden, but that awareness has already begun to bring about the social change necessary to protect the health and happiness of children and families.