A Child Development Psychologist on The 8 Signs of 'Parental Alienation' And How It Affects Children
As published in HerFamily.ie (http://www.herfamily.ie/parenthood/8-signs-of-parental-alienation/247173) with permission from the author
In the perfect scenario, we end relationships with a big row, pack up our bits and move on in our lives comfortable in the knowledge that we are now free to travel the world and work on our revenge body.
However, when there are children involved, it means that your ex-partner will always be in your life in some capacity, and you need to respect your children enough to always speak well of their other parent and air your grievances privately out of their ear-shot. Co-parenting with your ex-partner is never easy, particularly when you both have very different perspectives on issues like diet, hobbies, medical care and education. However, many parents who are no longer romantically involved have great difficulty in putting their children’s emotions and welfare above their own, and this can often lead to a phenomenon known as 'Parental Alienation,' which consists of one parent who engages in a number of destructive behaviours:
- Putting down the child’s appearance or behaviour and describing it as being just like the other parent is detrimental to your child and results in them being ashamed of themselves and their parent (eg. “Why did you just lie to me? You’re definitely your mother’s daughter”).
- Insulting and making demeaning remarks about the other parent in front of the child is extremely disrespectful and hurtful for all parties involved and the effects are long-lasting (eg. “Your Dad is a broke idiot”).
- Showing anger when the child boasts about, praises or misses the other parent or preventing communication and the development of a relationship between the child and the other parent (eg. with lies, delaying tactics or allegations of abuse) creates feelings of uncertainty, shame, and confusion for the child.
- Telling the child adult details about the former relationship or reasons for the separation is just plain inappropriate. The alienating parent will often state that they are just being honest when in fact their aim is for the child to think less of the other parent.
- Children and parents can often disagree, and the child may become angry with a parent, especially when Mom or Dad has to say "no." However, if the anger is honed in on, exaggerated and/or not allowed to heal, this tactic can be used to alienate.
- When one parent uses the child as a spy and/or continuously asks for personal information about the other parent’s lifestyle or relationship (particularly after access), this is not in the best interests of the child as it creates tension and suspicion.
- When one parent appears to be rescuing the child even though there is no threat or danger, it communicates a non-verbal message to the child and bystanders that there is something to be rescued from and is commonly used as an alienating tactic.
- Finally, refusing to allow or listening to the child’s phone conversation with the other parent assumes dominance and potential threat of danger.
Children in these situations are often unaware of this form of abuse because of its insidious nature – the constant flow of negativity becomes normalised until the child begins to take the side of the alienating parent, who usually has primary custody. However, this can often backfire and result in the child growing resentful and tiresome of one parent constantly denigrating someone they love whole-heartedly and naturally. Either way, this is an extremely serious form of child abuse and one which is rampant within families who are separated. If the alienating parent is successful, the children can fully reject their other parent, without any understanding of the reasons and often without any communication or resolution. It can often take years and even decades for the child to understand his/her own feelings for the alienated parent, independent of the suggestions, opinions and flawed information of their primary parent. Repercussions for the victimized child may include low self-esteem, anger, depression, anxiety, resentment, self-blame, addiction, self-harm, self-blame and other forms of destructive behaviours.
Although dealing with an alienating parent who is dedicated to damaging your relationship with your child may result in you feeling frustrated, depressed, angry and powerless, there are a few points always to bear in mind:
- NEVER give up on your children – they need your unwavering love and commitment more than ever and have a deep intuition which is greater than our understanding.
- Be kind to yourself – this is one of the most difficult roads any parent should have to travel and is devastating beyond belief but lashing out is what fuels the alienating parent’s motivation. Ensure you keep all interactions with your child positive, so they are enjoying themselves, you are both developing your relationship, and you are not engaging in alienating yourself.
- Allegations of abuse are often used to reduce and terminate access and visitation so ensure that your solicitor is aware of every incident you have logged in your diary.
- Ensure you keep all your requirements of the court order up to date by never missing an opportunity to spend time with your child.
- Attend mediation and/or therapy with your co-parent to ensure you both air difficulties in a private, safe and supportive environment.
- And, ask for support from your family and friends when you need to – again, be kind to yourself so that you can be the best for your child.
As a psychologist at Sugru Child Development and Contextual Play Therapy Services, Lorraine Lynch engages with families from all over Ireland, dealing with issues from prenatal woes to teen coping strategies. She employs the most up-to-date research to help parents promote holistic well-being in their home.