Parental Alienation: Destroying An Essential Bond

Just recently, I noticed that there were an incredible amount of views on a post I wrote last year. Someone on social media had read it, shared it and many other people picked it up. That post was “Emotional Incest: How A Narcissist Uses A Golden Child” and what followed was an avalanche of emails coming in my direction documenting stories of parental alienation. If I didn’t already know what a huge problem this is, these mails added to that understanding. It is not just a huge problem but it seems incredibly that it is almost guaranteed to happen when a couple seperates and children are involved. That is certainly not the case as I see it as there are many former partners out there who have found a way to co-parent. However, in the raw emotion that inevitably comes with the unraveling of a relationship, it is very likely to happen even for a short time. I have always stated that no-one has the right to break an essential bond between between child and parent unless it is determined that it is best to do so (abuse, etc).

Let’s remind ourselves of what parental alienation actually is. Cafcass, a government department in the UK, charged with overseeing fairness in family courts describes it as:

The definition of parental alienation itself as a concept in family court cases, its surrounding terminology and its scale remain under debate, meaning there is no clear data as to its extent. While there is no single definition, we recognise parental alienation as when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. It is one of a number of reasons why a child may reject or resist spending time with one parent post-separation. All potential risk factors, such as domestic abuse, must be adequately and safely considered, reduced or resolved before assessing the other case factors or reasons.

One must say at this point (contrary to my article above which looks at a specific situation), we must say that both men and women are fully capable of doing this individually or at the same time. Little matter the situation, the effects on the child’s psyche are devastating and long lasting. There is now scholarly consensus that severe alienation is abusive to children (Fidler and Bala, 2010), and is a largely overlooked form of child abuse (Bernet et al, 2010). The effects on children are well-known as they start to distrust the alienated parent leading to low self-esteem, lack of trust, the inability to give and receive and self-hatred as children internalise the feelings associated with the situation.

Many of the emails I received painted situations where parents who were being subjected to alienation documented how they felt completely alone and helpless, not knowing what to do to counter it, who to turn to and what they can do legally to stop it. Child welfare and divorce practitioners are often unaware of or minimise the effects of parental alienation. My profession is way behind the curve when it comes to solutions. Therapists will often carry out court-ordered family therapy, allowing the parent alienating to paint a highly virtuous picture putting all the blame on the other parent. These sessions are often traumatic for the child concerned, potentially seeing their parents battling on a couch over them. Often the alienating parent fails to ensure the child attends individual therapy as well.

The legal profession will fight in court to ensure that court orders are issued to stop alienation. Unfortunately, this “hammer to crack a nut” approach is not always in the best interests of the child who has a right to a relationship with both parents and often wants just that. However, if that is the way a parent wants to go, it needs evidence. A process like the following would help:

Keep a journal and evidence of alienating emails and social media posts. 

Ask to see child in writing. Make sure your requests to see the child (or demands to stop alienation are fully documented)

Seek counselling. Find a therapist who is well versed in parental alienation, will recognise it and will support in processes.

Remain persistent. When you do see the child, create a loving atmosphere and leave open discussion channels. Never talk about your ex partner.

Seek legal help. If none of the above work, seeking a specialist attorney might be the only way forward but you will need to to have done all of the above first and consistently.

In the end, one can only hope that increased awareness will lead to further measures that will protect child from this hideous form of child abuse.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. bostongirl13

    Unfortunately for the non-custodial parent, the narcissist parent with custody doing the alienation has the upper hand. Even visitation itself can be restricted in court by the narcissist due to their malicious lies and false accusations they have put forth to the probate judge. These lies serve to punish the non-custodial parent who is seeking parenting time with the children and usurp their power. By the time the lies are sorted out in court, untold damage is already done with the children’s opinion of the non-custodial parent who must ally with their narcissist parent in order to survive.

    Children are the the primary victims to parental alienation but non-custodial parents are also victims and lose years of their children’s lives.
    It will be decades before many children will ever see this as abuse, if ever, then more years before seeking treatment. Then and only then will they be likely to seek out their other parent to reconnect.

    Heartbreaking for all.

    1. Dr. Nicholas Jenner

      Absolutely agree and your comment reflects many emails I receive on this subject. Unfortunately, a solution that works doesn’t appear to be imminent.

  2. christina kyranis

    Being a divorced parent of two children this was very insightful! Sometimes we do things with no awareness! I think the first step is to become aware of our behavior so that we may change it!

    1. Dr. Nicholas Jenner

      Absolutely. There has to be a potential solution in educating couples planning to separate on how their actions good and bad will affect their children. I can imagine that even then, many will still try to alienate the other parent.

  3. Chey

    I think most people always think their own situation is far ‘more’ of whatever a situation can be. This would not be surprising, as we only live our own lives and can only truly understand our own experiences.
    Divorce was always around for the rich, it was just not feasible for most others for financial reasons, and then with increased income, women having their own income they could actually live on and social acceptance of single parent households … Times have changed.

    It was not unusual when I was a child to have two parents who had divorced themselves from one another, but still had all the responsibilities. People of what was considered good character really did stay together for the sake of the children, because that was the only financial solution.
    Those of us who grew up in those times had the same problems, except we lived in the middle of the battle field of people forced to live together and deal with all the problems of financial stress, children dying, losing jobs …
    The parental skirmishes might have been kept to a minimum, as much as possible while trying to maintain reasonable mental health, but there was no outside “help” in most cases.
    It was not that the parents wanted to be like this in front of their children, it’s that they were human and real stress will erupt.

    Interestingly there is a Supreme Court Judge in my corner of the world who has been tasked with trying to find a solution to the ever increasing number of children feeling dissociated as couples split up so “easily” in present times. The financial stress upon the tax payers has become untenable. The numbers have soared of those who feel just throwing-in-the-towel and walking away is the best solution, for themselves. The fall-out is not just the children, but the trickle down effect in all of society.
    This Judge is advocating that a new system must be arrived at to keep a common home for the children. Very interesting.
    The parents should be the ones to move out if that’s their solution for themselves, and take turns living in the common home for the sake of continuity for the children. If they can’t afford this financially then they should be forced to do what is best for the children they gave birth to jointly.
    Is the circle closing?

    I came from a home that in present times would be dubbed “abusive”, most children seemed to in those days. There was not the glut of options for entertainment, escapism, denial … everything money can buy.
    I find it no surprise that years later it is being noted that children from homes where parents saw the worst things through together fared better in terms of taking care of themselves later in life.
    I loved my parents dearly and personally they raised me to take responsibility, so for me I chose an age and from that day on I controlled my life. They made me strong. They were strong.
    My mother managed to stay alive long enough to see their 50th wedding anniversary and died a few days later. My father had no interest in finding “another woman”.
    Interestingly my father rarely called my mother his “wife”. In in the 1950s and ’60s my father would introduce my mother saying, “This is my partner Ann.”. Ann was an abreviation of her name only my father used. I never heard “partner” used by others until recent years, but then they split up and … My parents were partners. Perhaps we were “too responsible” as children and “too trusting” and too … We thought other people were “stayers” and that they would do their best towards others.

    I would add that many people were more considerate (mindful?) of other’s, took more time to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, if only figuratively.

    My life was not a bed of roses, but I could always count on my parents to singly and together listen to me. To think about what I was saying, to factor in who I am before responding, They respected me as a full person no matter what “mistakes” were made by me, or them, in life.
    I don’t blame my parents for being human, or the times we lived in.

    1. Dr. Nicholas Jenner

      Sounds like an interesting solution for the effects of divorce on children. Practical but probably unworkable in reality. It unfortunately would do very little for the effects of parental alienation. Here it is more what is said rather than what is done and this has always been the dilemma. Who can regulate that? The legal system will issue court orders and the therapy profession promotes family therapy that usually results in very little apart from confusing and traumatising the child even more. You are correct that many stay together for the sake of children but this can also lead to dysfunction. Either the battle continues or silent treatment will overcome any good intentions previously had. Children are very sensitive and will pick up on such environments and internalise everything. The solution has to be educating parents who are feeling raw and high emotion to put their children first before their hate and before themselves.

  4. kellyblumer

    We have found very valuable to track such cases using the journal. It is both HIPAA compliant and supports chain of custody so that the journal entries can be used in court.