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.