Caught Between Parents

Supporting children through the challenges of divorce

Surviving Parental Alienation

If I knew then what I know now

This is the first of three blogs that provides an overview of a recent book on parental alienation entitled, “Surviving parental alienation, a journey of hope and healing.” In that book several stories are presented written from the point of view of targeted parents and then the authors analyze the stories in order to say something larger about the dynamics of parental alienation. In the first third of “Surviving parental alienation” four stories are presented and analyzed. Each story describes the early relationship between the author of the story (the future targeted parent) and his or her spouse (the future alienating parent). With the benefit of hindsight, admittedly, the stories are deconstructed to identify the ways in which the seeds of alienation were sown into the relationship from the very beginning.

Looking first at the personality of the targeted parent, four themes are discussed: their lack of experience in detecting deception in relationships, their overall gullibility, their low generally self-esteem, and their denial of the red flags. The future targeted parents tended to be young and naïve, with limited experience in romantic relationships, and unable or unwilling to detect when the other person was not honest about his or her actions or intentions. The future targeted parents quickly became invested in the relationship and believed that their worth and value was derived from the acceptance of the other person. Their need for the relationship was more important that the quality of the relationship. In this way they overlooked all of the signs that the relationship was not healthy or mutually respectful or beneficial.

Looking next at the personality of the future alienating parent the themes of intentional deceit, power and control strategies, and domestic violence are discussed. Unlike the future targeted parents, the future alienating parents were considerably more worldly and independent. They were older and had more life experience. They exuded power and credibility and were able through the force of their personality and the use of emotional control strategies to override the needs and feelings of the other person. They were skilled at having their needs met and presenting themselves in such a way as to confuse and undermine the future targeted parent. They believed in the inherent rightness of their needs and opinions at all times.

And finally, the parenting style of the future alienating parent is examined with a focus on their sense of entitlement, their possessiveness of the children, their belief in their superiority as parents, their devaluation of the contribution of the other parent, and , for some, their prior history of alienation behaviors. Once the future targeted parent and future alienating parent had children together, all of the elements of alienation were present. The future alienating parent believed that he or she was entitled to a greater share of the family assets (such as money, time with the children, and the like) and believed in the inherent rightness of his or her actions and choices in all situations. There was no room for the needs or opinions of the other parent to matter. Even while married and in a committed relationship, the future alienating parent dominated and controlled the future targeted parent’s relationship with the children. Once the relationship ended, there was even less motivation for the future alienating parent to value or accommodate the future targeted parent. The foundation for alienation was set.

The purpose of this analysis was not to lay any blame for the alienation on the targeted parents. Rather, the purpose is to understand the unique role that each person plays in the alienation drama. Ideally, the information presented can, first and foremost, help targeted parents understand themselves and feel understood by others. Secondly, perhaps the information can be used to educate future targeted parents about the potential warning signs so that – despite their naiveté and lack of experience, they can take a second look at their situation before it is too late. Perhaps future targeted parents – who may not be willing to read the warning signs on their own behalf – can be persuaded to do so on behalf of their children.

Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D., researches parental alienation and children of divorce.

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