A few nights ago I watched a very disturbing movie called Dogtooth, a Greek family drama in which the parents raise three children in total seclusion from the outside world. The children (teenagers at the start of the movie) are taught the incorrect meaning of words and to believe untrue and bizarre things about the outside world such as cats have the power to kill humans and that it is unsafe to venture off of the property until a dogtooth falls out.

While watching the movie, I could not help but think of the type of control that alienating parents seem to want to exercise over their children and the false beliefs they try to instill in them about the targeted parent. The movie demonstrates just how easy it is to mislead children because they are naïve and hardwired to trust their parents to learn about how the world works. They have no reason to suspect that their parents have anything but their best interests at heart. I was also reading a book recently about a man wrongly convicted of murder and in the book he writes about his abusive mother and how—while frightened and repulsed by her—mostly what he wanted was to win her approval and love. He also tells a story of one day he asked her if he could live with his father following their divorce and she appeared to take great pleasure in letting him know that his father did not want him. The author writes that while he did not believe that to be true—for he knew in his heart that his father loved him, being told that nonetheless was very painful and disconcerting.

Once again, I stumbled across a scene of parental alienation without even looking for it. The themes of PA (parental control, children’s desperate need to be loved by the parents on whom they are dependent) are universal themes and are part of the human condition. That does not mean that we as PA advocates should accept that PA occurs. It means that the seeds of it are ever present and we therefore need to work diligently to prevent parents from exploiting their children in order to satisfy their own unfulfilled needs for power and control.

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