There are times in divorce when one parent hates his/her spouse more than he/she loves his children. When this occurs, toxic things happen. Things such as parental alienation.
Parental alienation, when a child turns away from a parent in an extreme form, can occur in both intact and divorced families and in families where the alienating parent is the primary residential caregiver or not or when the parenting plan gives equal timesharing.
Both genders have the potential to be the targeted parent. Mothers, despite typically holding the brunt of the childcare activities, even today, are not immune to being on the receiving end of the alienation. And it is not necessarily related to the time-sharing plan, although there may be a correlation. Fathers can have the classic every other week visitation, joint time sharing or the bulk of the residential requirements and even an occasional visitation because it’s not so much about access when you are dealing with a pathological personality.
It happens when one parent, the alienating parent, typically has a personality disorder, often of the borderline and/or narcissistic type.
Comments are soon accompanied by a stonewalling of sorts to the targeted parents: “Sarah is not feeling great tonight so she can’t have her sleepover”, “Blake has a big test on Monday and wants to stay here to study and meet with his tutor.” The latter becomes harder when the targeting parent is the non-custodial parent and the time-sharing is limited. But nevertheless, particularly with virulent personalities, anything can occur at any time.
9 Warning Signs that Parental Alienation is Present
Early warning signs of parental alienation might include things like:
- Exclusionary requests by the child (don’t come to my baseball games)
- Oppositional or oppositional-defiant disorder in a child that previously demonstrated none or minimal symptoms
- Shut out or requests made by the child to not attend parent/teacher conferences.
- Shut out from school meetings (by the other parent via subtle and not so subtle methods) and no longer listed as contact parent for school/camp
- Being challenged by your child; they become argumentative and combative and, in the extreme form, exhibit provocations to the point of explosive rage reactions back to your child
- A sense of entitlement to receive parental tasks/gifts yet arrogance of how they are better than this parent
- A failure of the child to identify any prior positive bonding experiences
- denigration of the targeted parent that he/she can’t do anything right. In fact, you might hear words from the targeting parent repeated which can be very triggering
- the child takes responsibility for the alienation and rejection; it was their idea. When confronted they don’t acknowledge manipulation by the pathological parent; in fact, they hold the process of rejecting as their own.
Pathogenic parenting is such that the parent’s approach is so aberrant that it creates in the child psychopathology, that can be transient, or, if not intervened, chronic and longstanding and develop into a personality disorder as well.
When to be Vigilant in Dealing with Parental Alienation
It has been clearly documented that parental alienation occurs in families in which one (sometimes both) parents have a personality disorder, typically that of the borderline and/or narcissistic types. Healthy parents don’t produce this sort of pattern. In fact, according to Dr. Craig Childress, Psychologist, and expert in PAS, children don’t turn away from parents unless there is a perpetrator lurking and a perpetrator to whom a child is afraid. Think about it-children don’t turn away from pathologic parenting; they are too afraid. But they will turn away from a loving kind healthier version; there is nothing to fear there. These are the parents of whom the child is most afraid to lose; not the parent with whom they can feel consistently safe and loved.
So, for you, the mom, if your husband has shown signs or has been diagnosed with a severe personality disorder, typically of the type mentioned, I suggest you be vigilant and aware. And, as noted earlier, this can happen even when that parent has limited access to the children; that is how vitreous the sick parent can be. Remember, people listen to a narcissist; they believe him, mostly out of fear. Children don’t know that but you should.
Why be Vigilant
There are very few things worse than when a parent is shut out. In fact, parental alienation is not for family court, although that is how it is handled; instead, it is child abuse. Manipulation of a child’s mind and attachment bonds in a negative way is abusive. It weakens the bond between mother and child and impedes upon the development of the self of the child. While on the outside it appears to have given them power, in essence, it weakens them by not allowing them access to their true selves. And they know that they are the unifying power since without them there would be no continuation of the family; this creates a whole host of complicated emotions.
Further, it is bad for the family. It creates chaos, a lack of cohesion, stimulates unhealthy subgroups and interferes with sibling bonds. It interrupts the natural course of the family.
Divorce/Separation causes sadness, grief, anger, fear amongst other complicated emotions and when these come out they may be expressed around and to the children. When the angry parent says/does things to turn the child away from the parent things become complicated.
The child, due to loyalty to both parents and typically fear of the angry parent, allies with them and starts to believe what they are saying about the other parent, who is typically not only the good parent but perhaps the only good parent during this process. So in order for the child to not have to face their own pain regarding their targeted parent, they shut that out and turn away. That is the dynamic right there. While conflicted, its much easier for them to not face themselves, even into adulthood, and stay away.
A Few Do’s and Don’ts
If you suspect at all that your soon to be ex-spouse or current spouse, has any degree of a personality disorder mentioned about, be cautious.
Don’t react to their defiance and/or eventual provocations. Do respond in the way that you have been and with further love and limits. Don’t accuse the other parent or refer to the other parent in that way: do take the high road. Be very aware of your own boundaries and how/if/when they are being crossed. If you have concerns, talk to a professional. When a child changes behavior there is always something behind it. When a child shows signs of alienation, there is always a perpetrator lurking.
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