Divorce proceedings, and their aftermath, can stir up complicated emotions – sometimes causing parents to lose sight of what’s most important: ensuring happy, healthy lives for their children and healing from past pain.
Unfortunately, pressures from the divorce as well as other triggers (e.g. financial problems and psychological distress) cause some parents to say and do things to alienate their children from the other parent. This brainwashing can take many forms. For instance:
- Badmouthing the other parent (“your dad never feeds you anything healthy”).
- Intentionally skipping or being late to visits.
- Acting angry or unhinged when the child says anything good about the targeted parent.
Parental Alienation can have lasting negative effects on the relationship between the victimized parent and the child. These effects often persist for years or decades and require painful work to undo.
Psychologist Dr. Richard Warshak, who did pioneering research in this field, explained the problem this way:
Most children whose parents live apart from each other long for a good relationship with both parents and want to be raised by both… Some children, though, do not crave more time with an absent parent. Instead, these children reject one parent, resist contact, or show extreme reluctance to be with the parent. These children are alienated. In some cases, children have good reasons to reject a deficient parent. In other cases, children reject a parent with whom they previously had a good relationship, often paralleling their other parent’s negative attitudes. The children’s treatment of the rejected parent is disproportionate to that parent’s behavior and inconsistent with the prior history of the parent-child relationship.
Is Parental Alienation occurring? Here are five signs that it might be:
- Your child has suddenly, and without explanation, become emotionally distant.
Children’s emotions can be a rollercoaster, particularly during and right after a separation. However, if your children have suddenly and oddly become uncommunicative or even hostile, this attitude shift could be a sign that they are being exposed to negativity toward you from the other parent.
- The other parent arbitrarily withholds visitation or interferes with court ordered time-sharing.
Alienating parents sometimes wield time-sharing as a cudgel. He or she might suddenly cancel a visit “because the child is sick” or may take the child on a weekend holiday without telling you, in violation of your agreement.
- The child’s hurtful comments to you mirror what your ex has said.
Children repeat what they hear at home. If your child is voicing negative comments about you, your job, or your family that sound suspiciously like something your ex might say, Parental Alienation might be at work.
- The child exhibits behavioral changes that others notice.
If your normally well-behaved child all of a sudden starts acting out at school or day care, the abnormal behavior could signal Parental Alienation.
- The child insists that his or her negative affect towards you does not come from the other parent.
In the of this field, this is known as the “independent thinker phenomenon.” The child refuses to acknowledge that any brainwashing has occurred, even if you offer solid evidence and arguments to the contrary.