According to the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization website, “Parental alienation is defined as a set of behaviors that are harmful and damaging to a child’s emotional and mental health. It generally involves the mental manipulation and/or bullying of the child to pick between their mother or father. These behaviors can also result in destroying a loving and warm relationship they once shared with a parent.”
If you suspect that your ex-spouse has been engaged in alienation, what can you do to resolve your family’s crisis in a way that protects your relationships with your children and avoids or at least minimizes hostile interactions with the other parent? What therapies actually work to roll back the damage of alienation and strengthen families?
Strategies for Recovery
Dr. Elizabeth Ellis proposes five steps for alienated parents to help their children overcome PAS:
1. Show children that the alienated parent is not the “bad guy.” Per Dr. Ellis, children who see the targeted parent treated with respect might reconsider their perspective and come to see that parent as valued and worthwhile, contradicting the alienating parent’s narrative.
2. Avoid making the child choose between the two parents.
3. Look for ways to mitigate the other parent’s hurt and animosity.
4. Find ways to create allies among all parties.
5. Persist in seeking reunification despite setbacks and frustrations.
Dr. Ellis also suggests that, in some cases, physically separating the child and alienating parent can be useful and can end the bad effects of the brainwashing. Depending on circumstances and nature of the alienation, the courts might consider actions, such as altering the custody arrangement.
Cautions when Addressing PAS
According to Edward Kruk, Ph.D., children who’ve been alienated could also suffer from something akin to post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Kruk cautions that while the relationship between the targeted parent and children can be restored over time, those involved need to be sensitive and to avoid rushing the process. Undoing the damage caused by brainwashing is neither simple, nor linear. Prepare for ups and downs.
According to PAS authority, Dr. Richard Warshak, the goals for reunification after PAS include the following:
• Avoiding parental conflict in front of the child
• Encouraging an independent child
• Teaching critical thinking skills
• Understanding different perspectives and
• Promoting a healthy relationship with both parents.
Dr. Warshak believes that therapies should teach children how to overcome their codependence with the alienating and enmeshed parent and help them view relationships more empathetically.
Therapy for the Targeted Parent
It’s normal for targeted parents to feel deeply hurt and betrayed by the alienation. Frustratingly, this pain can prevent them from getting the help they need and even lead them to internalize a sense of victimhood. “Perhaps my ex and the kids have a point when they criticize me?”
Targeted parents may need extensive therapy both by themselves and with the children (and with the other parent, if possible) to heal from the experience and rebuild good relationships and a sense of self-esteem.