When Ex-Wives Become Alienators
Douglass Darnell Ph.D
After reading the list, don’t get discouraged when you notice that some of your own behaviors have been alienating your ex-spouse. This is normal in even the best of parents. Instead, let the list help sensitize you to how you are behaving and what you are saying to your children. Here are common mistakes:
To prevent the devastating effects of Parental Alienation, you must begin by recognizing the symptoms of PA. You will notice that many of the symptoms or behaviors focus on the parent. When the child exhibits hatred and vilifies the targeted parent, then the condition becomes parental alienation syndrome. After reading the list, don’t get discouraged when you notice that some of your own behaviors have been alienating. This is normal in even the best of parents. Instead, let the list help sensitize you to how you are behaving and what you are saying to your children.
1. Giving children choices when they really have no choice about visits. Allowing the child to decide for themselves to visit when the court order says there is no choice sets up the child for conflict. The child will usually blame the non-residential parent for not being able to decide to choose whether or not to visit. The parent is now victimized regardless of what happens; not being able to see his children or if they see them, the children are angry. Again, if you do these things intentionally, it make give you a chuckle now knowing you are hurting your ex, but you are truly hurting your child who eventually grows up, learns how things work and turns their back on YOU in turn. In literally 90% of these cases, the parent who causes the problem ends up with the short stick.
2. Telling the child what you want them to think is “everything” about the marital relationship or ‘all’ reasons for the divorce is also alienating behavior. The parent usually argues that they are “just wanting to be honest” with their children. This practice is destructive and painful for the child. The alienating parent’s motive is for the child to think less of the other parent. In reality, the child always looks up to a parent. If that parent lets them down in person, then that parent suffers. If you are doing these things, you are in person and it is a let down. You will suffer eventually for these actions.
3. Refusing to acknowledge that children have property and may want to transport their possessions between residences. Doesn’t matter who bought who what. Once it is given to someone, it is theirs.
4. Resisting or refusing to cooperate by not allowing the other parent access to school or medical records and schedules of extracurricular activities. Telling professionals not to let the other parent have access is going to work against you. These professionals know what you are doing. They may humor you but they know the law. It is not yours to rewrite. So ‘behind’ your back, they will grant legally to the other parent whatever it is they need. Also note, if the opposing parent were so evil you felt they do not deserve access, why are they allowed to walk the street? It will backfire in a big way in time.
5. A parent blaming the other parent for financial problems, breaking up the family, changes in lifestyle, or having a girlfriend/boyfriend, etc. Just like when you hear someone else tell the same tale, the child may not know it yet, but in time, just like when you heard it, they will know you are an excuse maker.
6. Refusing to be flexible with the visitation schedule in order to respond to the child’s needs or other parent’s work schedule. The alienating parent may also schedule the children is so many activities that the other parent is never given the time to visits. Of course we all know you do this so when the targeted parent protests you can described them as not caring and selfish. However, the child will eventually wise up that the complaining parent only wants to see them and you were the one conflicting the schedule.
7. Assuming that if a parent had been physically abusive with the other parent, it follows that the parent will eventually assault the child. This assumption is not always true. Sometimes you cause the other parent to dislike you and become abusive. Pretending this is not true does not change the facts.
8. Asking the child to choose one parent over another parent causes the child considerable distress. If you try to sneak in “Well, which of us would you rather be with?” you are looking for trouble. Typically, they do not want to reject either parent, but instead want to avoid the issue. The child, not the parent, should initiate any suggestion for change of residence.
9. Children will always at one time or another become angry with a parent. This is normal, particularly if the parent disciplines or has to say “no”. If for any reason the anger is not allowed to heal, you can suspect parental alienation. Trust your own experience as a parent. Children will forgive and want to be forgiven if given a chance. Be very suspicious when the child calmly says they cannot remember any happy times with you or say anything they like about you. That means someone at home is brainwashing them.
10. Be suspicious when a parent or step-parent raises the question about changing the child’s name. A mother can change her name back to maiden but in the majority of cases where the child is denied the father’s last name, the amount of further alienation is immeasurable. There is no other means that compares to show what is to come if a mother changes or denies the father’s name. It will not get better.
11. When children cannot give reasons for being angry towards a parent or their reasons are very vague without any details. This is because the alienated parent has done nothing to them. The child becomes confused but eventually realizes, it was all brain washing.
12. A parent having secrets, special signals, a private rendezvous, or words with special meanings are very destructive and reinforce an on-going alienation. Act your age before the child out grows you.
13. When a parent uses a child to spy or covertly gather information for the parent’s own use, the child receives a damaging message that demeans the victimized parent. Try this with a teenager and they may just switch homes on you.
14. Parents setting up temptations that interfere with the child’s visitation. Planning vacations or special events or trips to the mall to buy something they always wanted. Making the child late is another common mistake. As a full time parent, you can easily schedule things around the visiting parent. Learn to do so.
15. A parent suggesting or reacting with hurt or sadness to their child having a good time with the other parent will cause the child to withdraw and not communicate. They will frequently feel guilty or conflicted not knowing that it’s “okay” to admit they have fun with their other parent. Just as different breeds of dogs cannot mate, they still get along and realize it’s OK to be different. The faster you do this, the easier the rest of your life will become.
16. The parent asking the child about his/her other parent’s personal life causes the child considerable tension and conflict. Children who are not alienated want to be loyal to both parents. They also do not think of their parents in this light. Putting them there will push them away from you.
17. When parents pretend physically or psychologically rescue the children when there is no threat to their safety. This practice reinforces in the child’s mind the illusion of threat or danger, thereby reinforcing alienation until the child realizes the only fear is that of when you will pull this act again. You will scare them into leaving you.
18. Making demands on the other parent that is contrary to court orders. You are not the law and eventually the law will find out and the law will enforce itself, correct you and cause such embarrassment, it may cost you custody.
19. Listening in on the children’s phone conversation they are having with the other parent. They do not want you listening in when they speak to their friends and you do not. So do you not think they will find it bizarre if you suddenly insist on listening in on this particular conversation?
20. One way to cause your own alienation is making a habit of breaking promises to your children. Especially if they are promises that deter the child from giving affection or time to the other parent. In time, your ex-spouse will get tired of having to make excuses for you and the child will leave the truth.
You may think you know better or are more clever than those who have tried this before you, but trust us, you do not know better nor realize what you are doing. Don’t believe it? Someone else agrees…..
Parental Alienation: Three Types of Alienators:
The Naive Alienator
“Tell your father that he has more money than I do, so let him buy your soccer shoes.”
Most divorced parents have moments when they are Naive alienators. These parents mean well and recognize the importance of the children having a healthy relationship with the other parent. They rarely have to return to court because of problems with visits or other issues relating to the children. They encourage the relationship between the children and the other parent and their family. Communication between both parents is usually good, though they will have their disagreements, much like they did before the divorce. For the most part, they can work out their differences without bringing the children into it.
Children, whether or not their parents are divorced, know there are times when their parents will argue or disagree about something. They don’t like seeing their parents argue and may feel hurt or frightened by what they hear. Somehow, the children manage to cope, either by talking out their feelings to a receptive parent, ignoring the argument or trusting that the skirmish will pass and all will heal. What they see and hear between their parents does not typically damage the children of the naive alienator. They trust their parent’s love and protection. The child and the parent have distinct personalities, beliefs and feelings. Neither is threatened by how the other feels towards the targeted parent.
The characteristics of Naive alienators are:
Their ability to separate in their minds the children’s needs from their own. They recognize the importance for the children to spend time with the other parent so they can build a mutually loving relationship. They avoid making the other parent a target for their hurt and loss.
Their ability to feel secure with the children’s relationship with their grandparents and their mother or father.
Their respect for court orders and authority.
Their ability to let their anger and hurt heal and not interfere with the children’s relationship with their mother or father.
Their ability to be flexible and willing to work with the other parent.
Their ability to feel guilty when they acted in a way to hurt the children’s relationship with their mother or father.
Their ability to allow the other parent to share in their children’s activities.
Their ability to share medical and school records.
Naive alienators usually don’t need therapy but will benefit from learning about parental alienation because of the insight they will gain about how to keep alienation from escalating into something more severe and damaging for all. These parents know they make mistakes but care enough about their children to make things right. They focus on what is good for the children without regret, blame or martyrdom.
The Active Alienator
“I don’t want you to tell your father that I earned this extra money. The miser will take it from his child support check that will keep us from going to Disney World. You remember he’s done this before when we wanted to go to Grandma’s for Christmas.”
Most parents returning to court over problems with visitation are active alienators. These parents mean well and believe that the children should have a healthy relationship with the other parent. The problem they have is with controlling their frustration, bitterness or hurt. When something happens to trigger their painful feelings, active alienators lash out in a way to cause or reinforce alienation against the targeted parent. After regaining control, the parent will usually feel guilty or bad about what they did and back off from their alienating tactics. Vacillating between impulsively alienating and then repairing the damage with the children is the trademark of the active alienator. They mean well, but will lose control because the intensity of their feelings overwhelms them.
The characteristics of active alienators are:
Lashing out at the other parent in front of the children. Their problem has more to do with loss of self-control when they are upset than with a sinister motivation.
After calming down, active alienators realize that they were wrong. They usually try to repair any damage or hurt to the children. During the making up, such parents can be very comforting and supportive of the child’s feelings.
Like naive alienators, they are able to differentiate between their needs and those of the children by supporting the children’s desire to have a relationship with the other parent.
Like naive alienators, active alienators allow the children to have different feelings and beliefs from their own. During the flare ups of anger, however, the delineation between the child and parent’s beliefs can become very blurry until the parent calms down and regains control. For the most part, older children have their own opinions about both parents based upon personal experience rather than what they are told by others. To keep peace, the older child usually learns to keep their opinions to themselves. Younger and more trusting children become more confused and vulnerable to their parents’ manipulations.
They have the ability to respect the court’s authority and, for the most part, comply with court orders. However, they can be very rigid and uncooperative with the other parent. This is usually a passive attempt to strike back at the other parent for some injustice. Active alienators are usually willing to accept professional help when they or the children have a problem that does not go away. They are sincerely concerned about their children’s adjustment to the divorce. Harboring old feelings continues to be a struggle, but active alienators continue to hope for a speedy recovery from their pain.
The Obsessed Alienator
“I love my children. If the court can’t protect them from their abusive father, I will. Even though he’s never abused the children, I know it’s a matter of time. The children are frightened of their father. If they don’t want to see him, I’m not going to force them. They are old enough to make up their own minds.”
The obsessed alienator is a parent, or sometimes a grandparent, with a cause: to align the children to his or her side and together, with the children, campaign to destroy their relationship with the targeted parent. For the campaign to work, the obsessed alienator enmeshes the children’s personalities and beliefs into their own. This is a process that takes time but one that the children, especially the young, are completely helpless to see and combat. It usually begins well before the divorce is final. The obsessed parent is angry, bitter or feels betrayed by the other parent. The initial reasons for the bitterness may actually be justified. They could have been verbally and physical abused, raped, betrayed by an affair, or financially cheated. The problem occurs when the feelings won’t heal but instead become more intense because of being forced to continue the relationship with a person they despise because of their common parenthood. Just having to see or talk to the other parent is a reminder of the past and triggers the hate. They are trapped with nowhere to go and heal.
The characteristics of obsessed alienators are:
They are obsessed with destroying the children’s relationship with the targeted parent.
They having succeeded in enmeshing the children’s personalities and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
The children will parrot the obsessed alienator rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other parent.
The targeted parent and often the children cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings. Their beliefs sometimes becoming delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries is the enemy.
They will often seek support from family members, quasi-political groups or friends that will share in their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent and the system. The battle becomes “us against them.” The obsessed alienator’s supporters are often seen at the court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
They have an unquenchable anger because they believe that they have been victimized by the targeted parent and whatever they do to protect the children is justified.
They have a desire for the court to punish the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted parent from seeing the children. This confirms in the obsessed alienator’s mind that he or she was right all the time.
The court’s authority does not intimidate them.
The obsessed alienator believes in a higher cause, protecting the children at all cost.
The obsessed alienator will probably not want to read what is on these pages because the content just makes them angrier.
There are no effective treatments for either the obsessed alienator or the children. The courts and mental health professionals are helpless. The only hope for these children is early identification of the symptoms and prevention. After the alienation is entrenched and the children become “true believers” in the parent’s cause, the children are lost to the other parent for years to come. We realize this is a sad statement, but we have yet to find an effective intervention, by anyone, including the courts that can rehabilitate the alienating parent and child.