We are discussing empathic responding with an alienated child at the moment. So far we have looked at the concept of walking a mile in your child’s shoes in order to understand the different pressures placed upon them. Last week I asked you to find a photograph of your child and put it somewhere prominent so that you could practice sending your love towards your child on a daily basis, thinking only of the positive feelings you have for them and letting the negative ones, engendered by their alienated position, drop away.
This week we are going to look at how, as an alienated parent, you are in the unenviable position of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t and how, if you understand the position you are in, you can shape your responses to your children to influence them differently.
This series of posts is for those who are still in relationship with their children or whose children are emerging from an alienated state. I will write specifically for those who are not seeing their children at all next.
When you are in the position of being or becoming the targeted or alienated parent it is important for you to understand what is happening fast. As the targeted parent, you are the one upon whom, all of the negativity around the ending of the relationship is being projected. You are the scapegoat, you are the route your child uses to protect themselves from the horror of the holocaust surrounding them and you are the parent that they have decided can cope over the longer term with the loss of a relationship with them. You are also, paradoxically, the parent that they bet upon being there when the chaos dies down. In their minds you are the stronger, kinder, more objective parent, the one that right now they can afford to do without. Because when an alienation reaction takes hold, children who choose to lose a parent, are usually being unbearably pressured by the parent that they live most of their lives with. This parent is usually, though not always, their mother but whether it be mother or father they align themselves with, this parent will be skilled at emotional manipulation, guilt tripping, outraged self righteousness, long standing public suffering and will, themselves, usually be involved in significant campaigns to ‘split’ the family into good and bad. Children align themselves most to the parent who plays the blame game and given that most children are living most of the time with one parent involved in this kind of mind manipulation, it is little wonder they cave in eventually and split up their own feelings into good and bad.
I said last week that children who split and who go into an alienation reaction want you to confirm for them why they should reject you. This leads to all sorts of horrible behaviour in children which often mirrors the outraged self righteous indignation that is displayed by the aligned parent. A child who is regularly saying ‘I don’t want to…come withyou/have you as my parent/love you/like you/do this/do that….is entering into the alienation reaction and at this stage you must do everything you can and more to avoid giving them justification for escalating it.
But here again you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t because if you give them justification they will escalate the reaction and if you don’t give them justification they will also escalate the reaction. So what do you do, when a child is entering into the alienation state, or, conversely, is coming out of the alienated state (when they will often display behaviours in reverse order.
Let me explain that last bit just for clarification.
Children entering into an alienated state will usually follow this route –
Passive resistance – they will say they don’t want to see you/don’t want to stay over/try to reduce their time with you. When they are with you they will sulk and not want to do things.
Resistance – they will start to create situations which cause trouble and which allow them to avoid being with you, you will often want to simply send them home.
Active resistance – they will avoid coming with you when its time to do so, they will create scenes at handover, they will start to tell the parent they live with most that they don’t want to go, they will become hysterical, they will be obnxious in your company if you do get them to come with you.
When children come out of the alienated state they will often go through these stages in reverse order, ping ponging back and forth between them so that you are not quite sure what is going on. A child might contact you in active resistance for example and demand that you do things for them and then, shortly afterwards, might hop straight over to passive resistance and spend some time with you that isn’t quite normal but isn’t actively resisting either. Knowing where your child is in the alienation process is critical if you are going to use empathic responding in any of your encounters with your child.
Similarly, a series of emotional states accompanies each of the stages of alienation. In order for a child to become alienated they have to amputate their conscience in relationship to you and so they go through a process of disabling their ability to feel guilt or shame about their rejection of you. A child in passive resistance can still locate normal feelings of guilt and shame whilst a child in resistance is seeking help from you to disable those feelings by creating circumstances in which you behave in ways that contribute to the chaos. When you do you are inadvertently confirming for the child why they should reject you and as you do so you are helping them to amputate their normal conscience in relationship to you. This is why, when a child is behaving badly in an alienation reaction, you must take care not to contribute by being overly aggressive, overly pushy or overly demanding. Difficult I know, but important to understand and keep in your toolbox for parenting an alienated child.
A child in active resistance has fully split up their feelings and can no longer feel guilt and shame in relationship to you. Interestingly, one of the anecdotal evidences of a child who has fully split in their feelings, is that they seem to do incredibly well at school and the aligned parent will parade their ‘goodness’ and their achievements as evidence of how not seeing you has helped them to blossom. The reality is that the child is no longer coping with the demand to relate to two parents who are in conflicted positions and they are, as compensation for the terrible ‘choice’ they have made, trying desperately to show that they are good children. What they are however, are children removed from connection to normal feelings of conscience and as such they are in a very vulnerable emotional and psychological state.
First stage empathic responding with an alienated child means understanding how vulnerable your children are and what you need to do to assist them. You need to become, very quickly, an adept at parenting an alienated child, which means removing from yourself all of the hooks that we discussed last week, focusing upon letting love flow towards your child within your mind and heart and then being willing and able to sow seeds of doubt at every opportunity.
Sowing seeds of doubt is an immediate task that creates mid and longer term opportunities for you to revisit and use in the future. Your seeds of doubt need to be nurtured and cared for so that they will eventually blossom into the flowers of hope for reunification. Seeds of doubt are less about direct explanation and more about challenging perceptions, they are usually unvocalised and they are symbolic in nature. First stage empathic responding with an alienated child is about challenging their determination to use you as the repository for all that is negative, bad and wicked about their world. Sowing the seeds of doubt is about your child encountering the love you feel for them on a consistent basis and about experiencing you over time as a containing adult who can face what they are throwing at you. Sowing seeds of doubt can arrest an alienation response and it can expedite a recovery from alienation. Sowing seeds of doubt means that every time your child encounters you, they experience something other than what they have been made to believe about you.
So what has your child been made to believe about you? This week I want you to spend time thinking as clearly as possible about the things that your child’s other parent has used to create you as the shadow in the child’s mind. How have you been demonised, how have you been set up to be the place where the negativity can be dumped, what is it about you that has created this circumstance right here, right now?
In writing this I can hear the uproar of outrage that I should suggest that an alienated parent has somehow created his own fate. I can see the posts denying that any such dynamic exists. Let me tell you this. In each and every single case of alienation that I have ever worked with, the alienated parent has contributed something, somehow. Even in those very severe cases, where personality disorder drives the child into rejection, the target parent has not been perfect. I am not asking you to find what you have done that has caused this, I am not asking you to accept the blame. I am asking you to consider what it is about you that meant that you could become the disposable parent in the child’s mind. Were you too pushy, too aggressive, too passive, too confused, too malleable, too tired, too frustrated. What? What was it about you that put you in that position?
Know yourself, know your child and know the other parent inside out, just as they know you inside out and have used whatever it is about you to create this split and make you and not they the rejected parent.
And when you know yourself and them and how, you will know how to do something different and when you do something different you start sowing the seeds of doubt.
This week I want you to get those seeds of doubt out of the packet and put them into sunlight ready for sowing. Next week we are going to warm up the soil and till it carefully ready to receive them. Until then. Find a mirror. Look back and reflect. Your seeds of doubt, in your symbolic gestures and behaviours in the future, are going to be different to those things that you were in the past. Find yourself, know yourself, prepare your seeds of doubt in the different things you are going to do and be and say.
Seeds of doubt challenge your child’s perceptions, they confuse your child and change the way that the alienation reaction affects them. Seeds of doubt concentrate your child’s mind and experience on the love that you feel and even though they may continue their reaction, will call up their conscience and make them think. And thinking is what we need alienated children to do because thinking critically and independently is what they have lost. Your seeds of doubt are designed to encourage your child to think with perspective over time.
If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got, seeds of doubt are about doing things differently. Doing things differently creates dynamic change.
As the land warms and the sun returns, lets get ready for digging for difference together.
Until next week.
So timely Karen – thank you
Wow. Great advice here. Do you have any advice where the child is accusing you of doing things that they are doing? I have seen some of the things you describe, but in my case, my child will yell and smack me when they don’t get what they want, and then right away tell me to stop yelling or smacking them. It doesn’t make any sense, but I see that you have said elsewhere that trying to reason with them is not going to work. The reason I can trace this behavior directly to the other parent is because the child then says that only I do this, and that the other parent doesn’t, and that they would rather be with the other parent.
How old is your child? The behaviour is worrying, it sounds like projection or repeats of behaviour they have experienced elsewhere, I need the age though to advise you properly. K
What an incredible article!
And, quite possibly, sprinkled with empowering advise. I say so because, perhaps (if I have understood the complexities here), by reflecting on ourselves and thereby changing ourselves then maybe that is what can change the situation somewhat.
I’m going to have to read this one over (and over) again and try my best to understand it and hope I do.
Many thanks for this one Karen.
I think you know that this one was mostly for you PMK, its about how to show a child that you are not what you have been made out to be. Its all about avoiding the traps that were set for you so that you don’t fall into them again. Alienating parents are often successful in what they do because they have the ideal foil for their plans – you.
The key thing is to spend time thinking about and identifying what it was about you that the other parent used to oust you. You spotted one thing recently and avoided it perfectly. Now, what are those other things that the other parent used to manouvre you to where you are now? When you know them you can avoid them again and your child’s experience of you will be completely other than what they have been lead to believe.
I like the idea of seeds of doubt though as you say you have to be subtle. However there are many things the other parent can make the child believe that it can be difficult for the alienating parent to change: Someone already mentioned a couple of posts back the possibility of the alienator targeting empathy by the alienated parent. To add to that: What if the alienator is targeting symptoms of a chronic disease, stating the other parents is not ill but lazy/pretending or other? What if the attack on the alienated parent centers on making allegations to the children of some kind of abuse between the adults? What if the alienator targets sound parenting such as setting basic boundaries for their behavior?
Absolutely agree, Kat. These are precisely the kinds of issues I have been up against.
All cumulating in the scenario where the alienator has all the financial means – and the targeted parent has none. Summed up by the phrase used by the alienator…”money talks”. In this scenario the targeted parent may be the person who has initially enabled the alienator to have all these resources – like digging one’s own grave and handing over the weapon of destruction.
These are situations which the targeted parent can do very little to change – and intervention HAS to come from outside.
Woodman, I still think there is a lot you can do, certainly Karen’s description of trigger events ring very true to me, avoiding those at all cost by not taking the bate presented has got to be top priority. I was just wondering how you sow seeds of doubt e.g. when a child is being told there should be no rules and boundaries and you need to introduce some. How can you sow seeds of doubt as to whether the alleged abuse really happened in a subtle way.
Another issue is how do you deal with the editing that the children do themselves. One example would be taking them out for an activity, seeing how much they enjoyed it, only to be told later by them how scared/bored/inappropriate this activity was for them.
I think the answer is absolutelyin your hands Kat. If you know that children are being unduly influenced and that you have taken them out to enjoy an activity and they have enjoyed it and then they tell you that they didn’t and it was inappropriate, I think you can say something gentle like ‘it seemed you were enjoying it at the time’ and leave it at that and know that their reaction is because they are being pressured or you can choose to simply ignore them and know in your own mind that they are being pressured.
You see when children live in separated family situations they just are different to when they live in families with both parents present. You can’t change that, you can’t really change them, this is their lives and their experience. Its what you attach to what they say that matters here, you can choose to not sweat the small stuff and let it be simply about them being in a separated family situation or you can hang on those things and want them to change.
There is nothing fair or just about family separation. Your kids are very likely to say things like this from time to time, you just have to roll with it. Kids in two homes do edit stuff out, especially if there is hostility in those homes. I lived it for many years, watching my step kids enjoy themselves and then shrug their shoulders on the phone to mum, I watched them go from WOW to ‘so what’ in seconds on a regular basis. I felt sorry for them that they could not enjoy a unified response. Not their fault.
When you need to set boundaries and the other parent is undermining them what you are talking about is a problem in a transitional stage of alienation, not really alienation itself. If children’s other parent is constantly trying to undermine you, you simply have to hold your boundary firm and keep it firm. In your case, I think this is probably not a place for sowing seeds of doubt because the child may well have enough time with the non alienating parent not to need that approach.
You are quite right Karen no need to sow any seeds here. Somehow, don’t know how, they were sown some time ago and have germinated too, something I am endlessly grateful for. Alienation seems to be a thing of the past though the process of alienation is ongoing. The “small stuff” as you rightly call it rakes chaos in our lives, I think it will always irritate me. I feel as a helpless observer looking at the process of how the children are learning to navigate this knowing that interference is mostly counter productive.
I agree Woodman. Trying to get all men (and some women) to be empathetic round the clock, and behave like the greatest human beings on earth, seems a bit impractical. The state already reaches its dirtied and bloodied hands into private life so substantially, mostly in ways that further damage the alienated parent. It would be good to focus equally on reforming the way the state does this, so that more protection is put in place for alienated parents.
That’s not to slight Karen’s brilliant article, but just to say that it is outrageous for us to expect that all of the burden should continue to be shifted onto the parent.
And concentrate on that I have been doing, for many a year anonymous and at times it gets downright exhausting and so I come back to what I love doing most, which is working with families to help them change difficult circumstances. No-one is asking you to be empathetic around the clock, far from it. I am asking you to concentrate empathically upon your own circumstances as a series of exercises, you don’t have to join in you know. K
Karen, I know how I contributed to my children’s rejection – I changed. When I was married to their mother I acquiesced, I did as I was told, I parented her way, I revolved my life around hers and did anything to keep her happy for an easier life for me and the kids…….and suffered days of silence when I got it wrong. After we divorced and counselling had helped me realise I had been in a bullying and abusive marriage, I decided to change. I parented my way, I behaved according to my own values, beliefs and thoughts, I challenged and disagreed with my former spouse. I found happiness with a new partner. I feel I am a better person for having changed, and can show my children that a loving relationship can look very different through my relationship with my partner. But the kids don’t like it when I, or anyone else, disagrees or contradicts their mother because of her disproportionate reaction and the strength of her belief that anyone who sees anything differently to her is wrong. I merely added myself to the long list of lovers, friends and family members who have distanced themselves from her because of this. Could I go back to being the person I was? Probably I could, and that might result in regaining contact with my kids again, but only temporarily. Their mother has told me she does not want me in their lives, so even if I was the perfect acquiescent ex-husband, the alienation would be based on other things (probably fictitious) to get the kids to reject me again. By then, I would have lost my partner and step-daughter who would have quite rightly walked away from a man living his life at the beck and call of his ex-wife just for whatever scraps of contact she’s prepared to throw him. And then what?………. How do you break the cycle for children with a parent intent on eradicating their father from their lives?
Its not about going back to the person you were Freddie, its about seeing the world through your children’s eyes. They don’t know that you changed because of who their mother was, they only know you changed. They don’t know about the world outside of their small circle of those who influence them, they are totally unaware of all of those things about their mother that made a relationship with her so difficult. They are trapped in the relationship with their mother just as you were. Your task is to see that and to help them to work through that by using empathic responding. They don’t want you to parent your way versus their mother’s way, they just want to be parented, ideally by both of you but if there is conflict they will ‘choose’ to lose the one they think can do without them. If their mum is doing a lot of overrreacting and you are happy in your new relationship then its you they are going to choose to lose.
See it from their eyes first.
Then understand the dillema they face.
Then offer them something different of yourself.
And be patient.
I think you underestimate yourselves. A targeted parent does themselves an injustice by saying there are situations they cannot handle…………..e.g. like the alienator who has apparent control over their child and targeted parent by virtue of a superior financial position.
The answer to this might take the form of a parable in which a rich King/Queen treats their subjects with disrespect. Once upon a time there lived a rich Queen Midas who kept all her jewels and money in a strong room. Her good husband, a favourite of the people was locked away in the tower because he had dared to criticize his wife. He was very saddened because he could no longer see his dear children whom he loved so much. From his lofty tower he would send paper aeroplanes through the arrow slits in the vane hope that his children would see the pictures he had made each one of them on the wings of the planes. On sunny days he could see his children chasing the little paper darts as they tossed on the summer breeze.
Of course the King finally escapes and reunites with his children……….you can finish the story however you like.
This is you the targeted parent, regaining some positive influence over a difficult situation and opening up your child’s mind to the real situation in which they live. This is empathy in action.
That works (for now…but coming under increasing strain) with the 10 year old…but with the 16 year old whose whole identity revolves around the fashion gear she has been so carefully encouraged to become addicted to?
stop focusing on who has encouraged her to be addicted to fashion Woodman – who cares – they’re all addicted to something at 16 – and start focusing on what you CAN do – buy some magazines, get yourself clued up and start saving up for gift vouchers for H&M or wherever they buy their clothes from these days. Tell her she looks great, tell her you’re as proud as possible of her, tell her she is beautiful, tell her you will be happy to be her taxi driver so long as you see something of her. Know the difference between what is normal for 16 year olds and what is not. And RELAX.
Smack bang on the money anonymous, right there where your mind needs to be. Couldn’t have put it better myself x
What to do with a 16 yr old?
My daughter is 17 so I hope I can relate to you, parenting someone of a similar age. They say a parent’s role changes from one of educator in the early years to one of consultant later on. One of the huge advantages I have is being able to drive my daughter to her activities and more recently to her boyfriends. Sitting in the front seat beside me with nowhere to go (a captive audience) it is possible to develop a relationship by listening to her complaints and successes. You soon realise that your opinion can land you in hot water so it’s best to act as a sponge. Resist the temptation to agree with her when she complains about her Mum. You can empathise with how your daughter feels but avoid criticizing your Ex. (viz. This could lead to further anxieties for her when she confronts her Mum….just imagine her saying to her Mum, “Dad says you are stupid!”). It could be an opportunity to compliment her Mum on her point of view or at least acknowledge it from an entirely neutral perspective.
Remember your objective is to accept opinion, acknowledge feelings and allow your child to make their own assessments.
Having said all this I accept it is not always possible not to be affected by your daughter’s adverse behaviour when you know instinctively that she is repeating the opinion of her mother and the malice you now experience is pressing the same buttons as your Ex once did.
Only recently this happened to me and I lost my temper with my daughter. She slammed the car door when leaving me as I sped off into the distance blowing my horn. I was furious. I was so upset she seemed to be riling me in a way her mother used to. To my cost, when my daughter was due to come and see me, she never came. I didn’t question her on this, but after some thought I apologised also pointing out what behaviour had upset me (but tactfully leaving her mother out of this). This was all done by text messaging.
After a couple of days I got some response by text, mostly because she wanted a lift (but I would like to think she wanted to see me too). Although her response to me was initially cold and off-hand eventually she warmed to me again and within a fortnight she came to stay over.
I am telling you this because we all make mistakes, this is normal. All is not lost because we make mistakes. It always helps if we explain our feelings and behaviour. We may not initially be understood or even forgiven but in the long run we will be remembered for our dependability our love our sustainability and presence.
Just one more thing. We can’t change the past so the car incident may be lodged in my daughter’s brain as it is in mine, but it’s not doing my mental health any good nor my daughter…………….so I will rationalise my behaviour and move on. With each day that passes there lies another opportunity to do some good parenting work. Keep faith and take as many opportunities as you can to parent in a supportive and positive way.
Thank you for sharing your experience. It is great that you are able to have this level of parenting input, and are able to move forward slowly but surely.
I will try to explain some of the characteristics of my situation which may be instructive in terms understanding the alienation dynamic.
I am sure that we can all learn to do things better but believe that I have essentially become the targeted parent – because of my good parenting skills. I very much resonate with Karen’s perception that the alienated child considers the target parent as better able to cope with the cutting off that is required. I have come to understand that my wife is a skilled actor, but that this is part of a sociopathic condition of narcissism.
In a situation where children are growing up with one loving empathic parent, and one self-centred narcissistic one, they are obviously going to be far more closely attached to the loving parent.
When she was 8, my eldest daughter recognized that her mother was not responding to all the attempts being made by me to express love and indicated on card that she loved me – to try and make up for this.
It was just the entirely normal love of a daughter for a father – but from this point on (in her mother’s mind) I believe my daughter became a rival to her mother, and her mother has sought to destroy the bond between us.
In fact the matter IS deadly serious. The narcissistic knows deep inside that she cannot possibly develop a loving relationship to equal that which exists with the other parent. Her only option is to destroy that, and replace it with dependency.
As long as the loving parent even remains alive, the position of the narcissist is in peril. The narcissist needs the loving parent to die. My wife has made oblique death threats. I have simply tried to remain calm and resolute despite the mounting hostility and all the usual means to eliminate the male presence from the family.
2 years ago my doctor found to his surprise that my resting heart beat rate had dropped to around 40 bpm – half of what it should be. I am 54 but the hospital want to put in a pacemaker. I am refusing, saying that I do not want a mechanical fix – for a psychological problem.
I have been able to hang on at this level since that time. My daughter has increasingly behaved as a robot programmed by her mother. Her every attitude and comment is like that of her hostile mother. Very, very occasionally, just for a moment…a glimpse of her real self can be seen – but only partially, and only for a moment.
Her mother will not see me – so she will not. Her mother will not contact me, so she will not. Her mother has no feeling for me, so she has not. Her mother does not need me – so she does not. Her mother would not care if I died – so she does not.
Her mother does not want me to see the other children – so she does not.
You get the idea.
Occasionally when circumstances have brought us together – she is liable to act so much like and on behalf of her mother, that it is has been inevitable to accidentally respond to her in that kind of way.
Huge amounts of money are being siphoned off from her disabled brothers DLA – and given to her instead – in order to buy her loyalty. She is completely caught up in this web of corruption. The little I have provided her is just a drop in this ocean.
I am a therapist (informally) – but this is problem bigger than I alone can fix. This situation surely requires there to be some outside intervention? A wound this big simply does not get better without assistance.
I hope that revealing this explains some of the dramatic language that I have used – leading to calls to “calm down”. I believe that in fact this is an ongoing crisis situation which requires urgent action – not calming down.
Alienation like this is NOT a situation of normal teenage frustration. It is systematic targeted abuse applied with tremendous mental energy by a highly disturbed adult on a vulnerable child-like persona.
As a community we need to recognize and gather around situations situations like this – indicating that this kind of psychological abuse of children is simply not tolerable.
I read your Blog and felt your pain. I think you expressed very well how targeted parents feel. Empty, hurt, abused and forgotten. At the end you proffered a solution that would come from society at large. Quote, “As a community we need to recognize and gather around situations like this – indicating that this kind of psychological abuse of children is simply not tolerable”.
I think what Karen has expressed here is a solution that is not led by the community, but by targeted parents themselves. We as individuals are going to be the ones who regain our parenting rights, who release our children from the tyranny of parent’s poles apart.
If you follow the next Blog, a targeted parent (known as M) describes how he helped his children back to the loving father they once new. It describes the actions a targeted parent might take to save his children from losing their father. This is for you and for me and I can assure you it does work. In fact, once the first of your many attempts begins to bear fruit you will feel empowered and relieved that you once again are beginning to function like a normal parent with some positive influence over your child.
You spend a lot of energy telling us about you ex’s illness and how she controls your daughter, as if this is the main impediment to you reuniting with your daughter. Unfortunately you cannot make your ex change into a different person against her will. She will only do this if she wants to and on her terms. I can tell it matters to you so I am going to suggest you spend 1 hour every day over thoughts that might change your ex’s behaviour, then another hour on what Karen is suggesting here in this Blog.
If I could get inside your daughters mind this is what she might say:
I want to believe you love me but all I hear recently is Mum grumbling about you. She wants to take your narcissus and shove it where the sun don’t shine. She thinks you are a weak and pathetic man. She says the less we hear from you the better. Mum squirms every time your name is mentioned and I feel compelled to agree with her attitude toward you just so that I can live in peace. That’s not to say I don’t love you because I always will. I am waiting for you to release me so that I can have my Mum and my Dad.
I just wish you would listen to that nice Auntie Karen and start sending me messages that suggest to me that you still care. I do remember the times we were together and I need to hear that you do to and I want you to show an interest in whom I am and what I do. It would mean so much. It’s been crap at school lately and I’m sure if you had been around to listen things would have been so much better.
I look back and in my mind’s eye I can see you combing my hair and cleaning my muddy shoes after a day out picnicking on the rec. I am beginning to wonder whether you cared at all, your absence so long and unexplained. I know I don’t read your text messages but if you continue to send them one of these days I will probably open one by accident and happen to hear that you have an Armani suit (how did you know he was one of my favourite designers)……………………….maybe Mum was wrong, perhaps you really do care.
Then later on in this flight of fancy I learn that you have set up home nearby and have a bedroom decorated all for me…………and you chose my favourite colour for the walls too. Such a sensitive and kind man that I knew you was all along.
Please please don’t give me reason to think Mum was right about you; don’t just send me your Birthday Cards, convince me of your unconditional love. It’s not about you versus Mum. What about me and my need to have a Mum and Dad.
You’ve got it someone, you’ve really got it.
Two and a half years ago I escaped my relationship through the ER and was able to get to a safe house, where I lived for a year. This gave my ex the opportunity to have his way with the children and I have not had a safe way to reconnect with them since. At the time I left I was at the physical, mental, and emotional breaking point. Had I stayed, it would have destroyed me. I knew early on that I was being alienated from the children and mentioned this to the therapists involved in my case. I saw the trauma that was happening to the children because of the situation and when I would fight for them they would be pushed further from me. I decided to preserve a hope of a future relationship with them by letting them go. They have permission to talk to me or not, visit with me or not. I let them know that I love them and they are free to contact me at any time. I am paying over $1000 per month in child support and as I left the home after 15 years as a housewife, am working hard to get myself to the place where I have the resources to provide housing for them. At this time I have “parenting time ” in the plan, but cannot afford the transportation costs or housing costs on top of my financial obligations so I fly to the state where they are living once per year to visit and otherwise have a weekly phone call (with the ones who will talk) and write with the older ones who want to. My children’s ages are 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16. I always send birthday and Christmas presents and let them know when I can that I love them, miss them, and am working hard to get a place for them. My phone calls are usually on speaker with the stepmother listening to every word so any sense of privacy is hard to achieve. It has been hard to know how to deepen the connection with them in my circumstances and I feel that often when I am making progress it is undermined. I am going to school to get my MSW and hope that when I finish I will be able to petition to regain partial custody. I am thankful for blogs like this so that I can learn how best to keep the door open for them and how to grow myself so that I can address the barriers I face.
Thank you for the concern you have outlined above, trying to put yourself in our shoes. It means a lot. I want to reassure you that I have been contacting my daughter as often as is appropriate – and sending messages of love and concern consistently for as long as I can remember.
I know she does read some of them…how many – it is not possible to tell.
However I have never ever received any text or email response back. I don’t expect any now.
It is true when you say that underneath it all she still loves me. And she knows very well that I love her. If you understood my post correctly you will have seen that that the problem is that she needs to DENY her love for me because it became confused with adult love. The extent of this means that she is has become actively involved as an alienator herself. She has taken it within herself to support tremendous physical violence by her mother (against property – primarily a workshop which meant a huge amount…to a Woodman), to support Social Services attempts to eliminate me as a father, and actively seeks to alienate her younger sister against me.
Her younger sister, however, is somewhat resistant…for now.
Anyone who understands anything of family dynamics would I think realize that this is one very big mess.
To me this is a child exhibiting a high degree of Parental Alienation Syndrome. As such this – constitutes a serious mental health condition.
I’m no expert but I would have thought that the first step in dealing with these kind of situations is to remove the influence the alienator. Easier said than done, clearly…but I have noticed that previously when she has been travelling away from her mothers home there has been a slight openness. As soon as she has been on her way back, however – any communication is impossible. But it has taken a family member coming from abroad to justify her making these trips – and we are running out of such opportunities. Overall – the alienation is hardening.
Obviously, I will continue to do ALL I can, and try and find inspiration in Karen’s words. But I believe we are talking here about a very severe form of violence. With NO other form of violence do we suggest to leave the victims to their own devices! As a society we always step in – every time.
This situation is absolutely no different – it definitely does require outside intervention.
At present the only intervention – of Social Services and the Police ‘Community Safety Unit’ – has been to aggravate and increase the level of conflict considerably – adding their own huge levels of violence into the frame…presumably from a gender feminist perspective.
Currently the only real hope I have left is to try and persuade the Family Court that an independent assessment is required.
One story I remember from Amy Baker’s book was that of a man alienated from his father. When this man’s wife asked about his father the reply he gave was that his father didn’t care about him. The wife replied that his father must care because he keeps sending you cards and the man reflected on this and decided to try to find his father. To keep trying to send messages only concerned with your love and care for that child is key as it can provide a bridge for them to get back to you.
I remember the days when the children were completely alienated and there was no contact apart from sending such cards. Cards that concerned themselves with hoping they were doing well, telling the that they were loved, but not putting them under any pressure to respond. The children were told that these cards were acts of disrespect and proof of the hatred towards them. They were told that a loving parent would not be sending these cards, as a loving parent would respect their wish not to receive them. Like the man in the story above the day came when the children started to think that that actually makes no sense, how can it be an act of hatred to send me a card telling me that I am loved?
Have you read the book by mark bryan, the prodigal father? It’s a fascinating read about how a targeted parent goes about reunion with his son, after he has dealt with his own feeling. I found the chapter called “the haunting” particularly moving and to the point. There is another chapter in which he talks about the value of the “amends letter”. I wonder if you can see the value of this.
I don’t see this as anyone elses situation other than your own, not the family courts nor the Police nor Social Services. I don’t see how the family courts can mend relationships in the sense that your therapist or Karen can. The Courts cannot grant you anonymity from pain, 100% parenting, or death to the opposition and the mentally ill. Even if they could grant it it wouldn’t mend the relationship between you and your children. That requires something from you. You need to be in a fit enough state of mind to cope and have an idea of what to expect.
A man may look at a tree and wish for someone to make him a house. Or he can accept the gifts of tools from his friends, the axe, the saw and the plane and make the thing himself.
Thank you – I haven’t read The Prodigal Father…but it’s not so expensive – so I’ve ordered it. I am however fully engaged with this process and no-one else can do it for us, clearly. This ‘house’ is one that I have been building since day 1 – now the primary ‘builder’ has been thrown out of his own house!
However, there is such a thing in counselling as “knowing the limits of ability” and that involves when to ask for help.
I would like the Court to order a psychological investigation from a Family Therapist. Last time round the Judge confused this with “psychiatric” – which wasn’t what I said…and was not convinced at that point that this was necessary. It IS necessary…I obviously have to make the case for this.
The Courts don’t like it because it is expensive.
Non-molestation orders, on the other hand…are dirt cheap…
But what price justice and child welfare?
But even with the best Family Therapy involvement onboard – I agree the work is down to us.
Nor, absolutely, can the Court force a stubborn partner to cooperate.
HOWEVER…refusal to cooperate in this scenario could (and should, IMO!) seriously start to question whether continuing the residency of the children with such a parent is appropriate.
I don’t know if this is appropriate here but this is a way of looking at the whole family dynamic in the context of a three pronged approach. Alienator (parent 1), Target (parent 2) and child/children. It is a simplistic approach but it can enable/encourage the target parent to regain their role as parent and exercise some control where formerly they see themselves as powerless.
A practical approach. Take a large blank sheet of paper, (A3 would be great) a pencil and ruler.
Draw an isosceles triangle. At one apex place yourself, at another your former partner and at the third your children.
Beside yourself write down something you have done or said which was intended to get you what you wanted. (e.g. It might be a letter you wrote to your ex or a gift you sent for your child or something you said).
Draw an arrow in the direction the message was sent. Then record what that person did in response to your message. (E.g. returned a letter/ no response/ responded by sending a message in the other direction). Draw arrows indicating all transactions, who they dealt with and what their response was, including you.
Then with a coloured crayon write down how the person reacted. (E.g. The other parent tore up your message and sent it back to you via the child in their lunchbox).
In a different colour write down how each person felt (emotions).
Remember this is your triangle and you have the power to instigate different activities which will invoke different responses from the other players.
Keep your objectives in mind and be prepared to adapt to new situations.
Be wary of your response to the other parent and how this might affect who is in control. Is there an alienator and how can I control or ameliorate their behaviour effectively?
How can I re-establish/protect the link between myself and my children?
Can all three parties function adequately given favourable input in the right direction?
What works best? Is my perception of the alienator fair? Could they perceive me as a potential threat? How does the alienator’ behaviour change? Does the alienator behave better toward my replacement? Why?
Ref: Eric Berne worked on a cognitive behavioural approach to human relationships. The book, “Games People Play” is a refreshing way of looking at relationships and particularly apt if you see yourself as the “targeted parent”……..you have the power to make a difference
there is another angle to this also. Being a good parent is your own choice and doesn’t need a response from a child in anyway. It also cant be effected by an alienating parent. Only you can decide what kind of parent you want to be because its your actions that decide what kind of parent you are and not other peoples lies or opinion. Try focussing on the fact that you are a good parent whatever your amount of contact and id say the less amount then the better parent you are. I had 2 half yrs isolated from my 4 yr old and was proud that everyday I wrote to him with no reply. That’s a bigger test than most parents and totally unwanted but hes my son and I know that its me who decides how good a parent I am and no one else. I now see my son again and I hope we will rebuild our amazing bond that was as close as any child and parent. Please don’t get caught up in the lies and realise that whatever your circmstances its completely up to you if you wanna be a good mum/dad. A good mum or dad just does everything they can no matter what the situation is and its not a matter of what circumstances you can create but more of what u can do to be a good dad/mum in the circumstances that your in. erm seems a little complicated but I hope it helps.
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I’ll be back tomorrow, this, is far more reassuring than facebook memes, tbh though I do like some of them.😁👏
I have experienced the subtle implications. Whenever I pick my kids up their mother tells them..”take care of each other” “watch out for each other” “stand up for each other” or some derivative of the notion that going with me is dangerous.
I have three kids. My oldest (16) follows your examples of a child learning to alienate a parent step-for-step. He stopped coming to my parenting time altogether a few months ago. My middle (14) is solid and he knows what is going on. I am often referred to as a narcissist in his house and he has learned it is just easier to agree. A coping mechanism I wish he never had to learn. My youngest (11) she set “the trap” for me just last weekend….And I fell for it. I wish I had read this earlier. All is not lost with her but I fear well underway.
What you have written is spot on to my situation and a huge help, thank you.
Thank you for taking the time to write it down. I feel better armed, I only hope I can find the empathy for my kids I know they deserve.
Hello to all, my situation is very difficult as I am sure that everyone else’s is too. My daughters are 24 & 18. They live with their mother a family physician who is also a “covert narcissist”. I caught my ex-wife involved with my younger daughters soccer coach (also married with children). Despite her involvement I discovered that the reason for the breakup of our marriage (23 years) was not because of him. She already had an exit plan in place that according to my expert forensic accountant was in place for 5 years prior to her involvement with the coach. The reason I mention this is because she became enraged with me because I derailed her plans of having a life with him. (I don’t believe he was ever going to leave his wife and kids anyway. 4 years later and he is still with his wife and kids and my ex-wife is still his side-dish) Our divorce (going on 4 years) is a brutal mess. My daughters have been pulled into the war by my ex. My eldest is a brassy personality that is attracted to finer things, money and the fast paced life of clubbing and drugs. My younger daughter is more grounded but a very fiery personality that can turn on you quickly. My eldest daughter and her mother claim that she has gone back to school but have avoided providing the requested verifying documents. As a result, I have been advised by my legal counsel not to pay child support until the documents are provided. (They lied before about my eldest daughter being in school full time and residing with her mother full time) My eldest now does not speak to me and does not want anything to do with me. During my last conversation with her (8 months ago) she told me I was a “Shxt Dad” that I did not care about her and that her mom was paying for everything. My eldest daughter has also embraced a life of parting, consuming drugs and alcohol. She destroyed her high end car by not maintaining it properly, she has had her licenses suspended for numerous reasons. (inc. speeding, driving under the influence…) Just recently, she reached out to me, first addressing me politely then truning on me telling me that she needed me to “step up and be her father” . Her mother was paying for everything. I told her that loved her but that I did not support the life-style that she has chosen to embrace. I shared that I was happy to contribute the best of my financial ability but that I needed the verification that she was a student in good standing and that she was residing full time with her mother. She became toxic, swearing and accusatory. I ended the conversation. A couple of days later my youngest daughter sent me an inappropriate and disrespectful text demanding that I pay her sister’s child support. (I pay $1000 CAD for my youngest) My youngest has now officially cut me off and has threatened to have nothing to do with me until I start paying support for her sister. Of course their mother has been reinforce that I don’t care about them, that I don’t want to support them and that she is the one who pays for all their expenses. Their mother is a master manipulator who is upset (ENRAGED) with me because I caught her involved with my youngest daughters soccer coach. (also married) She was planning a life with him and I derailed her plans. (4 years later he is still with his wife and family telling her that as soon as her divorce with me is finalized, he will leave his wife and family…..Sure he will)
I understand what you are trying to share in this article, but in my case doing the unexpected would mean paying child support for my eldest to my ex-wife who is a total enabler of my daughters life style. My other alternative would be to give my eldest daughter money directly but I know that the money would be used to supplement a life style of partiing, drugs and shopping. Sorry for this long winded reach-out. ADVICE WOULD BE MOST APPRECIATED 🙂 🙂 🙂
Hello -I was wondering how to find the post after this about when you’re not seeing your child. I wasn’t sure which post that was. thank you
I had no idea what was going on until i was accused of abuse by my 8 yr old son. Courts gave him to my ex in emergency hearing. Still fighting. See my son every other week supervised and we just started family therapy(court ordered). The judge also ordered my son not be able to veto visits but my ex says im not going to force him to see you. Phone gets hung up on me when i try to speak to him.. latest is, “i wont talk to you until you admit what you did to me? “ because i questioned his accusations in therapy, now this is his response to me with his father always hovering and recording our interactions. I also believe his wife is pushing all of this manipulation. She has threatened me over the years, and has always called me a bad mother in front of my kids. Cannot imagine what she says behind my back. She also keeps accompanying my ex when i have visits with my son, which the courts told her not to be involved. We have been battling in court for almost 10 months now. My child getting further from me emotionally with each visit. I stay calm during visits and try to get my son to interact. I question his accusations and get abused verbally by him and then later by his father for pushing him to much. CPS was involved and i have been cleared of accusations