Parental Alienation: Learning, Coping, Healing

Is it possible to understand alienation, never mind cope with it and heal from it? My answer is yes, it is possible to do all three and in doing so, it is possible to pass on the skills that you learn as parent to others too.

Whilst many parents have not the first idea how to approach coping with alienation or healing it and from it, most will turn to the text books in an attempt to understand it for themselves. In a world in which fear, uncertainty and sadness has taken hold, the words of professionals who understand and show that they understand, is a life line to hang on to, sometimes the only thing that keeps a parent sane.

Because the world of parental alienation is a little like entering the twighlight zone for first time parents facing rejection. It is a little like finding out that a world exists within a world, a subterannean nightmare like place where nothing is as it seems and you, as the targeted parent, are to blame for something that you cannot even understand.

Understanding parental alienation from the perspective of those professionals who write about it however can lead newly rejected parents into difficult territory.  In places where parental alienation is not accepted as a reality, where mental health professionals or family court practitioners dismiss it, offering up your new found knowledge is a bit like handcuffing yourself putting yourself in the cell named blame and locking the door behind you. Whilst you might be absolutely certain that you have the answer to the mystery that has been plaguing your relationship with your children, the uninformed and often disinterested professional will simply see this as confirmation that you are what the alienating parent says you are – controlling, obsessive and blaming.  Understanding alienation as a rejected parent therefore, has to be used in a sophisticated way, it has to be part of a longer term strategy, not a rush to convince all and sundry that this is the reality.

Your strategy, as a rejected parent, has to be woven from your understanding as well as your ability to cope.  It is of little use understanding what is happening to your children if you go under because of it.  Arming yourself with understanding is your first step but coping is your foundation stone.  Healing, yourself and your children is the outcome of the work that the first two elements of your strategy make possible.

Linda Gottleib is a US family therapist.  Her view is that the best therapist for children who are alienated from a parent is the rejected parent and I agree with her.  No-one other than the alienating parent knows your children as well as you and no-one could, in real time, deal better with the way that alienating children will duck and weave their way through fantastical scenarious that are ever exaggerated and often simply nonsensical.  Therapists who work with only with  rejected parents on the premise that it is they who need to change are doing parents an enormous disservice.  Those who work with every member of the family and with the rejected parent to skill them to be their child’s own moment by moment therapist, are those who hold the key to empowering parents to cope and heal themselves as well as heal their children.

Alienation is a horrible phenomenon when it strikes. It damages children in the here and now and it limits their life chances in all areas of social relationships. It also damages perspective in children and causes in them a curious sense of tunnel vision, in which they are unable to experience very much other than their feelings and their belief system (which of course is a reflection of the alienating parent’s world view).  To challenge this in your children is terrifying in the extreme at times as they appear to wield such power over you.  But submitting to their disdainful rejection of you is folly and will not change anything at all. If they can they will do the work of the alienating parent and annihalate you.  If you let them you will lose them. It is in your interests to withstand their attacks and survive as well as nurture yourself and thrive.  To do so is to build the path that leads to their freedom.

If you are facing with alienation know these three things.

1.  You are your child’s best hope for the future – never ever let anyone persuade you otherwise.

2. Professionals don’t always know or want to know about alienation. Learn how to work with your mental health or family court practitioner in ways that educates and enlightens them rather than irritating them so that you fall into the trap of them seeing you as the problem.

3. Get help if you need it. You need it if you are constantly obsessing, depressed and unable to face life, running round in circles feeling helpless or finding yourself being blamed in the court process.

Understanding Parental Alienation – learning to cope, helping to heal by Karen Woodall will be published shortly.

A brand new resource for all families affected by parental alienation will be launched soon, watch this space.

Skype Coaching for rejected parents is available from the Family Separation Clinic using the whole family model of assessment and treatment for parental alienation developed by Karen and Nick Woodall.

12 thoughts on “Parental Alienation: Learning, Coping, Healing

  1. Wonderful, hope-giving article, Karen. As someone who is, hopefully, after 5 years of alienation – starting to get my daughter back (her finally waking up, after having suffered some serious educational setbacks) I can only agree.

    But it will likely be a long haul, won’t it…depending on the circumstances. Perhaps, in time, you will be able to describe some of these stories – including the time-frames involved?


      1. I haven’t really been away…have thought all the recent posts were wonderful – I’ve just been tremendously busy on my own anti-alienation strategies…which, for me has meant concentrating on giving the kids something (in this case, the community music work) to be proud of.

        That’s not gone at all smoothly, but it seems to have still contributed, at least – in helping bring the kids onside. It would be great for our initiative to be properly successful, as well – but right now, obviously, for an alienated child to start to come back – is such a huge result.

        It’s early days, but the world starts to feel like a different place again…it’s like a curse has been lifted.


  2. Thank you Karen – and also very heartening to hear from ‘woodman’ that things can really, possibly, change, even after 5 years – hope springs etc
    For myself, and others in my position, I’d appreciate at some time your experienced perspective on the step-parent’s position, in both helping the alienated parent, and around finding their own relationship with the alienating child.


    1. Hi Cathryn, we will soon launch our new project which will have a dedicated section for step parents and a place where step parents can discuss issues and help each other, coming soon, I will flag it up on here. K


  3. Like Woodman, I too have a daughter who at the age of 16 appears to be emerging from five years of alienation. There has been no real outside intervention, for exactly the reasons you describe Karen, the more I tried to steer the professionals in what I felt was the right direction, the more they resisted, were reluctant to delve into the situation, and instead inferred I was the problem.

    In previous articles you have described how when children do emerge, their transformation can be almost instant. This is what we appear to be witnessing, and for those of us that were previously rejected (me as her father and most of the paternal family) it is an almost surreal experience with my daughter behaving as if there had never been a gap, which of course is not mentioned by either her or us because the here and now and future is more important.

    The catalyst for her transformation appears to have been her elder sister, who lives with me, but has maintained a relationship with her mother and younger siblings at their other home, and had been spending more time there recently. I’m not sure she will ever have said anything specific about the behaviour of her younger siblings, and reluctance of their mother to do anything about that, as she has always been too afraid of her mother to do so,

    Instead, I suspect it is far more likely that when visiting there and talking freely to her younger sister about me and here she will simply have made all the sorts of usual and normal comments that teenagers do about a parent, some good and some bad. I can only surmise that the relaxed air she brought with her from here finally became apparent to and prompted her younger sister to seek some of the same out for herself, but who knows?

    Whatever the reasons, which even after having lived this nightmare for so long, I am not qualified to make, the net result is hopefully one that I had almost given up hope of being achieved, at least not until my daughter became an adult and had children of her own. I just hope that these rekindled relationships in turn have a similar effect on their youngest sibling who originally held out, but eventually disappeared into the fog some eighteen months ago.

    But to finish and get back to topic, the title of this article being learning, coping, healing. I have certainly learned a lot over the last few years from my own experiences, but far more so from reading these articles, and listening to the experiences of others. This has helped me to cope with the situation here, and change my own attitudes and behaviour towards the alienation, which I think in turn has laid the foundations for the return to our lives of my daughter. I hope this healing will be able to continue for us all, and give her the strength to continue these relationships with us, irrespective of any continued negativity towards us at her other home.

    Thanks for yet another informative article Karen and I look forward to reading your book when it is published.


  4. hi karen
    i was just wondering if in all your experience you had witnessed a u turn by an alienating parent.
    it seems that we always presume that the alienator has a personality disorder or unstable and such other in this case then a u turn is not likely.
    but what if the alienator is scorned bitter twisted hurt and is simply out for revenge as all these things add up to anger and the ultimate weapon of choice is used to inflict revenge.
    angry bitter jealous people do not think straight and are capable of such devastating actions as they are out to make the other parent suffer as they are with icing and a cherry on top so to speak.
    when this person calms down and the red mist lifts and has again found happiness then maybe, what i am saying is true then perhaps there is some hope for some target parents here.
    i hope you can throw some light on this.


      1. ok i will read with interest the reason i raised this is because my ex is the type of person who can change the way she behaves towards people in the click of her fingers.
        i do believe the man she is with has played a big part in pushing me out of my daughters life.
        perhaps he saw me as a threat and probably he was jealous of the relationship i had with my daughter.
        i believe they both wanted me gone so he can play the part of daddy with their perfect little family without any involvement from me.
        the way they went about it was both cruel and vicious making up stuff about me in court and bad mouthing me to her family.
        i know she has behaved in an unforgivable way to some of her family members in the past, before she met me infact her cousin once told me that he couldnt believe how much she had changed when me and her got together with all this new attitude and being nice to everybody as though she had never behaved horrible to them
        he told me it was only since she had met me as before they despised her and told me she was lucky they even speak to her he told me she was an absolute bitch!!
        then when she gets with this fella perhaps she has adopted his attitude and his ways and perhaps if they break up and she meets a nicer guy she could change personalities again!!
        i definitly think she will surface at some point but it will probably only be because it suits her and i could be of some convenience in some way.
        not sure how i would react as she has really said some bad lies and i will never trust her again.
        look forward to reading your opinion


  5. Another great article delving into the dark world of parental alienation. The comment regarding knowing your children better than others is so true but when trying to show this to courts, Cafcass, Social workers and any other state sponsored child abusers you are told ‘ Dad has lost reality and doesn’t understand what the children need’. They need unrestricted time with both parents from their perspective but the reality is also they need weaning off the abusive parent who is alienating them from family friends and a happy childhood.


  6. Yes. I love it when you strip away the gender issues and just talk about the feeling (i.e. the outfall of parental alienation and all its’ ramifications)…………… and then suggest strategies for parents who are on a difficult path to reunion and healthy relations with their children.

    In my own circumstances although neither child is rejecting me I do hear comments from them that disappoint me. In spite of this I work on aspects of our relationship that have proved to be strong in the past. To some extent life is a roller coaster; one moment you are your child’s confidante feeling honoured to be consulted on matters important to them and in the next you are being lambasted for doing the wrong thing in the past and consequently enter a period of retrospection.

    Looking back. (A time-line)

    In a previous comment, perhaps a year or so ago I had insisted how important it was to stay involved in your child’s schooling. I recall how I managed to organise the annual school review (a visit to the school where you, your child and your ex all go together to meet the Teachers and discuss your child’s progress). This was the only time in the whole year that myself, my ex and my child would be together. I thought of it as some kind of victory, a time when my child could see that both parents matter and care for her, putting her interests ahead of any differences that the parents might have. Of course it didn’t all go smoothly. On one occasion returning from the school my ex insisted on taking the bus. My daughter insisted that I should stop the car dropping her off so that she could go with her mother, even though I was offering a lift for both of them. The whole experience would tend to be a morbid and turgid affair for all of us.
    It was only a fortnight ago when my daughter in a fit of pique told me that all those times I had organised her school review for the whole family, were purgatory for her. She said I had been cruel in organising such a thing; what was I thinking of.
    You may be thinking from this experience that I should have backed off; let my daughter go with her mother to the review and stayed in the background…………………….waiting, waiting.
    Waiting for what? for a cue from my daughter that I could feel part of her education that I could share this important experience with her. Of course I didn’t want to fade into the background, be nothing more than a single Dad receiving just the annual school report that had been promised to me by Government legislation; as if this were enough to satisfy the relationship between a father and his daughter.
    So, here I am, my daughter seemingly finding it difficult to understand why her father wants to make himself available for her as she experiences the ups and downs in her school life. Of course she could do the whole thing without me, achieve academic success, but that’s not the point is it.
    And now she is at Uni we text message each other; she telling me about her experiences and the new people she has met. I feel like a Dad. This is how it would have been had I not separated from my Ex. I am connected, appreciated, but also criticised by my daughter; this is normal.
    Do I regret organising school review day for the whole family? Hell no, not a bit of it. For me it was an opportunity to show my concern for my daughter’s education. My Ex didn’t like it and my daughter is now telling me she didn’t like it, but that is hardly the point. It wasn’t particularly pleasant for me either, but only time will tell how necessary it was. For me it was a sticky plaster that keeps the dreaded scourge of alienation at bay. Nobody can accuse me of disinterest, or worse fecklessness and in spite of all my daughter’s protestations I still feel it was the right thing to do…………… perhaps my daughter’s understanding of my predicament will come later in her life.

    Kind regards

    Ps Good to hear from you Woodman and in good spirit. I was beginning to fear you had been incarcerated.


  7. If only, if only alienating parents could read this blog. If only there was a website that all alienating parents could join and confess their agendas. If only. Meanwhile, thank you Karen!


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