The landscape of parental alienation is extremely complex and made more so by the ways in which alienating parents in the severe category are skilled manipulators of other people. Skilled alienators will use other people to achieve their aims such as friends, family, practitioners, parish priests, GP’s, schools, hospitals and the target parent him/herself. Skilled alienators can be cunning and secretive or they can be chaotic and visibly destructive. Where-ever they are on the scale however they can rope in the target parent as well as a raft of other people to convince the world, the children involved and, in some cases even the target parent that the cause of the rejection is justified and not parental alienation. Here is an example of how this is done by a covert but very skilled alienator.
Rachel is a powerful business woman who is in charge of a large company. She has a reputation for being determined, gritty and very outspoken in her management of people. She gets the job done but she does not make many friends in doing so, she is often lonely and finds leisure time difficult because she spends so much of it on her own.
Daniel is a teacher, he works at a local comprehensive school teaching English. He is well liked by his peers and children seen to get on well with him too. He too however does not have many friends and spends a lot of time with his own parents and his brother. At weekends David often goes fishing with his brother for long hours, sometimes overnight.
Rachel and Daniel decide to separate after a spell of difficulty in their marriage. They have two children aged 10 and 12 and decide that the children will live in two homes. Rachel moves out of the family home so that she can live closer to her work. This is not too far from the children’s schools however so she is confident that she can continue to drop off and collect the children when it is her turn to do so.
One year after separation, the children no longer spend time at Rachel’s home. David says that the children decided for themselves that being with their mother was too difficult for them. He says that she is snappy with them and that she treats them as she treats her staff at work. The children echo their father’s descriptions and say that their mother is bossy and that she does not do the things that proper mothers do. Both children describe the time when their mother was angry with them, one of them says that his mother hit him on the head once.
People around the family say that they are unsurprised by what has happened. David was always the one who was more child focused and of course he is a teacher and so is used to spending time with children whilst Rachel can be a cold fish who is unfriendly.
David regularly takes the children to out of school events and is always very jolly and always keen to talk to people about what happened to the children and their mother. He is very sympathetic when he talks about Rachel, he feels so sorry for her but can see why it has happened, she was never really bonded to the children properly and she always put her work first.
Rachel keeps herself to herself. She does not have very many people to talk to outside of work and so concentrates on working hard to avoid the pain of losing her children.
Skilled alienators are people watchers, they understand the target parent at a very deep level. They understand how the target parent is viewed by others and they make it their business to covertly use those views held by others to build up an alienation reaction in them. Skilled alienators can see the invisible lines of tension that run between the target parent and the children, they know where the target parent is vulnerable and they make use of it. These alienators are superbly skilled at hiding their real intentions which they wrap up in a blanket of absolute sympathy which seems to verge upon compassion but which is pulled back from that by the repeated phrase ‘of course we have to do what is best for the children,’ or words to that effect. Skilled alienators appear to be co-operative with anyone who interacts with the family and rely upon the effectiveness of their control over the children’s experience to maintain the illusion that it is the coldness and the failure of the other parent which has caused the problem. Unaware parents and practitioners who are confronted by the skilled alienator can be left believing the idea that the children have rejected their parent because of something she has done, rather than questioning why a child would reject a parent outright on the basis of what sound like isolated incidents of a parent being angry and not justification for complete severance of the relationship.
Other ways that skilled alienators convince others that this is justified rejection and not parental alienation is to ensure that the child is able to articulate their rejection in ways that justify it. This can mean taking something that a parent has actually done and expanding it in the child’s mind so that the child believes that it is sufficient evidence. This taking of a nugget of reality and expanding it is extremely problematic for the child because it distorts both the original action and the child’s emotional and psychological reaction to it. A child who goes back repeatedly to a seemingly innocuous event and describes it as if it is evidence of the evil that a parent has done to them, is demonstrating that they have been coached to believe that something which actually happened is much worse and much more dangerous to them than it actually was in reality. The difference between a child who is justifiably rejecting a parent and one who has been told that their rejection is justifiable is that the child who has really been damaged will rarely reject a parent outright but will seek to go back and try again, sometimes to be hurt again, sometimes to the degree where they have to be persuaded to think differently. The reality is that a child who is being harmed by a parent will usually blame themselves first before they are able to blame the other parent and can often not understand what a parent is doing that is harmful.
This is a taster from Chapter Three of our book Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal which is nearing completion and will shortly be ready for our readers.