The Gendered Reality of Parental Alienation and Coercive Control

Coercive control is a hot topic in the UK at present. Dominated and manipulated by the women’s rights lobby groups as being solely about masculine power in a patriarchal society, we are asked to believe that only men coercively control women.  In a recent paper proposing to amend Practice Direction 12,  statistical evidence from Women’s Aid and other political ideological women’s groups appear to be relied upon and balancing evidence from other groups concerned with childrens needs and the experience of men who suffer violence in the home, appears to have been overlooked. Thus the reality that coercive control is a behaviour which is perpetrated by men AND women, often, in the case of family separation, involving the use of children to further that control, is overlooked.

In cases of parental alienation, where coercive control is the behavioural dynamic underpinning a child’s absolute refusal to countenance a relationship with a parent, this omission of reality in such an important part of the legislative procedure is concerning.  Therefore, lest we believe that parental alienation, like coercive control, like violence in the home, is only perpetrated by one gender against the other, let’s take a closer look at how this dynamic is gendered and why it is important to know that.

I read many papers and many articles which proclaim that parental alienation is not gendered.  This is untrue.  Parental alienation IS gendered and it is important to understand what that means if one works in this field.  Having arrived at this work through many years of working on gender equality policy and practice, I understand that for many lay people, saying that something is not gendered, to them means that it affects men and women.  Let me tell you this.  Saying something is not gendered is a bit like saying that something is not real.  Everything in the world is gendered.  Not because it is inherently gendered (before anyone gets on my case about trans issues) but because we project gendered ideas and assumptions onto the world.  Sex is fixed, it is what we are born with (and again, forget the trans arguments because sex IS fixed, it is why trans people have to go through transition) but gender is not fixed, it is changeable, mutable and how we present our gendered selves depends upon how we are taught to believe about the world, how we believe that sex and gender are interrelated and how we feel comfortable in our subjective experience of the world.  Sex is fixed it is in your genitals and endocrine system. Gender is not fixed it is how you experience and perceive the world as a result of that.  Got that?  Right onto parental alienation as a gendered issue.

Parental alienation IS gendered. That means that how it is enacted by mothers and father is different depending on the gender roles those mothers and fathers play in their children’s lives.  Thus mothers who alienate do so most often in the subjective world and fathers who alienate do so most often in the objective world. This means that children who become alienated by a mother against a father will often have become that way because the mother has manipulated the child in the subjective relationship through enmeshment (mother’s inability to tell the difference between her own and her child’s experience) and through the playing out of the mother’s unfulfilled needs using the child as an extension of her own psychological self.  Children who are alienated by fathers against their mothers are most often those who turn their objective controlling behaviours towards their children when the mother leaves the relationship.  Analysis thus allows us to see that the  alienating strategies of mothers have become hidden in the external narrative of the women’s political lobby groups (all women who prevent contact are only doing so because of a coercive controlling father) whilst the alienating strategies of fathers, whilst more easily recognisable because they match the political ideological narrative of coercive control, often become silently accepted by practitioners because of their own gendered narrative which is – if a child rejects a mother that must be because the mother is a really really bad mother.

In this way, the gendered narrative of parental alienation becomes submerged beneath the women’s rights narrative which is fully present in family law through the ideological training and beliefs of practitioners in this field.  A field which is also increasingly reliant upon the voice of the child.  Ask an alienated child what they wish for and you can be sure that the reply you get will not be their own but that of the coercive controlling parent. That’s because they are being controlled coercively, the very definition of which is – a pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self. (Evan Stark).

I have not yet met an alienated child who has not had their liberty curtailed and their sense of self stripped away.  Nor have I met an alienated child who has not submitted to the emotional terrorism that is parental alienation, not because of anything other than they are a child, they are utterly dependent upon their parents and if one of their parents is psychologically unwell and driven to control the child, the only thing the child can do is submit to that.  I don’t think there is a clearer example of coercive controlling behaviour than parental alienation in its pure form and whether it is being caused by mother or father, the impact upon the child is just as bad if not worse than the experience of an adult suffering the same. At least an adult can escape. What chance has a child to do that, especially in this era of listening to the voices of children and elevating them to the top of the decision making hierarchy.

Imagine a woman, who will try to leave many times before they actually do, being believed by the political ideological groups, when she parrots her abuser.  Imagine a woman, who tries to convince others that she is safe and well in the hands of her abuser, being told that her voice matters and will be listened to.  The political ideologues have done a great job in convincing the outside world that abused women’s voices should be analysed in the shadow of patriarchal control, how about we start to analyse abused and alienated children’s voices in the shadow of the coercive control that it really is?

To do that we need deeper understanding of what the world of alienated children looks and feels like. To do that we need to educate professionals to look beyond their stereotyped ideas of what good mothering and good fathering is and we need to impress upon those who safeguard our children through family law, that coercive control looks and feels to a child like the loving (but suffocating and damaging) arms of their mother or the deepest held fear that their father will, if they do not conform and support his beliefs, do to them what he did to their mother.

It starts with gender. It starts with the self. It starts with what goes on in the mind of practitioners and it starts with developing a wider, broader, much much more sophisticated understanding of what the family does as it goes through separation. It requires focus, knowledge, experience and an understanding that children’s voices are not more highly evolved than those of their parents and that children have needs and rights to a healthy childhood which are not indivisible from those of their mother or father.

We need a movement for children, to protect them from the way in which their needs are seen as part of a movement for women’s rights and we need a new way of ensuring that their wellbeing is protected through and beyond family separation so that they are not caused by a lack of gendered knowledge, to remain captured as prisoners of an unwell parent’s mind.

And in the light of the proposed amendments to Practice Direction 12, we don’t need it soon.  We need it now.




  1. “In a recent paper proposing to amend Practice Direction 12, statistical evidence from Women’s Aid and other political ideological women’s groups appear to be relied upon and balancing evidence from other groups concerned with childrens needs and the experience of men who suffer violence in the home, appears to have been overlooked.” Dead right – it is staggering the extent to which the judiciary and parliament hear only one voice on these issues. I note that Mr Justice Cobb even used the phrase “Women’s Aid require…..” at one point.


  2. The irony is staggering, that in order to attempt to suppress the effects of coercive control by (some) men onto women, women’s groups such as WA are using coercive control themselves to push the support of this legislative change which will impact on all men (and women). This comes also in the week that another judge has given a ‘no direct contact’ to a father because he has transitioned gender, and the primary concern is that the mother’s religious community will ostracise her and her children because of the father’s situation. So women’s rights groups pressurising will get all fathers deterred (at some level) from bringing contact cases against mothers who are obstructing contact, regardless of the rights of the child to have contact with both parents, and this particular religious group gets its prejudices re-inforced (and vindicated) by the court, despite no contact being against the children’s best long-term interests.
    Coercive control continues unchecked where it is not thwarted. As Burke said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (mankind) to do nothing.” I despair at the lack of public awareness of the invidiousness of the evil that is parental alienation.


    1. Hi CG
      Thee was more to the judgment than met the eye. The judge explicitly raised two questions against direct contact:

      1) The father’s dependability.
      (2) The community’s reaction to direct contact.

      Additionally, paras 150 and 185 tell us that the parents were agreed that their children should be brought up in the parents chosen faith and community. This severely restricts wriggle room in the judgment.

      Further, the father had shown poor judgment when he inappropriately confided his plans in the eldest child which had caused the son ongoing distress. Could he be trusted not to repeat this? It was a very difficult case.

      On the subject of coercive control I suggest that it is our privilege to have children. It is our duty to nurture them as they grow and develop. It is every parent’s job to prepare them for life and inculcate critical thinking skills. They are not our possessions to do with as we please. Is imposing ones beliefs and wishes on delicate young minds also not coercively controlling?


      1. I agree it was a difficult case – I had read the longer summary and knew the point re agreeing children should be brought up in the faith – but no direct contact is extreme, especially in a system that doesn’t follow up any of its judgements – however re “Is imposing ones beliefs and wishes on delicate young minds also not coercively controlling?” this is what has happened anyway – the views of the faith have been imposed on the children, – all parents impose their beliefs and wishes on children, its just that on the whole its done in a loving environment and with the aim to guide the child to make good informed choices for themselves when older – by ordering ‘no direct contact’ because of the ‘fear’ of community rejection the judge has re-inforced the view that the father’s choice has somehow put the children in danger (and is therefore wrong and dangerous in itself), and they must therefore be protected – whereas in fact they should be guided, over time, to understand the complex nature of humanity and that empathy for one’s fellow is what makes us all human, and the ability, in time, to see one’s parents as flawed but whole humans makes us all better people.


  3. So it looks like family court arrangements will have to bar fathers completely from seeing their children because of the very real danger to women?

    Poor women?

    Back in the 70’s if you were a woman having difficulties with self-worth and self-esteem issues you could attend a course called “assertiveness training” in which women who felt insecure could go and learn how to be more confident in society and around men as well. I went on one of those courses myself and found it very interesting and I am sure helpful to a lot of women. My friend who was at the time living a life that meant most of her time was spent looking after her children and other domestic activities benefitted hugely going on to forge a career in psychiatric nursing.

    Alas these days instead of offering support to women who are having difficulties it is customary to pick fault elsewhere, suggesting that it is the behaviour of men which is her problem and only men can change to make it better for them.

    It’s a bit like driving your car madly down the road and expecting everyone to get out of your way and complaining when people get run over because they were being obstructive.

    Kind regards


    1. Certain behaviours that men have practised over the years have now been made illegal in order for women to be able to self determine in the same way that black people have been freed from being under the control of white people. To dismiss this need to remove hierarchal control in order to allow all humans to live free to choose their lives seems to be foolish and discriminatory.


      1. Vicki, feminism has no place here, I disagree with your analaysis. Violence in the family is practiced by men AND women – more children are killed by their mothers than anyone else in the family – feminism is a form of thinking which doesn’t help anyone in the work to recover from alienation.

        So the father of your children is abusive and he has alienated your children from you.

        Ask the man standing next to you whose wife alienated the children from him in a stealth campaign of enmeshment and lack of boundaries, encouraging the children to believe that her feelings are their feelings….

        any less abusive?

        Differently operated?

        You won’t resolve your issues by using a feminism lens, what that will do to you is harden your heart, fix your thinking and drive the walls between you and your children higher and give their father more ammunition to alienate you with.

        There is nothing foolish or discriminatory about coming at this issue from a mental health angle which is inclusive of all. What you want is to exclude men as fathers, see them all as damaging and dangerous and experience women as being wholly innocent.

        The world isn’t as simple as that.


  4. Women are considered acceptable collateral damage to the Feminist movement. Deliberately disregarding the reality of DV perpetration and claiming it is only or mainly men means the real causes of DV will never be dealt with. Hence we will continue to have just as many Women DV victims into the future. Children also are victims of this through DV and through the Alienation which is often caused by the same psychopathology. The child then may repeat the cycle down the generations.


    1. Men have set up law and religion to ensure male control of society. Im not sure that most men are sufficiently aware of their own buy in to patriarchy to be able Or willing to assess their own expectation to dominate their homes. My ex who used huge violence and has now completely alienated our child from me still regards himself as the victim.


  5. Thanks for this outstanding article. Yes, I have a web page that proclaims that parental alienation is gender neutral, that cites studies showing that very similar numbers of fathers and mothers alienate their children. I have added a reference to this essay here, clarifying the next level down. See also Dr. Harman’s TED talk where she explains that alienators prey on sexual stereotypes to alienate children.


  6. Reblogged this on Blog van Leoniek van der Maarel / Emoties-Enzo and commented:
    Nor have I met an alienated child who has not submitted to the emotional terrorism that is parental alienation, not because of anything other than they are a child, they are utterly dependent upon their parents and if one of their parents is psychologically unwell and driven to control the child, the only thing the child can do is submit to that…. HEAR HEAR!


  7. There is a child, having two parents. Never one of the parents should be allowed to kick the other parent out. If it is said the father is unknown, he has to be found. If there is suspected violence against the child then there has to be a camera but no-one who is seen and intervenes when there is no need. Having very clear rules, there would be contact and no jobs for courts, social services and so called child specialists.
    Its nearly never a problem or a discussion that a child has to go to school. But a child saying that he or she does not want to see the natural parent, that will be accepted.
    Lets start with checklist about hostile agressivenparenting:

    Click to access DraftAssessmentHAPTool-2005.pdf

    but dont employ people when there is no chance to win.


  8. Another thought provoking article. Thankyou Karen. I have often thought my child has been subjected to a “double barrel’ exposure to a climate ripe for her alienation, with both the mother and stepfather forming a “perfect storm”that despite our strong bond, she gradually became severely alienated.
    On reflection, I would say the mother was very subjective and enmeshed and the stepfather wielded his influence through coercion ie objectively. Do you think alienation can be all consuming in this way or would only the biological parent’s mindset and actions be the determining factor?


    1. Waiting 33, I grew up in that exact scenario, but I was in your daughters position. How old is she, now?


      1. Hi Christine. One year on from that post. She is now 21 and we have just reconnected (overseas). The new bf was the catalyst. I doubt the mother and stepfather will change in their alienating ways- but hopefully my daughter has overcome the main hurdle now. Also, thanks to Karen’s and other research over the last few years, I knew what to do when she did resurface.


  9. The ultimate reference for coercive control of children is “Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents”, by Stone, Buehler, and B. Barber, which is based on 40 empirical studies about psychological control.


  10. Im confused about Gender. Am i gender fluid because i make my own Tea and do my own washing? I really dont fancy wearing marigolds and a pinny…..thats just taking it too far if you ask me! x


  11. The one-legged people

    In the world of the one-legged people they felt oppressed. Many had good reason to feel this way on account of their experience amongst other-legged people who shared their world.

    They struggled and worked hard to find a “voice”.

    They painstakingly pointed out all the areas in society where they were discriminated against. Gradually things got better for them. No stamp duty for leg shortage. Access to all areas and places where they had previously been barred. Equal pay in spite of the fact that they would be absent from work, through no fault of their own, for periods of their adult life whilst their leg was mutated.

    They nagged, demanded and claimed they were discriminated against. They organised and assembled so that the rest of the world felt they should agree with them. Even three and four legged people could be seen on marches rallying to the cause.

    Which was all fine and dandy


    The rest of society began to feel uncomfortable, and sometimes irritable and violent because they felt like the one-legged people said they felt……………………….. Discriminated against.

    Policy, best-practice, best interests, guidelines, recommendations all considered the plight of the one-legged people. The whole of society from schools through to health and the work place, the marital bed, all took account of the plight of the one-legged people and demanded a certain standard of behaviour from the rest of society. In the school playground it was the one-legged children who would be respected and defended, the other-legged children found it was they that carried the can for disobedience because the story of the one-legged child was defended by school policy. The other-legged children were taught to respect the one-legged children and appreciate how delicate and special one-legged children were.

    In the family court one legged people, in accordance with policy, were asked if anything had been bothering them about their former partner’s behaviour. Behind the one-legged person and their mutations stood a barrage of well-meaning one-legged people. In fact, one-legged people were properly advised against having anything to do with other-legged people, you could never be sure whether they would be violent or not.

    Judge Quandary had completed another day in Court, much like any other, the one-legged person had left quickly, nose in the air disparaging look on their face, their entourage of one-legged legal and social support closely behind. The three-legged person waited a while, the photo of his little mutants, whom he may never see again propped up on the desk in front of him facing the Judge.

    Quandary shifted uneasily, adjusted his prosthetic and then left the Courtroom by a back door.

    Kind regards


  12. Just come across something embarrassingly for the first time anf have yet to go further into the tale. Shakespeare hamlet or more to the point, hamlets ghost, trsnsgenerational haunting made visible?

    We could write a play.


  13. At the three-legged Doctor’s three-legged john was enquiring about the welfare and medical condition of his mutants. He was concerned about their health. The three-legged Doctor was suspicious about John’s motives. He thought John was trying to find out where his one-legged Ex was now living. The doctor’s job was to protect the one-legged Ex from all danger. He told John the matter was confidential and it was up to his six-year old mutant whether or not John could see the medical records.

    But I only wanted to find out about their welfare and health pleaded three-legged John to the three-legged Doctor. Don’t you have any sympathy for my plight at all? Don’t you think I have a right to know about my little mutants?
    I may be three-legged like you said the Doctor, but I think and act like a one-legged person. You know what your problem is don’t you.

    No, afraid not said John, please tell me.

    You just couldn’t keep your one-legged person happy when you had her; should have looked after her better.

    Three-legged John left the three-legged Doctor, heartbroken.

    No sooner John had left, the three-legged Doctor sent an email to the one-legged social worker to inform them that a three-legged person had been seeking information about his mutants. The one-legged organisation would definitely be interested; John could be breaking a one-legged rule.

    ……………and in Westminster the story was much the same. There were one-legged people fighting a one-legged cause, and other-legged people simply agreeing, too stupid to realise the implications of what they were agreeing to.
    Somewhat ironic that other-legged people were voting in favour of one-legged laws that could only lead to their personal disadvantage.


    Very much like the three-legged Doctor said, “as long as you keep your one-legged person happy you will be just fine”. And of course that was very much how it was for those three-legged parliamentarians working very hard listening to their constituents and making grandiose speeches in front of their colleagues greedy for the machinations of debate on the plinth of self-importance; their dutiful one-legged partner at home, the perfect hostess, companion and organiser, carer of mutants, essential part of the support network.

    So, one-legged law really does work, so long as you agree with it. Even other-legged people can survive and even get along in a one-legged world, provided they have the approval of the one-legged people.

    So, my advice to other-legged people is don’t get divorced. Tread very carefully, behave……………………..just do as your told!

    Just like your mother said to you when you were a little mutant and you will be fine…

    ………ah ah…….. so now you feel what it is like to be oppressed said the spokesperson for one-legged law who had just left the one-legged equality meeting, another one-legged policy in the bag.

    Kind regards


  14. I am a grand mother. My grand son lives in Belgium. My grand son been abused physically and emotionally. My son is unable to deal with the mother as she has narcissus and manipulating. I like to have contact of child protection in Brussels. Any suggestions.


  15. Karen, when you speak of “Thus mothers who alienate do so most often in the subjective world and fathers who alienate do so most often in the objective world. …” is this equivalent to associating the “gender role” “mother” with borderline personality disorder behavior, and “gender role” “father” with narcissistic personality disorder behavior?
    Its interesting to note that some studies do show more females have BPD, and also more males have NPD (sex, not gender).


  16. Coercive control is crap ! It isn’t provable, there is no evidence , it is just he said , she said. That is all . My ex basically claimed it after she was caught having an affair. DV if reported , and real , can be proven in court , battery , assault , etc. coercive control can’t! What do you say , he intimidated me , he bullied me? The comedy , is that my ex was truly the bully in my marriage, but not once we got into court. She was the victim. Coercive control just feeds the fire of non reality based narcissist . Not saying on some situation it isn’t real , but in plenty , it isn’t.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s