Keeping Your Wits About You: Critical Thinking for Alienated Parents

If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, and blaming you. The world will be yours and everything in it, what’s more, you’ll be a man, my son.

Rudyard Kipling

Alienation is a relational dynamic like no other and it can send you into a spiral of madness  if you are targeted by someone determined to drive you out of your child’s life.

Those of us who do this work also face alienating strategies, even from other professionals who profess to be alienation aware.

Whether parent or professional, the impact of someone playing smoke and mirrors with other people’s perception of who you are, can send you into a paroxysm of despair.  As someone who is used to this dynamic,  here is a guide to keeping your wits about you which has never failed me in all the years I have done this work.

Know that when the alienator is shining their spotlight on you and projecting blame they are acting from the shadows of their own insecurities.  They are also however, relying upon something about you which they hope will provide confirmation to the person they hope to alienate from you, (in my case other professionals, in your case your child), that you are the cause of the problem.

That something could be that you are good with boundaries, you are firm and clear about how things should be in the world when your child is with you.  Perhaps you have routine and a sense of clarity about yourself or alternatively you might be seen by others as being feisty and strong or chaotic and weak.  To find out what the alienating parent is using against you, examine the way that others see you and the manner in which you receive the projections of others.

Projections from others are those things that people see in you which they cannot see in themselves.  Psychological projection is a defence which causes people to be unable to see behaviours in themselves – the defence means that they see those things which they cannot see in themselves in other people.  You will know you are projecting if someone really really irritates you.  That irritation you feel is your denial of the attributes you see in that person.

Receiving projections from others is something that happens to me a lot.  I am loved and loathed in equal measure.  I know when I am receiving someone’s projection when they begin to hound and blame me.  I also know that I am being alienated from someone when a triangular mechanism is set up in which a communication line is developing between two people which involves me but to which I am not party.

In school yard terms this dynamic happens an awful lot.  Two girls gang up on a third with whom they have been friends.  The alienating strategy used is to share information between two friends about the third to which the third is not party to.

In parental alienation the dynamic is exactly the same only the third party who is being driven out is one of the parents, as the alienating parent co-opts the child into the two way communication line about the other parent.

In each one of the scenarios above the manner in which the person who is being alienated (child/friend/professional) is exactly the same, it involves erosion of critical thinking skills via the use of the vulnerability to confirmation bias and it reduces the communication lines to a two way  instead of a three way street.

Confirmation bias is the susceptibility to seeing things through your own existing belief system.  So for example if a friend is a bit feisty and argumentative and you have had a couple of spats with her in the past, your other friend who wants to alienate you from your feisty friend, will rely on your confirmation bias when she tells you how upset she is that your feisty friend has said something horrible about you.  Your feisty friend, not being party to this, wonders why you have suddenly turned cold on her and tries to have it out with you.  You, already believing your feisty friend has been mean about you (and having had previous experience of her feistiness you can well believe it) take this as confirmation that your friend is just a meanie.  You are grateful for your other friend for their warmth, kindness and desire to look out for you.

Your friends are now involved in a two way communication which is about you but which does not involve you.  That is the very definition of how alienators alienate, they create a two way communication about a third party not present and convince the vulnerable person in the two way communication that the third party is harmful, damaging and doing something which they shouldn’t.

As alienated parents you would imagine that you suffer enough wouldn’t you?  After being erased from your child’s life because of the actions of the alienator, becoming the person who is vulnerable to being alienated from others would be too much wouldn’t it?

Well we might say it is too much but it is one of the risks that alienated parents face because the alienation dynamic causes vulnerability in psychological terms to being alienated not only from your children but from other people as well.  If you are an alienated parent you are vulnerable to psychological splitting in which you see the world in black and white and you are intensely vulnerable to being groomed by manipulative others.  Here’s why.

Alienation requires an alienator, a receptor and a vulnerable other.  Alienated parents are also vulnerable others in the wider world because their critical thinking skills have been shattered along with their wits.  Thus clever alienators who like to control outcomes, will attach themselves to vulnerable others in order to achieve their aims.  If as an alienated parent you find yourself being lavished with love by someone who professes to want to help you, look out.  If you find that person attaching themselves to you, being overly solicitous of your time and keen to be your friend in need, take care.  Sooner or later, the love bombing ‘friend’ is going to show you their real intention, which is to use you in some way to achieve another covert aim.  When they begin to tell you about how problematic another person is, they will do it in such a way that their real intention is so deeply hidden you won’t ever be able to know it consciously, but you will feel it in your gut.  As you begin to be turned away from this third person not present (or a group of people), you are falling into the trap caused by your own vulnerability.

By the time you become aware of what has happened it is often too late. The person you have turned away from has seen your vulnerability and recognised your susceptibility, trust is destroyed.  Your love bombing ‘friend’ in the meantime, goes on their merry way to find another victim to attach themselves to in order to inflate their own ego/wallet/sense of grandiosity in the world.

If you are an alienated parent, don’t become that vulnerable other.  Having had your strengths used against you once, don’t let it happen again.  Guard against the risk by keeping your wits about you and your critical thinking skills on high alert.  Pay attention to the following –

  • If someone is paying you special attention, be on your guard.  Whilst not wanting to cause you to reject other people’s love, being love bombed, singled out for special attention and repeatedly flattered is a sure sign you are being groomed.
  • Take care if you are being told things about others which taps into your vulnerability as an alienated parent to confirmation bias (well I’ve seen this person do that, so this story must be true).
  • Watch out for sweet talkers who flatter you and then whisper something about someone to you which is wrapped in sugar but which has a poisonous intent. (Sugaring the poisonous pill still makes the poison kill).
  • Never stop asking the question why.  Why this, why now.
  • If something sounds too good to be true it probably is, take nothing at face value.
  • Don’t let your vulnerability make you the bait for other people’s fishing trips.  You have already been on the receiving end of being alienated from your child, don’t allow people to put you in a position where you are alienated from others.

Keeping your wits about you means never allowing a two way communication line about a third party to develop between you and AN Other, especially if that two way communication line contains negativity about that third party.  Before you blame someone not present in your communication line, pick up the phone, write them an email, open your eyes, your mind and your heart.

Keep perspective alive, don’t succumb to right/wrong, black/white thinking, the world is always, even as an alienated parent or professional who works with alienation, many shades of many different colours.

As an alienated parent, don’t become alienated from the wider world.  As someone who works in the field of alienation, don’t let the splitting which criss crosses this world prey upon your vulnerabilities.

Keep your wits about you and the world in all of its relational glory, will be yours.





  1. A very helpful sets of insights all very much worth bearing in mind!

    After my separation I can see now that I was “love-bombed” (just in terms of the time afforded to me) by someone with their own agenda. Someone who eventually said to me at some stage that they were “interested in me – but not my daughter” (the one she had met) …although interestinly I suspect she was seeing something in my daughter (who is mildly on the autistic spectrum) that she didn’t want to recognise in herself!

    Obviously, as this woman was very appealing in many ways – she was extremely psychologically perceptive about others, and able to be reflective about relationships in general – I hoped the situation might possibly change…but it never did.

    No great harm done – but I possibly spent a bit too much time and attention on a situation which could not ever be productive (although I suspect healing dynamics, if they ever are to be fruitful – can sometimes be incredibly long term).

    Surrounded by needy people (as we are likely to be when running any sort of community project) – wits need to be better kept all the time!


  2. Sound common sense Karen thank you.
    I do wish I had known of you many years ago when this journey started.


  3. I can see that it is going in the direction of mother (me) Alinating child from father.
    I have done nothing of the sort.
    Just because 7yr old don’t want to accept father as Dad. Calls him a stranger, don’t like him bribing her with gifts.

    How do I explain to court this is untrue.
    It’s my child’s wishes and feeling.
    She doesn’t have any interest in him.


    1. Many thanks Karen, such an excellent article. Please keep the post here, I think it is a resource that will be needed and valued by many people over time, and one that I will revisit to remind myself.

      I wonder if you could write something that might be helpful for alienated people who have not yet realised that this has happened or is happening to them?


  4. How can you combat against it? My exhusband took my kids to North Carolina illegally then informed me according to the terms of our divorce( which apparently said u can hide kids for 8 weeks and then move) I have to let I know to the good of our children I moved and u don’t talk to them for 3 years. By the time I got to see them and talk to them again I was April…..then 2 years later I found out he remarried 3 years previously…….I asked the kids why I got to be called April and they said it works feel wierd fo call u mom when our dad found us a real mom to love us…….his so u come back from that? They left at 4,7,9 and I didn’t see them agian til 10,13, 15……I’m a disabled veteran I’m in arrears due to a failing mental health, horrible house I got taken advantage of it needs repair I can’t get help to see my kids and they get everything they ask for and I get maybe 2 calls a year. He stole my children from me and made them forget me but since I’m behind on payment and its VERY EXPENSIVE to travel 17.5 hrs away and stay a week for kids who rather be at home with thier own stuff? If I move up to them I’m homeless. No matter what I lose either way. No one ever has helped me I begged Texas Oklahoma and North Carolina…….I haven’t been able to see my kids in 3 years……but the only thing o hear is when u going to pay child support? What about visits? What about time he stole? What about my heart? He stole my babies made them hate me they want to know visa or master card?


  5. Karen, sometimes I read your posts and just stop and stare in amazement.
    Here you are talking about my life!

    And a timely reminder that I’ve got caught up again in just such a triangle and I need to extradite myself fast!

    Bless you Karen!


  6. Interesting perspective. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a small but fiercely loyal support network with my new partner at its centre. She keeps me grounded, keeps me determined and when things get too weird or difficult our friends in turn do the same for both of us. Being critical and circumspect is vital, but also important is keeping yourself from descending into outright paranoia, and without support that’s going to be near impossible. I’ve (we’ve) been on the receiving end of the kind of things you couldn’t make up. Our new reality is like Alice in Wonderland with elements of Labyrinth mixed in. Our sanity is frayed but intact. We’ve learned to view everything through a lense of cold logic and rationality (what would our lawyers say to this, how would the court interpret that). Stay sane, whatever happens.


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