Why Does a Parent Alienate Their Children?
Often in my practice, parents are confounded as to why their ex-spouse would alienate the children from them. Surely their ex loves the children and would not want to cause them psychological harm? If you are unsure of what parental alienation is, read a previous post here.
Going through a marriage breakdown triggers a grief reaction in people. After all, a relationship breakdown constitutes a significant loss. It affects the brain neurochemicals and hormones), resulting in a variety of symptoms such as loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, fatigue, anger, and anxiety. The fundamental difference between the death of a loved one and a marriage breakdown is the person lost, is alive. The added acrimony exacerbates the grief response and can set the stage for pathogenic parenting. Many parents, typically early in separation, do engage in alienating behaviours; however, because the engaging parent knows it is wrong, it causes feelings of guilt, and they soon stop. Some grieving spouses convince themselves that their alienating behaviour is in the best interest of their children and with professional intervention, will also cease.
Unfortunately, there is a small percentage of parents who refuse to remediate and lack insight into their harmful behaviour. They can become obsessed with the alienation, and go to great lengths to destroy the children’s relationship with the other parent. Researchers suggest that there is a link between personality disorders and obsessed alienators. These parents can be motivated for many reasons; namely, anger, entitlement, need to control, revenge, paranoia, jealousy, and child support issues. Whatever the parental motivation, alienation is a severe form of psychological abuse and clearly a type of family violence. If this is happening in your life, it is critical to seek professional and legal help promptly, because time is of the essence to repair the relationship between you and your child.
Connie Lupichuk, BSW, MSW, RSW, and works at Incentive Counselling as the Senior Consultant.
So the holidays are around the corner, and your parenting time with your alienated children still has not been settled. You are astounded over how much has changed since last year, when your smiling children ran to the door and jumped in your arms to greet you after a day at work. They used to look at you with love and affection and came to you when they had a nightmare or a skinned knee.
So what happened? Why, after ending the relationship with the other parent, do your children look at you with contempt, have little regard for you, profess hatred for you, and claim they never want to see you again? Likely, you already know that your ex’s goal is to destroy your relationship with your child. There are many reasons why a parent chooses to manipulate the children to reject you – anger, hurt, and revenge, to name a few. One thing for sure is that alienating behaviour is a severe form of psychological abuse and family violence.
As a counsellor, custody access assessor, mediator, and trial consultant, I know that alienated parents have to work much harder to parent their children. Child protection authorities typically defer responsibility to the lawyers/courts and alienating parents often manipulate these professionals into siding with them. The courts often reward the alienating parent in three very damaging ways. The first is by not imposing sanctions when the alienating parent disregards court orders. The second is by ordering archaic visitation schedules, and the third is by allowing lengthy, protracted litigation to occur. Alienating parents also incorporate a multitude of strategies to indoctrinate children. By the time an alienated parent notices the change in their child’s attitude toward them, the damage to the relationship has already been done and everything is stacked in favor of the alienating parent.
So how do alienated parents navigate this issue without making things worse for themselves or the children? How do alienated parents feel excited about holiday time with children when they tell you they hate you?
It’s important for alienated parents to understand that what is happening in their family is traumatic and they may need to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress. Additionally, watching your children pull away from you and reject you will cause a grief response. Given the devastating impact parental alienation causes, you might wish to:
- Work with a skilled counsellor who has expertise in trauma-related injuries.
- Hire a divorce coach whose expertise includes parental alienation.
- Immerse yourself in the research regarding parental alienation.
- Employ a lawyer with experience in high conflict divorce including parental alienation.
- Once the court sets a trial date contract, hire a trial consultant with expertise in high conflict divorce and parental alienation.
- Get involved in every aspect of your child’s life and do not expect your ex to keep you up to date with respect to your child’s extracurricular activities, school, or doctor appointments, etc.
- Be creative in finding ways to stay in contact with your children, because a number one strategy of the alienator is to interfere with you and your child’s communication.
If your child is spending time with you over the holidays, here are a few ideas:
- Make your home as festive as possible
- Start new traditions
- Invite family members
- Invite other people your child has not rejected
- Do not talk about the divorce or any adult issues
- Do not make negative comments about your ex
- Do not share your painful feelings with the children
If your child will not be spending time with you over the holidays:
Mail a Christmas card and gift to your child. If you know your ex will not pass these items on, send your child a text or email to let them know the item is waiting at your home for their next visit. If you have no contact with your children, it is equally essential to mail these letters and gifts to your home, so when the children visit, they will see you sent them for that particular holiday.
- Spend time with family or close friends – do not be alone
- Do not try to numb your grief through alcohol or drugs
- Connect with other parents who are in similar situations
- Remind yourself that your child loves you but are not allowed to right now
- Talk to other parents who recovered their alienated children
Finally, be kind to yourself and remember you are human and being human is to error, so if you make a mistake, let it go and try again.
Some people love the holidays and all of the traditions that surround it. For others, not so much. In fact, the holidays are quite the opposite. The holidays can bring on insurmountable stress, unwelcome anxiety, and unshakable depression. The over commercialization and pressures of the season, increased feelings of loneliness, and tight finances make the holiday season unpleasant for many people. Many people struggle over the holidays, but there are things to reduce those feelings you typically experience.
- Stop feeling guilty and ashamed that the holiday season doesn’t bring you joy! Accept that this isn’t a good time for you, don’t apologize for it, and don’t let others make you feel like there is something wrong with you. You are not alone! Thousands of people, in fact, probably many people you know, dread the hubbub and stress of the holidays.
- Don’t leave everything to the last minute. There is a reason those people you consider crazy start shopping for the holidays shortly after the big day is over. It is a coping strategy to help alleviate the stress associated with the holidays. For others, avoidance is a very common tactic to delay facing the inevitable. Avoiding the holidays won’t make them go away and, in fact, will make this situation worse. You have tasks at this time of year that you can’t avoid. Make lists – who you need to buy for and potential gift ideas, dates of outings, things you need to do around your house, etc., and tackle them one by one. Check off items as they are done to give you a sense of accomplishment.
- Stick to a budget. The holidays are one of the most commercialized and expensive events of the year. Fight the urge to overspend on gifts. It might be easier to get that expensive gift that you know will be a winner, but blowing your budget will equal added stress. Make a list of everyone you need to buy for, decide how much you can afford, and stick to your budget as closely as possible. This is another reason that thinking of a gift idea before you head out to purchase is a good idea. Then you won’t be overspending impulsively.
- Don’t drink excessively. Socializing tends to increase a lot during the holidays. Unfortunately, alcohol is a depressant and it “depresses” the production of serotonin, which is our mood regulator. If we are prone to depression, drinking too much can trigger a depressive episode and if you are feeling down already, it can get out of your control. Even people that don’t suffer from depression can feel the negative effects of over drinking on mood. Go easy and consciously (no pun intended) limit yourself.
- Get active, get together, and get outside. It might look miserable out and you might lack motivation at this time of year, but going for a walk is a great way to clear your head and get some exercise. Even shoveling the driveway can give us a sense of accomplishment and make us feel better. Sunshine and exercise are both mood boosters. Enjoy getting together with people. Sit around a fire. Socialize with friends and family. Studies show that socializing also increases our sense of well-being and decreases feelings of depression.
The holiday season is tough for many people. Struggling when everyone else around you seems full of what we perceive as euphoric joy can make us feel like there is something wrong with us. There isn’t. We just don’t enjoy the hype, stress, pressure, and commercialization associated with the season. Keep it simple. Enjoy the aspects of the holiday that are truly important to you. Make a game plan and stick to it. Pay attention to your mental health and when you feel overwhelmed, ask for help. We are all here for you.
Wendy Blancher a co-owner and clinical counsellor at Incentive Counselling services is accepting new clients. Call 250-212-5160 or email [email protected] to book an appointment and enjoy December savings on clinical services.
Help! I HATE my job!
Are you feeling stuck and unsatisfied in your current career? Did you spend time and money preparing for your dream career, finally get qualified, and realize the job actually sucks? You spend the majority of your day working, and if that chunk of your day does not make you happy, the consequences can be serious.
When we feel stuck in a job where we don’t feel appreciated and valued, or we just lack the enthusiasm we once had, it is bound to get us down. We can experience several negative emotions, but anger, frustration, negativity, anxiety, lack of enthusiasm, and boredom are just a few.
All of these emotions have enough of a toll on us, but if you are trying to hide these emotions at work or from your loved ones, they have the potential to do some serious damage. Even if you find a co-worker to talk about how your job “sucks”, your emotions don’t turn off as soon as you walk out of your work space.
Eventually, not only you, but the people you are close to will also experience consequences from your unhappiness at work.
If you are trying to hide how much you dislike your job from a loved one, it will have negative consequences. You might withdraw because your unhappiness and worry is consuming you and you don’t want to worry anyone else. Conversely, if you are unloading the minute you walk into the house, you are bringing that toxic environment and the tensions that go with it, into your home.
There may seem like there is no escape from the looming unhappiness. Maybe you find yourself getting high every night to help you avoid those uncomfortable emotions you are dealing with.
None of these scenarios will solve your problems. They are all unhealthy, but very common, ways to deal with job dissatisfaction.
Hating your job can have physical consequences as well. Digestive issues, loss of sleep, fatigue, and physical aches and pains are all real symptoms of job dissatisfaction. Some people also notice a lack of concentration, enthusiasm, and focus as well. Taking more frequent sick days to try to feel better physically is very common. This avoidance tactic is a temporary fix.
As mentioned above, conversations about your unsatisfactory job are inevitable, because let’s face it, it is eating you up. Unfortunately, the ones you turn to may not be qualified to help you deal with your emotional and physical symptoms.
You may also withdraw from social situations because you don’t want to “bring everyone down”. You don’t want to be a burden on others and think you will eventually “snap out of it” or feel you can deal with your problems on your own. This self-imposed isolation can lead to common health issues such as depression and anxiety.
When to get help.
Studies show that mild depression and anxiety is easier to deal with than severe cases. Not only that, relapses are less frequent with early treatment. The sooner you take steps and call a professional, the sooner you will start feeling better. Even if you are really down, there is hope.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is very effective in dealing with both depression and anxiety and clients, especially with milder symptoms, can feel much better with a few sessions. Many companies have plans that cover counselling and services are 100% confidential.
If this sounds familiar, I can help. You can either email me directly for an appointment or book online. Remember the hardest part is making the decision to reach out.
Connie Lupichuk, MSW, RSW
Senior Consultant at Incentive Counselling
Parental alienation occurs in custody disputes when a child is manipulated by one of their parents to engage in denigration against their other parent. This hatred can spread throughout the extended family of the targeted parent in high conflict divorce cases. Parental alienation typically occurs during the course of high conflict divorce cases and is considered a severe form of psychological abuse to the children involved.
Research suggests that both moms and dads may engage in this behaviour either intentionally or unintentionally, by encouraging the alienation to reject the other parent thorough transmitted messages or subtle forms of brainwashing that can have long term negative consequences on the mental health of the children involved.
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is serious mental health condition where a child loses the capacity to love a rejected parent based on the belief that the rejected parent is untrustworthy or a threat to the stability of the relationship with the denigrating parent. Children exposed to these unfair circumstances, if left untreated, can have long term issues into their teen and adult years that may never properly heal.
In high conflict divorce cases, parents’ inability to focus on the needs of the child amidst ongoing litigation can, and does, influence the rejection of a parent, unfairly damaging the relationship with a targeted parent. This behaviour is a form of child abuse.
Most courts and lawyers are not equipped to handle the emotional and psychological damage that happens to children in these cases. The majority of mental health practitioners equally are not suitably trained to remedy these unfortunate circumstances.
The Impact of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) on the Behaviour of the Child
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that comes to fruition commonly in child custody disputes. Children are manipulated and encouraged to alienate a parent. Healthy parental relationships do not segregate a parent or influence the behaviour of the child to withdrawal from a parent.
PAS can be identified when the child engages in behaviour that breads animosity and favoritism in favour of protecting an alienating parent. Children can be seen participating in the campaign of denigration, at times may make false allegations and be adamant that it is their choice to engage in this behaviour in the courts, and typically are indignant when their favored parent is said to have manipulated them.
How the Courts and Lawyers Can Help Alleviate the Negative Impact of PAS on Families in High Conflict Divorce Cases
Children inherently want to maintain positive relationships with both of their parents and it is their right to do so. When working with parents in high conflict divorce cases requiring ongoing litigation, professionals in law are not trained to deal with the psychological impact these types of cases can have on their clients. Ethically, it is unfair to witness children go through this unfair process for a situation that is out of their control.
What can lawyers and the courts do for children caught up in this unhealthy dynamic that can have long term psychological consequences?
Minimize the extent of the damage but taking proactive measures to protect the children from this form of maltreatment by incorporating the Family Bridges program into their resolution strategies.
Reuniting and Strengthening Families through Family Bridges™
The Family Bridges ™ workshop is firmly grounded in well-accepted, peer-reviewed, and scientific research in cognitive, social, and developmental psychology, sociology and social neurosciences. With 23 years of history, the intervention of the program has shown remarkable results at restoring the damaged relationship between the rejected parent and their children.
In four days, the Family Bridges™ program accomplishes what therapists and the legal system have been unable to do over the lengthy course of litigation. The goal of Family Bridges is to assist children in having a positive healthy relationship with both of their parents, a relationship that is critical to their psychological well being and is intrinsically their right.
I am designated and trained to offer the Family Bridges™ program for Western Canada.
To learn more about a training seminar regarding Parental Alienation and or the availability for the Family Bridges™ program consultations for children at risk of Parental Alienation Syndrome contact me at [email protected].