Are you and your ex going through a difficult divorce or break up? Do you worry that she or he is turning your child(ren) against you? Are you shocked and confused by how your once warm and affectionate relationship with your kid(s) has become distant and hostile?
Parental alienation is no joke. It’s a form of child abuse. The custodial parent is usually the mother and it’s typically the custodial parent who engages in parental alienation. However, there are men who also engage in parental alienation.
Original research found women to be the perpetrators of this abusive behavior in 90% of reported cases. Recent research indicates both genders equally engage in parental alienation. It’s difficult to know the exact figures because of under-reporting, false accusations, and the positive bias toward mothers that’s rampant in most family courts.
Profile of Parental Alienation
Individuals who engage in parental alienation are like the mean kids in high school who demand that their friends be angry with whomever they’re angry with and hate whomever they hate. In children, this phenomenon is called relational aggression. Now she or he is a parent. They’re mad because your relationship ended—even if they’re the one who initiated the break-up.
Your ex requires, implicitly or explicitly, that your child(ren) feel and act the same way she or he does. The parent who engages in alienation tactics enlists your children to take on his or her battle against you. This is not the act of a responsible, mature adult, much less a responsible, loving parent. This is a bullying behavior called mobbing.
Bullying, Mobbing and Parental Alienation
Mobbing is usually written about in the context of workplace bullying, but that’s a limited use of the concept. It can occur in any kind of system, including a family system. Mobbing is the impassioned psychological harassment of one individual by a group. The attack is usually instigated and led by one or two people who are typically in a position of authority or a peer leader. The International Herald Tribune describes it as “group victimization of a single target” with the goal of demeaning, discrediting, alienating, excluding, humiliating, and isolating the targeted individual.
Mobbing ringleaders are bullies who try to dominate and control others in most situations and relationships. Namie and Namie (2000) describe them as, “inadequate, defective, and poorly developed people.” They’re generally angry, unpredictable, critical, jealous, and manipulative (Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999; Namie and Namie, 2000). The emotionally abusive bully who engages in mobbing (or parental alienation) revels in the excitement produced by their animosity. It produces a pleasurable buzz or rush in them. Westhues (2002) refers to this as “the euphoria of collective attack.” Sound familiar?
Parental Alienation and Personality Disorders
People that have no compunction about using their kids to hurt their exes seem to fit the profile of the emotionally abusive Cluster B personality disorders (Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder). These individuals play the professional victim as they emotionally bully anyone who confronts, challenges, or criticizes them. They don’t recognize appropriate boundaries, won’t accept personal responsibility for their actions—in fact, they blame you for the horrible things they do and always have an excuse to justify their indefensible behaviors.
If your ex is actively or passively alienating your child(ren)’s normal affection toward you, he or she was probably emotionally abusive while you were together. Parental alienation is her or his way of continuing to abuse and hurt you via remote access. Generally, most bullies don’t see themselves as such. If you confront your ex about this behavior, they’ll deny it and blame you for your deteriorating relationship with your child(ren), even as you make every effort to be a present and involved parent.
The only way to stop a bully is with the threat of a greater authority. Appealing to their “better nature” is futile. Emotionally abusive bullies don’t have a better nature. Attorneys and the courts will probably need to be involved as well as an UNBIASED children’s therapist and a lot of documentation. If you believe you’re the target of parental alienation, I encourage you to educate yourself about it and to know, protect and fight for your rights.
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
Originally published on February 25, 2009 at A Shrink for Men.
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MyVirtualShrink is an alternative to traditional psychotherapy and coaching. It offers a wide range of non-gender-biased web-based interactive guided sessions for a variety of issues. For a 20% membership discount, enter this promotional code: JWLCSWPJVAY.Dr Tara J. Palmatier holds a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology and M.Sc. in Counseling Psychology. She has over a decade of experience delivering direct services to diverse populations in a variety of settings. She left the clinical field in 2005 to begin a career in multimedia editing, writing and consulting. Dr Palmatier runs her own blog, A Shrink for Men, and a private relationship consultation practice for individuals, primarily men, who are suffering emotional abuse in their relationships.