The Alienator Aligns With The Child

Pathological Personality Disorder Is Not The Only Cause

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The Alienator

Parental Alienation is like a three headed monster.  Although the alienating process is driven by the alienator parent both the child and the targeted parent play roles.  Some children seem to be more vulnerable than others and more easily manipulated and more willing to actively participate.  Others resist efforts and strive to maintain good relationships with both parents.  The interpersonal dynamics within a family will have a significant impact on the offending parent's success in aligning with the child against the other parent.  In their scholarly study on both the Alienator and the Family see  Kelly and  Johnston's extensive exploration of the family dynamics and how they make a strong case  that alienation requires more than just one parent's attempt to manipulate a child.  This section focuses on the Alienator.  Click on the Child and the Targeted Parent for more discussion on their roles.

Half of all marriages end in divorce.  All are stressful and many are contentious, especially when they involve children and issues regarding custody and visitation.  It is rare, however, that a divorce becomes so toxic that one parent will initiate a campaign to totally destroy the relationship between the child and the targeted parent.  

It seems almost inconceivable that a once loving and nurturing parent would inflict such terrible emotional abuse on a trusting child because of a sense of rage and the need to avenge their feeling of abandonment and loss of control.  But, of course, the offending parent's behavior is driven by pathological psychiatric problems.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder is overwhelmingly diagnosed in such vengeful parents.  But other disorders are also often diagnosed with such abusive parents.  See the discussion on Personality Disorders for more information on how they interact with alienation.

In high-conflict divorce, many parents engage in indoctrinating behaviors, but only a small proportion of children become alienated (Johnston, 1993).  It is important to differentiate between an "alienated" child who unreasonably rejects a parent from one who rejects a parent for a variety of normal, realistic, and/or developmentally expected reasons.  These might include parenting style, anxiety over the divorce, blaming one of the parents, and the actual behavior of the unfavored parent.  Children can experience a wide variation of unhappiness and anger toward an unfavored parent but it is really only in extreme cases that the child is actually alienated.

The Alienator or Aligned Parent

Both empirical research and clinical observation indicate that there is often significant pathology and anger in the parent encouraging the alienation of the child, including personality disorders, problems with boundaries and differentiation from the child, severe separation anxieties, an impaired sense of reality, and projective identifications with the child.

Some of the most common actions, beliefs, and behaviors of the alienating parent include the following:

  • Extremely negative views of the rejected parent may be freely, angrily, and repeatedly expressed to the child by the aligned parent: “She/he never wanted you,” or “I was always your real parent,” “You call me if your dad touches you anywhere,” “I’m sure he’ll be late as usual.” The effect of the continued drumbeat of negative evaluation of the parent is to erode the child’s confidence in and love for the rejected parent and to create intolerable confusion.
  • These accusations might also be expressed indirectly, covertly, or unconsciously and might include innuendos of sexual or child abuse or implications that the parent is dangerous in other ways. Whether such parents are aware of the negative impact on the child, these behaviors of the alienator parent (and his or her supporters) constitute emotional abuse of the child.
  • Often, due to personalty disorders the alienator may honestly harbor deep distrust of the targeted parent and fear of the ex-spouse and be absolutely convinced that he or she is at best irrelevant and at worst a danger to the child. Consequently, the child does not need the other parent in their lives.

  • Because the "good" parent often fervently believes that the rejected parent is a real threat to the child they will often try to block access to the child. Their campaign to prevent access may include attorneys, therapists, pediatricians, and school personnel. The lienator may seek restraining orders and supervised visitation. They may  insist on installing security equipment at the residence and finding reasons to cancel visits when court orders allowing contact are in place.
  • Although aligned parents might insist that the child is free to visit, the rejected parents’ attempts to visit or contact their child frequently are seen as harassment. Phone calls, messages, and/or letters often are not passed on to the child. Information about school, medical, athletic, or special events are not provided to the rejected parent, in effect completely shutting that parent out of the child’s life.
  • When the child does visit the alienated parent the perception that they are  “dangerous” is reinforced by calling into the targeted parent's home every hour or so during a visit to “check up” on the child’s well-being.  The child is often  debriefed after a visit to detect (and reinforce) any“negative”  experiences or feelings as well as any interactions involving angry or confrontative behavior by the rejected parent.  Any negativity is defined as confirmation of animosity or even verbal violence toward the child.
  • Another belief of the alienator parent is that the rejected parent does not and has never loved or cared about the child. These beliefs are continuously communicated to the child through anecdotes that the parent was never around when the child was sick, showed no interest in school, or failed to attend special events ( about which they had no knowledge.)
  • In the most extreme cases, all references to the rejected parent are removed from the residence, including pictures (which might be tom apart in front of the child to exclude that parent). In such situations, most children quickly learn not to speak of the rejected parent. In response to requests for access by the rejected parent, the aligned parent strongly supports their angry child’s “right to make their own decision” regarding visitation.

Professionals Often Make The Problem Worse

Most often divorce is contentious and the longer the process takes the more toxic it is likely to become.  It should be noted that the longer it takes and the more contentious it becomes the more likely it is that the professional legal and mental health participants will to enable the alienator parents to present themselves in a coherent and organized manner.

The nature of the adversarial process encourages hostile, polarized, black-and-white thinking with little intervention.  Perceived truths are presented as facts which only fuels and channels rage in a well observed and understood manner. The intensity and duration of the legal fight may also serve as an antidote to depression, but may serve as encouragement for the professionals to dig in their heels encourage myopic thinking which, in turn, only encourages the alienation process.

Click here to read about the Targeted Parent's role in Alienation.

Click here the read about the Child's role in Alienation.

Table of Contents

Alienator Personality Types And Parental Alienation
Alienator Personality Types Perpetrate Parental Alienation
Personality Disorders And Parental Alienation
Personality Disorders Play A Significant Role In Parent Alienation
Convergent Emotional Disorders
The convergence Of Emotional Disorders Can Be The Key To Parental Alienation
Family Dynamics' Significance In Alienation
Family Dynamics And Individual Personalities Are Significant Factors In Parental Alienation
Child Advocacy Is Failing Families Battling Against Parental Alienation
Child Advocacy is Is Failing Families Battling Against Parental Alienation
Therapeutic Intervention In Parental Alienation
Early Therapeutic Intervention May Prevent Parent Alienation
Parental Alienation Destroyed My Family
A Carefully Executed Plan Of Parental Alienation Destroyed My Family
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