What is parental “alienation”?
Alienation, often referred to as refuse/resist, is an array of generally recognized symptoms and/or behaviors discernible in family members. Recognition of associated symptoms and behaviors has been on the rise, and the outcome for children can be very poor, especially as children get older. Reliance on litigation or individual therapy has proven ineffective interventions.
These cases matter because they usually involve high conflict that, unto itself, is a poor indicator of cooperative future parenting. These cases matter because they often lead to trauma and chaos in a child’s life. These cases matter because they make use of substantial resources – financial, time, and emotional.
There is general agreement about the behaviors that parents can use to manipulate children’s feelings, behaviors, and beliefs before and after separation. Here are but a few:
1. Badmouthing/denigration of rejected parent;
2. Emotional manipulation;
3. Limits and monitors contact;
4. Allows child to make adult decisions;
5. Allows/insists that the child makes decisions about contact;
6. Rarely talks about the other parent;
7. Uninterested in the child’s time with the other parent, and
8. Refuses to speak with the other parent.
Other contributing factors include intense marital conflict, divorce conflict and litigation, and the personalities of the parents. Factors that impact the child include triangulation between the parents, their age, temperament and personality, behavioral problems, and anxiety.
Before working on the relationship between the child and the unfavored parent, work must begin with the favored parent. Then the co-parents need preparation and agreements. Likewise, the child needs preparation and planned activities to provide new opportunities and new perspectives. These cases are difficult and require intensive attention. Often, intervention fails, necessitating additional steps
Intervention when parental alienation or refusal/resistance is a possibility should begin as early as possible. Don’t wait until one spouse feels that everything, including the love of the children, is a dog fight they need to win. We stress the importance of committing to keeping the family intact. Each spouse is encouraged to seek positive outlets for anger and even seek support from mental health professionals.