(This article expands on information provided in How to Respond to Parental Alienation and is meant for parents and professionals.)
Parental alienation can be difficult to recognize for anyone not experiencing it first-hand. It’s like a riptide: hidden and forceful. Rejected parents can find themselves struggling against a powerful force as it pulls them further and further from the relationship they once had with their children. They feel the resistance and fight against it. But the more they fight, the more exhausted they become. It seems as if there’s no one to appreciate how difficult it is to stay buoyant in these deceptively calm waters. They search for someone—anyone—to throw them a lifeline.
The experience of being targeted by your co-parent is upsetting. But to be rejected and hated by your own child, feeling and watching them slip away, and fearing that you’ll never see them again, is like witnessing that child die a slow death. While they remain physically alive, they become increasingly emotionally dead to you. The radiant love in their eyes turns dark and vacuous and the joyous sound of their voice turns blue and hateful.
In my work with rejected parents, I’ve often witnessed them be tragically seduced into making mistakes while they are in the throes of the painful, intractable, and insidious drama of parental alienation. This isn’t because they’re hopelessly flawed human beings, but because they’re in unknown and turbulent waters. Rejected parents flounder and their mistakes can become fatal and sink their chances of reconciliation with their children.
By highlighting the five most frequent or common mistakes made by rejected/targeted parents, it’s my intent that they, the members of their “village,” and the professionals they encounter, will better understand and, subsequently, overcome the destructive force of parental alienation.
1: The Rejected/Targeted Parents Misunderstand their Children and Personalize the Rejection
Alienated children are often caught in a torrent of multiple post-separation family dynamics. Although most children can endure a high-conflict divorce with resilience, very few are able to avoid the powerful force of parental alienation where one parent actively—or sometimes unwittingly—seeks to separate the other parent from their children. The powerful alienation process, in effect, severs the relationship with the targeted parent and serves to align the children’s loyalty to the alienating parent.
Let that sink in: When the children show any love, interest, or affection to the targeted parent, they fundamentally feel as though they’re being disloyal and unloving to the alienating parent. Likewise, when the children display an attitude of hate and disrespect while resisting and refusing contact with the targeted parent, they feel loyal and loving to the alienating parent. Most children simply can’t withstand nor extricate themselves from this deep and powerful attachment dynamic without intervention.
A way to understand what’s happening to such children is to think of parental alienation as a type of psychological tumor that impacts the cognitive function in their brains and the emotional wiring to their hearts. It’s invasive and at risk of growing and metastasizing if ignored and left untreated. While multiple post-separation dynamics can contribute to its inception, the toxic attachment process that requires the children to maintain a loyalty contract to the alienating parent feeds it. And, as it grows, this tumor begins to negatively impact functions in the children’s heads and hearts.
The Loyalty Contract
Alienated children become desperate to maintain their loyalty contract with the alienating parent. They develop a narrative to fit the contract that requires a polarized view of the alienating parent as all good and the targeted parent as all bad. Because most relationships don’t fit these polarized black and white characteristics, the children are required to distort and bend reality in order to fit each parent into rigid cognitive constructs. Although children can have an affinity toward one parent over the other, it’s markedly atypical—outside of parental alienation—for children to idealize one parent as perfect while denigrating the other as disposable.
This polarization only grows over time. The growing psychological tumor potentiates the growth of an encapsulated delusional thought system: a belief in the targeted parent’s extreme dangerousness, woeful ineptitude, and irredeemable incapacity to love, despite any evidence of a good base-rate relationship prior to parental alienation setting in or of substantiated abuse and neglect claims. The developing narrative is not based in objective reality but is an inter-subjective narrative between the alienating parent and the children that solidifies the loyalty contract between them.
Most untrained professionals—therapists, attorneys, mediators, and judges—don’t understand this dynamic and will either ignore its presence or prescribe contraindicating treatments and parenting time arrangements. For example, they observe the children experiencing symptoms of dysfunction—disobedience, verbal abuse, emotional withdrawal, anxiety, irritability—when in the presence of the rejected parent, while observing these same children functioning in an optimal and sometimes exceptional way elsewhere. They can’t fathom that the acting-out behavior is encapsulated and dormant when the children are in the presence of the alienating parent but becomes enlivened and active when they’re exposed to the rejected parent.
When Children’s Lying is Misinterpreted
Rejected parents mistakenly believe, and report, that their children are lying about events and situations. This causes them to look bad as a parent and be perceived as unfit and dangerous. From my experience working with alienated children, I know very well that they’re at risk of sharing stories full of distortions, exaggerations, and manufactured incidents. On the face of it, these stories distort facts and reality and, in other situations, could be perceived and treated as outright lies. But I don’t believe alienated children are intentionally lying. I believe the process of parental alienation causes them to slowly lose their orientation to reality.
Rather than naming the distortions and exaggerations as lies, it’s more accurate to call them “confabulations”—a memory error often found in patients suffering from cognitive decline due to brain diseases such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s. In such patients, it’s believed that the individual confabulates to fill gaps in memory or to keep their self-identity intact. Similar cognitive impairments present in parental alienation, but with psychological underpinnings rather than emanating from a neurological disease process. Whereas lies are selfish manipulations to empower the liar, confabulations serve to reduce the suffering and, in the case of parental alienation, enable children to cope.
Alienated children will make up stories, distort, and exaggerate facts to manage the “lost” memory of a loving connection with the rejected parent. It’s lost, because to hang onto it, or find it again, will be, in effect, an active violation of the loyalty contract with the alienating parent. The confabulations are feeble, yet desperate, attempts to knit together a cohesive narrative to justify the hate and rejection for the rejected parent while nourishing and strengthening the loyalty contract with the alienating parent.
This process doesn’t empower or enhance a child’s mental wellness; it’s a means of survival. While they may effectively confabulate stories to honor the loyalty contract with the alienating parent and to maintain their polarized black and white world, it comes at an enormous cost to their mental, emotional, and relational well-being. The psychological tumor quickens the deterioration of any loving and caring memory tracts of the past and impedes the cultivation of any current loving and caring experiences. Their need to confabulate stories follows them into other relationships that have to neatly fit into their polarized tribal world including with extended family, friends, and professionals associated with either Dad or Mom.
The Desire to Connect Implodes
It’s painful to watch your children’s memory fade—erasing any cherished memories or revising them into tragic disappointments—while simultaneously cementing memories of all your mistakes. The rejected parent is forbidden to take any sentimental journey with their children at the risk of being accused of not “getting it,” not listening to them, and only wanting to minimize all the bad stuff. The parent is basically deemed manipulative and “clueless.” Their anguish is compounded when they’re blocked from creating any new loving experiences since all those efforts are labeled as either fake, ill-timed, not enough, too much, selfish, or just not quite right.
The children live with debilitating anxiety and must be hyper-vigilant to their loyalty contract with the alienating parent. Even the civility of normative salutations afforded to strangers or remote acquaintances is ignored and traded in for blatant rudeness. Normal, successful, or loving experiences aren’t allowed because to have any can effectively shrink the psychological tumor and that’s forbidden.
Unfortunately, the path of least resistance, the one that will cause the minimal amount of suffering for the children, is the path to sever the relationship with the rejected parent. The children will eventually end up providing only one way for the rejected parent to express their love: stop fighting for them and let them go.
More than fearing the rejected parent, what the children actually fear is rejection and disapproval from the alienating parent. They’re in pain. The hope is that the rejected parent will understand, not personalize it, and love them, nonetheless. Although they see the rejected parent fighting for them, the children intuitively know that the odds are not in that parent’s favor. They know the power of the alienating parent because they see that parent’s tribe growing, with more professionals willing to support the false narrative and unwittingly contribute to the psychological tumor’s growth.
I’ve witnessed children desperately plea for the targeted parent to just let them go and stop fighting for parenting time. These children can’t describe or name what’s happening because the words are unspeakable and a violation of the loyalty contract with the alienating parent. Instead, they appeal to the unconditional love of the rejected parent, stating, “Our life is just easier without you, less stressful. Please understand, this is so stressful for us. Please just stop fighting and leave us alone.” I’ve seen tormented, targeted parents, faced with these words stop fighting, release their children, and say “goodbye” in an expression of love.
How could this behavior feel anything but personal? It’s terrorizing to hear such pleadings from your own children and to be told through words and/or behavior, “Get out of our lives!” It hurts and scares the rejected parent more than anything ever has. But, as much as it hurts, they have to recognize that it’s not about them. The more they think it is, and the more they think their children are rejecting them from self-agency, the more hurt and anger it will cause. And that can lead to the second mistake.
2: The Rejected/Targeted Parents Believe that Increased Punishment and Discipline will Put an End to Misunderstood Attitude and Behavior
While alienated children notoriously function quite corrigible and respectfully to almost all other adults in their lives—teachers, coaches, the alienating parent’s extended family—they’re remarkably disrespectful and defiant to the targeted parent and often any adult connected to them. I’ve seen children ignore their parent, not even offering a civil acknowledgment of their presence—not a look, a touch, nod, or a word. I’ve heard children both deny all positive memories and offer no vision of hope in restoring the relationship with the rejected parent. I’ve worked with alienated children who have destroyed parental property, abused step-siblings, and ignored and defied step-parents. They hole up in their room for whole weekends, refuse to eat or socialize, even endanger themselves by running away from court-ordered parenting time. And, I have seen targeted parents’ desperate attempts to use discipline to curb this disturbing progression of attitude and behavior.
The temptation to think this will work is understandable since disciplining disobedient and defiant children is considered normative and reasonable. However, to address the source of the problem merely as willful defiance and resistance reinforces to the child that the parent doesn’t “get them” and will likely intensify their anger. Although they may look, sound, and act like naughty and rebellious children in need of lectures and discipline, they’re not. To the contrary, alienated children are very troubled and in need of proper understanding, compassion, intervention, and treatment. If the rejected parent approaches them only with increasing levels of discipline, that parent eventually plays into the children’s false narrative that they’re bad, mean, and unreasonable.
I’ve counseled and evaluated many targeted/rejected parents who’ve been seduced into this line of thinking and have unwittingly fallen into an authoritarian style of parenting:
- The parent who eventually forced his 13-year-old daughter to take a shower after she refused for the sixth day in a row during a hot summer week of daily soccer practices;
- The parent who took the door off the 15-year-old adolescent’s room after several weekends of his isolating and refusing to come out for any family time including meals;
- The exasperated parent recorded in a tirade that foster care is where his children belong until they can learn to follow the court orders;
- The parent who dropped his chronically-combative 14-year-old off at the fire station to wait for the alienated parent to pick her up because, once again, she would not stop screaming in front of the younger siblings in the car;
- The parent who prohibited his star adolescent athlete from going to football practice during parenting-time which caused his son to be ineligible for an important game.
With proper context, one could argue the appropriateness of these parental actions. But, all of these get decontextualized and inserted into the inter-subjective narrative between the alienating parent and the children—often a child therapist is eventually co-opted as well—and downloaded as “data” to prove the targeted parent is bad, poor, and unfit. In some cases, child protective services (CPS) is contacted and targeted parents have been investigated and sometimes even substantiated for neglect or abuse. The agency has marching orders to substantiate abuse and neglect, not contextualize it.
Discipline and Negative Campaigning
While structure and discipline can’t be cast aside, they can’t unilaterally be the solution for the incorrigibility. This plays into the false narrative and the negative interchange in the attachment process between parent and child. Not only is there a loyalty contract being constructed in the inter-subjective narrative between the alienating parent and the children, there’s an aggressive campaign to prove the targeted parent defective. If politicians can effectively use negative propaganda and messaging to win elections, so can parents to win custody.
The alienating parent operates stealthily behind the curtain, hoping for the targeted parent to act out on center stage, so they can shine a spotlight on them as the glaring problem in the family psychodrama. This campaign is strengthened when the targeted parent provides any data that can be used stripped of context, intent, and history. Yes, the targeted parent may feel under attack, unfairly scrutinized, and held to unreasonable standards, but such is the nature of negative campaigns and their seductive impact on others. Although the targeted parent can’t control the campaign, if they understand what’s happening, they can work to not provide any fodder.
The other reason to avoid thinking that strict or rigid discipline will fix incorrigibility is the importance of reducing the negative interchange between the targeted parent and their children. It can play into the parent’s anger toward the children and cause increased feelings of guilt and shame in them. The parenting brain says the anger is righteous and that it’s normal to dislike the children’s attitude and behavior. The parenting brain thinks the children should feel guilty for bad behavior, —feeling bad for ruining the birthday party—and a little healthy shame—”shame on you for calling your stepmom a bitch.” However, this negative interchange only foments the parent’s anger and increases the children’s sense of being bad.
The loving and caring bond wanes, the parent’s exasperation and the children’s defensiveness waxes. This becomes a vicious and escalating cycle, often leading to the third mistake: enlisting the help of extended family members.
3: The Rejected/Targeted Parent Enlists or Allows Extended Family and Friends to Lecture and Advise the Children
The parental alienation dynamic may function in children as a malignant psychological tumor. But, in the “village” that is involved in raising your children—grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, step-siblings, step-parents, coaches, teachers, and friends of the family—it spreads like a contagious virus.
This often happens at the same time alienating parents are securing negative allies in their village—family, friends, and professionals—to support the children’s wishes and to testify to an alienating parent’s love and fitness as a parent. Targeted parents sense this trend and either enlist help from their village or merely support the effort individuals make to advise and correct the escalating behaviors and attitudes of alienated children.
Alienated children are hypersensitive and hyper-vigilant to the tribal communities developing in a climate where the alienation virus spreads. They view the supportive people in the targeted parent’s village as a threat seeking to “social distance,” while seeing supportive others in the alienating parent’s village as safe with whom to “quarantine.” The targeted parent’s village grows wary and frustrated with the experience of social-distancing and may begin to angrily confront the children.
The children—similarly to how they feel and respond to the rejected parent’s confrontations—end up feeling attacked and shamed by these social encounters. They begin to suspect that the rejected parent put them up to it, or they just feel intruded upon, invaded, or contaminated. The children begin to see the rejected parent’s village as increasingly more dangerous and wish to increase their social-distancing, quarantine, and seek refuge in the alienating parent’s social bubble. This, of course, increases the tension between them and the rejected parent—for example, “how dare you treat your grandparents like that.”
Children’s Resist and Refuse Response
Although rude children who reject a whole village of loving and caring people need to be challenged, it can backfire when the alienation virus is not eradicated through effective intervention and treatment.
Children don’t experience confrontation as loving and caring; only as shaming and critical. The alienating parent uses these conflictual encounters to reinforce the narrative of how “those” people are bad, mean, and infected by the targeted parent’s influence. It reinforces that social distancing is needed for the children to be “safe” and not stressed out. The alienating parent’s allies use those negative encounters to point out how upsetting and disruptive they are to the children’s emotional state. In so doing, they commit a fundamental attribution error: Because the children are upset and feel shamed by the social encounters in the targeted parent’s village, that village is unsafe and unhealthy for them. They erroneously conclude that increased social distancing is warranted to secure the children’s safety and best interests.
On occasion, because of court orders and the fear of appearing in contempt of court, the alienating parent will disallow the children’s request to avoid parenting time—essentially to quarantine with the alienating parent’s social circle. They send the children to parenting time sometimes forcibly. This show of force is often used as proof that it is not the alienating parent’s fault for the resist and refuse dynamics. It is the children’s “independent” choice. The false narrative is that the children make the decision to isolate or leave after contemplating what is best, healthy, and safest for them. The children function as if to avoid contamination from the rejected parent and that parent’s village. This is accomplished by remaining physically distant, and emotionally and verbally disengaged.
These children will isolate in bedrooms, bury themselves in homework, read books, or play video games; anything to avoid interacting with the rejected parent’s village. They will resist and refuse picnics with family or birthday parties with friends and family, and if forced to go, will socially distance. If their efforts to avoid and disengage are confronted, there’s a risk of escalating conflict. Unfortunately, what children bring back to the alienating parent or the negative allies are stories of reactive invasion, criticism, and disrespect by the rejected parent’s village while they leave out their own social distancing actions or overall discourtesy. The children’s behavior can escalate even to the point of physical assaults, property destruction, or running away from the rejected parent’s village.
Damage Done by the Untrained and Uninformed
The vicious cycle of toggling in and out of what are now tribal communities creates a convincing narrative to the uninformed. They intuit: the targeted parent’s village must be abusive, neglectful, and dangerous otherwise the children wouldn’t be behaving like this. They don’t behave like this in the alienating parent’s village, at school, or on the sport’s team. Again, untrained ears and eyes make fundamental attribution errors.
Consequently, allied therapists will write unethical letters and erroneously testify in court for reduced parenting time with the targeted parent, citing the hostile environment and the children’s destabilization. Judges will be deceived into signing an ex parte order after an attempt to run away by the alienated child following a climactic, combative social encounter. The alienated children eventually get what they think will make them safe and healthy again: quarantining with the alienating parent.
What they actually get from naïve and colluding professionals is greater exposure to the virus—the alienating parent and his/her village. Consequently, the psychological tumor inside the child metastasizes and the rejected parent’s anger grows. The temptation to seek revenge against the alienating parent can lead to another mistake.
4: The Rejected/Targeted Parent Retaliates Toward the Alienating Parent
I’m sure it’s become increasingly clear that a good offense (intervention, judicial oversight, engaging trained professionals, etc.) is one of the best defenses to combat alienation dynamics. This offense is weakened by the mistake of succumbing to the temptation to seek revenge on the alienating parent. Why? Because the acts of retaliation can be used by sly alienators to buttress their narrative of the targeted parent being abusive and unfit. Also, alienated children will use any retaliatory actions to justify their alliance to alienating parents while pointing out how mean and dangerous the rejected parent is.
Rejected parents grow frustrated. They can’t understand how the alienating parent’s behaviors go unnoticed and that they’re often not held accountable. This growing frustration and impatience hatches into the idea of taking matters into their own hands rather than waiting for the hands of justice or mental health professionals to do something to help. It seems that the professionals and court have had plenty of time and they’ve just had enough of it all.
Acting-out is a Barrier to Reunification
Feeling frustrated and ignored, rejected parents begin to compose snarky email responses, make sarcastic comments during parenting time exchanges, or blow up in a reunification counseling session about how the alienating parent is poisoning the children against them. They’ll make idle threats to the alienating parent or vent on social media attempting to expose the alienating parent’s true motivation. They may seek out their own counselor to advocate for them outside ethical roles and standards: Someone who will write critical assessments of the alienating parent’s behavior, despite not having met nor professionally assessed the situation. The targeted parent may even withhold the alienating parent’s court-ordered parenting time to “make up” for lost parenting time, or extend a vacation they feel entitled to.
These actions can all be understood considering the targeted parent’s frustrations, but most often, they will be used against them as further evidence of their unfitness as a co-parent. While retaliatory actions may feel good, they do not do good. The feelings of anger and frustration need to be expressed and managed. If not, they can easily be acted out in a fashion that ultimately dis-empowers the targeted parent and impedes their mission to gain greater access to their children and to stop the alienation. If not managed well, this can lead to the next mistake.
5: Rejected/Targeted Parents Present as Angry, Argumentative, and Obstinate to Professionals
Growing frustration and fears can lead the targeted parent to present to mental health and legal professionals in angry, argumentative, and obstinate ways. This can prevent them from getting proper help, since most professionals find parental alienation dynamics counter-intuitive. In other words, they intuitively get that children will reject and fear bad parents, but they don’t understand how children will reject and fear good parents.
Accordingly, these professionals are often scrutinizing the rejected parent’s attitude and behavior to confirm their bias of believing that resist and refuse dynamics are caused by a parent’s abuse, neglect, or unfitness. And guess what? The rejected parent’s angry, argumentative, and obstinate attitude and behavior plays right into the professionals’ biases and the parent is misunderstood and seen as the problem.
Uninformed professionals fail to see the attitude and behavior as a direct result of unaddressed, unabated alienation. They erroneously conclude that the targeted parent’s attitude and behavior are the cause of the resist and refuse dynamics rather than the unfortunate result. And once the estrangement/abuse/neglect construct gets supported; it becomes very difficult for targeted parents to extricate themselves from the box they’re put in. Understandably, this can further exacerbate their anger, fear, and oppositionality.
The professionals, in turn, become advocates for the estrangement theory and will cite specific behaviors the targeted parent has exhibited to support their conclusions. They’ll transcribe the vicious voice mails, the email bombs, and tirades in counseling sessions, or report any obstinance or outright opposition the targeted parent shows towards participating in various sessions. (Note: Although it’s important for targeted parents to not engage in faulty treatment plans that fail to address the alienation dynamics—or worsen them—this refusal needs to be done smartly and strategically.) No matter what defense mechanisms targeted parents choose, they need to realize it will take more brains than brawn to remove themselves from the estrangement box.
The way out for targeted parents is to manage their feelings and behavior, so that the best version of themselves—rather than the wounded, desperate, and angry one—shows up. They need to be grounded in the literature on parental alienation, including what type of counseling intervention helps or hinders. They need an attorney who understands alienation and knows how to work with mental health professionals; an attorney whose goal is to educate professionals and advocate to retain professionals who understand alienation dynamics, all the while presenting to professionals or the court legitimate signs their client is fit, rational, and reasonable. That they’re madly in love with their children, not mad. That they wish to win their children’s hearts and minds, not win a case or one-up the co-parent.
When professionals are faced with targeted parents who are grounded and have these admirable intentions, there’s a better chance that the professionals will advocate for justice, accountability, and healing, rather than become another manipulated agent in the alienation dynamic.
A Word to Rejected/Targeted Parents
The aggregate of these five common mistakes can be visible and palpable while the stealthy and insidious moves of the alienating parent often remain latent and hidden. The greatest chance you have of pulling back the curtain on alienation dynamics is to not take center stage with the drama caused by these mistakes but to instead work to pull back the curtain and put the spotlight on the alienation that’s taking place.
You must be methodical and strategic. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek counsel. Time is your enemy and experts can help you assess the severity of the alienation and appropriate interventions, up to and including court involvement. It won’t hurt to have a coach/counselor, consultant, and a good attorney on your team.
Parental Alienation isn’t only a psychological tumor that grows in your child, it’s contagious. Its toxins can spread to you and your extended village. It’s important to realize that, just as in treating a tumor that’s at risk of growing and metastasizing, home remedies won’t work to resolve alienation.
Targeted/rejected parents need help. And sometimes the first, right, next step, is learning to help yourself. The arduous battle to save the hearts and minds of your children often requires expert strategy, but it can only be won when you are in it with an attuned mind and loving heart.
Amazing article. I have struggled with many of these – including wanting to “even the score”. However, even while being denied phone calls I was able to ensure that my alienating ex was getting fifteen minute calls on my weekends with my daughter. After being denied phone calls for a week or two at a time, I still upheld MY responsibility. The hardest thing in the world to do – be the bigger person and hope it pays off, both in court and with your child. Unfortunately, being a targeted parent is generally a no-win situation. All the more reason professionals must have mandatory training in this cancer!
Ryan: Thanks for the compliment on the article and I’m heartened it has been helpful to you. You sound like you’ve done what is so difficult to do as a targeted parent–take the high road, or as Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The sad tragedy is that, in severe cases of parental alienation, targeted parents can avoid the 5 common mistakes and still struggle to develop and maintain a loving and involved relationship with their children. While avoiding the mistakes can help immensely, the “no-win” situations in parental alienation are prolific, imposing, and challenging as you allude to. The presence of trained professionals can assist in exposing these manufactured dilemmas and place the accountability for them where they belong. I wish you the best in exposing the truth and creating a healthy environment for your children as you aspire to go high in the name of love and integrity when others are going low.
I completely agree. I am the parent that was alienated, and the mother of all things. I had custody and never kept his kids from him. But now it’s like he’s always the priority and I’m wrong for telling them I just want them to love me . I have spent thousands of dollars on my kids especially my son, but to no avail, it don’t matter. Even now being with someone they have known for years , my son seems to always stick up for him, and forgets all that I do. Then I’m the one he says that thinks everybody owes something to. I just don’t know how much more I can take. My daughter barley talks to me . And I don’t know what I ever did. But now I know this is what they have. Yes they been through a lot. The father has family members in the court system and he is able to win my children over, even though I am remarried, working, paying child support, and all extras. It was never enough.
Hi, I know your pain. My kids are 27 and 25. I’ve been divorced for 14 years and he still does it. All I want is a healthy relationship with my kids (my daughter is the hardest) and I feel so defeated and lost. I don’t even mention his name to the kids. I don’t understand why he is this way. It’s a competition. He can pound on his chest, “they pick me”, or something. We had an incident this week, and I’m just very hurt. I am not sure how to deal with it. If I show emotion then I’m too sensitive and so on.
My name is Lee as well (I’m female!).
I feel your pain. I’m in a similar situation and feel hopeless, defeated and hurt. The alienation by my ex so confusing and convoluted, I don’t even understand what is going on. It’s getting worse by the day. He is a master of manipulation- I knew that long ago when married to him, and while leaving him.
Now…he is winning. I’m devastated : (
Did you file for sole custody?
William: As you can note in all of these comments, I try to refrain from offering specific advise on your case, since I am aware of too many dynamic variables involved in these decisions to tell you to file or not file for sole custody. I can say that it is the right thing to do for some rejected/targeted parents, but usually the court requires clear and convincing evidence to change an established custodial environment. As such, you would have to present your case of parental alienation really well to convince the judge it is in the best interests of the children. When I have functioned as an evaluator, consultant, or coach in these cases, I am in a better position to render an opinion as to what is your best strategy given the dynamic variables in your case. I wish you the best.
I was the mother 80 percent of the time. Yes I know how it feels. My son was given a car by dad and now he is gone. Now he gets all the time he wants to party and have girls over as dad is gone most of the month. So my 16 year old is left alone most of the time and just pines for his dad’s affection. Its sick, his dad has made only 2 of his birthdays. I am so sad for my sweet little boy. I Lost chasing after a man that in 60 years has never been able to hold down a relationship or communicate effectively. This is what my son has as a teacher now. All I have done for 16 years is wipe away and try and replace, as an example, of how to be. He didn’t even bother to let me my son for mothers day at 15 or 16!
It has been nine years now since I really tried to kill myself. The damage is so overwhelming that I could not cope at the time. Yet after six years of trying I chose life and the way to recovery brought me closer to myself and God. Still I live for them. So they know they have a living mom. My being dead would have hurt them even more, even more guilt than the guilt that is already too big.
I love them and pray for them. I divorced their father 20 years ago and left them alone with him 50% of the time. I didn’t know what he was all about at the time, so I also felt guilt for leaving them. I understand their anger towards me better even now, even if it is through his brainwashing.
Selfcare was very difficult in the beginning but I feel much stronger now.
Evil really exists and it needs light to beat it.
Wow, very similar situation. Yes, I agree that self-care is so important, yet so difficult while suffering so much. Our strength will hopefully be their strength, and our light becomes the beacon for them to find their way one day soon.
Thank you for your words. The pain for me today is awful. Somedays the pain is overwhelming. When it becomes this way I read sites like this. I happened to stumble on your comment.
I’ve had many sleepless nights, practically grieving over my physically alive daughter. There is no court order. However, she’s been with her father and for about two months now I have no contact information on him or my daughter nor do I know where they live.
I went to her school and waited outside the gate she gets picked up from. I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her that I loved her. Her father walked right past me with her. She just looked back and waved. It’s heartbreaking.
I’m not sure if this abuse is even recognized. Or is this ok? I’ve had my daughter her entire life. I believe a lack of communication and a naive stubborn mentality hinders the abuser to have the capability to comprehend the complexity of the damage that’s being done to an innocent child who deserves to have a mother and father, especially if the parent wants to desperately be in their child’s life.
I’ve met a share of women who could care less about raising their children but the mothers who do want to shouldn’t experience that, as that is not an option. I feel a deep regard for my daughter. All I’ve learned to do is to stay hopeful and take care of myself. I had a good friend tell me to write to my daughter every day in a journal. At first, it didn’t help because I couldn’t and would try to avoid thinking about her at all cost, the pain was excruciating. Now I find it a little therapeutic. 💓
I am not too sure I follow what a targeted parent needs to do instead to avoid these mistakes.
I don’t think this article helps with what to do, which is what we are all looking for. Is stepping away the answer?
Peter: I refrain from prescriptive and canned advice as there are too many intervening variables and dynamics unique to each family, within a certain subculture and family court system. Parents also have unique litigation, evaluation, and counseling histories along with varying size sibships, and sometimes blended families. Not to mention the varied personal histories and personality profiling of each parent and child. These are some of the variables and dynamics impacting what are the right and smart next steps for each parent. However, rarely do I recommend stepping away in parental alienation as time away from target parent and immersion with the alienating parent often worsens the alienation for several reasons. Nonetheless, it can be necessary for some parents’ mental wellness and economic stability. I hope this helps you understand why this article focused on universal mistakes rejected parents are at risk of making. Stay tuned for more articles and an upcoming book.
I am in this exact pain. I don’t know what to do I’m losing my kids one by one. My kids do not respect me and I am now in therapy. I don’t know how much longer I can stay put together. My sons are mean to me and my ex husband condones it in a passive way where the boys can’t distinguish between right and wrong. I have custody and take good care of my kids. To no avail, my kids stay angry at me and no one believes me that my ex is alienating the kids from me. I’m in a nightmare. And he keeps prolonging the divorce and often make jokes about not giving me the divorce. I can’t believe I’m living this nightmare in America. It’s like I’m in a 3rd world country under sharia.
I know how you feel. My son has been isolated from me and my family. His father keeps him in an isolated world – he groomed him from a very young age and made his final planned moves just before my son turned 18. Nothing I do is working to make son aware of what is going on. His mind was changed and did not go after his original ambitions to complete his formal education. In UK, no system has been helpful.
This parental alienation has been going on for at least 10 years. To say the least, I broke down in 2020. I begged my ex for help, the one who is doing the alienating. He’s NEVER followed the custody agreement, hence the kid’s never had a stable environment. The police are his go to for the last 10 years, where I never once was convicted. Lastly, he always had my kid’s lying to me, causing them to lie and manipulate when they want something. I have nothing left!! I want to sue him. I had been put through year’s of turmoil to say the very least. I have proof. Please help me find someone who understands this sort of abuse.
Jill: Sorry to hear about your situation. It is common for alienators to weaponize police, court services, and child protective services in an effort to gather negative advocates and knit together a false narrative with the aid of professionals. While you can search for professionals in your area, please know we provide consultation/coaching services. I wish you the best.
Amazing Article!! It’s Mother’s Day… I’m laying in bed in my room alone the day after my daughter’s junior prom. Just thinking how can this even be happening? Thinking that there has to be something I can do. I sobbed as I read this. It’s a manual for people like my ex and his girlfriend, and truth, hard awful painful truth. My kids are older. We all have our stories. I have been dealing with him and playing right into his hand even as he darn near told me what he was doing. He played the long “game”. That’s what this all is to him. I have not read the comments yet. I am going to print this out and re-read it. I may add comments later, but my brain at this point sometimes just wants to forget. I was drinking way too much, I have been sober for 2 months and AA Has been helpful. But as you can see, I have trauma that I’m realizing truly effected my brain from all of this ever since 2009.
I don’t want to give up on my kids. ALL I WANT IS FOR MY KIDS NOT TO HURT AND OF COURSE I WANT THEM TO LOVE ME! His girlfriend makes it seem so out of balance. Like saying in front of them over the years so many times that whatever thing I was upset with was “about me being selfish”, not about caring about them. My son is now 19. He just moved over to his dad’s home 3 months ago. And he happens to be on the autism spectrum, extremely mild, but it impacts our family. There came a day where his dad denied it to me. Said that was “my opinion” and that he “disagreed”.
Here I go down the road of being the victim again. It is no use in telling my story. The point is this article was so enlightening and it is difficult to hear, but it all makes sense. I was waiting for the ambulance chasing hook at the end… “if you or someone you love has been effected by this call our office today!” Ugh. But no catch. It’s so extremely true and exactly what has been happening and the worst is that it actually is hurting my kids and I’m sort of being selfish to want to keep them in my life. My ex and his brothers, none of them know their dads. And when found, he rejected his. He didn’t care that his father kept all his letters etc. I didn’t expect that he would. But I know back in 2002 and before he cried thinking he was not wanted. I found his dad for him, and left the rest to him. At first he was stunned. His father handled himself extremely gracefully. I was prepared to hand it to him if he was worth knowing and never tell him if his father ended up being a deadbeat. We had just had our son. His father came 12 hours to meet him. He didn’t speak one ill word of my ex’s mother. But then my ex decided he didn’t want to go further when he saw he upset his mom.
I want to write a book about this. So much has happened over the years. I would love to work to help myself and others dealing with this. After I read the comments I may add more.
Thank you for this article. I have to re-read it again as a reminder for myself. I just always wonder if staying silent is letting him continue to get away with it. In one year both my kids barely speak to me. My daughter is 17 now. I don’t know if anything will help us at this point. I miss them so much!!
Maybe you & I could usefully collaborate on writing a book about this subject ! I’m a journalist by trade & ‘have a way with words’ as some people tell me.
I have an ex-wife who had been adopted at birth and brought up emotionally neglected by her adoptive Father & a step mother who replaced the original adoptive mother who died of cancer when my wife was eight.. This ex-wife I now realise was a train crash waiting to happen. She behaved about as badly as it is possible for any married person to behave, infidelities and always being needy and being very subtly destructive of that joint effort parents need to make to build a secure home and family ‘economy’.
She proudly announced after eventually running away with a serial philanderer how she had always deliberately undermined my career. All of this behaviour badly affected our two daughters of 12 & 15 years old when their Mother abandoned them & me spitting venomously at me that she intended deliberately alienating my two daughters from me.
These ‘kids’ are now 39 & 42 & have been totally alienated from me by this appalling Mother. I had had absolutely no idea how insidious & powerful this alienating process is and didn’t take it seriously. I’ve thought maybe writing a fictionalised version of it might help adult alienated children understand how they have been weaponised against one of their parents and how much is lost for them when that happens.
This article is the first time I’ve ever seen anything remotely as helpful about parental alienation.
Andrew: Your idea for a fictional book would be welcomed and likely helpful for alienated children, especially adult children.
I don’t understand what advice is given here to undo or fix the alienation.
Andrew: It is an informational article to explain how PA dynamics function and manifest in children, how targeted parents are stressed and challenged by those, and how to avoid the 5 common mistakes. I am writing a book that will be more comprehensive with tips and strategies.
My husband committed suicide on February 27, 2022. His mother lied to gain guardianship prior. The children were and are terrified because she tells them they will be in foster care and holds a trust that is revocable over their heads. My husband and I had to move to another state 5 hours away because his mother had blocked his number and he was alienated from his children. His children told us horrid stories but I will never understand how they don’t understand she can’t do that. My husband at the time explained the toxic environment and how I could not understand how manipulative and scary they were. My husband had and I still have all the manipulative lies and texts of abuse that have even caused me PTSD. His mother hides anything that could cause her not to look good in the community because they are very wealthy. My husband is I mean was… not so she uses that. The kids said they could care less about the money. My husband was clean for 8 months and wanted his kids back and she manipulated him to get the guardianship with lies and never even followed through with all the things a guardian is supposed to do. My husband was never served and was never even aware that she had put stipulations on the guardianship behind his back, and the children didn’t even know about it. One of them was old enough and should have been notified. He was never served documents on the guardianship and when asked for them she would not provide them and knew that he would have to pay a whole lot to get all those records. She’d only give him a picture of the corner of the number of the case and she said let your wife, well, she didn’t call me his wife because we were common law in Oklahoma, she said let your crazy girlfriend pay for it. At the time, the children really wanted to live with us and she put up every obstacle by not providing us with birth certificates so we can put them in school, and get them healthcare because they need glasses. She said let me pay for them, the crazy girlfriend who was far from wealthy, I was on unemployment because this was during the pandemic. My mother who is living paycheck to paycheck helped with the children and she lived 16 hours away, but she would send them clothes and pay for things for them. She wanted to make sure that the kids didn’t feel like they were being neglected because that’s what you should do for children, not make them feel like they’re the ones to blame. When you have money and you’re a narcissist you do whatever you want. The children told us horror stories of things that happened in the house when they were living under two separate roofs which were not in the guardianship so she lied on that part as well.
The pressure of my husband having severe PTSD and needing counseling himself and never being able to get it because we were trying to help the kids. We were trying to get them what they needed because they’d been through a major trauma. His daughter has major trauma due to his mom’s negligence, well they ended up back at his mother’s house because we can’t fight that kind of money. The system failed the children and my husband and now me because I’m going to end up like my husband because I can’t go on I miss him daily. The small town good old boy system is alive and well and ruins so many lives and should be stopped. People should be held accountable for their actions and when they don’t have money that doesn’t mean they don’t love their children and can’t take care of them because love overcomes money any day of the week.
My mother-in-law lives in a small town, rents to the sheriff, and has worked for the judge. She gets whatever she wants, and who is left to pick up the pieces? Well, not my husband because he took his life and his children will never get the help they need because there’s no way coming from that toxic house that they’re okay. They weren’t okay when they were at our house from what they had told us. I am on my way to being with my husband because I can’t get over the fact that I’ve lost the love of my life due to our corrupt judicial system. Someone has to stop it. Someone needs to be held accountable for lies to obtain protective orders that cause people to commit suicide because they feel that’s the only thing they can do because they give up. It’s sad but welcome to small-town USA.
Here’s a little more backdrop of how she never parented and that’s why his children were failing when they came to us. They gave his son alcohol. They think that’s okay, but it’s not okay because they have a history of alcoholism in that family. That’s the last thing you need to do is encourage him as a 14-year-old boy to drink, he was even younger when they were giving him alcohol.
This is what led up to my husband taking his life. You would think the grandmother would care about what happens to her granddaughter or grandson. She allowed his daughter to go with another child on a bus at age 15 to Monterrey, Mexico at Christmas time to someone’s house. She had no idea who the people at the house were or who would be coming in and out of the house. Human trafficking is real! She does not think it’s real. She says it doesn’t happen in that small town, but she doesn’t understand when you go into another country what could happen.. children are groomed at that age. She is a beautiful young girl.
His last communication, because she had alienated him, was maybe two conversations with his daughter in the previous 8 months. They were all and all positive and she wanted to come to see him but she could only say so much if her grandmother was standing there. Well after Christmas, when she got back from Mexico, her grandmother let her call and thank him for the gift which had our address on it in another state. He asked if Grandma was right there and his daughter would always have to do the yes and no responses so she wouldn’t get in trouble….he asked her if she still wanted to come for spring break and she said yes. It was a very pleasant conversation.
He had been diagnosed with a blood disorder and the next thing we know we’re getting messages from his mother wanting to get life insurance with her as the person who oversees how the money is used for the children. He found that kind of odd and called his aunt. She is the executor of a large policy that is his children’s if anything happens to him. She has been in the family for many years, which would be his father’s side of the family, so his children are well taken care of. So we found that odd that his mother would want more insurance for her to be the executor. Well, when you don’t have the money you can’t beat a corrupt system in a small town.
Apparently, his daughter had a mental breakdown and was taken into custody by DHS at school he tried to call around to find out what had happened. He was very calm and collected when he called, just a worried father. He was concerned about his child, just wanting to know what happened. There were no answers and then the sheriff said if he called the school again they were going to charge him with harassment even though he only called the school two times.
This guardianship was only supposed to be temporary and it was never supposed to alienate the children but to make sure they had visitation communication with their father. When he started calling around about his daughter his mother took it to the next level. First, she had his number blocked so he had to use another number. When he asked what was going on with his daughter, his mother he was crazy and hung up… The next day she went and got an emergency protective order against him when he lived 5 hours away. He had no driver’s license, and he had never been violent or abusive. Anything that would hold up in a court that wasn’t corrupt. So, they issued her an emergency order of protection so he can call and find out anything about his daughter.
Federal court records state that his stepfather was abusive, verbally emotionally, and mentally throughout his childhood. It continued on and his mother took his role as the years went on. That house was very toxic so the only people who needed a protective order were the children. They need to be taken away from those two because they don’t monitor them and don’t really care about them. They only want to hold on to the money and prove that they’re right because they are narcissists.
Money bought that protective order and she had it served at her own house where he never lived in his entire life, not once but five times. That prevented him from calling just to make sure his daughter was okay. He wrote the judge because by a hunch we looked on the website to find out that she’d even done. She asked for this protective order, and he wrote the judge a very legal plead because we were 5 hours away and gave him proof that he was just trying to find out if his daughter was okay and where his daughter was. Then, they issued another emergency protective order without any violence or any arguing with the daughter. Well, we went to go to the court hearing and it was snowing and sleeting and I had to take off work, when we do not have a lot of money, it was canceled because of the ice and snow. It was rescheduled for March he looked on the docket the day we got back and it showed up the day which was February 26th from the canceled or rescheduled hearing due to snow that was on the 24th I think. He committed suicide on the 27th of February, so the following day because he felt like he lost because if a judge would issue a protective order when she is using her own address as his address so he can’t be served, he knew he had no chance. How can she get away with lying on a protective order and someone then committing suicide?
She has not only ruined my life because I have lost my husband whom I loved dearly and miss. I can’t get the image out of my head and I’ll never be okay because of this, she killed her son and she does not see that! How can you not see that? How can she not be held accountable for this? She should at least be held responsible for lying to obtain a protective order because I have plenty of proof. There was no way she could have gotten one. I know people who have been beaten and couldn’t get a protective order. He hadn’t even spoken to his daughter except pleasantly so for her to obtain this order was under false accusations to a judge that I’m sure was well paid.
Now the children have lost their father, the system failed them, the system failed him, and she walks around free. She is clear and wealthy and couldn’t care less. How is this okay? I can’t even sleep at night. I wish he would have taken me with him because she has ruined my life and caused me so much pain and PTSD. I’ll never be okay. How is she able to walk free of not being held accountable for lying to obtain that? Because it clearly says if you lie to obtain a protective order you can be held criminally and civilly responsible. So, why is she walking free?
That was his goal. He had been collecting information to have her prosecuted and then he gave up. I lost my best friend and the man I loved… and two children, that are beautiful, lost their father because of her lies. I wish an attorney or somebody would contact me and these small-town courts and paid-off judges. They need to be stopped. This is the United States, you cannot and should not be allowed to do this. No, she didn’t put the gun to his head. But, she did kill him because that killed him knowing he would never win that case. That’s what happened she took away his children and his hope. I wish I was with him and I’ve lost all hope for the US system, the small towns, and the rich people who buy the judges. I’m so sad that his own mother would go to these extremes because she didn’t really like me. I wish I was there with him right now wherever he is because it’s not fair at all. I’m not okay and I’ll never be okay because of her actions and she continues to try to torment me. She’ll get away with it because I don’t have money and she just goes on while I’m grieving as if nothing happened…That judge was aware of the situation and he should be removed, he is incompetent and already has the ACLU after him for other cases. This is small-town USA, is this really what the world’s coming to???
Where can I get help as an alienated mother…husband has sided with daughter since age 2 and she is 31 now. We have no relationship (husband/wife) and h continues to weekly sabotage my relationship with my daughter. Any books, people to work with would be appreicated.
Missy: We offer on line coaching and consultation on these matters, so feel free to reach out to me or one of my associates. Unfortunately, there are not many books written on how to approach adult children, most books are directed toward working with minor children. Nonetheless, authors such as Amy Baker, Ph.D. and Richard Warshak, Ph.D. can provide you with insights and ideas. Best of luck.
I want to thank you Randy. I am an estranged father that misses his daughter every day and I definitely need help and support. It has been 6 years since I spent any time with my daughter or heard her opinions on anything despite trying countless times to make contact with her. She just turned 18 this last week and had her last name changed the very next day. I have not been told 2 words from her mouth since my narcissistic x took her from my life. I get that I made some mistakes but nothing to warrant her not having any contact with me. My daughter and I were very very close so this is so hard and breaks my heart. I just keep praying that I will be able to at least understand why she wants nothing to do with me. I’m so confused and hurt.
This is soooo true I am in hell right now and have no money for a lawyer
Unfortunately, to get out of parental alienation “hell”–severe alienation–money becomes part of the currency to fight for justice, and that isn’t always a guarantee. I wish you the best.
I feel your pain. My kids are 44, 42, and 38. My oldest is autistic, intellectually challenged, and now living in a group home. I always worked and was the breadwinner while my wife worked hard taking care of my son and other two children. My middle son would never have anything to do with me hanging out etc. and always addressed me by my first name. My wife thought that was cute. What father wouldn’t want to be called “Dad?” It wasn’t worth the argument so I just left it alone back then. My daughter always spent time with me when I was home on weekends. Anytime I needed to discipline my middle son, my wife would intervene and diminish my effort to correct whatever he did i.e., vandalizing and breaking the neighbor’s Christmas yard decorations, stealing valve stem caps off a car, etc. He held a grudge against me for years.
Now later in life after we’ve retired my wife shares every argument between us with my daughter and son. They both adore her because she has always been generous with our finances to them as well as empathetic to any little thing that came up in their lives. If I happen to disagree with anything, I am the bad guy and they don’t respect my opinion. Any disagreement between my wife and me is immediately judged as my fault.
My wife is not a social person and doesn’t want to make the effort to go outside of the family as friends so she doesn’t have any close friends to vent to other than our kids and that, of course, alienates them with me. My son and I have no relationship and pretty much he is alienated from me as well as his wife and now their children. I try to attend all the ball games and such but they have called me accusing me of not doing enough while my wife stays home with the excuse of allergies and never goes to anything, even the inside games. They never mention anything to her about not attending inside games, etc. My wife has groomed the kids over the years that I’m an angry, grumpy person who always yells at her and they have no respect for me because of her constant influence over them in their lives.
I am not that person she describes to my kids at all. It serves her purpose to keep them feeling sorry for her. We go out to eat almost every day and enjoy our time. We live a comfortable life but if she’s in a bad mood, I just stay away from her as she’ll provoke an argument and turn it against me with the kids. It’s a no-win situation.
JDJ: While this article is written to discuss Resist and Refuse Dynamics (RRDs) in divorced families, you describe potential alienation dynamics within an “intact” non-divorced family. The division you describe sadly highlights the power of an alienation dynamic, particularly how the loyalty contract seduces even adult children into polarized loyalties.
That’s all great and all but I’m to the point of not seeking any help from Children’s Advocacy Centers, Counselors or Attorneys, especially after spending 35,000 of Attorney fees. My best option is to give it to God.
That’s exactly where I am now Natalie. I have given it to God 🙏
Children’s Advocacy Centers are supposed to help?
After being estranged from my adult son, for over 25 years, I have given it up to God myself. Trying to nurture my adult son, from afar, was hurting me.
I have tried to let go because after 25 years, reunification would be less than 1%. I realize my life of being depressed, angry, anxious, and on eggshells, with my adult daughter, are so toxic and unhealthy. I’m officially grieving my adult son, and have found that reading this parental alienation dynamic, my ex husband is a very insecure, controlling, evil man. I realize that my son is very much his father’s son, and his father and I didn’t get along. It’s a sad reality that I’m way better off without my son in my life. His emotional state must be incredibly fragile and I don’t want him to suffer further. I choose not to suffer further myself. Currency, and ongoing aggravation of reopening up this infected wound wouldn’t help me or my son. Radical acceptance seems to be the only answer for me
If you are a born again Christian who is following God, give the matter to him. Be led by the Spirit in what to do. My kids still hate me 30 years later. My daughter is calling me crazy, something her dad used to do to me. He was abusive in all ways to me; I left him due to that and his drugs and affairs.
But he and his big rich family were a huge draw to my kids. They provided what I couldn’t in some ways. So, I am a faint memory to them.
I got through this through God. I still cry often, but the bible says endure to the end. That means no suicide. So I have no choice but to finish this life out and then go home to God.
When I pray about the matter, God simply tells me we will all stand before him someday. Too much hurt and pain and miscommunication and hatred from my kids and even my own failures and sins as a parent have made reconcilation impossible.
Some days I am fine with this. Other days I cry.
Your story could be mine. I just learned tonight at 4:30am about the term parent alienation. My, what I thought was great relationship with my 4 kids has recently altered…. twin 18 year old daughters barely call, and invited their Dad’s sister and relatives to parents’ week at college to make me uncomfortable and awkward and then uses that against me to the kids. My house has rules, his does not even to underage adult beverages. But I am the awkward one he portrays. He had our 16 year old son refuse me to come to a sports banquet tonight, heartbreaking. I feel I am losing them and my hard work raising them, my sacrifice and lack to give to them is forgotten. It’s like a death. I turn to God in all things and this is no exception. I know God will be final judge and my ex cannot change or control that.
My husband is going through this (I am his supportive wife), The dilemma is how to handle the manipulation and the rejection from the kids. You want to correct false narratives but this only makes the kids more defensive. Walking away seems the easiest solution but my husband would never do this. I do feel that they would like him to just walk away to make life easier for them.
So, what do we do? The alienation has gotten so bad they they are now rejecting my husband’s family (grandparents etc.) It’s very sad and frustrating. I try to intervene but clearly I’m not a neutral party.
My husband’s ex has all of the power and control over the kids. It’s sad to watch and I do feel bad for them. She very much uses them to hurt my husband (and it works).
What are some strategies to counter alienation?
99 % of this article is bullcrap. The alienating parent has absolute control as they are narcissistic liars that manipulate and abuse the system and the people in their lives. They manipulate the mental health professionals to believe that they are always the victim and the children are always at risk by the alienated parent no matter the cost or deceit. There is no combating these types of people unless you truly have a good heart and the best interests of the children at hand as well as unlimited financial resources… Unlimited financial resources being key. These people have nothing but pure EVIL in their hearts and souls. They care nothing for the children. They only want to control their actions as well as manipulate everyone to fit into their agenda and punish anyone who stands up to that controlling behavior.
Deb: I hear your pain, anger, and exasperation. I also agree with your assessment of a severe alienator as a person who likely has a personality disorder with nefarious intentions causing a deleterious impact on the children, the targeted parent, and the child-parent relationship. You also point out well how they weaponize mental health professionals and to fight this often requires significant financial and emotional resources. Nonetheless, I respectfully disagree with you that the principles and ideas in this article are erroneous and not helpful. While they may be helpful, particularly in effectively fighting parental alienation and winning your children’s hearts and minds, it still may not be enough–that I know and have unfortunately I have seen. I don’t think a zero sum argument is helpful and it only contributes to the abject powerlessness, hopelessness, and malaise a rejected parent is already experiencing. Again, depending on the case and the level of severity, I have coached many parents successfully to avoid these mistakes along with implementing other relational, professional, and legal strategies that can help. I wish you the best and sorry for your situation.
Thanks for pointing this out Deb – you’re absolutely right.
The article appears all very sensible but the reality is the alienating parent kidnaps and relocates the child, blocks all communication, demonises the other parent and weaponises the courts, social services, friends, relatives and everything else.
The courts don’t enforce their own orders, the child has no say, no chance and is eventually alienated. Everyone trots out the same old rubbish, stay strong, be your best self, they’ll come back when they’re older.
But the reality is that they don’t.
They’ve been taught there is no other parent. By the time they unthink that its ten years later, perhaps twenty. By which time they come back to ruins. No parent who has a child stolen this way recovers.
Alienators are liars and child abusers. As you say, they are evil. Utterly narcissistic at best, psychopathic at worst.
And yes, this article is complete bullshit.
Thank you. I am a targeted parent who chose to walk away due to exhaustion mentally, emotionally, and every other way a mother might feel. I also believe it has been a systematic infection in the not for family court system in this country.
Trish: While you are correct that parental alienation can metastasize as a systemic cancer that includes the family court, my experience is that most professionals don’t know the harm they cause. PA is counterintuitive to most professionals and they manage cases from an estrangement/abuse lens believing they are protecting children. What they don’t know is that they have been weaponized by the alienating parent. What we need are education and systemic change in family court, counseling training programs, family law trainings, and child protection services. Early and precise intervention is needed before it grows and parents like you become beleaguered. I’m sorry this happened to you and so many others.
I am going through parental alienation and it’s harrowing My daughter and I were so close in that we had an amazing bond. Her Mother and I split when she was an infant. She left and moved back in with her wealthy upper-class parents. Her mother tried to erase me out of my daughter’s life back then but I went to court. I went through 2 years of in and out of court I got decent access.
Fast forward 12 years and my now teen daughter 15 has rejected me out the blue in December 2020 when she was 13. There has been no reason for this whatsoever , it’s killing me slowly and its a daily struggle. I guess she feels she has to reject me to keep her mom happy. She won’t even acknowledge me! I have hit Rock bottom through this. I have been studying this for a while and it all points to parental alienation.
I’ve spoken to a solicitor and they advise that because of her age it’s very hard because the judge will simply ask her if she wants to see me or not and they won’t go digging into the fact her mother has brainwashed her against me and my family.
What can target parents like me do when your teenage child won’t even acknowledge you exist anymore?
Ian: It depends on the judge, but a lot of judges now understand parental alienation and they simply won’t let a minor child decide custody. Also, a minor child’s assessed preference is only one factor amongst many others a judge has to consider when judging what is in the child’s best interest. This must be heartbreaking, and I hope you can get the court to understand what is happening and avoid parental alienation going into her adult life where intervention is difficult due to her aging out of family court.
Thank you for sharing this explanatory article.
Hopefully the affected family are only recently split so, although a lot of alienation has been going on for over 20 years, the problem will be addressed before it can escalate.
Grateful granny 👵 🙏
All the information you have presented here is wonderful. I arrived here from a link on the site that outlined what to do when you are the targeted parent. Everything said here resonates very closely to what is happening in my life at the moment. It is terrifying, heartbreaking and devastating. My 11y/o son is acting in ways that almost seem like this was written with him, us, the alienating parent as the case study.
I have been diligent, strategic and calm. We separated in April about 7 months ago, and i now recognize that these behaviours began long ago even before the separation, and in turn – with no voice, being written off as a father i had no choice but to leave. And now – i find myself alone, broken. The process has not gone to court, i have my allotted time but the quality of that time is what is described – self soothing with video games, audio books etc. My counsel is in the process securing an agreement that embeds reunification therapy and i am on my knees praying that this will help. Do you have any thoughts, advice, even experience with reunification therapy?
Thank you for the article. And for all the parents out there going through this – i feel your pain and struggle, and I hope we all are able to connect, hold and hug our beloved children again as we once did.
Dennis: I’m sorry for your situation. I wrote this article for many reasons, but one was to speak to parents like you and to help you feel you’re not alone. I also note your empathy for other parents struggling with parental alienation.
Regarding reunification counseling, yes, I’ve heard of it, in that I provide that service along with evaluations, expert consultation, coaching, and parenting coordination. Outpatient reunification counseling is controversial in that it may not be effective in severe cases or when it is being provided by an untrained professional—sometimes it can cause more harm than good when untrained professionals are involved. Also, if parental alienation hasn’t been identified by an evaluator or the court, the reunification therapist can make a fundamental attribution error and conclude a child is resisting and refusing parenting time or disengaging with a parent due to the targeted parent’s poor parenting fitness, abuse, or neglect rather than because of the alienating parent’s parental alienating behaviors (PABs). Sometimes, a reunification therapist focuses too much on trying to “repair” the relationship between the child and targeted parent by working with that dyad, rather than focusing on the origin of the child’s resist and refuse dynamics (RRDs); the relationship the child has with the alienating parent. This loyalty bind the child feels needs to be addressed as does the alienating parent’s PABs.
It is my hope that your attorney has vetted your assigned reunification therapist, your case is milder, and progress can be made in reunification therapy. Take care of yourself and avoid the top 5 mistakes.
I am in the exact situation like you right now, except I am a mother to my kids and also the targeted parent. My husband is very powerful, so I do not know how to fight this. I am also not divorced but separated 1 year ago with no formal agreement either.
Stay married its
The only way to keep your kids
And defuse him
I have been abandoned by my four now-adult children. Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 7:27 a.m. was the last time I got to drop my children off at the bus stop. My ex-husband sexually molested my oldest and was physically and mentally abusive to me. For the past seven years, my children have seen my mother defend that man so now they think I’m a monster when all I’ve done is fight for them.
I lost my children and she adopted them and everything this article says is happening. I’m tired. I have given up in life itself. I catch myself planning my funeral and they are not invited. I love my children with all my heart and soul but the pain is so bad. It’s physical and, at times, I want to peel my skin just so my soul can rest a while.
Before, I couldn’t blame my children because they were under my mother’s watch but now they are 26, 22, 18, and 18. They are adults with a damn tumor that has picked their soul and brain as a home! I have lost hope. I’m too tired to keep fighting a battle against my own mother, the woman who was supposed to protect me once upon a time. So I must say goodbye to my children and it’s killing me. My situation is gonna kill me if I don’t or if I do.
I don’t know how to go on living without my motivation, my oxygen. I’m missing five important parts of what makes me who I am. My four children and my mother, and nobody seems to understand. I scream from the top of my lungs “Help” and nobody hears my plea. So now I keep quiet and little by little I let life go without meaning to. Life is fair, but my path isn’t. So many questions and no answers.
I was nothing to my children. They let me go. That mental tumor killed my children and now I’m left to bury them. And I don’t know how. Do you understand? Is there somebody who understands me? My soul is too tired. I can’t find anything that can take my children’s place. Thank you.
Margarita: Thank you for sharing your story. The loss of your mother and your children is not something you can easily move on from. I hope you will seek support and counsel from a trusted source to help guide you along this path.
I’m so afraid for my daughter and grandchildren after reading your article. Separated about 4 years ago, my daughter has been through a court custody case where the alienation tactics and abusive behaviour from the father to the children were barely acknowledged and he gained more time with them. The boy aged 7 is increasingly showing signs of anxiety, disobedience and rudeness to my daughter, and self pacifying by watching TV and fantasizing about being in the military. I take on board what you say about not exacerbating the behaviour by trying to discipline him. Where can my daughter go now to get support and informed help before it is too late? We live in the UK. The Social Workers, CAFCASS, have not been reliably helpful, missing vital signs and being taken in by the father’s charm.
Meanwhile, my daughter is feeling despairing and angry and struggling.
Lucy: I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s situation and can appreciate why you have fear for her and your grandchildren if parental alienation is on board, but yet to be identified by social workers and the court.
It is my hope that he can find regional experts in your area to consult with and get help and resources. Any professional who belongs to the Association of Family Conciliation Courts (AFCC) in your area, typically knows about parental alienation and how to help. I also provide family court coaching and am available to assist via Zoom.
I wish you all the best. Your grandchildren are blessed to have a grandma as their advocate.
I understand you completely. Unfortunately, no one knows this kind of pain but those of us that have been through it!
You are not alone. I felt your pain, I lived it, still living. I too have an evil mother who alienated me from my father, slept with my ex, and now together they have alienated me from my 3 daughters – now adults.
It’s not your fault, it comes from years of our ancestral history. All the women on my mother’s side were divorced. They learned how to manipulate to their own narcissistic advantage. Passed down to every generation. I don’t date, no more children, and just live my life fulfilling my destiny helping others survive.
Go find your true destiny and enjoy life again. Don’t let your true friends make babies with evil men. Don’t let history repeat itself. The Domino effect in my family will stop with me.
No offense…Except this happens to women just as much as men! Parent Alienation is not gender specific!
I breastfed my twins and put up with aggressive behavior and his drug addiction for eleven years. The courts knew because I worked in their jail system as a Nurse. My biggest mistake was witholding safehome documents from the court system..
I taught my kids by staying so long that treating me with disrespect was acceptable..
The cost of leaving, cost me my children, their love, their acceptance! I was Falsely accused of abuse,
suicidal ideation and Bipolar, when Ive previously had bones broken in my 1st marriage…
Through all this, I somehow lost my will to fight or even argue! My kids asked me to see them on their terms at 16 and i was so consumed with emotional pain…i left our visit early and never looked back…
Went to a park called a close friend and cried for two hours.
I took the first few years working as a Hospice Nurse Pediatrics trying to help parents while I cried and prayed for my own as no communication, left me so worried for them..
I just sent gifts each quarter and sometimes emails.”
When my ex physically hurt one of my twins…the law did nothing except strip her at 17 to see her bruises and ask her if she wanted to do anything there in Olathe, KS at TLC.
Since she was almost 18…THEY HID IT!
She came to live with me for 9 months and shut herself away in her room alot..
I let her have my car when I was on the road …working…I gave her my space to just be and ask that she just call if she wasnt coming home….It worked okay..shes now in therapy.
She left at 18 got her own space in college and is working and has a roommate! She is writing her own music and I’m super proud of her.
She called me a month and half ago and asked me how I was doing? I couldnt stop crying as I lost my Dad this year, no one asks us, especially my children.
It appears that they may struggle with substances due to the stress and anxiety.
The Drs say she might have PTSD due to the psychological abuse and physical .
I hate our system its broken!
I was accused of abuse with no prior allegations, or cases against me.. I didnt protect my older children from his abuse or myself so I guess, when we choose not to report, it backfires.
It hit me like a brick…He planned it…We had renewed our vows for 10 years just six months before he filed! The other twin won’t return emails, cards, nothing!.
Now I can’t worry about it, as the whole thing can cripple me physically and I can’t afford that..
I have to pray and encourage the other one as much as I can and send her love..I still buy gifts during Holidays…mailing them to her Dad….but IM done!
As far as Im concerned…the system tore out my HEART with the use of my exhusband, while he ate it!
I dont know what to say, except, this is not gender specific brutality, it crosses both genders.
Lets work on the solution and stop stirring the issue! Meds do not fix this! Therapy does not always work. Maybe some great movies depicting how this happens, I just don’t know!
For those posting..
My heart goes out to you and yours..
Julia: While we are a Men’s Resource Center, we agree that parental alienation does impact both mothers and fathers
Margarita….It broke my heart to read your post. I hope you’re able to find a modicum of peace within yourself. I went through a similar situation with my son, who is now 29. His increased maturity has allowed him to see through some of his father’s behavior and we are now very close, although he has PTSD from the whole situation. I went through a similar thing with my mother – she is gone now and can do no more harm. I do hear you. Please take care of yourself…
I hear your pain Margarita…I feel it too. I’ve experienced it. I’ve felt exactly the feelings you’re having and I’m sorry you’re suffering.
It is shocking how many people have shared their stories here and how similar they all are. So many people suffering. So many children becoming adults with mental illness and behavioral disorders. Developing neuroticism and ticks. They will struggle their entire lives because of the selfishness of one person’s insecurities.
I was incredulous that no one would help me. No one would hear my pleas for help. I feel like I did everything right and no one cared and it made no difference in the end for anyone. My wife has a history of mental illness. Specifically, she is borderline personality and bipolar. False accusations are a common behavior in those with borderline personality.
No one would help. Everyone wanted to analyze me while my children were slipping away from me. I was floundering around like a fish out of water and could get no sympathy from anyone. In many instances just telling my story provoked anger, disgust, and contemp from those who should have helped me and I became the target of their misplaced disgust for me and they sabotaged my efforts.
I had a very strong bond with my son and he with me. This whole thing triggered a heart condition in him at 19 years old. It was a year and a half into not having any contact with him. I felt his pain. I felt I was going to have a heart attack any day during that time. So much stress and heartache. It was the stress that triggered his heart condition. Exactly as the author describes here… I know he felt shame and guilt over allowing our situation to get to the extreme that it had. He was stressed day and night. It must have been agony for him. And it affected his health. He had to have open heart surgery. I was not able to be there for any of it.
Her version of the story is that it was a genetic condition that suddenly revealed itself and had nothing to do with stress because he no longer wanted to see me or speak to me at the time this happened and had everything to do with a genetic condition that he inherited from me. She was able to place blame with me for something she caused once again. I found this narrative to be so hurtful, insulting, and delusional that it made me physically ill for several months in which I could not eat, sleep, or hydrate. It caused me a DVT and a metabolic disorder.
That was my lowest and when I realized my son and I would never enjoy each other’s company again. We shared so many interests, hobbies, and incredible memories. It’s when I decided that my efforts in reuniting with him were in vain and if I kept at it I would die. I decided I needed to find love and to reinvigorate my life rather than debilitating it as I had been. I began opening myself up to finding a woman to bring some love and passion back into my life and that is when the pandemic hit. Being a father and not being able to protect my brood during a worldwide pandemic has just taken it out of me completely. I’m tired. I tried until it nearly killed me to save my kids from a lifetime of regret, resentment, failed relationships, and mental illness. Then I tried to save myself and the pandemic hits and prevented me from saving myself from the depression that was taking me over. It really felt as if the universe was out to get me.
I’m a shell of myself in this condition with no love, no hope, and no prospects for either in the near future. Makes it difficult to smile and it is difficult to attract a mate when you never smile because you’re constantly miserable and barely able to get thru each day. So I continue to flounder alone and in misery in isolation and it’s having a profound effect on my psyche. I’m becoming neurotic. I’m fighting it, but I’m losing. I cycle 40 miles daily trying to stave off becoming completely insane. It’s what has saved me. Anyone else in my situation would have folded long ago and suffered a mental break or a violent outburst long ago. I’m convinced that the only way to save myself is to find myself again.
I’m a musician and to find myself I need inspiration. I require a muse. I always have. And it’s always been a thing I never had to think about. They always sought me out. That is not happening because I am no longer in my element so I am unable to move on as I would have in the past. If I am unable to reengage in my life it seems to be a self-perpetuating depression and self-fulfilling ending will be my only legacy to my children and that saddens me deeply. So I know how you feel.
You’re not alone and you should not be alone. You need to find someone to give yourself an injection of passion and love that will sustain you while you wait for this alienation to run its course and for our children to wake up and realize that they have been betrayed and deceived and their hearts will ache because of what they have done to us. If we are lucky it will happen while we are still alive. But I’m convinced that I will not see that day if I remain in this current state. I require passion and love and support to get thru this. Everyone going thru this does. And unfortunately, it’s counterintuitive to what you think you should do. I felt as if my life was secondary to that of my kids and that whatever it cost me to right this wrong was worth the sacrifice to save them…even if it cost me my life. I was wrong.
I’m 6 years into this and have been alone those 6 years and I see how I was wrong. I stopped being me. I felt I needed to put them first. No one else would put them first. I had to fix this for them no matter the cost to me … is what I thought. I was wrong. I was very wrong. You’ll never be yourself again if you do that. . you’ll never again be the version of you that is real and the one that they loved if you do that. I send you love and prayers and hope that I know are lacking in your life right now. I do it because it’s what I pray someone will do for me eventually. It’s the only way I know 🙋
I understand you. I feel your pain. The screaming at the top of your lungs for help and it is like no one hears or no one cares at all. No voice. You know in your soul that what has happened is the definition of pure evil, and everyone just seems ok with it and suggests that you medicate the pain. Numb yourself to reality. Just to live.
What life is this? This IS oppression at its worst. This is being shown unequivocally that our courts are not concerned with right and wrong. They don’t care what kind of people our kids grow up to be. I think you and I met years ago in a youtube comment section somewhere and tried to exchange emails but I had trouble getting it to send. I feel your agony, and your attempt to describe it, which there are simply no words for.
The holidays bring me out of the house, reminding me quickly why I stay inside. When your kids were your entire life and existence, EVERYTHING is a trigger. You spend the entire time fighting tears, and return home feeling like you have been hit by a truck, emotionally depleted, just trying to maintain in public. There is no one to talk to who you know for sure does not judge you, and an entire world of people who do without even realizing it. I don’t blame them, as without having been through this, I can not tell you I would not have judged just the way they do. Even if they sincerely show sympathy, they do not understand that this could happen to them, they never do, because they think even to accept that it could would be shameful. It would really cause them too much cognitive dissonance, and require action on their part, to prevent this. It is easier that they hold on to some kind of blame, something you did wrong as a mother, or some kind of mental illness that created your situation. They just can’t accept that it was not OUR mental illness, but the alienator’s personality disorder.
It DOES feel like no one understands. But I do. Most that are reading this article do. It is the ones that do not understand that won’t ever even read this article, and definitely won’t begin to understand it based on reading an article. You have to live this to understand it. Yet I would not wish this pain on anyone. It is life-long.
My daughters are now 19, 22, and 23. It never gets easier. In and out, suddenly they realize, then they don’t, and you are blocked again. All the therapy in the world could not undo the damage, and all the money in the world would not even begin to approach the value of what they took from you. If they offered you 10 billion to keep living this way, or you could go back and undo all of this, there is not a moment of hesitation that would prevent me from going back to prevent this. I know you feel the same. You just wanted the simple things. To love and be loved. Family. They took everything that mattered. There is no ‘well, be grateful for what you DO have!’ Because none of that matters anymore. Without them, there is no reason or purpose.
Oh, how I can relate. It is ongoing agony. I have come to terms that things will never be the same with my daughter and me. Never. My ex has altered her life forever. He stole her childhood. That it happened right under my nose is what kills me. I would get so excited every time I thought she was coming around, but it never happened. I feel like I’ve been screaming for someone to help me save my child, but no one listens or cares. They see her on the outside and say she’s fine. She is not fine. She is not herself anymore. I know what damage has been done to her. It’s like being on a roller coaster. I think she is coming around and then she is gone again. No one understands this unless it happens to them. One day my ex will tire of this game when he finds someone else to torment and he will discard her. I wonder if she will come to me then. If so, will she have unmanageable mental problems?
your final paragraph couldn’t have expressed my reality any better or more clearly. because we genuinely love our children we cannot ever end the agony of wanting and loving them. it’s primal and visceral and, ironically, the absolutely highest, healthiest (for the children and the parent) way a human parent can instinctively care for, protect, nurture and create a healthy bond of love and safe harbour with their children. this is the most tormenting, torturous suffering i’ve ever experienced. i truly know what it is to be gutted, bereft, replete with despair and wait alone, endlessly on a bleak station platform, in a desolate purgatory under a grim, stormy sky. waiting for a train to carry you back to the land of the living, that never comes. this warrior stance was never our choice and not for the faint of heart. what is there left to fear losing? what has been stolen from my 3 boys, now young adults and from me immeasurable, unrecoupable and a common but unrecognized craven brutality and a criminal violation of the vulnerability of children to their parents and a betrayal of the up close & personal knowledge about a spouse used to most effectively destroy their world, all that’s most important to them and ultimately the ex spouse. what a howling horrorscape we must traverse.
I understand. You are not alone. I hear you. And I’m with you. You can contact me and I’ll understand. I am also in the same pain you are.
Margarita I hear you and I understand your pain! You just put into words exactly how I feel. Thank you so much for that. My son hasn’t spoken to me in a year.
I attempted suicide, and have been to inpatient treatment. The grief has not only taken my mind heart and soul, but also my health. I’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and my central nervous system is shot. I’m in chronic debilitating pain. I completed my MBA, and had a good career. Now I can’t work. Thankfully I have VA disability pay. I’m entirely gutted. I cry and I feel like it’s coming from the very core of me. A part of me is missing,
My brain has stepped in to protect me. I go days without thinking of my son. When I do I just want to scream and cry and throw myself onto the sword. I also have an attachment disorder and emotion disregulation. He was my heart, and now it’s just shattered glass. Shards that keep on piercing my soul over and over. We were close once, and he always came to me with sensitive personal issues. He wouldn’t dare go to his father. When he was about 11 he came back from visitation, went to his room and started sobbing. I asked what was wrong and he said “my dad doesn’t love me”. I didn’t find out about the alienation until I moved. I felt like he didn’t love me or need me. He was 18 when I left, he moved in with his father. It got bad. He was so cruel. He refused to talk on the phone, and I sense he does feel guilt. I had custody, and he would never dare say such mean things to my face. I had never heard of parental alienation, so I didn’t intervene.
I’m torn between trying to get my child back and letting go. I’m in purgatory and it’s madness. I did everything. The ex was Disneyland dad. He also had his mother join him in his assault on me. She never liked me.
I’m just so torn apart knowing my son is tangled in his father’s web. He is in pain and for the first time I can’t make it better. I just want my son to love me, and treat me with care as his mom. But I can’t make him. So I wait.
I know this is an old comment, but I feel your pain Margarita. I was Dad everyday to my 10, 14 and 15 year old daughters and their mom left me and moved to another state and attempted to erase me from their lives. I quit paying bills, I quit my 160k/yr career position, I let the house, cars and all our possessions go and just became homeless and a drug addict. I almost died many times. I ended up self destructive as possible and got locked up for a couple of months in jail where I was forced to sober up. The two years of being on the streets and the kidnapping of my kids gave me PTSD. I can report today, that I dug myself out of that hole. I had to find a power greater than myself… Universe, Spirit, God, support group, but today I can lovingly detach and I have tools to cope. Writing, exercise, self-care, praying, meditation, calling a friend, support group, crying, walks, nature, painting, therapy sessions. I can live today. I’ll never get back what I had, but I can mostly fill that void myself today. God be with you dear ❤️
What do you do if you find yourself midway through court and your therapist and lawyer are struggling to understand?
I find I am angry at all forms of injustice as I have encouraged my child to love and be joyous about their family, and my mental health has suffered and I complain about other injustices which then makes my alienating ex seem very compliant and likeable… any advice? It is very despairing and I grieve a lot when I feel I’m doing what I can to be good to my child and other parent.
Josie: Unfortunately, I hear your frustration and despair often from rejected/targeted parents who I coach or counsel while they struggle to effectuate justice and the best interests of their children when battling parental alienation.
I recommend your attorney read my colleague, attorney Ashish Joshi’s new book on litigating parental alienation. Most therapists are not trained in parental alienation, but instead on estrangement dynamics or generalized parenting strategies post divorce, so they don’t appreciate the resist and refuse dynamics you might be challenged to respond to from your children along with the insidious alienating co-parenting behaviors. There is plenty of professional literature and conferences from which your therapist can learn more about parental alienation and resist and refuse dynamics.
Please remember that you can only do so much to create a loving and caring environment and work to effectuate change and hold the alienator accountable. The rest relies on effective legal and mental health professionals to help. I wish you the best.
My heart goes out to you Dennis. I am in the same situation except I have been completely pushed out of my 9-year-old daughter’s life. I am now a completely broken man. This has totally devastated my mental and physical health. I have spent 20 hours a day in bed for the last year and a half. If it wasn’t for my new girlfriend and God, I would have taken my own life by now. I wish you the best, give it to God before it ruins you. I pray to be reunited 🙏
Excellent article. I have done all the mistakes. The longer alienation continues, the more devastating the outcome. After 7 years of “behind the scenes” manipulation and engaging family and step mom to view me as the villain, my daughter (now 21) is now in a worse place.
Alienating parents may feign remorse ( that maybe they weren’t the greatest parent in the past) but they will discard the child when it no longer serves them. Parental Alienation is abuse. It’s not about parents “ not getting along”. Abusive ex-husbands often use the child as a tool to bring the mother pain. Then tell everyone “mom is just bitter and says bad things about me”. Parental Alienation is abuse and has life long consequences.
Christine: Yes, parental alienation is a form of psychological abuse that can have a lifelong impact on adult children who don’t ever recover from it. It is also a deep and painful loss/wound for targeted parents who didn’t ask for or deserve this rejection but have to work on their own recovery.
You mention a valid progression seen in some families where domestic abuse is occurring during the marriage, and parental alienation becomes the primary post-divorce abuse/control tactic. I hope your personal lifelong consequences are ameliorated by your own recovery work and perhaps your children experience an awakening from some life experience and they seek to reconcile with you.
How do I reconcile?
Tee: Unfortunately, there isn’t a prescription or a three step process I can give you in this medium as there are too many dynamics relative to history of issues, age of children, court history, family evaluations and/or counseling professionals involved, your parenting fitness status, economics, etc. This is an important but very personal question, hence, why I provide individualized coaching and consultation services. I wish you the best.
Parental alienation can also be misused. Someone I know very well abused their child and had numerous CPS reports filed against them by people counseling the child, teachers, and the child’s doctor. The child is still in Elementary School. Twice the Grand Jury has ruled that the parent didn’t need to be charged. The other parent was granted sole physical and legal custody. The case went before the Judge and the custodial parent retained sole physical and legal custody. Supervised visitation for 2 hours once a week was ordered 6 months later. There are no visitation centers anywhere near us. In the middle of COVID-19, the parent was able to take the child to places the custodial parent would not take the child to. The child was attending school where strict guidelines were in place to prevent COVID. The children were spaced out, ate lunch in the classrooms, parent’s checking children out were met at the door to sign them out. Judge referred to Mediation. By the time of Mediation, the parent parent that had sole physical and legal custody was accused of Parental Alienation and became the Defendant with the Abuser the Plantiff. The child had willingly played with the parent who abused the child and had fun while with that parent. That parent did whisper threats in the child’s ear. The child has been in counseling since the age of around 3 years old. The child will probably be in therapy for the rest of their life. The parent accused of Parental alienation was found innocent Please, please DO NOT BELIEVE all the people who cry Parental alienation against the other parent are telling the truth. They very well may be child abusers themselves or narcissistic. Read about co-parenting with a narcissist… you can’t!
Tina: Yes, parental alienation can get misused as a specious defense against actual abuse/neglect causing resist and refuse dynamics (RRDs). And abuse/neglect issues can be speciously used for furthering an alienation dynamic. What is true in one case can be false in another and sometimes professionals are at risk of pursuing professional biases. This is why we need competent and trained professionals who can appreciate this reality and approach cases with multiple hypotheses, letting the preponderance of the data determine their opinions or orientation to the family case, rather than confirmation biases.
Your story is my story. I am so worried about my daughter, and I miss her so much. It’s been like a “death.” I am in counseling currently because my history with a suicide attempt was when he left me for the new woman. Then she chose to go live with him. And it began, all the love and bond we had unraveled in a year’s time and I ended up in the behavioral health hospital again – so that I could stop thinking about my light of my life being gone and going through with suicide again – I was almost successful the first time. He is not a good person.
How late is too late … My 17 year old daughter refuses any and all contact with me, tells people that to her I don’t exist, that I am worthless and we are nothing alike. She tells stories of her times with me that distort and warp all the things that happened, she argues with her brothers about how things were when they were younger. The boys remember as it was…. She doesn’t. Is it too late to try when there is barely 6 months before she turns 18 and then legally there is nothing? Is it worth it to even try to get her to go to therapy with me or not….
Roberta: 6 months does not leave you much time for the courts to help, but a good therapist might be able to give you a hand with this. I wish you the best.
Thanks for your excellent article.
I recognized the symptoms delineated in my own case as a targeted parent (father) way back since 1999 when I divorced and walked away from a toxic relationship with a female BPD sufferer.
I was tricked into having a kid with her and she effectively poisoned him exactly in the way described in this article.
I finally went no contact with her and the child and now that I am aware of the whole dynamic you described, am tremendously grateful and relieved I took the right path and made a good decision to leave them behind by any means necessary.
This is the best article and understanding I’ve ever read. It’s word for word of the evil attacking my beautiful family. I being the target parent making everyone of these mistakes. A court system and counselors who have continually made it worse by a wrong diagnosis and court plans.
I’m at wits end and the depression, anxiety, frustration, are literally suffering me to death. Unable to be heard by a Judge and I am on 6 attorneys not one of them understanding what or how to fight this.
Michael: Sadly, your story is much too common since many professionals find parental alienation counter-intuitive and thus don’t understand how to fight it, address it, or intervene to mitigate it.
We have much work to do in our universities that train future counseling and legal professionals, as well as in continued education and training of our current professionals. This is a specialized discipline that requires unique and specialized training. A person needs to seek such training because it isn’t yet compulsory throughout the country. While family law is a division of law, there are family attorneys now who specialize in litigating parental alienation since it requires unique strategies. Similarly, there are now mental health professionals who specialize in resist and refuse dynamics, parental alienation, and high conflict divorce. If you aren’t seeing one of these trained professionals, you are at risk of them making mistakes, not malevolently, but unwittingly.
It is my hope you find specialized help, effective healing, and expeditious reconciliation.
I am now in my 15th year of alienation and recognize a couple of things I did wrong. The problem isn’t the targeted parents, it’s the alienating parent. It is a worldwide, trans-generational phenomenon and occurs regardless of nationality, religion, socio-economics, race, or gender. It is induced psychological splitting in a child … an alignment or enmeshment for the alienating parent.
Alienated children display unjustified contempt and an attitude of entitlement towards the targeted parent and have a perception of an “all-wonderful” alienating parent and an “all-bad” targeted parent. This is a dysfunctional coping mechanism which, if not addressed, leads to an unstable personality disorder and disrupts social-emotional development throughout a child’s life as a consequence of Parental Alienation. These alienated children will grow up and marry someone like their alienating parent and have their own children. Studies show a high percentage of these now-grown alienated children will end up becoming the targeted parent.
Dr. Jennifer Harman’s studies have confirmed that at the very least 22 million parents in the US alone and millions more around the world are experiencing Parental Alienation. Statistically, 4-5% of school children under the age of 18 are experiencing some level of mild, moderate, or severe alienating tactics and Parental Alienation is 3x more prevalent than children on the Autism Spectrum.
Those who engage in severe alienating tactics often, but not always, have a personality disorder. If you think a child could never be brainwashed … think of charismatic cult leaders like Jim Jones, Rev Sun Moon … thousands of adults were manipulated. How could a child resist their own parent?
Thank you for your article … Caron
Thank you for this post Caron. It was helpful!
Thank you for your attention to this issue that I am learning affects far more people than I ever imagined. I think I have probably made all of the mistakes – and then some. And yes, it is a lonely place to be. In my case, I believe the alienating behaviors were not intentional, but yet very powerful. (9 kids, 8 with complete estrangement, 1 partial). It has also been a game of whack-a-mole with false memories and accusation that kept coming up. Do you have any suggested reading for issues of unintentional alienation and or false memories? Thank you.
Tom: I wrote this article, because I’ve witnessed many good and loving rejected parents make these mistakes and I wanted to shed light on them. I do believe that some favored parents unwittingly reinforce an alienation dynamic without malevolent intention. The dynamics of high conflict divorce, individual coping mechanisms of certain children, misguidance from untrained mental health professionals, extended family tribal warfare, the mistakes of rejected parents, etc., can all unwittingly support an alienation dynamic in children.
You raise awareness to the dynamic of false memories or tainted memories. Once a false narrative about the history of individuals and relationships strengthens and is legitimized, it can contribute to false memories and contemporaneous false or exaggerated allegations in children. It is a snowball effect and yes, at times, a “game of whack-a-mole”.
While there is much information published about the psychology of false memories, there is not so much on unintentional parental alienation. I think the book Divorce Casualties by Dr. Douglas Darnell provides a decent description of severity levels of parental alienation. He notes that the mild alienator does at times present with unintentional alienation and is more amenable to education, counseling, and change. The professional literature also refers to Counter Productive Protective Parenting (CPPP) as a mild form of unintentional parental alienation in cases where substantiated parental unfitness has been documented on the rejected parent.
I do wish you healing and reconciliation as you continue to research and learn about parental alienation.
As an alienated parent whose daughters are now beyond reach at 22 and 19, I wish I had read this article some 15 years ago. I made pretty much every single mistake listed in this article while fighting aggressively to get back my daughters and ended up failing abjectly. I was hoping that my daughters would see through what was going once they turned into adults but in fact, it only became worse since once they went out of the jurisdiction of the courts, there could be no compulsory counseling (not that it did much good other than allowing me to get some face time with them) nor any kind of minimum visitation time.
The only silver lining in my case is that my situation motivated me to go to law school somewhat late in life and become a lawyer. However, I do not intend to focus exclusively on family law as I find the whole system pretty mindless and corrupt, especially in the Dallas area where I live.
One question of you – have you ever seen any case where adults who were alienated as children ever saw the light and came back to the alienated parent and if so under what circumstances?
Venky: I’m sorry the alienation dynamic didn’t spontaneously resolve once your children aged out of the family court. I’m heartened it motivated you to complete law school and use your experience to advocate for justice for others. I sometimes hear mental health and legal professionals mollify a grieving targeted parent by projecting that the children may “come around” once they aren’t forced by the court to comply with any parenting time order. I think they underestimate the power of how the emotional tumor grows and lodges inside the children’s psyche and soul despite their leaving the alienating parent physically as a young adult.
The answer is “yes” to your question about adult children returning to the targeted parent. I have experienced this in my clinical practice. It required intensive therapy for these individuals to heal and grow. It requires a courageous journey of questioning much of what they believed in and oriented themselves to including reconstituting relationships, grieving their past, and the hard work of reconnecting with a parent they rejected for dubious reasons. Nonetheless, they discover a more healthy, autonomous, and gratifying life by working on this journey, rather than remain imprisoned in a delusion, and at risk of repeating unhealthy attachment patterns with others.
I wish you the best in your personal and professional life.
I was a targeted parent and my two girls, now 40 and 36, have absolutely nothing to do with me as well as their children. I also live in the Dallas area. Today I blame the judges, lawyers, and psychologists whose help we sought, but we got blown off, ignored, or blamed. I no longer condemn my self for the outcome. Targeted parents are as much as a victim as the children. Courts, lawyers, and psychologists allowed the alienator the power to alienate.
Susan: I’m sorry to hear about your ongoing alienation from your adult children–this is not uncommon, particularly in alienation cases from decades ago. While courts, attorneys, and psychologists are intervening in parental alienation more effectively in certain cases today, we still have a long way to go. Your tragic story is why I try to educate the court on intervening even with late adolescents while they remain minors, because once they turn 18 years old, they may remain alienated from good moms and dads for life. This is tragic and unnecessary. The court must see late adolescents as minors and move swiftly to address the alienation and work toward accountability and reconciliation. I hope miracles may happen for you and your children in the future.
How do you identify and address cases of false accusations of alienation where a parent who has alienating tendencies himself projects that onto the other parent?
Anonymous: This is often best proven via an evaluation by a trained psychologist who understands parental alienation and can provide a psychological evaluation for projection tendencies. Incidentally, it is also possible for a parent to accuse the other parent of parental alienation, and it may in fact be estrangement/abuse/neglect that is causing a child to reject a parent rather than an alienation dynamic. You point out that a parent can be alienating the children, but be in denial about his/her behavior, and defensively project those intentions and motivations onto the targeted parent. Unfortunately, sometimes if the 5 mistakes noted in this article manifest, the alienating parent can use those mistakes in their arsenal to further alienate the children. The alienating parent will point out how a good and loving parent doesn’t behave like that while decontextualizing it and not noting how the mistakes are causative of the intense stress of being rejected, vilified, hated, and defied. Parental alienation can be difficult to detect in a family where both parents are alleging the other of it, but not by a professional psychologist with training and expertise in this specialized field.
I wish my husband would have had this article seven years ago. At the advice of his attorney, he stopped pushing for [his ex-wife] to follow court ordered visitation, which she wasn’t anyways, which lead to him not being able to speak to the children at all. The first year he texted and called the children without ever getting a response. A year later he found himself back in court where he lost his children and [his ex-wife’s] new husband adopted them that very day.
Now here we are seven years later and out of the blue his daughter, who is an 18-year-old high school student with a three-month-old baby and a boyfriend who her mother has tried to have disappear too, now wants contact. My husband, of course, is so excited to be a part of her life again, and now his grandson’s, but I do not trust it. His son, who is 16, was the first to make contact. He has only made contact a handful of times during the last year but will still ghost my husband then use the excuse “I work a lot” when contact is made again. My husband has only seen his son once for about 30 minutes when he showed up at our door at 3:00 am. The mother was out of town at the time but then it was four months before he received a text from him again. He has gone and seen his daughter, who’s living with her boyfriend’s grandmother at this time, I believe, 4-6 times.
After all the lies, schemes, and pain, I watched my husband stuck in for the first two years my guard, along with husband’s parents’, is way up. My husband doesn’t realize/accept he was one of [his ex-wife’s] flying monkeys before I came along (Yes, it was all my fault that the kids wanted nothing to do with him). These two children I took care of full time for our first 2 years together. Happy years for the kids and finally my husband had a loving partner who loved the kids and wanted to help raise them in a positive environment, something none had experienced before. These children asked their dad to find them a mom who loved them because after the divorce their mother moved across the United States and had very little to do with either of them. Minute or less phone conversations with kids but long conversations with my husband, which I put an end to. Her focus was controlling the kids, my husband, and the goings on in his house from where she moved to, which she was doing, until I came along. She used to get on my husband for instilling fear of making mom mad or stressing her out into the kids. That was a constant!!! And a huge mistake I’m sure he will always regret.
I want to know how to help my husband NOW! I don’t trust the ex not to be behind the contact made by his daughter. I just don’t trust her. She had too many of her mother’s characteristics seven years ago!! Already caught her in a lie that she’s not in contact with her mother because she still is. And this is the one who, just prior to going no contact, came over every weekend for a month being sweet as pie while packing up old pictures and sentimental items in her bag, without our knowledge, and taking them back to her mother. Things her mother was fine leaving behind when she left them (her children) and my husband to be with her dead best friend’s husband (who was also one of her flying monkeys) and work on the pipe line. His daughter has told him horrific stories of their life with them. More abuse and neglect than either of us thought could/would happen without at least one of them reaching out for help!!! Knowing her the way my husband did it’s not surprising, but we honestly (stupidly) thought her husband would protect them from her the way my husband did prior to their divorce.
Being a psych RN for almost 10 years I’ve seen a lot and am not ignorant to NPD and BPD and how they work and the joy they can get out of others’ pain. I want an article on after these damaged children finally reach out to the loving parent. What should we expect? From the children? From the narcissistic Ex? How do we protect ourselves from all her evil ways this time?
Fearful she is still using these children and now a grandchild to hurt him, which she knows hurts me, again just out of boredom and/or because of the anger she still has for losing such a dedicated flying monkey (my husband) or maybe just for the fun of it all!
Remember, legally these are not his children any longer, even though she’s been receiving a SSI check monthly for both kids for the last seven years because my husband is disabled, so our hands are tied. Both children just found out about the money she’s been getting this whole time.
They could all be gone again tomorrow without any explanation or even a word!!! Leaving my husband who had always put his children’s interest above everything, even the ex spoke about how great of a dad he was until it didn’t fit in with her agenda any longer, back in the bed with debilitating anxiety and depression (PTSD) for who knows how long this time.
We were united in the fight for those children seven years ago. This time we are not. I don’t want them in our home and I have no interest in speaking/seeing them until they no longer have any contact with their mother or she’s dead. Now, with a defenseless grandchild in the picture, I feel keeping my heart closed to all of them is the only way to protect myself but I don’t like how it’s slowly building a wall between me and my husband, which could very easily be the ex’s new strategy to try and get me out of the picture, since nothing worked before the grandchild.
I admit to having a couple of narcissistic traits myself, but work hard to keep them in check because I hate those parts of me (thanks Mom!). I have my own two grown children and three grand kids under five that love my husband, he’s the best grandparent and stepdad!!! Didn’t consider marriage until my children were grown because I never thought it possible for man to love the way he does. He’s always willing to run the roads/babysit/whatever is needed to help my daughter regardless of how much pain he’s in (that he deals with daily) even if I’m at work or sleeping all day after working a night shift and not available to help, which happens a lot since COVID hit and the schools and daycare are shutting down every time we turn around. My children’s dad also has BPD and NPD and my kids, along with the grand babies, don’t know him as anyone of importance in their life; his own choice not mine or my children’s. My daughter married and just recently had to divorce another BPD/NPD!!! and I don’t want them or myself to suffer the loss of one of the only positive male role models, who loves all of us unconditionally, we have. My husband and I are very similar (empaths) but fearful that this new situation is bringing thoughts and feelings up in me that only a narc would have.
I need to know how to help my husband!!! Am I right or wrong in not having contact? (Afraid ex just waiting on “ME” to do so before she starts next step in her attempt to destroy us). Husband told his daughter where I work, that’s concerning. I have a nursing license to protect also! Yes, I’m sure you will suggest therapy, but no insurance at this time or $ to pay for it. I realize I’m being selfish to a point but we both need guidance on how to handle things while protecting ourselves and the ones we love from the wrath of an angry narcissist and the two children that have had her in their heads for the last seven years and still do today.
Christina: You outline and explain your situation well and anticipate my response: yes, getting consultation, coaching, or therapy would be helpful for you and your husband as you traverse, respond, and make decisions in this complicated extended family dynamics. You also point out a phenomenon not addressed much in the professional literature that is, whether to approach or how to respond to alienated adult children. As you describe, one cannot assume their reaching out is genuine and without hidden devious motivations. But, I am also aware—as I have worked with adult children and targeted parents of parental alienation— that healing and true reconciliation does occur. Sometimes, the adult children extricate themselves from the control of the alienating parent, or they have a transformative and enlightening experience in relationships outside the power and control of the alienating parent.
It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to offer you prescriptive advice in this format as any good and helpful advice would emanate from a direct professional relationship with you or your husband, where I can listen, ask questions, gather history, learn dynamics, prior to providing specific direction and recommendations.
We continue to learn and grow as professionals in this developing field of parental alienation, and hopefully our specialized professional services and the educational offerings via articles and books will help in more effectively preventing and intervening in parental alienation. I wish you the best and thank you for sharing your story as it can help other readers know they aren’t alone in dealing with the insidious and destructive legacy of parental alienation.
Great article. I have been living this nightmare with my kids for over ten years. I have learned over the years the many things of what not to do and they all were in the article. I need an article on what to do as a targeted parent. You gave me a glimpse on exposing the alienating parent. I need more. It hurts me everyday knowing my kids are living in an unhealthy environment and yes I have used the courts and received custody but don’t have it unless I use police. Please provide suggestions on what to do, not what not to do.
Tom: I hear your frustration. Please note this article for more information on parental alienation and links to individualized professional coaching services.
Grateful for this article, while awfully sad to experience this and be affirmed that there doesn’t seem to be a solution. I guess I’ll give them continued unconditional love, while be present and concurrently afford them space.
Same—kudos on a really well done article. Thank you.
I am in the midst of the most painful decision I’ve ever had to make—exiting my children’s lives and going “no contact” with all three of them. It’s been going on for 27 years, when my second child was born. My oldest child’s father was deceased, so I’ve dealt with a lot of scapegoating, too, from my family of origin. The sister without a husband to stand up for her is prime for a family scapegoat—Caron’s remarks from above had me nodding my head. Oh yes, this is inter-generational. In our case, both sides of the “family” have personality-disordered parents and siblings.
My youngest is in the hell of high school COVID right now, in her junior year. I got beaten badly in custody court 10 years ago because I had no money for a lawyer, and despite the irrefutable evidence of physical abuse (my ex has a conviction for assault to a female—me) and irrefutable evidence of his alcohol abuse. He had a lawyer AND he had the prime pawn—my oldest child who sat there and lied about me on a witness stand. (She also did this through two cases of restraining orders before all of this). It is astonishing, he’s not even her father. (That likely has a lot to do with it, I know.)
My oldest was committed to a mental hospital for five weeks after physically assaulting me (badly, too) at the age of 15 and leaving a journal on her nightstand that included a very detailed fantasy about having me gang raped, murdered, dismembered, and my body parts buried in various parts of the city we lived in. When I say this is severe, I mean, this IS severe. The mental hospital kept her for two months. They do that with garden variety rebellious teens. This destroyed my TA-ship, which was my ticket to financial freedom—at last. No, I could not go on with grad school—especially after I found out that the ex and my oldest had been having a highly dysfunctional and incestuous relationship, which explained the severity of her mental issues. He smoked pot with her, drank with her, bought her cigarettes, all going on under my nose. And there were sexual times, how far they went, I’m not sure, but I think by now they even ”consummated” their relationship.
When someone really wants to December you, I found out, they can. I’m careful about who I share this story with, because people will blame the mother. They were very good at deceit. I had no way of knowing, though I knew she has experiencing a really rough adolescence. I kept trying, reading books, trying to reconnect with the little girl I’d known, but she just became more and more hostile—and finally, violent.
These two continue today—she has just recently been tossed out by yet another man whom she physically abused. She’s been charged with felony breaking and entering when she terrorized an elderly couple at 2 AM because she was drunk and needed to use a phone. She pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge—and get this—she blamed me for this. And for all the many boyfriends who have dismissed her after her abuse starts. This is the woman currently living with my ex, like a perverted step mother to my high school junior. This is my daughter.
My middle child—the 27-year-old—has had a hot and cold relationship with me. Abandoned by his dad when his dad found that he’d fallen in love with an old college girlfriend in another state, he clung to me. Then he turned on me for five years. Then back for four years. I finally blocked him from calling or texting me a year ago, after severe gas lighting, just the most outlandish lies. And a whole lot of pain.
My high school junior is a cutter and her father forbade her to even be evaluated by an MD. I am not the custodial parent so I was not able to force the issue. This girl has banished me from her life as well, for years at a time. I gave in and got her her own puppy when she begged, telling me her father would never do it and that she needed one. She was right, she did need a dog. She was living alone with her father and the man has a thing for flying into rages that can go on for 45+ minutes of screaming and throwing things, etc. He probably also has intermittent explosive disorder. Nonetheless, she needed a dog. I promised, and I delivered.
And after I gave her my own dog to keep her company for six months while I trained a puppy for her, she got that puppy home (we are in different states) and she just refused to have anything else to do with me for almost three years.
But my oldest was moving in and out, playing mommy to my youngest and middle children. It’s disgusting. It’s angering. To say it is excruciating, unbearable pain, is an understatement. And these are just the Cliffs notes.
At the request of my youngest, I went to stay for a few months over the fall and winter because of her loneliness and the COVID situation. She’s got a “budding narcissist” for a boyfriend (those were my therapist’s words). I cooked every night, when before, my daughter told me she got takeout most nights and ate alone in her room. I love my family. I wanted to take care of her. Things went pretty well until just before X-mas—what a hard time of year, and for me, horribly triggering because of all the Christmases I have spent alone.
The triggers got hot, and I finally reacted. I’m sick (literally sick, as in mental health wise) of being told that I never took her cutting seriously. What??? Still?? That story? I was the only one who DID take that seriously and was blocked by my ex and banished by her. I’m sick of hearing this terrible lie. I felt like I had lost my mind—again. We managed to hold it together for X-mas, and I did like I had always done on X-mas and wore myself out, trying to make it a special one for her. There was absolutely no gratitude, and by New Year’s Eve, she had picked away at me so incessantly that I finally just gave up, trying to comfort her over her missing boyfriend and all the other woes.
The New Year’s presents I’d bought, not a thank-you for any of them. The savings account I started for her to buy her car, not even a thank- you. Just incessant picking at me: “When will you get mad, mommy?” That’s what it felt like.
I left for home shortly after New Year’s. Things calmed down and I thought we had resumed our kind of decent relationship until the perverted step-mother moved back in and I got a vicious text from my youngest telling me what a horrible, abusive person I am.
That was it. Twenty-seven years of this insanity. I’m worried about all of them, just sick over my youngest, but I cannot sustain this level of pain. I’ve been in psychotherapy for ten years, but I’m the only one who does that. Nothing will change. My ex now has all the kids cheering him on, “oh, what a great dad, what a horrible person mom is” (when they start again, they refer to me by my first name—with contempt and hatred). So, once again, I’m the abusive, cruel parent—who was trying to help her with school, trying to help with SAT prep, trying to help with daily household functioning (like regular food), and even cooking for my ex, who was loving this (and getting drunk every night—much to the chagrin of my youngest).
It will never, ever change. I have to accept that. It is the most sobering, painful, but also weirdly relieving realization, that, no, I cannot keep trying or I will spend what years I have left in a constant whirlwind of insanity. And I think my therapist was right—I’ve stayed frozen in time because nothing has ever really been resolved. I can’t beat depression with all this crazy-making going on.
So, this weekend, I am going through my closets, the bedroom I kept here for my daughter, all the 1000s of photos, cards, even baby clothes I had saved through all of this. I’m packing these things up and shipping them I hope next week. I’ve changed my phone number—no more hateful text messages OR cries for help. I have created a whole new email account. I’m done.
I will include a letter for my two younger children to let them know I loved them always, that I always will, and if they have real emergencies they can leave a voicemail for my therapist. But it’s over. I am no longer available for the abuse.
I am shattered, but as I said, there’s also a sort of relief—it will stop now. I know it will hurt and continue to hurt for all a long, long time but I won’t be frozen in this painful cycle with three other people who enjoy using me as a whipping post and creating situations that no one could successfully navigate.
I’m shattered. But I don’t want to die, and the suicidal ideation was severe. I’ve got my dog, and I have a distant cousin, and that’s it. That’s all the family I have. I will not hold out hope, because I really do not think any of them will ever recover and understand what has happened. I won’t be participating any more.
It’s hard, really hard. I hope for everyone else, whose cases have not yet reached the severe stage, that they can heal their relationships with their children. I know now that I can’t have that, and I’m doing my best to accept it.
Thank you for the article. It has helped me.
Suzanne: I must admit, your story was painful to read. I can’t imagine how painful it is to live it, so sorry. I’m encouraged you are in therapy, and working through these tough decisions with your therapist, and getting the ongoing support needed to endure an incredibly difficult transition. The severity of your situation increases my desire and conviction to provide needed evaluation, expert consultation, and coaching services to individuals and families in an effort to identify parental alienation (PA) dynamics early and prevent them from worsening to such severe levels. Unfortunately, in certain cases where the PA dynamic goes unabated for years, even decades, it can become so calcified and embedded, it becomes a monumental—sometimes unsolvable—extended family problem.
I believe in miracles, but I also believe in personal sanity, self-care, and interpersonal boundaries needed to effectuate health and wellness. It is my hope that your decision and attendant boundaries will provide you healing, a time to “unfreeze”, and become enlivened to life again. If your adult children ever seek you out through your therapist, I encourage you to engage with them only in a controlled and reliable stepwise reconciliation process with a professional, rather than just opening the door again to perhaps, another round of pain, abuse, and insanity. I wish you the best, Suzanne.
Wise and enlightened article Randy.
My son ( and his tribe) has been alienated from his 3 younger children for nearly 4 years( the oldest child, at 16 years old, refused to be alienated and was subsequently totally rejected by his mother) . The other 3 are classical victims of parental alienation (as are we all now). The oldest of the 3 is now 15years old and as her grandfather, I was considering sending her this poem, but was discouraged from doing so by the family therapist;
WHO STOLE MY DAD?
All my friends have super dads
They love and idolise.
To them, their dads are heroes
And praise them to the skies
But my own dad seems lesser.
His star not shining bright.
He doesn’t seem as good as them.
Has failed to reach the height.
But now as I get older,
And see the world more clear,
I see my dad’s been locked away
From me who held him dear.
Some have run him down to me,
Many times repeating,
Filled my head with many lies
And left my heart retreating.
So, did they steal my dad from me
Or did I keep away?
Until for me the coast is clear
To love him every day?
From now I will defend him,
As I should have done before.
It’s never right to hurt him.
Love dad for evermore.
What do you think?
Tom: Thanks for sharing your poem. I think it is powerfully illuminating in its prose and truth. If you are okay, perhaps we can share it as a Facebook post, or include it in an article sometime. We could make it anonymous, or from “Tom”. I understand why your family therapist did not want you to send it directly. I think it was an important and healing poem to write, and sometimes that is what is most integral as we journey in the healing process of having relationships stolen from us from parental alienation.
I decided to leave my wife after 18 years of marriage. We have 3 beautiful children. It has been 18 mos since I left. The divorce is now final. The children are 14,16, and soon 18. The youngest, my son, initially kept in touch. My ex has done everything in her power to keep me from my children. I was a very involved parent. Their mom is a driver. Pushed the kids all the time. She has taken zero responsibility for the divorce and has campaigned that I left “the family.” After spending $50,000 in court costs and trying to force the kids to see me, I decided to let them go. Months of texts sent with no response.
I fell into another relationship shortly after leaving. Their mom has accused me of having an affair. My children do not believe anything I say.
My question is, will giving them space (which is what they have asked for) help them heal and return? Everyone around sees what their mother is doing. Will time heal and soften their hearts?
Charles: I am sorry to hear about your situation. It must be painful, and I can see how you don’t want to do anything to further the alienation, but you’re not sure what to do. Unfortunately, each case is so different depending on the history, children’s ages and personality, professionals or extended family involved, and the severity of how much the alienating parent remains intent on alienating.
As children grow older, a rejected parent can have hope that their emancipation and individuation from the alienating parent can provide them emotional and physical space to reapproach a rejected parent. Unfortunately, some alienating parents will remain aggressively and intrusively involved with their adult children making it difficult for adult children to differentiate and establish their own beliefs and values with respect to relationships.
As I described in the article, alienated children suffer from an “emotional tumor” that can remain embedded inside them, despite an alienating parent not being integral anymore to their decision making. I’m sorry to answer, “It depends,” as it truly does. I usually encourage rejected parents to somehow communicate their ongoing love and interests in a relationship in a way that makes sense, and hopefully isn’t received as offensive, intrusive, and uncaring since alienated children are at risk of feeling assaulted and disrespected by any gesture from the rejected parent.
If you hadn’t attempted to use the court and/or professionals, I would have suggested that, but it appears you have, but sadly unsuccessfully. I have seen healing and reconciliation happen with adult children, and I have seen the relationships remain fractured. I hope you experience healing and reconciliation.
No, I think that giving them space further alienates them. You have to keep in contact. Look over Richard Warshak’s book Divorce Poison. I have been there. Even if you keep texting and never hearing back from them, they know you’re thinking of them.
Thank you for sharing. I have been alienated from my 2 teen sons for over a year and a half. They made it clear that they no longer wanted a relationship with me. I pray for them daily. I will not force myself on them. I am here when they are ready. My love for them will never change. I’m healing and getting healthy. It’s sad how the Perpetrator becomes the victim and the victim becomes the perpetrator. Freedom is amazing and I look forward to the day that they are free from the abuser, too.
HT: I think it is good and important you are healing and getting healthy. While time can be a healer in some situations, it can be your enemy in parental alienation. I hope something creates a shift soon, and you will experience reconciliation with your sons.
Seriously, the most concise and helpful thing I’ve found so far. It’s such an important topic. Thank you for writing this.
You’re welcome. I am heartened you found this helpful; that is why I wrote it.
Im a mother of 3
I have been alienated and have had my ex dictate my life
….its not just dads who suffer
Its so hard, I do everything for my children, I have tried to kill it with kindness.
Unfortunately im taking him back to the courts.
So sad for my kids
Zoe: Yes, you are right. It is not just fathers who suffer from parental alienation, but mothers as well. The current research suggests that fathers are victims around 2/3 of the time, while mothers, 1/3. The research is still occurring and the ratio can change slightly depending on the sampling size. Regardless, if one mother suffers that is one too many, so my efforts are aimed at fighting for all children and parents who suffer from parental alienation. I hope you find justice and healing when going back to the court.
I am the targeted parent. My ex wife, oddly enough, is a family therapist, but in retrospect I see she has a history of alienation: her former husband was STRONGLY alienated by his children, and now I am the new pariah (the list includes my mother and father as well).
My daughter is 18 and doesn’t see me or talk to me, hardly at all. Child custody payments end this year: do I keep supporting her at the same level (I don’t think my ex pays a penny for support), or do I “retaliate” and lower the monthly support payment to something more equitable? I am quite wealthy, and my daughter was my sole heir, but if she has no interest in me, I can’t see supporting her further. But I realize that such a threat would be dehumanizing. I am so confused. I am here for her, it’s just that she has no interest in my existence. And as might be expected, neither does my former wife.
Dave: I’m sorry to learn of the situation with your daughter. I refrain from offering specific advice in this commentary medium out of respect for the complexity of dynamics inherently unique to parental alienation cases. While I identify 5 common mistakes in this article, there are many actions that can be assessed as mistakes or adages depending on several dynamic variables varying case by case. Also, how one parent implements a particular action or behavior can determine the success or failure. You certainly need to assess your situation and discern how to respond. I can appreciate your confusion and distress in making this decision since there are inherently competing truths. I am here for coaching and consulting if you need, and I encourage you to talk with others you trust as you discern your next right step in this painful and confusing journey.
THANK YOU for writing such an easy-to-read article highlighting the most important facts and treatment expectations. Man, I wish this had existed several years ago when we began our journey (I self-taught using Karen Woodall primarily)! It feels so good to name your problem, especially when it feels like your children are dying in front of helpless you.
We were blessed enough to have the finances to fight a 3-year custody battle to obtain court-ordered therapeutic interventional treatment. The first TI was wonderful but we had hardly any sessions before COVID hit and appointments were placed on hold until the order expired. When trying to renew, the alienating parent (with undiagnosed type I BPD) requested, and was granted, a change through our PC (who is somewhat aligned with the AP). Our new therapist is court-ordered and supposedly forensically informed, however, her treatment approach is confusing, and after all the torture we’ve been through, very hard to trust.
I’m a stepmom who’s cared for my husband’s kids since they were little. The youngest and I had become especially close prior to the AP activating the PAS button. We are undergoing therapy with our new TI however, despite me being the primary targeted parent, she refuses to meet with me because I’m not a biological parent and my daughter claims I’m too controlling and unreasonably demanding. The TI met with AP first (this has always led to a biased impression previously) and is encouraging my husband to improve his awkward teenaged girl interactions. The TI has not even begun to address the AP behaviors etc. My husband has advocated several times but she won’t even acknowledge my presence in the waiting room when bringing my stepdaughter to her appointment. The TI has not all-out said she’d never meet with me but her treatment plan has not included me at all when discussed with my husband.
This is a 180-degree approach from the last TI. Is this just a different method of counseling or should I be worried? Requesting another TI will take a minimum of 6 months and we’ve already lost too much precious time.
Jessica: YOU’RE WELCOME. While I don’t like to offer specific advice without thoroughly knowing the historical and contemporaneous family system dynamics, I will offer this: Reunification therapy is still in its infancy without a lot of standardization, so many models exist as they emanate from the individual therapist’s understanding of what the Resist and Refuse Dynamics (RRDs) are caused by, how severe are they, and in your case, how the therapist views a step-parent’s role in the family system. If I read you correctly, you have been a significant caregiver for years, so it makes sense to me that you would eventually get incorporated into the intervention.
If this case has been deemed more of an alienation case, rather than estrangement, then I would be concerned about the treatment emphasis being placed too much on helping bio-dad work on his parenting skills with an adolescent, but for the alienation, might be normative struggles of parenting an adolescent. One can’t resolve RRDs from alienation dynamics with a treatment plan that is designed to address estrangement dynamics.
Starting over, as you mention, can take time and money, and time is the enemy in parental alienation, but the enemy can also be time spent in counterproductive or contraindicated counseling interventions. I would ask the treating counselor to render a description of what he/she is treating, and a treatment plan to address the identified problems, including who is involved in the intervention, and at what stage and time. If the counselor’s narrative sounds promising, perhaps not perfect or ideal, then stay the course. If not, you may need to reconsider. Again, I would not want to give you a prescription or specific advice without knowing you and the case more thoroughly. I wish you the best. Let me know if I can be of any help beyond this response.
Thanks again for your response and giving us victims a place to reflect and giving us the tools to actively advocate for our children.
I wanted to share an update on the above situation I first posted. I was very close to directly and indirectly inquiring about the counseling methods and goals several times but simultaneously realized that there was a point to what she was trying accomplish- getting the focus off the AP’s complaints and lies and focusing on our child’s instead.
Over the past few months, my SD has come to realize she is her best self when under our parenting. She told me she understands that me holding her accountable for her school work and behavior was difficult to accept but she sees what she is capable of accomplishing and is proud of herself for the first time in years (since the judge allowed the AP emergency primary custody in 2016). The TI saw how uninvolved the AP is and even spoke with the oldest SD, identifying several alienating characteristics (which they were). She met a few times with the AP and requested a change in parenting management but the AP continued to neglect pretty much all parenting duties. The TI finally met with me to ask if I agreed with her recommendations to increase time at our house!!!
So 5 yrs and 5 months later after suffering horrific stress and emotional turmoil, not to mention financial burdens, we successfully reversed the parenting time back to what originally worked for us pre-trial 2016 (every other weekend at AP, nearly unheard of in AZ!!). The AP is under close supervision with the TI who will restrict time if alienating behavior persists.
We. Freaking. Won.
Jessica: Thanks for the update. Yes, you won the heart and mind of your child with the help of a counseling professional who appeared to understand parental alienation and make appropriate recommendations that were followed by the court. While parental alienation can feel hopeless at times, your story is an example of success.
Jessica – I’m in AZ too and have had small victories recently. Would love to find out more about your approach and the TI process you went through.
When I went through the worst of my abuse I was so run down I could barely function. Five years of gaslighting. So I committed myself to a mental clinic for refuge. My abusive husband was a well-known medical employee in a small town and no one would listen or believe me. I attempted to get better by leaving for two weeks and stayed with my parents. When I returned with an optimistic plan to get family counseling, I was yelled at and told I was hated by one daughter; the other two were brainwashed by this time as well. I also have an older son from a previous husband. He is 46 this year and my daughters are 37, 34, and 33. They think I left them, but in reality after two attempts to return and mend the damage, I was thrown six feet across a tile floor and dislocated two ribs and was severely bruised. I left when he told me I had to leave or he would murder me. The lies then grew and grew and I did all I could to reclaim the person I used to be. I got a Master’s Degree in Education and taught. I mourn my children everyday of my life. Two daughters communicate but my son and one daughter are defending and aligning with the abuser. He was dishonest; the list of stealing and lying go on and on. Fraud, theft, and even a child out of wedlock before I knew him and a paternity case that caught up with him after he endeared himself to my son who was four at the time. This horrible act of a life of torture and grief is my reward for loving a monster that will always get away with the crimes he commits.
Gemma: I am sorry to hear of your tragic and horrific life story. Unfortunately, Parental Alienating Behaviors become the primary control and abuse tactic used in a chronically abusive and controlling relationship post separation and divorce. The misuse and manipulation of the children becomes the primary means to continue to control, terrorize, and abuse a former spouse. I am heartened you found meaning and purpose in your teaching career, and like many others with adult alienated children, I hope for healing and reconciliation in your future.
My husband is living this nightmare right now, as his ex-wife has finally been successful at completely severing contact between him and his daughter. We have exhausted our funds for court and it’s looking like the only route to reunification is a court ordered alienation assessment (practice note) which he has no funds left for and no assets to liquidate. Meanwhile he makes “too much” to qualify for legal aid. Do you have any words of encouragement for a dad who has now had to accept that the rift is permanent simply because he doesn’t have 12k to 15k in assets?
Cora: It is certainly another layer of injustice regarding the exorbitant costs for legal and mental health professional services to fight parental alienation. Once the children are weaponized by the alienator, the burden of proof it takes to show and explain to the judge what is happening is arduous and unfortunately often requires experts. In Michigan, we have the Friend of the Court (FOC) which offers “free” services–paid by State Tax Base–to all families involved in custody and parenting time litigation. The FOC offers evaluation services and, depending on what evaluator gets assigned to the case, he/she may be capable and competent enough to rule in/out parental alienation and offer recommendations to address it.
If you’re from Michigan, I would pursue the FOC. If you’re not, you can try to network and find a law firm that does pro bono legal work. Evaluators and Consultants like myself are experts and charge customary forensic psychology fees due to the litigious nature of the field, training required, and the rigorous process of following forensic protocols. Unfortunately, there is no “cutting corners” to save money on evaluations.
I am sorry for you and your husband’s predicament and I hope he can find a way to reunify and reconcile with his daughter.
I gave up. The courts failed me. It pisses me off to no end when I read these articles and most only talk about the fathers being targets. Such BS!!! I also want to point out that our grief is a money-maker for the court system, lawyers, and so called counselors wanting to help us. If this is child abuse why does it continue to be a growing problem? Because I ran out of money to fight?? How is that ok? I left an abusive x. It was the biggest mistake I ever made. The courts did not hold him accountable for stopping my visitation and child support. Ten months later they had a hearing only to allow him to keep my daughter because she had been with him so long they didn’t want to disrupt her life. A third party involved even deemed it PA. Courts agreed but still let him keep her. So, in the end, I lost my daughter because I couldn’t afford a good lawyer like him. If I knew then what I know now, I would never have left him. My biggest regret was believing as a mom I had rights. I didn’t. Please point out that this happens to moms as well.
Heart Broken: Parental Alienation (PA) has been determined to be a form of domestic abuse, predominantly manifesting in the post separation/divorce phase. Researcher and Professor Dr. Jennifer Harman has written and spoken extensively on this issue. And yes, unfortunately, court and mental health professionals can fail to hold abusers accountable and get seduced by their charm, and ability to manipulate and control. I am sorry you have been victimized by this and seemingly failed by the systems designed to uphold justice, protect children, while providing advocacy for victims, and accountability for perpetrators.
Thank you for this article. I found it trying to understand the continued accusations on me being a parent alienator by my ex-husband’s wife.
My ex left when my daughters were 4 and 10. They both found it very hard. But my eldest is on the spectrum and she needed understanding that her therapist and I tried to make him see- when he wanted rigid rules and new routines enforced.
In the beginning, I tried to do everything the psychologist suggested we do to make things easier for the girls. I don’t know exactly where it all went wrong. But once his girlfriend-now wife-got involved it all went south. She got involved 4-6 months after he left. The girls weren’t ready, but they didn’t seem to listen.
Now my eldest doesn’t hear from her dad. She herself has tried several times to close the gap. Asked her dad to draw a line in the sand. Stop rehashing old stuff. But he can’t. He wants her to be sorry and he is happy to blame me. He is not blocked from contacting her. She has her own phone. He texts seldom. She replies. Then nothing. He never ever calls her. He has told her-if she wants anything from him-she must have a proper relationship (under his standards) first. Thing is-it’s not money or stuff that she wanted or wants. It’s her dad. Uninterrupted (no wife) father-daughter time. In the beginning, he always rejected her requests (eg., Can Father’s Day just be him and his two girls? No girlfriend? He couldn’t do it.). She’s given up. Being on the spectrum it was easier for her to put him in a “box” and close the lid. Even her therapist told me to stop pushing her to reconnect.
My youngest has court orders that she is to see her dad for dinner once a week and he has her fortnightly weekends for three nights. He is the one that in the past tried to get out of his time. I have never stopped his time with his girls. I wanted us to live close together so the girls could come and go – but he wanted to move away. He wanted things to be his way and he resented the courts split of our finances We went through collaboration and a mediator (the most child-friendly approach). But he didn’t like what was proposed so he pulled out and we had to go to more expensive court lawyers to separate.
Now I’m being accused of being a parent alienator and have been for years now.
My youngest finds it so difficult because we parent differently. She misses her sister and I, and her father will not let her contact me. He’s remarried and his wife is very involved-to the point that she is the one who emails me.
I can see how reading your article would give them claims that I am the alienating parent. Now that one daughter has no contact-even though she would like it but gradually (more as a trust thing, I think) and he has his other daughter defiant, grumpy, missing her mum, unhappy, and not wanting to be with him for sleeping. She’d love to spend the day time with him then come home to us. But he won’t consider that as an option. Her favorite nights are the one-on-one dinner nights just him and her.
We don’t communicate, so negotiation for the children’s sake can’t happen. Instead I’m left with emails that can be misinterpreted as aggressive because voice tone is not present. I’ve stopped those except when absolutely needed. It’s nuts.
They have set him up as the victim. Believe wholeheartedly that he is victimized. But it was never what I would want for my girls. And both have had psychologists to talk things over with since we separated. Note: we went through at least three to start with because he didn’t like what they were suggesting he do. Now the girls have had independent therapists for several years.
Inspired by this article and understanding that it burdens all my intimate relationships. Say nothing and holding up my end for joint custody with a PA, has left me a tremendous void with the middle of my 3 sons for 12 years as he is 23 now. I call to an answering machine , I text and even now he did not talk with his older and younger adult brothers. I wish more attorneys were made aware of the reality of this plague and how it damages relationships into adulthood.
I agree that more attorneys, judges, and mental health professionals need to be appropriately trained in parental alienation so they can address it competently while children are minors, because time is the enemy. Once children age out of family court, the pathology of alienation can follow them into adulthood.
Randy, your article echoes my brother’s situation to a tee. He has a court date at the end of the month and I was wondering if you could provide a therapist that understands alienation and who could represent my brother? We live in the Bay Area/San Jose CA region.
Thank you in advance,
I am one year into a nightmare of a parental alienation case. This is the best article I’ve read that describes the situation I’m in.
I have two teenage daughters and my oldest was going to a counselor and made minor accusations of abuse. Child protective services was called and it was an open and shut case. They found no evidence of abuse. However, this false accusation was a molehill turned into a mountain. This was absolutely humiliating because I have been a great father to my girls without question.
At first, my ex-wife said she didn’t believe it and then, all of a sudden, she became hostile and would not let me talk to the girls or have any contact with them whatsoever. I tried to text them and call them and no response. She will not agree to counseling or anything to move forward and heal. She says they are happier without me in their lives and they “just want peace.” I have sought legal advice and my lawyer tells me just to wait it out. I have been in a constant state of despair. I’ve gone to counseling and I’ve been told I’m just in an impossible situation. It is important to note that my ex-wife can be described as very mean and is a daily drinker (I don’t mean a couple glasses of wine). It is also important to note that we divorced 6 years ago and it was due to her cheating. I think this is her way of getting back at me for not taking her back.
I think that you covered everything in your article that I’ve gone through with unbelievable accuracy. I have immersed myself in many articles over the last year to get some kind of understanding of what’s happening. Also my mom was my kids’ hero all these years and now they don’t want to see her or anyone in my family. My lawyer says if we go to court I could make things worse. I can’t stress enough how hard I’ve tried and how patient I’ve been with my ex-wife and trying to find some type of resolution. I have done everything in my power and I truly have a peace of mind knowing I’ve done everything I could do. She simply doesn’t want things to get better and says she will not make them do something they don’t want to do.
I guess I just wanted to share my story on here and compliment the article as being the best I’ve ever read that describes the dynamics of parental alienation and the effect it has on the alienated parent. I have lived in absolute hell the last year and I finally had to let go for my own sanity. When I told my ex-wife I was letting go after 10 months of exhausting efforts, her comment was “you give up so easy.” I’m glad she said that because it let me know she was enjoying seeing me hurt and struggle to find common ground and she had no intention of giving up an inch. I told her that the kids are going to resent her one day and her comment was “if that’s the case then so be it.” Thank you for article.
I’ve always known that even though my son loves me he would throw me under the bus when it came to his father.
In the beginning of the divorce he had my son saying I left him in the car as I went to the bar. This never happened nor would it. It continued until I threatened a slander lawsuit. That was 5 years ago. This past year, I’ve really felt my son pulling away and feeling torn.
About 3 years ago, when I realized what was happening, I told my son that neither parent should make him feel he has to choose, nor should we talk about each other in front of him or ever. That we loved him very much and that it was unfair to him to put him in the middle or to make him feel like he had to choose. I told him to please let me know if I did this and he could also let his father know if he did that. I have also given him the option to change the custody arrangement(we have a 60/40). He has always said no. I’ve let him know that no matter what he chooses I will always be here and always love him.
This year things were getting bad, and he started saying things his father would say to me. I then saw a text from his dad telling him that at 15-years-old he could choose. I didn’t tell him I saw it but I did say: “You know at 15 you can make a choice where you want to live. It’s your choice, and your father and I will love you no matter what you decide. You should not feel pressured by anyone, ever. It is your choice alone. If anyone is making you feel pressured, or putting you in the middle, you can tell that parent or ask your other parent, or aunt, uncle, or another adult to talk with us.” I believe I saw a weight lifted from his shoulders. I’ve also been somewhat honest about child support and how the other parent might feel when they have to pay it. My own father apologized about this to me.
Reading your article has been a good read. I can’t thank you enough. I have definitely been in a cycle of #1 and 2. I felt it but didn’t know what to do. I, myself, am hypersensitive to any real or perceived rejection. Thank you so much for this.
Kathleen: You are so welcome, I’m glad the article was helpful and thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you’ve done some good work in your response to some difficult circumstances. Good Luck and Take Care.
Thank you for this article. This rejection of me has come to the surface again—almost 35 years later and 20 years after the non-targeted ex is dead and gone. I fought for and got custody to even the score—not because I felt close to my children. I won the battle, but the war was already over. She still won and is winning today. So sad.
Someone told me while I was fighting the custody, “well, who would want a child who didn’t want to be with their mother?” Good question but that’s not how life works at times.
*going for help.
Thank you so much for your article. I found it to be extremely well-written, informative, and, unfortunately for me, spot on. I’ve been dealing with being alienated from my son for years now and I found myself nodding in agreement with everything you wrote. I’m slowly coming around to the heartbreaking truth that it’s highly unlikely I will successfully be able to repair the damaged relationship with my son anytime soon, if ever. The pain of mourning the loss of your living child is indescribable, but if my trying to fight for him is only causing him greater harm, I will bear the loss and hope that he will come back to me someday.
I am curious what your opinion is in regards to my son and his half-sister maintaining a relationship. For reference, he is 13 and she is 7. Up until the pandemic started and I made the ill-fated mistake of agreeing to let him temporarily stay longer at his dad’s and grandma’s house, my son primarily lived with me, his sister, and his stepdad, with weekends and summers spent with his dad. Long story short, my mistake of letting him stay there longer (primarily based on the shutdown due to COVID)resulted in the place where I’m at now …100% alienated from my son and in the middle of a custody battle that is going nowhere real quick (with the exception of my son refusing to see or even speak to me and threatening to run away if he’s forced to; only prolonging his already too long immersion in alienation).
I want what’s best for both of my children, and prior to him staying at his dad’s, they had a very close and sweet relationship. My 7-year-old is particularly distressed by her brother’s abrupt departure but my son didn’t even make an effort to try to talk or see her until I told his dad that he shouldn’t allow our son to abandon his sister as well. They’ve spoken from time to time since then, but I’m wondering if I’m potentially subjecting the younger child to a negative perception which could result in her thinking that if she acts like her brother did and throws a big enough tantrum or makes up enough lies, she will also get her way. Is that a thing? I’m not even sure anymore. If you have any insight, it would be much appreciated! Thank you.
Natasha: Sorry to hear about how the immersion experience with dad during the height of the pandemic provided an unfortunate opportunity for a parent to use parental alienating behaviors to effectuate an alienation dynamic between you and your son.
You raise a really good but dynamic question regarding how to manage sibling relationships in alienation. You’ll notice that in the comment section I refrain from offering specific advice. My clinical experience has taught me that rarely is advise a one-size-fits-all proposition—there are too many intervening and dynamic variables within each family system and family court system. I will say that sibling relationships can go either way: sometimes they can help inoculate an alienated child or challenge the alienation campaign; or, the toxic messages the alienated child believes can be acted out with another sibling and cause contamination and the alienation spreads to other siblings. It depends a lot on ages, personality style, whether you or someone else can monitor the relationship, and other safeguarding variables.
I hope you can find professional help with someone trained in this area who might offer reunification counseling, personal consultation to you, or good legal advice. Let me know if I can help. I wish you healing and reconciliation.
I need help right now how do I GET IT PLEASE?
Sandy: I’m not sure if you’re asking for legal help and/or coaching/consultation from a mental health professional who specializes in parental alienation. You can find a description of our services here on this hyperlink. You can also do some research in your area to see if there are professionals you can seek help from immediately. I wish you the best.
Not knowing why your adult child has dismissed you is often more painful than the broken relationship. As a single mother, I did all I could to ensure my children grew up knowing they were loved. Two out of three ain’t bad? Why then has the child I gave the most to, rescued from danger and never asked him to be anything but a person of integrity, cut me from his life? His siblings describe him as narcissistic, so how did I miss this development?
Refuse to go away. I think that’s the number one positive thing a targeted parent can do, while avoiding the mistakes listed (that we all make).
It’s a mixed bag at my house. Eight years, two judges, two attorneys, two unqualified guardian ad litem’s, 6 mental health professionals, one DHR social worker who had sense (many that didn’t), a couple trips to jail on false allegations that were dismissed, two bar complaints, and we are re-filing the case all over again this month.
Results? Three out of 5 adult children ages 18-27 have close, meaningful daily relationships with me and poor to zero relationship with the alienator. Most of the three didn’t even speak a word to me for the 4 years between age 16 and 20. All six children had huge loss of Daddy gaps in their life calendar from age 12 to 20. One kicked me out and invited someone else to walk her down the aisle (she hasn’t come back yet).
Now the 15-year-old is the only one left in school and the therapist got word to me the boy is gonna ask the judge to let him skip out at 16 too. But now the judge is going to have to reconcile that the older brother whose testimony the judge listened to in the last trial has now changed to “mom manipulated me into saying that last time, and now that my head is clear… none of it was true.”
Listen, not everybody has 6 kids to practice on, so the sooner you read the article, the sooner you can stop making mistakes.
But make no mistake, this endeavor takes nerves of steel and the courage of a navy seal, and as much understanding and kindness as you can figure out how to grace your sick, twisted children with. AND, the determination to still be standing there when your children come out the other side of this fog they are lost in.
Please don’t quit. Stop making the mistakes in this article as soon as you can, accept your children are poisoned and can’t help what they are doing, get personal help with your grief, and don’t let the other party have a moment’s peace legally until every one of your children is out of their house. And love your children, and tell them you love them, and keep gently going after them. Don’t quit. Don’t quit on yourself, and don’t quit on them. And don’t pile on when they come back, they will hate the alienator on their own, they don’t need your help to do that.
I haven’t figured out how to break thru the alienation before they get lost completely in the brainwashing and disappear for a while, but I’ve gotten better at coping and better at behaving and they all have told me how important it was later that I would not go away. It makes it easier for them when they come back. The last one that came back just got out of his car, walked straight up to me, said “Hey Dad” and threw both arms around me.
Please don’t miss that. Do the best you can to not confirm the myths about you, and don’t go away.
Jamey: Your riveting response literally brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t of said it any better. In fact, it is your speaking from first person as a targeted parent who has been in the trenches of battle with “nerves of steel and courage of a navy seal” that is so moving. It is sometimes the most difficult work I do as a coach/counselor with a targeted parent—helping them endure and cope with the battle when they feel like waving the white flag to surrender and walk away; in essence, stop fighting for their children’s minds and hearts. It is a form of what we as coaches/counselors name “meaningful endurance.” We sometimes endure relationships or situations that ultimately don’t have any meaning or purpose. But what is more meaningful than trying to salvage a relationship with our children—if not now, then, in the future. While there are always outlier situations—such as economic hardship—that warrant some form of stepping back, your story, commitment, dogged persistence, and enduring love is inspirational to me, and hopefully to other targeted parents who read your response. Thank you, Jamey, for sharing your story with us.
Wow… your experience was exactly what I needed to hear! I’ve had very little to no hope in my case. And have been trying to decide if I should withdraw my most recent court battle for visitation enforcement. I genuinely fear I have lost my daughter forever. But your experience has given me new hope to keep fighting for her and just assure her of my love and support whenever she is ready to accept it. Thank you very much!
Thank you Jamey your experience has brought me new hope. I will refuse to go away
My advice to alienated parents: distance yourself from the situation. Don’t try to be a great parent. Do absolutely bare minimum. Ignore children complaints, ignore alienating parent complaints. Make sure you do enough just to cover your a.s just in case.
Do NOT read your ex’s communications. Do NOT argue with your ex.
Do NOT buy presents for the children.
If you act better, the children will just hate you more.
Your ex will be PISSED OFF their tricks have no effect on you. Ultimately the alienator will start to be crushed under the cognitive dissonance and will implode.
Very very extensive and good article. I had counseling and luckily did none of the mistakes yet. And I can feel for everyone who has lost their children to a disordered individual. It’s so painful to see.
I really think I have lost my daughter now. It amazes me how a once loving relationship with your child can be taken away to the point where the child ( teenager in my case ) no longer even acknowledges you, nothing. zero as if you didn’t even exist !!
You reach out to them but get nothing. You try and get on with your life. but can’t. How do you convince a 14 year old to speak to you? 😢🤷♂️ Do you go to court ? Mediation ? The mother won’t co-parent, it’s just a living hell and yet this is happening all the time.
I’m in the same exact situation Ian except my daughter is 15. Did you make any progress?
I have been targeted for 10 years. My children’s cruel, violent, and destructive behavior has changed from simply being a behavior to being a fundamental part of their identity. The professionals have called it alienation and alienating behavior but do nothing because the kids are so completely psychologically enmeshed with the alienator. The professionals think they have to allow this abuse to continue. Even when professionals recognize the problem it often doesn’t offer hope.
Chris: I have also witnessed professionals recognize the problem of parental alienation, but fail to appropriately intervene to address the toxicity of the psychological abuse and pathogenic attachment process inherent in an alienation dynamic. It is my hope that the mental health and legal profession will eventually take this form of family abuse as seriously as they have done with child physical abuse, child sexual abuse, child neglect, and domestic violence. It is a pernicious and insidious form of mental injury causing lifelong damage to children and their relationships with significant others. I continue to dedicate a portion of my professional life to educate and train other professionals–including child protective services–on parental alienation so they will better recognize and address this form of family abuse along with the aforementioned.
Great article Mr. Flood. I was the target parent over 20 years ago. I didn’t recognize the PA until it was too late. After many court battles for missed parenting time, and lots of money spent, it never changed. I would drive 40 miles each direction to pick them up and drop them off. Many times they simply would not be at their mother’s home for me to pick them up. I learned later that their mother told them that I never even showed up to pick them up. I thought we had turned the corner, when in court, the Judge did see it, and awarded me an entire summer of visitation to make up for lost time. In the end nothing worked, and it continued and still does. The kids are adults now, in their late 20’s and 30s. I have a beautiful, large waterfront rental house that was vacant and so I invited all of the kids and their spouses and even the ex-wife for the weekend. My current wife agreed to inviting my ex, against my desire. My wife doesn’t have kids and doesn’t understand PA either. It was a disaster, the kids were disrespectful to both me and my wife, stole things from the house, and didn’t even say goodbye. My oldest daughter recently had a child, which I thought would cause her to see the PA and see the light of how both parents love their children. Nope, it has not been the case. I’m here from them, but I’ve stopped banging my head against the wall. I don’t think they will ever get over it. I’m now reconsidering what if anything to leave them when I pass. My question is should I tell them that now or just do it.
Tim: I am sorry to hear of your situation. Unfortunately, it does illuminate the importance of effectively intervening and addressing PA while family court has jurisdiction and authority over minor children and alienating parent. This article explains how PAB’s can create what I can an “emotional tumor” that grows inside children, and doesn’t necessarily spontaneous disappear when they become adults. In fact, it can metastasize and overtake all the love inside them for the targeted parent (TP) and remain a chronic condition throughout their life. I can appreciate how you are looking for significant life events–such as becoming a parent yourself–to educate your adult children on the importance and value of family. Those events do have the power to influence them, so don’t lose hope, there are more of those events to come. When it comes to what to do and how to communicate your intentions when you pass this life, I don’t want to give you specific advice because of it being so dependent on several dynamic variables. It is a personal choice with pros and cons. If you moved forward with some plan, I do think it should never be communicated as a threat, but more as a fact, with a tough love message, and in good timing. I wish you the best.
Hi Tim, thanks for sharing. My children aren’t quite as old as yours but I can relate. Just know that you’ve done what you can to be in your kids’ lives. They are adults and if they are still behaving that way, so be it. You didn’t have to invite them to your lake house nor even consider passing along any of your belongings when you pass. Keep your head up and keep moving along with your life.
Thank you Mr. Flood and Ed. While our family was still together, I took a lot of photos and home videos. We used to love watching them as a family. Recently, I asked my son to digitize the VHS tapes which he did and shared them with the family which was great, but the 2 oldest didn’t even acknowledge the videos. When watching them you could feel the genuine love of the family. Even more recently, I gave the kids a large box of 3-400 photos of the kids growing up, camping trips, birthdays, religious events etc. I asked each of them to go thru them and pick out the ones they wanted….almost no reaction. These videos and photos are years of proof of a loving family, yet they can’t even see it or believe their own eyes! These were my last hope of reuniting. In hind sight, I probably should have invited them over to view/distribute them together. Ed , I think you said it right… accept it for what it is, I can’t change their beliefs or behavior so just keep moving along with my life. One final question: Some kids are abused, abandoned, or worse, yet they still have a need/desire for the parent, to have/repair that relationship which they pursue with vigor. In the case of PA, it seems to over power that inborn desire to have that love/relationship with a parent. How can that be? or maybe a better question, is how to overcome PA once it is set in?
Tim: You question begs for early intervention because once PA is chronic and severe the prognosis for recovery is poor, but still possible. You make a good observation that even abused/neglected children have attachments/relationships with their parents. When I am working with adults with abuse or significant dysfunction in their families of origin, they often are stuck in idealizing or whitewashing their family’s dysfunctional past, or their parents’ abuse/neglect. It is an arduous therapeutic task of helping them see their parents more accurately and begin to heal from those early childhood wounds. The journey is often concluded with offering them grace as broken people, but knowing as adults they can heal themselves, set boundaries, and still maintain kinship ties. In PA, there is often only hate, rejection, unforgiveness, and no opportunity for relationship. And the sad tragedy is that alienated children are rejecting the more healthy parent while maintaining their attachment and loyalty to a toxic parent. This is why adult children of PA often struggle with their mental health and relationships. The recovery with you not only restores the relationship, but gives them also an opportunity to restore their life…may it be so. I hope this sheds light somewhat on your question, and I wish you the best Tim.
This is a great article. My children have been weaponized against me and it’s very hard to deal with, to say the least.
My children have falsely accused me of child abuse, threatened me, stolen from me, have been told by their mom that I abused her, disrespect me on a regular basis, and the latest, have been stealing knives in an attempt to “protect” themselves from me and my wife. I have spent thousands of dollars in legal fees fighting false allegations triggered by their mom, fighting for access to my children, and paying for weaponized therapists that were retained to back up some of these false claims. At one point, due to a loophole in my divorce decree, I was paying upwards of $600 a week for almost 10 weeks for multiple therapists to substantiate these false narratives my children had for me. I took that to court and won as well. Honestly, I’ve had enough.
Great article but I’m of the belief that at a certain age your child should know right from wrong. If my kid needs to be disciplined, I shouldn’t have in the back of my mind what narrative is this going to play into. That’s what’s going on with me. My kids disrespect adults, I put them on some type of restriction, they get mad, run to mom, and mom feeds them the narrative that I’m dangerous. Meanwhile, the kids continue to behave this way.
Despite what is going on, my family and I always treated our children with love. My family has witnessed all of this and I still didn’t allow them to lecture the kids on what they did. At a certain point however it gets old and kids need to learn consequences.
Both of my kids are teenagers. The latest incident happened two months ago in a public place. My daughter cussed out a volunteer at a swim meet, subsequently cussed me out for telling her to get in the car, cussed my wife out (who didn’t say a word to her), and their mom (who wasn’t even at the event) took that as an opportunity to persuade the kids that they were threatened by me and called the police. Naturally, the police talked to all of the witnesses there and saw what was going on. This was a light bulb moment for me. So much of the literature on parental alienation suggests targeted parents should be walking on eggshells, discouraging them to be parents, and just focusing on establishing some sort of loving relationship. This comes at the expense of your child understanding the consequences of their actions.
Again, great article for information purposes, but at a certain point, kids know what they are doing. If they don’t, they better figure it out. From that point on, my wife and I only communicate with my children via phone and text. They are pretty resentful but, so what? I’m not putting the people in my household through the turmoil of dealing with some badass children. Yes, I know their mom played a role in this but at a certain point, some of these children play one parent against the other. They recognize that some parents are willing to be emotional slaves to their kids. It’s just not going to be me. It’s a no-win situation. You spend thousands of dollars, get a contempt charge against the mom, but the children are still brainwashed.
Best of luck to those of you who wish to continue to play that game but ultimately your kids are going to have to realize their role in all of this as well.
After 20 years of marriage to a man who was an alcoholic and drug abuser, I divorced. My husband was a high functioning addict who had earned a Masters degree in Psychology. He never applied this education and chose to work in construction so that he could indulge in his addictions freely. The divorce occurred in the mid 90’s. Our children were 5 and 7. No one spoke of parental alienation in those days. Our 7 year old was my husband’s “golden child”. He showed her favoritism from the first day our second daughter was born. At the time of divorce, he started going to AA, and to ACoA. Something I had begged him to do for years. He was motivated now because of fear of losing his children. I never tried to keep the children from him, in fact, after he embraced sobriety, I had an open door policy. He was welcome in my home to spend time with the girls whenever he wished to do so. In my ignorance, I truly believed we were navigating our divorce in a positive and healthy way. Little did I know that my ex was targeting me and demeaning me to my daughters at every opportunity. I’ve only discovered this fact recently from my youngest adult daughter. My youngest never bought what he was selling, but his golden child did. Essentially, my ex had brainwashed his golden child for more than two decades until she chose to permanently erase me from her and her family’s life. Erasing me from my two granddaughters’ lives. One of whom I had seen every month for the first three years of her life. We were best buddies.
Our eldest daughter had given me a run for my money from age 10 onward. She was emotionally explosive and created drama seemingly at every turn. Spending time with her was like walking through a mine field. Fine one moment, destruction the next, without any obvious rhyme or reason.
The absolute worst moments were after each visit with her father. She would verbally attack me in the most vicious way. I mistakenly blamed her behavior on the anger she must have felt about having divorced parents, when actually, it was punishment from my ex delivered upon me by his surrogate aggressor. I had no idea.
Whenever I would visit my daughter at her home, she would, within hours of my arrival or just prior to me leaving for home after a nice visit, create some type of drama. Yelling at me, calling me names, and once, almost pushing me down a flight of basement stairs. Thus began a destructive dance. I admittedly would frequently take the bait and react to her, playing into her script. Looking back, it was a toxic situation. I could never figure out what it was that I did for her to hate me so much. And she could never be specific as to what or why. Our last interaction was 3 years ago by phone. It is when she told me that we’d always had a contentious relationship and that I’d ruined her entire life. (Mind you, this child attended one of the most prestigious prep schools on the east coast, graduated from an equally prestigious private college, married a great guy who has a high level C Suite position and bought them a million dollar home, and they both have two beautiful and intelligent daughters. Plus she has the love of her family, me included.) She called me a narcissist, psychopath, and sociopath. All terms I had to look up. I saw a therapist for months afterwards and she discussed projection and felt that my daughter was projecting her own issues on to me. She never mentioned parental alienation.
The Golden Child is now a 35 year old woman. She fits the profile of an adult child who was alienated by her dad to a “T”. The most obvious characteristic is the lack of ambiguity. She views me as having ruined her entire life, without explanation; I am, in her mind, a total pariah. And she views her father as a god. They communicate daily, sometimes several times a day. She hangs on his every word. Black and white thinking and codependency. This thinking is in stark contrast to the drawer of letters and cards I’d received from her over the years filled with love and gratitude regarding our relationship, and the many albums filled with photos of the good times.
My heart is shattered and after my youngest daughter explained what had transpired between her sister and father for literally decades, I felt unfathomable betrayal. I know now that my ex emotionally kidnapped his Golden Child, my daughter, and it took 25 years for him to succeed in her fully eradicating me from her life. I feel paralyzed. No matter what I try to do to make things better, none of it will work, and all of it will be viewed as suspect. It is a terrible corner to be painted in.
I worry about my youngest daughter. She hadn’t heard from her sister in 3 years and was just invited to spend an overnight at the Golden Child’s home. It was a good visit, but also tenuous, as my youngest asked that her sister forgive and move on with family reunification. Her older sister refused. My ex arranged this invitation and my fear is that he will now set his sights and energy on estranging our youngest from me as well. There are 4 of us. I’d thought we’d survived the divorce brilliantly, and here we are, almost 30 years later, facing total destruction of our family. It is truly unbelievable. It is the saddest event that I’ve ever experienced in my 70 years of life, and I’ve experienced many sad events. I doubt that I will ever see my eldest daughter or my two beautiful granddaughters ever again during my lifetime. As much as that thought pains me, the greater pain is the thought of what my daughter will feel, when and if, she ever realizes the decades of abuse that her father inflicted and the resultant loss of love and time that we, as mother, daughter, granddaughters, could have shared. My heart breaks for all of us.
Thanks for this article. I’m the spouse of a man who I believe has been targeted over the last 15 years or so. His son is an adult now and has recently ended all contact and “disowned” him as a father after a gobsmacking series of emails that were violent and accusatory – falsely – and left us both shocked. I began researching Parental Alienation and it all fits.
They have lived in separate states for the most part, since his son was 6, after mom left with son (after kicking dad out), didn’t tell dad she was moving out of state, and filed for divorce from the new state – which was three states away. Essentially she kidnapped the child. She told dad not to call every night because it made son “sad”, and never did anything to support their relationship over a long distance such as encouraging calls on Father’s Day or dad’s birthday. Dad called on all the special days and was able to see his son only for a week on vacations at Christmas and in summer.
When they did move for a few years back to the same state, dad was able to see him on three day weekends – using a full day for travel to pick him up, and another full day to return him home, and one day to visit with him at our house. Mom never helped with travel or meeting halfway. Dad (my husband) has always believed his ex would never speak ill of him in the son’s presence, as they both knew that was bad for their son, and I believed him. So all the attempts to include this child (I’ve known him since he was 15) in our household and family have always fallen flat. He has never been sincere, I’ve never been able to connect, but he’s never been rude or argumentative either. He simply has tolerated us at stays in the TV room. He did what we asked to the letter, never more, as far as helping around the house. He never brought gifts when he was over for Christmas, but was glad to receive them (never thanked anyone unless a very insincere performative one). His dad was the one to call him, to check in, see how things were going, and on his birthday and other special days, but his son never asked about dad in return. He never showed interest. He called only when he wanted something.
We moved a few years ago to a new state, now living in the same city that my husband’s family lives in, and his son. It is the same as in the past when he’s driven through on the way home to visit his mom in that he never stops in to see his grandmother or aunts/cousins, not even asked us about our new place. During the pandemic, he and his dad haven’t talked much. So when his step-grandfather died, my husband forgot to call him to let him know. He was busy supporting his mother, for one, but it was definitely an oversight. The memorial service was in August, and the son found out on social media and called his dad at work very angry. He said, “this is the last straw” and said to expect an email and thus the series of emails. He told us to never contact him again. We’ve pieced together what seems obvious now.
I should also add that prior to the marital split, my husband wasn’t a great dad. He had undiagnosed bipolar 2, and unprocessed childhood trauma of his own. He was authoritarian and harsh (not physically abusive). He has since gotten treatment including four years of trauma therapy. A few years ago this opened the door to processing things with his son a few times, but it has seemed as if his son hadn’t been ready/willing to do that yet. Anyway, my husband’s response has been to let it go, and be here and ready if his son ever reaches out wanting to reconnect. But there doesn’t seem to be anything else to do. I can’t believe we didn’t see this before though.
I am 52 years old in my fifth year of fighting stage four ovarian cancer. I pray God will leave me here for a long time so that I too will get to be here if my son should ever want to see me again.
Hello. I am absolutely floored right now, I have a very successful 28 year old son who has alienated me through his father. I am so stunned that this has happened right in front of my eyes I never saw it.. for the most part I have blamed myself for years.. I now sit here in disbelief and my biggest question is what do I do now?? Where do I turn?? Is there help available?? And how do you get a 28 year old young man to want correct the issue? My head is literally spinning at the moment. Any insight for help years after the damage has been done would be great fully accepted.
Michele: As you can see from other comments, I refrain from offering specific advise on cases since they are often uniquely complex with multiple variables to consider. Please know that we have coaching and consultation services if you’re interested. I’m sorry about your situation and you aren’t alone with the shock and awe factor relative to the insidious and sometimes stealthily nature of some parental alienation dynamics. I wish you the best.
Although there’s a lot of good information in this article, I’m not sure I agree with time being an “alienated” parent’s greatest enemy. The general pattern I’m seeing is the parent who is responsible for leaving the marriage becomes the rejected one. In other words, the spouse who initiated the divorce and subsequently married someone else is rejected because they’re responsible for the breakup of the family in the child’s mind. Generally, children hate divorce and secretly wish their parents to reunite; but a divorce — and especially remarriage — destroys that dream.
In my case, his mother left the home and got a protective order against me over false charges of “abuse”. A few years have passed and even though he won’t speak to me or receive any gifts from me, my son knows I did not initiate the breakup. He also has no exceedingly bad memories of me as his father. He is hurting as much as anyone in the family is because of my wife’s selfish conduct and is acting the way he is because he doesn’t want to upset his mother. I have refrained from filing any court orders because he does not need any more drama in his life. Besides, I’ve learned by experience that in “family” court spending even a dollar on lawyers who are in bed with corrupt judges only fuels the system that needs to be completely dismantled. My advice is to stay completely away from the kangaroo “family” court; the wolves dwelling there only exist to line their pockets with cash and escalate tensions between ex-spouses already at war.
My son knows I love him and also knows that when he is ready he can come to me. Most importantly, he knows I am not the one that chose to leave the marriage! Consequently, I am choosing to remain unmarried and wait until he comes “of age” to maximize the chances he’ll want to re-establish a relationship sometime in the future. If he has to deal with a future step-parent, at least he’ll know it wasn’t because of me.
Chris: While I appreciate how you are speaking from your experience, I am writing from my clinical experience, research, and professional collaborations in this field since 1992. I don’t contest that sometimes time can be a healer in parent-child contact problems, but this is often more in cases of estrangement, rather than alienation. In alienation, time isn’t necessarily the primary enemy–as there are other variables as well–but we have learned that early intervention is often the most helpful, when possible. Finally, I also agree that the court system is a human system. Thus it inherently has flaws, some more than others. However, I have also witnessed wise and courageous judges intervening in parental alienation, getting the dynamics in complex cases, and writing judicious and effective orders. I have also worked with family attorneys who get parental alienation and are effective collaborators and litigators to facilitate justice and the best interests of the children. Having said that, I have also witnessed tragic failures in justice that ultimately deprive children of “good enough” parents in their lives. In short, there is rarely a one size fits all situation or approach, even though as humans, we want to reduce diversity and complexity into more known and secure constructs or paradigms. I wish you all the best as you wait with hope for reconciliation with your son.
Thank you for this article, this is the only thing I have found online that comes close to helping me understand anything regarding my situation. I have two children, one son nearly 11 years old from a previous marriage and a daughter who is three years old from my current marriage.
My son has been alienated from me in the past few years. He was diagnosed with ADHD and ODD when he was five years old, his father has a lot of the same issues and I suspect my son will be diagnosed with bipolar disease which I highly suspect his father has too. To make a very long story short I divorced him due to physical and psychological abuse that was occurring. Some of which occurred in the presence of my child. I thankfully had the wherewithal to divorce him and our divorce was finalized when my son was three but it was a long arduous process where this man tried to take everything I had including the 401(k) I worked hard for and he went so far as to try to request alimony from me. Over the years he was nowhere to be found when it came to my son and disappointing my child over and over again with false promises of visitations. When he got older and things were easier suddenly he wanted to take him everywhere with his family to show him off as if he were dad of the year. A few years ago due to some physical aggression issues that my son was having he had to be hospitalized. I called an ambulance to come help me take my child to the hospital as I was eight months pregnant at the time. I had just filed for an emergency petition in the courts to remove my son from visitations with his dad because he was displaying fear of physical punishment from his father and his dad. When I called him to let him know my son was on the way to the hospital he took it as his opportunity to intervene and called DCFS ( I know for a fact it was him because he told me himself that he called on me) and said that this mental break was my fault and made accusations of physical child abuse. Not only did the DCFS agent come to speak to my child while he was hospitalized and interviewed me as well, my in-laws came to our home and made us undress our young daughter to show that she was not being physically or sexually abused my current husband. He was completely devastated by this and so was I and of course DCFS found it to be completely unfounded. After that my son ended up hospitalized for his condition. Things with my son, would get worse every time his father would start doing things. He would call the police if I didn’t respond to his messages. We were required to use a court ordered messaging app to communicate on and he would verbally abuse me there, anything I wouldn’t do that he wanted he would call the police. I have had the police at my house for no reason so many times I cannot count for non-emergency situations, it’s just because I might not answer within a specific period of time. Anytime I called my son at his home, his dad would interrupt conversations and claim that I was saying nasty things about him when he was here and that was never the case. I never say anything, I try to be the bigger person in every situation. He has manipulated my son so much so that my son seems to completely hate me. When the first hospitalization happened I was so exhausted with the court process and the expense of everything especially because we ended up having a guardian ad litem who could not find fault with either parent she forced us to make a decision and because I was so tired of fighting I agree to shared custody. But, I’ll let my son‘s dad take him during the week because he lives in a better school district with better support at the time for his mental health conditions. After that, because my son was there during the weeks, it was like he was working on him to try to turn him against me even more. He would get him riled up before he would come for his visits on the weekends so much so that he would refuse to get in the car for visits even though we didn’t have a problem. He would tell my son that I care about my daughter more than him. He would not allow my son to call me from his phone and then take away his privileges to use his iPad so he had no way to communicate with me. Of course because my son was spending the majority of the time with him at his home I was paying child support which I did religiously despite the fact when my son lived with me his father pretended never to have a job while he worked at his friend’s limo company getting paid under the table. I hated arguing about money so much that the last time we went to court prior to the situation, referring to the above, I just said I don’t want any money just make sure that I am divorced and that’s it. The harassing and verbal abuse never stopped even though we use a court appointed app it seems like nothing will ever change with this guy. My son keeps refusing to come for a visit even though we haven’t really had any issues. The last weekend that he was here with me his father called the police because I did not respond to a text message within three hours. Meanwhile I was out with my children shopping to get prepared for Halloween. Of course I am not sitting there with my phone the entire time and if my son wanted to call his father all he had to do was ask. I never keep him away from his father at any time.
About a month ago I got a new job and of course I have to notify his father of any changes in my employment and of course within one day he had already filed for an increase in child support and his lawyer says that I am making so much money that I should have to pay both his and my attorneys fees, when will this ever end? It’s like I am just an ATM and my son hates me, barely ever comes over but thinks dad is like a king. Even though he has an extremely hot temper and has been abusive towards both of us in the past I really don’t get it but this article helps.
I have spent well over $60,000 in court and I have gotten to the point with my new attorney that I am nearly about to give up my parental rights or just give up decision making custody altogether so I do not have to coparent with this man anymore. Coparenting with a narcissist is just impossible and it is painful because instead of them looking like the bad guy, the light comes back on you and makes you look like a crazy person when you defend yourself or when you respond to their crazy allegations. Thank God for the fact that my son‘s current therapist sees the light and even referred to him as having narcissistic behavior! This is the first time someone has ever seen the truth!! I feel like such a terrible parent for thinking to allow my son to be released from my custody or even allowing his stepmom to adopt him but I honestly cannot take the abuse and the manipulation anymore. Perhaps in seven years when he turns 18 he will want to seek me out and learn the truth in which I have hundreds of thousands of text messages of abuse and all of the truth. Has anyone ever given up custody to avoid this damage? I also feel guilty because my ex-husband even is creating damage for my daughter as well and it’s not even his child! She has seen some of his behaviors and has also seen the negative behavior of my son who demonstrates the exact same things that his dad does here when he does decide to come, and most of the time when he does, it’s nothing but fighting or him coming for a little while and then demanding to go home. I am pretty certain I could fill the Amazon river with all the tears I’ve cried. I wish I had help.
Kim: I am sorry to hear of your situation. In response to your question about if I know of rejected parents who have walked away due to the stress, chaos, and emotional and economic costs from parental alienation, the answer is, unfortunately, “yes.”
I would never recommend someone make that decision without serious discernment and counsel from trusted others, including a reputable professional. I have seen parents do it too impulsively and from a place of anger, and I have witnessed parents do it with pain and discernment. Finally, I do think some parents do so as a way of preserving their new blended families given the amount of chaos and trauma some severely alienated children bring into the blended family including physical and verbal assaults, property destruction, false allegations, etc.
I hope you can find peace with any decision that works best and is aligned with your vision, values, relationships, and circumstances.
My two adult autistic sons are caught in the alienation imposed by their father who was uninvolved, diagnosed narcissistic post separation during mandatory psych eval after making threats to kill our sons then himself. Over the twenty years I was married to him, he damaged me as well. After a self harm attempt, PTSD, and spousal brainwashing, honestly, appropriate treatment has been impossible. I am too busy attempting to live off the grid to not be found by him, my stalker, who has made very serious threats against me my life and those in association, proven by actual acts against me and my now deceased parents. This ongoing relentless acts that if each reported, becomes to appear I’m insane and making things up despite CPS determining him a false reporter of abuse It is just time to accept that I will never see or my son or speak to him again, and all positive memories will disappear.
Thank you for this article. I has been a source of comfort to me during this time. We are not divorced, however we’re in a voluntary co-parent situation with grandparents. We believed a village was better. We were unaware of the damage done each weekend until our oldest turned 18. We could never understand why our children were so unhappy, until now. I have made some of these mistakes, but am empowered now to avoid further ones. The remaining family at home has never been happier (including us) since we began pulling away from these dynamics.
I am so grateful that I found this article.
It has been 3 years since the marriage ended. I was not prepared for the dynamics that followed. However, since I have finally begun to see the reality of what is happening. I have been very vigilant to not share any negativity about my former spouse and own up to my part in the failure.
Recently, I’ve become more and more frustrated with the dynamics of alienation. Fortunately, I have a strong support network that strongly urged me to maintain restraint – especially over the last week. My intuition told me the same but I was on the verge of losing the restraint. I am glad I found this article that provides me with a better understanding of the situation and the complexities. My kids are adults and I can see how poor reactions on my part will make things worse. I also have to remember that better responses may be hard on my pride and ego yet result in better emotional health for the children.
I’m dealing with this now. Although I’ve always had custody of my 14 y/o son, and we’ve always had court ordered visitation, his dad and stepmother have waged a campaign against me his entire life. Every other year they’ve dragged me to court on some bogus custody lawsuits and have contacted CPS on me. I’ve been incredibly blessed that the professionals have all been able to see my son’s father for what he is, and I’ve been able to retain custody of my son. As a matter of fact, over the years, all of the guardians ad litem uncovered the coaching, parental alienation and inappropriate conversations these people were having with my son. But unfortunately, I didn’t catch it quickly enough.
In 2019, my son ran away from home at his dad’s instruction, and the courts ruled that my son should be returned home to me. However, when my son would not get out of his dad’s car, the police would not enforce the court order, and honestly, what mother worth her salt wants to see the cops drag her preteen out of a vehicle? So I waited and hoped that the court would intervene and turn things around. Then COVID hit, which slowed things down tremendously.
Nearly two years later, we’re still in litigation, and my son’s father has had all this time to damage him even further. But in a big surprise, my son called me about three weeks ago and asked me to pick him up from his dad’s. I was thunderstruck and very anxious because the few times I’d spoken to my son over the phone, he’d been extremely combative and rude. He was a far cry from the child I’d raised.
Once he came home, things were weird at first, but it seemed like we were making some headway. But then when I would ask him to do a chore or his school work (anything he didn’t want to do), that’s when I’d see that rude kid I’d come to know while he was away at his dad’s.
His first week of school he got suspended for fighting (and had just come off of suspension at the other school he attended prior to coming back home). I’ve been trying to get him to stay on top of his schoolwork during suspension. But that’s proven to be extremely difficult. When my son gets ready, he says the most deeply hurtful things and regurgitates all that he’s heard from his father and stepmother. He challenges me at every turn, and I am exhausted.
Today, my son very nearly put his hands on me for pressing him to complete his schoolwork. He flagrantly took his video games into his room, and refused to do his assignments. I have absolutely no authority where my son is concerned, and I’m fighting a losing battle.
I also feel that it’s only a matter of time before he decks me. Even though my son is 14 y/o, he’s a big kid and has always been in the top 95th percentile in terms of height and weight. He’s pushing 6’ and is 200+ pounds, and a deep baritone. I don’t feel safe at all, and against my family’s wishes, I’ve decided to send him back to his dad’s. I may live to regret this decision, but the damage has been done. In my heart of hearts, I know that those near two years cost me my son, and that his dad was able to do irreparable damage.
I am a mom who was severely struggling with my 16-yr-old son. His dad and I have been divorced most of my son’s life. My son’s dad was a severe alcoholic. There was a very toxic codependent relationship with my son and his dad. Literally, every single opinion or thought I had for my son’s best interest did not matter. My ex-husband made educational and medical decisions without my knowledge. My son would lie to protect his dad’s addiction. Things became so toxic that my son was refusing to come stay at my home. We had always had joint custody.
I have been seeing a counselor regularly just to talk about the horrible situation with my son. I thought I was going to lose him forever. I felt like I was grieving a loss. My son would say horrible things to me when I would check in with him. He told me I didn’t care about him, I didn’t love him, I didn’t raise him. It killed me. I tried my best not to defend myself and argue because I knew that’s what my son wanted. He wanted more reasons to push me away. He knew I was the one constant thing in his life. He knew I wasn’t going anywhere. I finally went through the court and filed a motion to establish parenting time. I also filed a complaint with Friend of the Court.
I had dates and times of specific events and specific comments made about me to my son that I documented. This is so important. My son’s dad said awful things about me. And after 15 years of telling a child something …THEY BELIEVE IT. I went to court to establish parenting time as the order was not being followed. I had not had my son in three months. I did not have an attorney and my son’s dad did. I was somewhat nervous for that reason. I went to court, gave my details and situation. I let the judge know that my son’s dad was doing NOTHING to encourage a relationship with my son and me and he was not following the court order. I told the judge that I needed help. I reminded the courts that my son was a MINOR child and that there is an order in place. I WON! The judge initially ordered that I would gradually have my son and work towards getting back to the order.
Literally …. The very next day my son’s dad died.
While this was a traumatic thing for my son … my son and my relationship is like night and day. He listens to what I say, he respects me, he is the sweetest kid ever. My heart breaks for my son losing his dad at such a young age but I know that his dad is not in pain anymore with addiction. My son is free from the codependency and he doesn’t have to feel responsible for his dad anymore. My son isn’t angry anymore. My son was suicidal and doing drugs to “cope.” Being raised by an alcoholic parent is so damaging and I felt like my son was being taken from me. I felt so helpless. My son and I are slowly finding our new normal. My heart goes out to any parent that is being alienated.
Hilary: Thanks for sharing your story with us. While tragic and sad that your son’s father died, your son’s response to you afterward illustrates the power and hold the alienating parent has on children’s ability and freedom to love and connect with the targeted parent. It also demonstrates how an intervention is often necessary in severe alienation, otherwise, children struggle to make progress in healing and reconciling their relationship with the target parent.
This intervention is often a 90-day no-contact order by the court between the children and alienating parent, with specialized counseling ordered for the alienating parent to learn accountability and to refrain from further alienating behaviors. When doing reunification therapy, I often witness the success of this approach. I’ve also experienced reunification counseling not work, when the alienating parent is allowed full and unfettered access to the children.
Your story illuminates how the problem can’t be solved by merely focusing on the relationship between the rejected parent and children, but by focusing on the unhealthy relationship between the alienating parent and children. Once this is addressed, the rest of the therapeutic work of reconciliation is often doable and attainable. Again, thanks for sharing your story, and I wish you and your son the best.
TL: These situations are difficult to manage especially when ones physical and emotional safety is in jeopardy. While I don’t wish to give you specific advise on your situation since there are so many variables, it sounds like it would have been helpful, if at all possible, for you to be working with a counselor who specializes in alienated children when bringing your son back into your custody. This person could have helped you with, deprogramming, setting boundaries, including consequences for violations of codes of conduct and attitude. As this article explains, the PA emotional tumor lives inside your son, even though he left his father’s custody, and he needs specialized counseling to “radiate” it to help him eradicate the encapsulated and lingering false beliefs, defiance, and disrespectful attitudes and behaviors. While these children need to be treated with compassion and understanding for the causes of their behavioral and attitudinal problems, some also can benefit from tough love approaches similar to children with oppositional defiant disorders in intact families. When outpatient counseling isn’t expeditiously effective enough, then sometimes parents need to increase the level of care to include Intensive Outpatient or Inpatient Mental Health Services and sometimes police involvement when children engage in property destruction and physical assaults. These are all difficult decisions with many dynamic variables at play to manage. It is my hope that some form of healing is possible for your son, and reconciliation for you and your son is possible in the future as well. I wish you the best.
All of this, in the article, for the most part is what happens; I’m going thru it now, but leaving my kids alone, will never happen . They do not understand why things are the way they are, so I could care less the names they call me or their negative views about me that were acquired through their alienating mother . It does not bother me one bit. I have been through more than most. My ex wife had me arrested on false felony charges two times. I did not back down because I knew they were false allegations. I demanded jury trial both times and both times charges got dismissed the next day. I’ve been through false orders for personal protection, falsely accused of sexual assault which also was unfounded. Through all of this, I have never said one bad word to my kids. If you think I’m not built for it, you just watch as I will regain my relationship with my children. Failure can stare me in the face as much as it wants but I’m going through failure just like I’ve always done. My name is Chris but I’m a Dad before I’m Chris…period.
Chris: You’re dogged resolve and compassionate understanding of your children are impressive and hopefully infectious to others who read my article.
Glad that I found this thread!
I have been going through a tough divorce for 3 years now. She moved out and I kept my 3 teenage boys at home. For the first year, I managed with her coming over and assisting before I left or before I came home from work. Then I filed, tried mediation, filed again, allowed her to take the kids more and more, until 50% of the time. We had a court date months ago and I agreed to sell our home. She has postponed the date over and over. In August, when I was moving out, my 17 yr old son, told me that he wanted to move in with mom. He told me as I was leaving the house with a load. I told him that I wanted to talk to him about it before I left. I haven’t spoken to him since. He doesn’t respond to calls, texts, or emails. Mom picks him up and drops him off every day. She will not open the door at her home when I knock. My other 2 boys still live with me half of the time. They don’t understand him, and don’t have much respect for their mother. They tell me that both mom and him talk crap about me when they think no one is listening. Any advice on how to handle this? His 18th birthday is next week. Guess I’m just sending a card…
John: Unfortunately, your son will age out of family court next week. Protect your other children from any alienation dynamic, and continue to reach out to your oldest son. I wish you the best.
Oh gosh, this sounds like my husband’s 15 year old. It’s like the life has suddenly disappeared from them. We know it’s parental alienation. My husband’s 12 year old doesn’t understand his brother either. He hears the lies his mother spreads too. We have completely stepped back and have almost no contact. His reality is not your reality and getting him to understand the truth right now will only make him be in conflict with his own reality.
We have made many mistakes unknown to us and him. We are here for our kids at home in every way possible.
Thank you for writing this article. My husband and I have a blended family. His ex wife has a long history of mental health problems, she has never re-partnered. My husband has two boys aged now 15 and 12. Since blending 6 years ago, his ex has only intensified in her manipulation and alienation of the boys to their Dad. This year, the eldest went to live with his mum full time (who lives 10 min away) and his younger son now is living with us slightly more than the previous 50/50 ordered time (by his request).
There have been overwhelming feelings of loss for all of us, including my own children aged 13 and 8 (the 8 year old girl knowing no different as we have been blended since she was 2).
Since he has lived with his mum, the alienation has escalated and as you described above, his loyalty is to her and he sees his dad and our family home as ‘all bad’. She takes him to see a multitude of friends and talk about our home as ‘dangerous’ or ‘abusive’. My husbands younger son hears all of this and straight up tells them it’s a lie and they get mad at him and make him feel guilty.
It’s so complex, but basically we have let him go as any contact with him right now is actually detrimental to everyone in our home. It’s like grieving a death in the family. I think this is partly why my husband’s ex is an alienator. She has it in for my husband, he’s happy and loved, and has gone on with his life. She still blames him (in front of the boys), but mostly she is inflicting this pain on all of us so we can feel what she has felt in loosing her sister and being blamed for her death by her parents (who she also lives with and has contact with the boys). She’s also a well known mental health professional in her field. I have asked my own counsellor how she can do this and not realise she is doing this when her life’s work revolves around this very topic! My counsellor said that, for her to see that she is doing wrong by the boys is to see that she is not a good mother and so she has to deny to herself that what she is doing is wrong yet thinks that she is protecting her boys. Her son at 15 is acting like her live in husband and man of the house. There is no way at all to alleviate this problem, other than to completely stand back.
We have made the mistakes in the beginning that you mentioned above, until we realised that it was parental alienation. The unknown is difficult. What kind of person he will grow up to be? What mental health problems will he have to endure? But the biggest toll is on our other 3 children. They have required counselling. It is just like a death of a sibling for them.
It does feel like it will never end.
Karen: You explain well how an alienation dynamic can be fueled by unresolved, even unconscious, transgenerational family dynamics. You also painfully elucidate how an alienation dynamic negatively impacts blended family adjustment, particularly to step-siblings. I have sadly witnessed targeted parents having to make a choice between their new blended family over their biological children. I’ve seen it go both ways where a parent ended a second marriage because of knowing that the alienated children were causing much stress to the new spouse and step children, and a target parent relinquish custody of alienated children due to the stress and chaos. Either outcome is tragic and sad, and speaks to smart, strategic, and early intervention of parental alienation. Thanks for sharing your story as it illuminates the varied dynamics families experience in parental alienation. I wish you healing and reconciliation.
Wow! This describes my adult children perfectly. My daughter was abused, taken from me and not returned 35 years ago. That was in spite of the ‘experts’ admitting no evidence of my having indo ctrinated was found. The experts systematically told her the abusers were good safe people and I. the mother who tried to protect her was dangerous. I had to promote contact to her abusers or risk adoption. She resisted the experts as long as she could, but eventaully was said to be so afraid of me my contact was terminated. I was known as a good mother and had been supervised for 10 years. The father now has 2 convictions as a peadophile, but both my chldren still maintain contact with the abusive family.
My daughter views me with distrust and suspicion. After 10 years of not seeing her we gradually built out relationship. Then she married. It was driving her crazy not knowing who was telling the truth. Then she becamse exceedingly hostile and called me an abuser. It got so bad i had to step back as I dreaded another onslaught from her. 4 years later and still distrustful we tried again. Her eyes are dead, her smile fake but we had contact, but its hard work. Her husband doesn’t look at me.
She can’t be objective about the past and doesn’t believe it has anything to do with the way she is now. She is slightly aware of the social worker making her feel worse about me, but can’t see the indoctrinatin, which was blatant.
Her family all got covid and she has no blocked contact with me because I was concerned covid would spread to others if her brother went near her family. I’ve written a short letter being sympathetic about covid and tried to be positive, but I knew it may well be goodbye. After fighting so hard for so many years I dread the future. My children are all the family I have. I’ve watched them be destroyed over and over again. My son is to visit me. I’m not sure if I should explain to him I have nothing against her married family, but was worried about covid entering my home when a baby is involved.
I just don’t know where to go from here. My children had been happy and well adjusted in my sole care but became very traumatised. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I think they ought to have been too. I need a strategy of some kind. I don’t know whether to avoid mentioning my daughter to my son. I feel I don’t really know him as he is closed off. He never talks about the past. My daughter no longer has memories of me as a child and my son was too young to remember me before he was taken. Their only memories are of me being supervised in contact because I would not say the father was innocent’. Supervision made them think I was dangerous. The paternal family are dysfunctional. Its been a little easier since their controlling grandfather died. The grandmother acts like she is mother. There has been no one to help my children understand their past so the paternal family narritive is constantly reinforced – they are good and I am bad.
What can I do to change things? I live in Uk and this is the first site that has really helped me see why they return to their abusers and reject me.
I would like to thank you for writing the article. I was a living full time mother up until my oldest turned 16 at that point he left, telling me he loved me but wanted to live with his dad, the next time I sore him he had so much hate and anger towards me he shook the whole time he was in my presence, I sore him once more, he was 6foot 2 and 19 years old where he violently attacked me because I tried to talk with him. My youngest left 2 days before a massive spinal operation I was due to have 2nd March 2020 and I sore him twice after that where again he was full of blame, hate and aggression. I want to say to anyone who thinks they can do something, in my opinion the only thing you can do is let them go, they are suffering and as a mother I had to let them go because anything else would cause the distress. It took great strength understanding, compassion and courage. I send them gifts, cards, money and stand in the shadows.
I will never forgive the man and woman who has done this, karma does exist and their time will come but I will not let them steel or ruin anymore of my life and I await quietly for my sons to return
This is an excellent article! I greatly appreciate finding it, as it has finally helped me understand the confusion and torment we have been going through. My daughter turns 17 this week and sadly we have decided to give up fighting. I haven’t been allowed to see her in almost 2 years, despite our court order where I have visitation most weekends. The regularity of the visitation was never great to begin with, with the alienating parent violating fairly regularly. This led to years of court led mediation that gave very minor and temporary relief at best. Still it was enough to help give my daughter some chance at normalcy and a loving family dynamic. But. Since 2019, my ex pulled our daughter from school, and then of course Covid hit, which was the final nail in the coffin. What was sporadic visitation went to full non-compliance with our court order and complete separation. I text her to remind her I love her. It sometimes comes with a response, but most times nothing. And our current attempt to enforce the court order, which started when she was 13, dragged on for almost 4 years to our most recent hearing last month. But as I said in the beginning, she will be 17. And she has been isolated all this time with her mother, a mother who’s own anger over her current husbands unfaithfulness and eventual walking out in 2019, has only fueled the tirade upon my daughter and dependence upon her for unquestioned and absolute loyalty toward the alienating parent. I was always angry and thought betrayed wondering how my daughter could do this to me and other family members. I always would think, “she should know better, I raised her to be kind and loving”. But now I feel like I finally understand what’s going on. Thank you again and, while I still feel this is just confirmation that we are beyond help at this point, it helped me to know what I can still do to show her I love her. Keep these excellent articles coming! They are so necessary for all people facing this awful situation.
Hi Randy. Thanks for the article. We have been experiencing Parental Alienation from my husband’s daughter on an off for 8 years. We have lost hope that his cycle will ever change. She is now 22 and there is no contact with my husband or me (stepmom), my side of the family or her stepdad (her mom just got divorced again). It all got worse again when my husband’s ex got divorced for the 2nd time and my daughter went after her stepdad as well as her dad and me. Our daughter won’t speak to any of us.
As a next step to your article, I would love to hear your perspective on what you do about it. How do you change the situation if you can’t talk to the child or the alienating parent about parent alienation? Our daughter refuses to get help (and her mom tells her not to). Is this just going to be our life forever and she will never speak to us again?
There is very little information available for what targeted parents are to do when the child is older now and the alienation still continues. Any resources or support groups you recommend would be helpful. We meet with an expert on parent alienation and another psychologist but nothing is working. Thank you.
Megan: You are right that not much has been written about how to respond to adult children who remain alienated. When an adult child is refusing and resisting any contact with parents, that is categorized as severe alienation. When we are working with minor children who are severely alienated, they often require an intervention in order for them to make progress and undue the brainwashing. The intervention that can be the most successful is a no contact order with the alienating parent, and immersion with the targeted/rejected parent with specialized intensive counseling. This is successful because the family court has jurisdiction over minor children and parents and can order this intervention. However, without that power, it is virtually impossible to “force” adult children who have self-agency into an intervention. Antidotally, I have heard and witnessed adult children reapproach the targeted/rejected parent out of some existential crisis, or from some powerful relational experience that profoundly enables them to reconsider their polarized positions and beliefs. Sorry, I can’t give you 5 tips and the truth on the tragedy of adult children remaining alienated. We do offer a parental alienation support group for fathers. and coaching for targeted/rejected parents. I hope you can find creative and non-intrusive ways to remind your daughter that she is loved, missed, and you are more than willing to receive her and do the hard work of reconciliation. I wish you the best.
This is a good article. I was the targeted parent 10 years ago to three children–two of whom were teens. My middle son who spent a good deal of time with his dad (he was his soccer team coach), got the brunt of it. I knew it was happening when it happened. So very sad to watch him grow hateful towards me and nothing I could do was ever right because I had always been framed in a such a negative light–everything was interpreted through those negative viewpoints. The best I could do was let him know I loved him no matter what, and not harass him or antagonize him. After a few years of him having issues with school, getting in trouble dating horrible mean girls, he finally moved away from his hometown and moved in with me in Colorado. This was the start of the healing. He was mad and mean to me often, but I responded in a loving way. Now he is in mid to late twenties, but still has some issues with relationships, feeling loved, and having calm self-confidence, but he is getting there. And he and I are much closer now. It’s been rough for him and it makes me sad that he’s had to deal with parental alienation and the repercussions of it. I believe the kids’ dad still tries to be alienating and says disparaging things about me, but my children are all adults now and most have a better perspective on it and know his comments are incorrect, immature and untrue.
Catherine: Thanks for sharing your story of hope and reconciliation with us. I hope you and your adult children will continue to experience healing and reconciliation.
This happens to women too. I could not leave early, and the outcomes are tragic. My children were turned against me at young ages….it was a very difficult lifestyle. The lair of the covert malignant narcissist….
Christine: Yes, parental alienation tragically happens to both mothers and fathers.
Hello! Thank you for all this….my 29 year old son is suffering so much from the residuals of parental alienation against me. He has been in therapy, taken meds and self-medicated, but he still reports such trauma and has difficulty accessing his emotions. His father has not taken responsibility, which angers him, but he has difficulty talking to his father about it. I found this site through Google, and was pleased to see you are located in Grand Rapids, where my son lives. Do you provide therapy yourselves, or can you refer him?
I would so appreciate it!
Pamela: It is sadly common for adult children who survived alienation dynamics as minor children will suffer emotional, mental, and relational problems in adulthood. The primary reason this occurs is that in order to survive parental alienation, they have to learn effective self-effacement strategies. In other words, they learn to not trust their own emotions and perceptions since that internal data defies and contradicts the alienation narrative. They systematically have to learn to ignore how they feel and think and adopt the mantra: I don’t want a relationship with the target parent and the rejected parent is unlovable; I don’t have caring and loving emotions toward the target, only cold and hateful emotions. This wreaks havoc on their emotional and mental health and will cause them to suffer depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and relationship problems. Yes, we have counseling available at our center. You can contact us at 616 456 1178 to schedule in-person sessions or go to our website and see online counseling options for your son. Take care and we would be honored to help your son in his journey of reclamation of his true self, and his journey of healthy emotional, mental, and relational development.
Your article is spot on and had me in tears as it describes my situation exactly. I have 12 and 17yr old boys. My first inclination upon reading was to have my oldest read the article. Maybe he would see the signs his mother has done to target me. I’m currently awaiting trial for contempt charges I filed against her.
Jeff: I am hesitant to offer specific advice when I don’t know your family history or the scope, severity, and duration of your alienation dynamic. It is also helpful to know a bit about your son’s personality prior to offering advice. If you’re working with a counselor, you could ask his/her advice. It is a very sensitive issue and it may help or hinder depending on the variables within your family system. I am also open to a consultation if you think that would be helpful.
That is one of the BEST articles I have read. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and insight, I am 15 years into alienation (my daughter is now 30). She got married 2 months ago and I was not there. As an alienated mom, I have made every single one of those mistakes you warn against. Some I made repeatedly. This only added more fuel to the fire of justifying the rejection. At this advanced stage of the alienation how do we undo the contributing damage we did by making these mistakes and is it possible to say anything at this point to the adult child?
Robyn: Thanks for the positive feedback. I have learned so much from the readers of my parental alienation articles, particularly on how many parents are suffering from continued alienation with their adult children. As a forensic psychologist, almost all of my clinical work has been with minor children since they are still under the authority of the family court. I am inspired to write more for parents with adult children and hope to include it in an upcoming book. Meanwhile, I will continue to offer consultation and coaching services for targeted/rejected parents. I wish you all the best.
Great article. My daughter is in the middle of a divorce with a man who has been alienating their daughter. She has kept journals and tapes over the past year. She has immersed herself in the alienation literature, got a Guardian ad litem, and one of best lawyers in the area who understands parental alienation. Court just approved the GAL and wording in document indicates someone heard the tapes.
Suffice to say his abuse has doubled down. I did not recognize my 11 yr old granddaughter at Thanksgiving. She is normally bubbly and sweet. She was ICE this time, disrespectful to her mom who used to be her everything. It appears the father’s verbal abuse of my daughter is now part of child’s SOP. We hope counseling will help.
By the way, following cult mom Lori Vallow’s divorce and custody battle with one of her deceased husbands – Joseph Ryan. The murdering mom used every tactic you mentioned, charmed cops and courts and various CPS and psychologists to get sole custody of the daughter she ended up murdering along with son of her next husband Charles Vallow. Charles was murdered by Lori’s brother but at first, cops said it was self-defense killing. The Case has now been reopened as a murder investigation. All the courts, cops, and shrinks were clueless or fell for the blond gorgeous Lori who so far is being investigated for 5 murders. Good going system.
I am living this nightmare. My ex and I have been split for 12 years. I could tell you all the horror stories but I won’t. My oldest has figured his father out and is a junior in Highschool however my youngest is sucked in hook, line and sinker. What makes my situation harder I believe is that he sees them almost every weekend. He promises the world, tells lies, and my youngest always has an excuse for his father. We live 2 hours apart, he is isolating my youngest from a Highschool experience. Telling him not to make friends, get a girlfriend or do well in school. The first 2 I can not control but school I can. He has convinced my youngest that living with him would be better then being with his older brother. I’m fortunate for the state that we live in what a child wants in very low on the custody level. For reasons I won’t put on here it would be the end of my son’s future if I let him go. I know I will lose him after Highschool but with me at least he will make it through Highschool. I have had both of them in counseling it helped my oldest but my youngest could watch my ex kill someone and swear in court I did it. That’s how deep it goes.
Any attempts I have made to get him back into counseling have been fought so hard by his dad. I feel so lost and helpless. Where do I go. Or what do I do?
Tabitha: We are sorry to hear about the parental alienation impacting your family. You can seek help in your region with a specialist or please feel free to contact us to take advantage of either our family court coaching services or our parental alienation support group. We wish you healing and reconciliation.
Well, I received a big fat F on this test. I acted this way at the beginning, I learned to check myself and was dealing with it better, however, my ex has this amazing power of knowing exactly what will hurt me and he knows, it’s through my children.
My 13 year old went to live with his dad seven months ago and though I didn’t want him to I thought if I said no he would resent me for it. I stupidly thought he would get it out of his system and come home but he has changed dramatically in that time and has become cruel and spiteful. He is indeed remembering events wrongly but has completely forgotten just how events happened at his dads and instead paints me as an awful person that in fact planted the memories in his head ( despite the fact I wasn’t in same house hold as his dad ) I’ve resisted telling him that’s not true but it cuts to my core ! His adult brother and sister did tell him how things really happened but he tells them it’s not right and I made them think their dad is horrid. It’s literally tearing my heart out. I have tried telling him there will always be a home for him here but he sneers saying why would I want to come back my dads is better. I thought that it was a case of he felt comfortable enough to be horrid to us as we love him unconditionally but he always had to work for his fathers approval and acceptance and if that means being awful to me then that’s what he will do but how do I salvage the relationship with my son before it’s too late? If at 13 I dragged them to court and my son said he didn’t want to come then surly that’s it. I love my son more than life itself but how do I not lose him entirely how do I break the spell of literal manipulation his cruel father has him in and change what is happening?
Kristy: While your son’s preferences will most likely be considered, most family law assesses that preference in terms of its validity and reliability along with several other best interests of the child factors.
I’ve had the above happen to me, I’m the father, and the mother has alienated me from my 4 boys. This has gone on for 10 years, my boys telling me that they hate me, despise me, and my new family, and even mention that they divorced me. Lots of hate they even claimed abuse. After all this time, they are no longer receiving child support now, they contact me, (first time in 10 years) and ask for help to go to college. I know I’m not helping, but I no longer have any interest in my previous children. They have taught me to move on with my life, and I have. Their contact wasn’t to re-establish a relationship, but an expectation of continued support. Well, now it’s my time to say no. It may sound horrific to others who never experienced this, but 10 years is a long time to abuse someone. I do know they were taught this by their mother, and I have explored the idea to obtain sole custody, but pursuing 4 children would have cost me over $250K in Texas to get my relationship restored. That’s not counting the 100’s of thousands of dollars in attorney fees to convince the family (kangaroo) court that controls relationships and destroys them on a routine basis.
Initially, I thought my husband was a covert narcissist and I still think he could be. He is weirdly and extremely close to my middle adult daughter who is 22 years old. Ever since I put the pieces together that my mother is a narcissist, it had a thunderous impact on me, but it was also open season on me by my entire family who claimed then I was also one.
Now my children all have grievances and they are all “special-needs “ I cannot tell you how many hours every single week ever since they were born I spent in therapy and also during the week to reinforce the therapy to help them. And now this is exactly the thanks I get. But unlike all of you, I have decided that they are young adults, and this is the path they are choosing. I don’t need the pain, I don’t need to be a doormat, and I don’t need to kowtow. I’ve already said I am sorry for any pain I have inflicted–real or grossly imagined. And frankly, if they want to walk away, good for them, let them walk. Good riddance to bad trash. I hope my husband walks with them. I am tired of being treated the way I have been for my entire life. Either by my mother (my physically and emotionally/psychologically abusive) parents) or by this family, I unfortunately married and gave birth to.
I have my own feeble life to put back together again. Too much time and frankly $$ have already been wasted on these three children who only take and never give.
Shelly: You sound very hurt, beleaguered, and angry by the decades of familial abuse. Yes, it takes its toll. While you may not choose to work on any reconciliation with family–that may be the right choice in some circumstances–I hope you can find a pathway to forgiveness and understanding not for them, but for yourself. Everything we know about resentment is that it is the poison we swallow hoping it will harm others. May you live in peace, equanimity and perhaps find a chosen family that can provide you love, connection, care, and respect. Take Care.
Reading this article and through so many commenter’s stories were both affirming and discouraging for my own situation.
I left an abusive ex 13 years ago after they went to jail for domestic assault. We have 2 boys age 12 and 13 whom I have sole custody of their entire life. I struggled as a single parent because the father rarely paid court-ordered support. As the kids got older, dad started to wage war with abuse by proxy using the kids to spy on me, challenge me, be disrespectful and hostile when they would come back from a visit.
He is a text book narcissist and use to threaten me when the kids were toddlers that one day they would grow up and “put me in my place” or “become so out of hand I wouldn’t know what to do”. At the time, my sweet, sensitive, respectful kids were the farthest thing from problematic children so I would roll my eyes at these bizarre prophecies of his which I now realize were covert threats.
He started priming them a few years ago as they got closer to adolescence and then he abducted them in the middle of the night this year. He emailed them, telling them not to go to sleep, drove 4 hours to our city and took them in the middle of the night.I didn’t see them for 6 months.
He filed false affidavits claiming the children’s lives were in danger for restraining orders, illegally enrolled them in another school then told the school to call the police if their mother showed up. He coached them to lie to the court workers to flip custody and won. The judge didn’t even have jurisdiction over us as we live in another city and yet this deceitful abuser got Sole custody awarded in a temp order despite ZERO evidence and no legal precedent.
It has been the most traumatic and insane thing I have endured.
I definitely made the mistake of becoming more and more authoritarian in the past 2 years when I saw these poor behaviors emerging from them. I wish I could have read this sooner.
There are so many levels of loyalty conflict, psychological and emotional abuse taking place. My boys now display unwarranted rejection and animosity. They also have “memories” of abuse that never happened. Mostly it is their budding sense of entitlement, critical spirit and dishonesty that hurts the most because I am losing the influence over raising them to have character and integrity and accountability as people. It is the greatest grief a parent can suffer.
I cannot even get them counseling because they have restricted access to me.
Too late for me! I have tried to re-insert myself in my children’s life for over 17 years. I now realize they’re not even the people that I miss anymore. They are absent of my love a good nature. I missed a lifetime with my children because of parental alienation. The more you try the farther away they get. If there’s an afterlife and we can do things over I’ll ask to raise my children in the spiritual world the way I would have raised them on earth. To know love, forgiveness and empathy. I give up! I’m tired of punishing myself and wasting my mental energy. I’ve made a very good life for myself and my wife and my little dog Gertie. I retired at 53 years old after throwing myself into my work because of the pain I was constantly feeling about being helpless with the relationship to my 2 daughters. Now I’m going to St. Lucia! Then Italy! The hell with them. You can’t expect an alienated child to love you. They can’t! Too bad for all involved. No one wins really. Time to cut my loses and have a hell of a good time with what time I have left.
That is EXACTLY what I needed to hear! I’ve been kicking myself around for being the better person and it changed nothing. There’s a point when you have to realize it’s no fault of your own. As parent’s I think we get ‘stuck in a rut’ style of thinking; “it’s all about them” and we forget we actually matter too! Needed to be reminded I have other reasons, and knowing you are not alone in the situation helps a bit.
Man…I feel every word of this. I’m in my thirties and am constantly weighing the impact on the rest of my family. Also spent years grinding at a job to get around it. What made you finally call it quits?
And then after 20 years you get told that “ you are a stranger and you have never been around so why should I change that “… my youngest girl is 33 today
I was very glad to have found your article I have been dealing with parental alienation for 4 years now and it’s only been just the past year and a half where I finally came to the realization that this is not my kiddos fault she’s being poisoned just as I was in the marriage for 20 years. Unfortunately, my story runs just a smidge bit deeper due to the fact that my ex is a narcissist. I really am looking for any kind of answer so please hear the rest of my story as you’ve already told the first part.. she is now 16 years old. Ever since the divorce I knew that I was going to be going uphill fighting for her. We have a 50/50 split custody unfortunately due to the narcissism and being in a small town I was very much alienated out of that town so I needed to move where I could find employment and live my life. She would not come with me and at first the first couple to three years it would take a little while for her warm up to me but then we would be like peas and carrots again. However, the last year has been the most challenging. 6 months ago she asked me to please stop making contact with her when I asked why, she said because she did not want contact with me. Unfortunately, this is the part where I am hung up. I will never give up. She stopped answering the phone she stopped answering my messages she has me blocked off all social media and now her father is also doing the same thing I have absolutely zero contact. I have spoke with two different attorneys and they have told me the same thing, that by the time it all goes through Court she will be close to 18 and there’s no guarantee that she has to spend time with me and it would just cost me thousands and thousands of dollars. And that there’s no guarantee that she will go to a therapist. She is gone on spurts of ignoring me but I always seem to warm my way back into her heart again and she will come to me and will be good again but not this time. What can I do what can I say?? She is also a product of me and I know her heart is big and beautiful and I know she loves me. I still call just to say good night I still text to tell her to have a good day I always send her a text to let her know I’m here for her. Please help me? All I ever wanted as a little girl was just to be a mom. This is crushed and devastated my whole world. But I do know that I have to be strong and independent so that she can see past all the lies. Is there something I can say or do that will bring her back? Any advice would be so helpful. Thank you in advance
Brianna: I’m sorry to hear about your situation. While it has common themes, each situation is unique and I don’t want to offer specific advice in this format. Please know that I am available for consultation on these matters and I’m willing to help if it seems right for you. Otherwise, seek out local counsel and work to discern your next right step. I recommend not giving up, but perhaps tweak your approach. I wish you all the best.
All right and yes that is something I would be more than happy to do with you. How do you feel about me shedding the light of what exactly has been going on let her read the literature about parental alienation and maybe she could see the side effects and relate to a lot of it?
Brianna: Depending on where your daughter is at with her willingness to read such literature and her openness to consider what it is saying, yes, it could be a reasonable intervention. You obviously can’t force or shame her into reading it, but using an engaging, caring, curious, and conversational approach is optimal. The paradox for alienated children is that the more light shed on the alienation dynamic for generating insight, the light can also reveal how they unwittingly colluded with the alienation dynamic ushering in overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt. This is an awful feeling state and can create an existential crisis potentiating either regression or progression. In other words, in order to lessen their shame and guilt they will reinforce the narrative you are bad and their negative feelings and resist and reject behaviors were warranted. It is also possible this can provide the infamous “a ha” light switch moment propelling them to make profound and arduous changes in their thinking and behavior not only toward you, but the alienating parent. Unfortunately, depending on the child and the severity of the alienation, regression can seem easier and less disruptive while progression can seem daunting and disruptive. I wish you the best and we’re here to help if it makes sense for you.
I agree with this article, but I can not find a psychologist that has experience in this field that isn’t 300 an hour. Let’s face it, not all of us have money and we have been knocked down to nothing, more times than I care to count, then it’s even harder. I know the only way is to get help. I just can not find the help to get through all of this.
My daughter is in high school and we have had a slow progression into her treating me just as you have described an alienated parent is treated. I was told recently “I don’t owe you anything for being my dad. I don’t have to be honest with you if i don’t want to be.” At this point I am thinking she will miss most of the normal high school fun like parties and such because I simply can’t trust her. I am unsure how to proceed. I really don’t want her to miss out on an important time in life, but I also have other children to set an example for and telling the truth is not an outlandish rule.
This is a problem with no solution. My own therapist says I need to hope that when my daughter is in her 20s, maybe she will understand and come around. Is it wrong of me to force her to keep coming to my house? I know the misery is self-inflicted, but it is still inflicted. She has tried to be miserable here and IS miserable here. How do you show love in this situation?
Steven: It is difficult to like a child who hates and opposes you, but we need to continue to love them. Seek out some counsel with someone who can help you, and please know I am here as well.
Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. It helps me understand how my adult children need me to NOT be involved, in order for them to survive with their dependency on their father, financially and emotionally in spite of his extreme narcissistic and abusive behavior . It’s a long term, cult of isolation and coercion for their father’s power and control of them against me in retaliation and revenge. With my separation he threatened, “ Remember how OJ Simpson got his kids”. Parental alienation is a safer way for him to ‘win at all cost’. I grieve for my children’s loss of unconditional love and needing to live a very hard life. Most mothers will do just about anything to try to protect their children. It is so counterintuitive for me to understand how to best protect my adult children from further abuse is to simply walk away.
I really appreciate your professional observation of how alienated children need space, they need to not honor the alienated parent, in order to survive. Knowing this I am beginning to understand how they need me to not initiate interacting with them, send them cards, text, etc. It helps me to understand how my children’s violent behavior towards me is not about me, but their own needs. It is empowering to me to try to understand how simply letting go and leading my own life, is the best I can do….To be an example of living a happy life, and to be free. I need to step away and trust they are doing the best they can. They are adult children who are dependent on their father and need me to step away. For the duration of my life I will always love them.
I would like to thank the author. These last few months have been especially difficult for my 12 year old, and last week she made some false allegations against me. I responded in anger, and while it was difficult to hear my child cry, a blindspot that I have was revealed (it’s in the mistakes list) in that phone conversation. She is furious about the “loyalty contract.” At 12 years old she is fully aware of the concepts you outline here, and as a parent I can only have compassion for her. Like many here I thought about stepping away, but you have changed my mind.
Simulataneously/paradoxically, fortunately and unfortunately, this has been going on for so long CPS no longer bothers to investigate. I was torn this past week and deep-diving into articles about parental alienation. One thing I refuse to do is go back to court because I promised her I would not do that to her, and at 12 years of age, mom could force her to go as the custodial parent. Mistake #4 resonates with me, as I know her mother has mental problems. If I can’t show compassion to her, abuser or not, how can my daughter survive? The reality is that is her environment and she’s going to have to learn to navigate it.
Mistake #3 also resonates, everything happened so fast that I did rely on my family and that was a mistake as they’ve turned away from my kid. Their prerogative is me and that is really disappointing to find out. I would love to speak with the author, but I can’t afford him. I’m impoverished, as is my child’s mother. I reject that it takes money to fight parental alienation. What is a parent like me supposed to do besides fight tooth and nail? Why is the only option for my child psychological scarring? No, I validated my daughter’s feelings and have to see what happens next.
I had a son who lied(I now call it confabulate) and I stopped picking him up. Now he lives with me and me and mom have the best co-parenting relationship. Yet that time period damaged him. And now I’m seeing it happen to my little girl and don’t want that for her. My heart goes out for everyone who’s commented here, and I especially note the women who have posted which is a surprise.
I don’t have money like that, but I will pay any price for my daughter. That means I will go to jail, deal with CPS, suffer like the people posting here. But I will never stop loving my children. I will never blame them for their feelings or be bitter about it or the outcomes. Outside of actual physical abuse, never step away. Your kids are watching what you do, even when they say they’re mad at you.
I have also made some of these mistakes. I have two daughters 13 and 14, 50/50 custody and divorced since 2014. Last year mom decided to just flat out keep the kids from me for 4 months with no explanantion , so after several unsuccessful calls to the police I decided to take it to court. Through the grace of God I recorded a phone call between mom and our oldest daughter where mom was telling my daughter what to say in court the next day. I played that tape for the judge and I was awarded sole custody. I had sole custody for almost two years before finally going back to mom and offering her joint custody back to avoid our daughters from having to spend their childhood in and out of court. As soon as joint custody was finalized, within 2 months the girls stopped talking to me, stopped eating, and refused to go to school. They became very aggressive with me again, started making abuse allegations again, and even attacked me once trying to create this narrative that I was abusing them. Thank God I installed security cameras in my home to record the kids’ behavior. Ultimately CPS got involved and they recommended the kids live with mom and cut my custody down to 2 weekends a month. CPS doesn’t recognize emotional abuse or parental alienation and now I am fighting to prove this all over again in CPS court. I’ve thought about giving up, killing myself, walking away…the stress has caused me to lose 30lbs, I barely go to work, I lay in bed all day, and don’t feel like I have much purpose in life with my daughters rejecting me. Mom has done everything in her power to sabotage the relationship they have with me. They tell me they hate me to my face, they refer to me as “him” when speaking to me or about me. This all started when mom found out I was having a baby with my girlfriend. This was 2 years ago. I’m still fighting. I ran out of money but still went in there and represented myself pro-per. The only solution is to put mom back on no-contact or supervised visits but CPS does not want to do that so instead they are recommending that I lose my custody soley based offf the fact the kids say they hate me and want to live with mom. It’s tough in court when the kids are teenagers. They have made several false allegations, which almost made me walk away for good. To hear my kids make the allegations they made in court has changed me forever. The judge gave me sole custody because she didn’t believe these false allegations. I know I screwed up by giving mom custody back and now I fear I am going to lose my kids for good now because mom is still manipulating them. This sucks for anyone going through this. I waited my whole life to be a Father and THIS is what it turned into.
Hi! This is a great article. Thank you! I am married to a man who has a loyalty contract with his parents. I didn’t have the words to articulate the dynamic; this article helped me to clearly see what us in the space between me and him. Do you have continued advice on how to handle these dynamics?
Sue: I am heartened this article helped you gather some important insight into what may be going on with your spouse and his parents. While the insight can help us explain and understand it including having greater compassion, it still doesn’t help us actively and assertively address it. As I have said to many others who have read this article asking for specific advice for their situation, I refrain from doing so since I respect and appreciate the delicate uniqueness of each individual’s situation. Although there are universal trends and adages, each situation has specific nuances that require care and attention to timing and the complexity of variables impacting universal trends with loyalty contracts. Nonetheless, you could merely ask your spouse to read this and explain why in a relational and compassionate way. This may lead to further discussion and maybe even a request for help in working on this dynamic. I imagine it isn’t pleasant for him either even though he may be performing to maintain the loyalty contract out of habit or fear. Please know that I am open for any ongoing consultation or coaching.
Great article (clearly describing the horror and hopelessness). For about 7 year my kids have been alienated from me, and all grandparents (both sides), aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. They’re 24,24, and 19 now, haven’t seen them in years, and only have a few hints of how to contact them. One of their grandmother’s is gravely ill, and we’re trying to decide whether to send them the news. They’ve sworn off contact with grandparents (even replied to emails from them with “please stop sending emails”, but this might be a last chance to take a step back and consider saying goodbye. Thoughts?
Phil: I am sorry about the alienation with your adult children which includes alienation from many family members as well. I usually refrain from offering specific advise in this forum since most situations require a more intimate understanding of the family dynamics and history. In this case, it seems urgent and has some specificity, so I’ll render my initial thoughts. While they have asked for emails to stop, a gravely ill grandmother may make the case to modify your communications and give them a kind, gratuitous, and civil notification with no strings attached to it. I wish you the best.
Thank you so much for writing this article. I was the “stay at home” Dad in a same-sex partnership for 14 years. We adopted two beautiful children, now ages 7 and 12. I unfortunately, ran into the “perfect storm” situation for my ex — eventually with him being awarded full custody, but I am to receive 110+ days of parenting time with my daughters.
What makes my case a bit more difficult is that prior to our relationship being dissolved in a US Family Court, we moved to Vietnam for my ex’s new job. He tried to use the “spousal benefits” provided to me, by his employer, as leverage in our relationship. This included my international health insurance, evacuation support and most importantly, support for my VISA to live in the communist country.
Things got very bad in Vietnam — where his company would not speak to me about my status as his partner and I was up late into the night calling lawyers in the US for legal advice. The advice was all over the place on what to do and it was all wrong.
Quickly I lost contact with the rest of the world and finally had to end the emotional abuse after my benefits got canceled without notice. I then was traveling back and forth between Vietnam and the US for several months — trying to find a way to get my ex into a US Family Court and stay in my daughter’s lives. Then COVID started and I convinced him to evacuate Vietnam and come back to the US.
In the US, I hired my 3rd attorney (that was known to be very good, but expensive) to represent me in a custody battle. Unfortunately, this attorney thought I had a sure win on receiving custody of my daughters, but he ended up having no experience with international law, did not see the emotional abuse as significant and ignored my proof of parental alienation. I was played as the crazy parent, that was an emotional wreck, traveling between the US and Vietnam for several months. Meanwhile, my ex was the stable parent, with good income and of course had all the support needed to live in a foreign country.
We had to have our court trial via Zoom. I wanted to hire a psychologist to evaluate the children, but options were very limited due to COVID and my attorney said that judges don’t like to hear from psychologists. Experts were scarce at this pandemic time and I was told that my case needed to be decided quickly by hiring a reference judge. My trial was only 2 days and I lost custody of both children.
Now they live in Vietnam and I am unable to enforce my Judgement or even file a motion of contempt of court. I can’t process serve him in this non-Hague signee country. I can’t get information from their international school on their performance.
This has taken a huge toll on me — emotionally, physically and financially. I know my children are confused and hurting, but I cannot find a way to enforce my parenting rights. I can’t enter Vietnam. Even if I could enter the country, I would have no rights and be at the mercy of my ex’s emotional abuse.
I have given up and then restarted myself over a 100 times it seems on trying to find a way to connect with my girls. I see my relationship with them slowly fading as I am denied to be with them physically by my ex (although I still FaceTime them 3x a week). There are no words to express the suffering – when you have a document in your hand giving you rights, but you cannot enforce it.
Now — I am getting desperate — but remind myself that my actions are under a microscope if I ever get my ex back into court. It is hard to move on with living life this way — when no resolution can be found to my situation and I know the clock is ticking. I continue to fight for my children to have me, their other parent in their life, when others say to give up and move on. I have already spent over $100,000 in legal fees and realize that spending more will not fix the situation. I have to be lucky on finding the right attorney, serve papers at the right movement and get a judge quickly before he flees the US and back to Vietnam.
Reading about other people’s experiences does help and I am glad to have read your article — but no one truly understands (including family members and therapists) — unless they have experienced the physical loss of their children themselves.
Thank you for being an advocate for this issue.
I’m an aunt to twin 14 year old boys who are being alienated from their mother.
I’m stuck in the middle, I don’t understand why aunts on dad’s side are allowed to see them, are able to text them and get a reply.
I get nothing.
And they have no answers for why I am being cut out. One twin will keep saying the same thing over and over. He looks so sad and so angry. He looks dead inside. We have lost him. He is lost.
The other does put in a bit of effort, he apologised to me, told me he loved me, missed me, but that he couldn’t see me. Why not? What did I do? What did my kids do? Why can’t you see me?
All I want is to see them away from both parents. I don’t want to talk about the divorce. I want to take them out for the day like I used to before the divorce. I want to be their aunty. The fun aunty.
It is breaking my heart. But I have to be strong for my sister.
This is horrible. It’s so obvious to me, as I read up on it, I see it. I see what my sister is telling me is happening in all the words of the article.
Why would anyone do this to a child? I don’t understand.
Thank you for this Article. I too feel like it was written directly from my family’s situation! I’m a targeted father and have continued to try and be the bigger person, no retaliation or speaking ill of their mother or her village. I have my first individual interview with a forensic evaluator next week. I’m hoping he can see all of the PA that has taken place, especially with all of the documentation I have kept and collected. I was hoping you may have some advice on working with the evaluator. I feel this is my only chance to show that their mother (ex-wife), has gone to great lengths to ostracize me from their lives. Also any recommendations on books or websites for coping with the pain and feeling of helplessness. Thank you!!
Greg: Yes, you are approaching a very daunting and dynamic process–a forensic family evaluation. I’ve been conducting these evaluations since 1992 and have performed hundreds of them. I have also done product reviews of other evaluators who have conducted these evaluations. What I can say is that I don’t really know what you are up against, since so much depends on how trained and competent the evaluator is on a good forensic evaluative protocol and PA dynamics. Some evaluators have training and expertise on estrangement dynamics emanating from domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect and unfortunately approach the evaluation with confirmation biases rather than framing the evaluation from an impartial lens of evaluating resist and refuse dynamics (RRD’s) with multiple hypotheses including PA as one of them.
I have also been involved in coaching and consulting clients like yourself who are embarking on a forensic evaluation. This is a service I offer to orient and prepare litigants/clients for an evaluation that is significantly important to how the court will frame and intervene with your case. As this article discussed common mistakes rejected parents make, there are common mistakes (This will be forthcoming in my book) rejected parents make when approaching mental health professionals and forensic evaluators. I wish you the best. I recommend going in as balanced as you can–prepared but not overly choreographed; informative and assertive, but not accusatory and angry; provide supporting documentation, but do so in due time rather than flooding the evaluator at the beginning; approach the evaluation honestly and non-defensively including admitting mistakes you made under duress and with lack of knowledge; and don’t control or impose data, wait for the questions to elicit integral data, and if they don’t come than civilly and respectfully ask to submit data you feel is important.
This is an extremely stressful situation that produces ambiguous loss that is hard to grapple with and you are often confronted with double binds and no-win situations. Most books are strategy books rather than coping books. I recommend Amy Baker’s Books on PA such as how to Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex and Sullivan’s book on Overcoming the Alienation Crisis. I wish you the best Greg.
It happened to me and it explains the pain, along with the denigration and distress caused to me and my daughter. It has been a year since my daughter was taken from me and housed with a stepsister who has active depression. I am suing the Local Authority for disenfranchised grief.
Thank you for this article it is exactly on point. It is extremely important to know what not to do however in the future I would love to see ideas on what we CAN do to reconcile and reconnect with our kids. More information is needed on this I am struggling every single day and doing the best I can to avoid the top mistakes but I am dying slowly inside watching the years go by. I need more ideas on what WILL bring us back together.
Mina: I am currently working on a book for rejected parents so stay tuned. Meanwhile, we offer coaching support services and you can find that on our website Family Court Coaching
Thank you for this article, it helped me understand much but unfortunately doesn’t solve the problem. My son is 22 and I divorced my wife when he was 13 and going into high school. I guess I couldn’t have picked a worse time, but I just could not stand the verbal abuse any longer. It was constant from the moment one of us walked in the door at the end of the work day. My son was learning from her, so that was the last straw. I needed him to see it’s not a way to treat someone. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. At first, things were ok, but slowly my son became ruder and ruder. Parenting through high school was tough as we shared custody but when he went to college, things improved because my ex had less opportunity to manipulate. Then coronavirus struck. He dropped out of college and moved in with his mom again. Then it became worse.
It’s so upsetting because I did 70-80% of the parenting when he was growing up. We were super close. Many of our joint friends confirmed this and don’t understand why he’s sided with my ex. But my ex has clinical depression (her mom killed herself from it) and my son seems to have inherited it too.
My son and I slowly repaired over the years, but then my ex kidnapped our dog that we shared jointly. For five months she refused to let me have her. I managed to get her back one day through an open window while my ex was out. The dog was in terrible health and went to the bathroom about 15 times in 3 hours. I kept her for ten days, and her health slowly improved. My son was so angry at me that he wouldn’t talk to me, so I gave her back. I hoped that would calm him and we could talk it out. Instead, birthdays, holidays, and an operation were all missed. Other than three short encounters we haven’t spoken. He’s blocked me on all devices and moved to another state without telling me. It’s been seven months and no contact. I’m especially fearful that I could become one of those parents who just never sees their child again. About the only good thing is he is away from his mom. Perhaps he will get a clear head. I just wish I could do something.
I am an alienated parent. It started back before the divorce even began. I was banished from the marriage bed to an upstairs bedroom. My clothes were even moved. I literally lived there but it was like an apartment. My now ex-wife and I didn’t sleep in the same bed for nearly 8 years. During and after the divorce it became even more intense and now even after college my daughter is still exhibiting many signs of PA. She has had one boyfriend and her mom picked him! I know my daughter needs help and I do too as I am at my wits end. My current wife has been wonderful and has tried so many ways to help with the connection. At times it seems better and then it sometimes seems as though we are worse. My fear is that she will go down the path of alienating her future spouse if she even gets one. It’s a long lonely road. I do cling to the fact that in eternity, I’ll have my daughter back but it sure hurts now.
As an alienated parent I am so perplexed by the lack of what I feel is logic by professionals. Of course, an alienated parent is upset , it’s a normal emotion considering the sometimes irreparable damage done. Why not hold the alienating parent accountable instead of placing the burden on the alienated parent? It is clear some professionals can do more damage, even those with supposed experience. We seem to continue to empower those already empowered. It is clear that traditional therapy doesn’t work with alienated children. So, while I realize it’s simply their perception and they are innocent, they are manipulated sometimes to frightening levels. So, why are we not setting a standard for a parent so that the child can open their eyes and know what is acceptable behavior? There is no situation where a child should be taken away from another parent unless there is abuse.
Marie: I appreciate your outrage about the lack of accountability for the alienating parent as well as how some counselors can unwittingly make the alienation worst by using traditional forms of counseling. While we need to continue our effort to better hold the alienating parent accountable via family court and the mental health field, it is still important to support and educate rejected parents. Although they aren’t accountable for the alienation, they need to be responsible for their responses. I find the work to help rejected parents respond more effectively fruitful because as you said, the alienation can escalate to frighteningly stressful levels.
I’m observing a situation where the son is 24 and the mother is being targeted. She was a single mom and raised the child alone with an absent father. The child, now 24, has immense hatred toward his mom and fiercely defends the absent father. Similar to this article, the adult child is creating stories that are far from factual and he spews negativity towards his mom who raised him. Things escalate when he asks for money–which is often–and if she denies to give him money, the insults start flying. He refuses therapy, uses biblical references to defend his position, and condemns his mother. What is a targeted parent to do when the child is an adult, refuses help, clings to the alienating absent parent, yet constantly asks targeted parent for money, only for the cycle to repeat itself if she declines? She has a therapist helping her but her son doesn’t let up. How do you get help for an adult child who refuses?
Rachel: Unfortunately, you cannot force an adult into therapy against his will unless one is suicidal or homicidal and that is usually a psychiatric hospitalization. I get asked this question a lot, and I have to remind people that almost all of my clinical experience is with minor children whereby the family court has the authority to order them into counseling and/or parenting time. In cases with adult children, it is much more complicated and delicate with many variables to assess and monitor in any engagement process. I have coached parents with adult children and there is often much feelings of grief, anguish, and powerlessness. Each situation is different, and we often take it a step at a time knowing ultimately there are not any guarantees. Sometimes, the targeted parent runs out of options and is left to hurry up and wait for the adult child to respond. Other times tough love approaches are needed especially when the adult is wanting the privileges, perks, and resources from the targeted parent, but none of the responsibilities or agreements for civility and fair fighting. I wish you the best and let me know if I can help in any way.
This is well written and can also be useful for parents who’ve been “ghosted” by their adult child. I shared the site on Gab. I was a selfish mom and preoccupied with a gambling addiction. (Clean since 11/2018.) I accept responsibility for that but I’m no narcissist. However, I believe the people around her (her bf’s parents, online friends, and possibly even her therapist), have become the alienating “parent.” I made plenty of mistakes but have resigned myself to letting her go. Yes, it is like watching them slip away into death and it’s heartbreaking but she’s asked me not to make any attempts to contact her. I’m honoring her wishes. After reading this, I’ve asked other family members who she’s also chosen to ignore, NOT to stand up for me or try to cause her to feel guilt or shame. Though I wish she would stay in touch with them, she has cut them off as well. I want her to be happy. The Bible says if you love your son or daughter more than me (Jesus), you are not worthy of me. I’m using that verse as a way to help me heal. I pray for her daily and wish her only the best. Bitterness and anger only made things worse. Just love them from afar and maybe one day, they’ll come home. Thanks for the wise words Dr. Flood.
Wow, firstly parent alienation is a term coined by a pedophile and largely rejected by Psyche community. I think some men need to take a long hard look at whether they are deadbeats or abusers whom need to make amends and man up about being fathers. A lot of misogyny and whining here.
Hallie: Wow. You seem to be thinking and operating in zero sum thinking—believing that one has to negate parental alienation (PA) because some domestic violence (DV) perpetrators use it as a defense to avoid accountability. Also, take time to read the comments in my PA articles and you will notice the many agonizing stories of mothers who have been alienated. It is t gender specific as you assume. While Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was originally coined by the late Richard Gardiner in the 80’s , since then it has been reformulated as PA or the Alienated Child. Also, thousands of peer reviewed articles have been published and it meets the Daubert Standard, hence allowing it to be argued in court. Several State Supreme Courts have decisions endorsing it as a legitimate issue impacting children and some countries now have in criminal law. Yes, DV perpetrators need to be held accountable but illegitimizing another form of abuse to children, PA, doesn’t ultimately forward the best interests of all children. Please take a moment to read this article. I hope you find it helpful.
I’ve been desperately looking for lifeline like it says in the article as a targeted parent, but no hope. I even called your office and they only counsel men, not women. Parental alienation is more dangerous and serious problem and it’s not only targeted to men. Targeted parent needs help! Please help!
Justine: You are correct in that parental alienation impacts both mothers and fathers. We offer individual coaching services for both mothers and fathers. Let us know if we can help. We wish you the best.
I totally disagree with time is the enemy .
Let me give you an example: A parent who was in their 4 kids’ lives for 8 years and goes thru divorce. That same parent becomes the target of alienation . The kids are cut out of that parent’s life for 8 -10 years . Never sees or talks to the kids even though they have tried to text the kids year after year and never gets a response. The mother has been alienating the kids from their father . The mother remarries. Tell me how is it detrimental for the father who has not seen his kids for 8 years to come back into their life and not detrimental when the new step dad who has never met the kids before comes in ? It makes no sense to use time as the enemy . If that’s the case than all step parents coming into a situation with kids should be just as detrimental to them also being a total stranger . The father still has more tenure than the step dad . But we are supposed to believe time is the enemy ? No way possible unless your going to say that with a new step parent coming in as a stranger is the same . It’s supposed to be ok for the step parent stranger to come into the kids lives after never even knowing them ? I don’t think so ….time therefore cannot be the enemy . You should instead be saying it’s better late than never to get back into the kids lives .
William: There are many factors that contribute to parental alienation. When I say “time is the enemy”, I merely am saying that children spending time away from the target parent does not resolve the alienation dynamic, but most often makes it worse…that’s all I am saying. In estrangement and abuse cases, sometimes time away along with self-healing can help resolve the estrangement dynamic, but in alienation, it does not. I say this for parents who are being misled with minor children to not make agreements to have “cooling off” periods for months, and then try to reinstate parenting time. In your case, you are right, the role of the new step-parent should not replace the role of the natural parent. Step-parents in healthy blended families can play a loving and caregiving role, but they don’t compete with or replace biological parents.
Do you feel it might help or hinder the relationship (where we are alienated from our adult children ) if we were to send them this article so they see clearly what has happened ????
Michelle: The only honest answer I can provide because of the plethora of dynamic intervening variables, is it depends. Without knowing the specifics of your backstory I cannot provide sound advice on this important question.
I am a step-parent familiar with the alienation dynamic, as well as being a parent who has also experienced a child’s willingness to “cancel” a parent through determined prolonged estrangement. Based on what I have seen, I would suggest that “winning” in court against the alienating parent at least with respect to some aspects of the custody battle, or the money battle, can be actually very therapeutic for the targeted parent. It will likely not repair or resurrect the relationship with the child, but my observation is that formal vindication is personally restorative nevertheless. Sorry if that sounds cold and calculating. But the targeted parent doubts that there is any fairness in the world and is very frustrated at the feeling of impotence the alienating parent causes. A legal win–even a partial– is a boon to his confidence that at least there is someone — a judge– who is listening and moves over to his side. It also can put the alienating parent on notice to straighten out if the win is big enough. So I say fight if you have the strength and you are in the right.
I also think that time can be a friend and not necessarily the enemy. We have to accept what we cannot control, and be ready for when the time comes when we have an opportunity to get back in the game. That opportunity will often come, although it can take years. The alienating parent does not stop the vicious campaign when the targeted parent has been beaten down. The root of the alienating parent’s behavior is jealousy, insecurity, bitterness, competitiveness and selfishness, fear of being left alone. These personal traits don’t evaporate just because he or she successfully obliterated the other parent’s relationship. Down the road the alienating parent will treat the former child’ now adult’s ‘s boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife or partner in a similarly hateful way. The child may eventually get the picture (once he or she sees it happen again — this time to another essential relationship) and begin to analyze what came before. The targeted parent can choose to stay on the sidelines, waiting, and prepared to re-connect, if that happens. So don’t forget to send the birthday card once a year, reminding the child that you are not going anywhere, and that the day the child was born is still and will always be a cause for your celebration. We have to recognize what is in our control and what is not. So I would say, hire a competent lawyer, go after the alienating spouse, publicly in the courts and get some personal vindication, and let the child know that you are forever waiting — just on the sidelines.
I’ve got a half bottle of whisky and 12 Oxy pills. Wonder why I’ve haven’t eaten them yet. Seen my 12 year old daughter 40 hours over 8 visits in the last 24 months.
The X has two indicated CPS reports and two more pending. Spent $40G on worthless lawyers, got more done representing myself in 8 weeks than the idiot lawyers did in 12 months, still we will end up at trial soon.
My hope is to avoid child support payments, finish my master, get a job that can support myself and my daughter and hope she’ll come back into my life someday.
After eating 24 NyQuil gel caps in her first suicide attempt they won’t let me see her in the hospital, when I call they ask if she wanted to talk to her dad, “Why would I want to talk to that bitch?”
I can’t win and I’m tired of fighting, ready to cut bait and move on, nothing works.
Just so done, wonder why the Lord just doesn’t take me home.
The holidays are the hardest. I came across this article while trying to understand how the alienating of a parent works. I’m the alienated father. I have not seen my daughter in 14 years. It does not get any easier as the years go by. I lost my daughter when she was 10 years of age. I remember the Wonderfull child that I once knew. I finally stopped trying to see her 14 years ago in hopes that she would come back on her own. Going to court and fighting only made things worse. Her mother weaponized the police, the courts, etc. The lies that were fabricated were just unbelievable. I have been through it all. I was a good father and did everything with my daughter . We were extremely close. Then one day , on the command of her mother, she flipped the switch , and I no longer recognized her. I finally gave up on someday finding my daughter. She is dead to me . The pain that she has caused, the harm that she has done is just unforgivable. She became an evil person as her mother. I have learned to move on with my life and abandon the past . I feel as if I have had to discard 10 years of my life . Alienation is awful and the people that do it are just terrible excuses for human beings. The courts need to recognize this early and immediately remove the child from the alienating parent. Instead the courts are too busy punishing and labeling the fathers for things they have not done. My life goes on . I’m very successful and have a fruitful life. I would have wanted to share this with my daughter and sometimes wonder how it might have been. Then I come back to reality and realize that I do not have and will never have a daughter.
To All the Parents Above:
Know this: It may take decades for your child to acknowledge how toxic you have been to them. I know this first hand as the daughter of a mother with full-blown NPD, who broke all contact with her at age 50, no less. We are the children you have put into this world, and as such, the process of cutting you off is probably the most difficult thing we have ever had to do. “Had” is the key verb in that sentence. It is done out of necessity for our own protection and liberation from the abuse we have suffered.
If you are someone with NPD, it is extremely unlikely that you will ever realize the damage you have inflicted on your children. Your personality disorder prevents you from truly seeing yourself for what you are. But, let me tell you: To us, the unloved children of your emotionally abusive parenting, you are the one person to be avoided at all cost. It takes staring at the sun to get this point, but some of us do. When we do, we won’t give you “reasons”. The reason is simple: You have never validated us as individuals that are separate from you, and therefore you don’t see us. We are objects, we are pawns, we are supposed to play to your needs. One day, we simply say “enough”. And that is all you get.
Understand this: We don’t care anymore about how you see us. Your suffering, if it is even genuine, is just not relevant. We have made a decision, and that decision was to cut you off without looking back. I say this to all of you who say you just don’t know why your daughter or son doesn’t speak to you anymore. If you truly, genuinely don’t know, then more likely than not you are a pathological narcissist. We want nothing to do with you.
Monica: I was alarmed by your response to this article, but I did—as well as other heartbroken targeted parents of alienation—appreciate this final disclaimer to your diatribe: “I say this to all of you who say you just don’t know why your daughter or son doesn’t speak to you anymore. If you truly, genuinely don’t know, then more likely than not you are a pathological narcissist.”
I question your judgment to air out your grievance for what sounds like an estrangement rather than a alienation dynamic you experienced with your parent in this cyberspace. I find myself protective of the heartbroken parents who read your angry prose and wonder if you could have found a more appropriate place to share your tragic and painful story of estrangement? I almost deleted this, but decided to accept it and offer this response. Perhaps it may prompt you to reconsider and offer you a chance for some redemptive and empathic prose.
Deeply grateful for your thoughts. So many that claim to be estranged also claim to have been alienated by other people. As they can not hold themselves responsible. At the same time saying they do not understand how this could have occurred. What about “my child, I have zero interest, time, loyalty, money, effort for you” So when this terrible parent gets old snd lonely yes the answer is “no thank you, get out”. It a parent that was loving they would rather their child be alive and happy than be in a relationship them. Seeing someone you love die a slow death is worse than having a relationship end, unless one is a narcissist and needs to suck the life out of others to live. At times to protect a child a parent needs to lovingly warn them of the patterns exhibited by the other parent. There are of course wonderful parents that have ill children. But if these adult kids are so awful, put our effort into grieving and letting go. Grandchildren belong to their parents by law. We all had our chance.
It’s a very well written article but…it does not address the most important thing which is paramount for a resolution of parental alienation: the intervention of the justice system.
In other words, all the effort and dedication of an alienated parents, is totally inconclusive is the justice system does not do what is meant to do: act in the best interest of the child. I better explain what I mean.
Courts – and by courts I mean judges, magistrates, Guardian Ad Litem, forensic psychologists including therapists, counsels appointed and non by courts – have NO CLUE what really parental alienation is about, how parental alienation shall be properly and professionally assessed, diagnosed and a therapy plan implemented. When referring to such entail of professionals, I mean that they (in particular therapists) don’t even possess proven specific and extended expertise in parental alienation. This results in the shameful situation of having a justice system that DOES NOT ADDRESS the issue of parental alienation at all. Consequently, there’s no abiding of acting in the best interest of the child. Too often the alienating parent wins in court and the child is then left to continue being alienated because left, this time with the COMPLICITY of the court, continue the alienating parent having visitation and/or being given in custody the child!
All of these “professionals” in the end they do even more damage to the relationship between the alienated parent and the child, which becomes, since time is paramount in preventing alienation to become permanent, irreparable.
There’s then another scenario which is the one of corruption. Yes, corruptions in the justice system. This plague is more present in some court than others, but is a reality. Family litigations are often set at closed doors, maybe because one attorney’s litigant knows the judge/magistrate presiding the litigation, maybe because of promised money. What ever reason, that’s how some litigations are resolved.
It is a fact that, and I talk as a victim parent of parental alienation who is going through since a year and a half into an horrendous litigation in which parental alienation from my ex is involved, the victims (the alienated parent and the child) are not taken at serious, not listened, not regarded as an urgent matter to address and so motions/petitions are stroke over and over. Witnesses are kept unheard over and over. Guardian Ad Litem are appointed and are…bias. Therapists appointed by court order are either bias or…TOTALLY incompetent. Meanwhile, the alienating parent is allowed to continue contact with the child so that he can apply and undisturbed continue alienating the child from the other parent, the good parent. Paradoxally, the good parent (the victim, along with the child), becomes the one the is under the loop.
Becomes the investigated one, all of this by purposely continuing over and over by silencing him/her and silence his/her witnesses. At the same time, the horrifying costly litigation goes on, making all the above mentioned “professionals” speculate on the parents. The parent often runs out of money and…ends up in giving up the whole thing, while the alienating parents has win the litigation. After all, depleting financially the alienated parent is the ultime goal.
So, in the end who’s really the responsible individual in the story? The alienated parent or…the system, the judicial system? Well, my personal conclusion is the system. Why? Because alienating parents are found all over. Society cannot get rid of them. Bad people always existed and always will. It’s inevitable. However, the reason why civilized societies have judicial system in place, is to PROTECT victims. But if victims are abandoned and the culprit, the abusers…the bad guy is allowed by that very same system to walk away prizing him/her by granting what is shall not, then…the system failed to accomplish its duty and responsibility to stand on the victims side, support them, defend them, protect them. Then, the real culprit is the system, the judicial system!
Manuela: You are right! Without legal and mental health professionals appropriately trained in parental alienation, the system, unfortunately unwittingly enables the alienation. It is my hope to continue training mental health and legal professionals so this doesn’t happen.
Endless stories of targeted parents fail to win their kids back in the court system. Over and over again.
Dear targeted parents, know this:
There is no such thing as parent alienation nor estrangement in clinical psychology, ICD-10, DSM-5 or any relevant diagnostic coding system. This is why you all fail to win your kids back in court.
There is an easy way for any mental health professional to diagnose the pathology of the abusive parent because it ALWAYS happens the same way, and ALWAYS with the same background – developmental trauma. Bessel van der Kolk is the top scientist describing this concept in terms of child abuse.
The story is a bit more technical, but in order to save your kids, no matter how old they are, you need to understand what’s going underneath. You just need to know your enemy to the core.
The name of the enemy is not an abusive parent, but the pathogen this parent is carrying. One of the most disgusting and most dangerous pathogens in the world.
This pathology is all about pain and suffering. Everyone suffers in this family dynamic.
1. It ALWAYS starts with the borderline/narcissistic parent as a child, facing a tragic developmental trauma, caused by a scary and abusive parent, let’s say it’s a father. This child is alone, there is no one to protect the kid. The child’s immature brain cannot decide whether it should get closer to him, or to get away from him. So the child, in its desperate attempt to solve the internal conflict, divides the image of a both scary and loving father, to two images of a single person: abusive parent, and protective parent. The stage is set, and it has 3 components: abusive parent, protective parent, and victimized child.
3. This conflict creates a disorganized attachment personality, one of the most severe developmental pathologies. Disorganized attachment networks in the brain produce a splitting, with distorted internal working models creating expectations that they will be abandoned by the loving ones in a world which cannot be trusted. This child is now doomed to a one-way street. It creates false expectations of relations with others and with self. This is how it begins.
4. Targeted parent marries this narcissistic/borderline person. They now have kids. But belief and fear of self-inadequacy of the borderline parent causes constant anxiety, uncertainty and feeling that the normal range parent cannot be trusted. Fights get more serious, but the targeted parent tries to mediate things. That way the targeted parent regulates the infantile anxiety of the borderline parent, the similar way normal parents regulate small kid’s behavior when it bursts into anger. But marriage is coming to an inevitable end. Targeted parent cannot stand the constant fight for nothing in front of the kids, and files the divorce.
5. In a wake of the looming divorce, a borderline parent feels that the ground is cut from under his/her feet. There won’t be anyone to regulate this parent’s pathological state. The old trauma knocks on the door again, big time. The prefrontal cortex, which manages logical and predictive thinking inside the brain’s limbic system, shuts down, and the amygdala, which manages the fear and compulsive behavior, takes over, pumps stress hormone cortisol into the brain, and this causes borderline person to act out of any logic and reason, completely unaware of his/her actions.
6. Borderline parent’s own childhood trauma is happening again, but in the present time. With the prefrontal cortex off and cortisol running wild, he/she creates a delusion, thinking that somehow the targeted parent is a danger to the child, and that the borderline parent needs to protect the child at any cost. Even if he/she destroys the targeted parent figure in the child’s eyes, by using all means necessary. No matter what.
7. The trauma from his childhood reenacts in the present time. The borderline parent, by protecting his/her own child, actually protects himself/herself as a kid, he/she delusionally connects his/her father’s scary figure to a targeted parent as an abusive parent and turns himself/herself into the protective parent to the victimized child.
8. This is now a fight to the death for the borderline parent. This parent now triangulates the child into a conflict and creates a cross/generational coalition with the child against the targeted parent, thus breaking generational boundaries, and producing the first big developmental damage to the child.
9. The hierarchical roles are now switching. With the twisted and manipulative influence of a borderline parent, the child starts to believe that it is a victim of a targeted parent. The kid starts to be cold and with no emotions whatsoever towards the targeted parent, delivering all sorts of rude vocabulary, punishments and it finally emotionally cuts the targeted parent off, completely. The child psychologically kills the normal range parent. For the love of the borderline parent, the only parent left, thus forming a so-called insecure attachment. Developmental damage for the kid strikes deeper, as the child takes over the targeted parent’s place in a family hierarchy by creating a form of psychological incest with his own parent.
10. The regulatory roles are also switching. Now the child starts to become a regulatory object for its own borderline parent, keeping him/her from falling into anxiety bursts and a total psychological collapse. No parent regulates the child any longer. The borderline parent is in the center of the universe for the kid. Nothing else matters for the child.
11. The child feels the immense internal pain of inadequacy and internal emptiness of the borderline parent. It identifies with his/her pain the same way we identify with some touching scene of our favorite movie or a good act, by activating both anterior cingulate cortex mechanism inside our brain by linking with other’s emotional state and activating mirror neurons which help create a state of fusion between the minds of the borderline parent and the child. This link is called intersubjectivity, and is also well known and described in science literature, and the leading scientist in this field is Ed Tronick.
12. Attachment theory founded by Bowlby says that the child NEVER rejects the normal range parent. EVER. Attachment system in the brain never fails. EVER. That’s why the child is feeling enormous guilt for rejecting the loving targeted parent. In order to solve this unbearable pain, it tries to convince itself that the targeted parent deserves to be rejected. This is how the child copes with the internal sadness and grief for losing the parent who is still alive. But this was not solved, rather just suppressed. The sadness remained unprocessed in a child’s mind. This unmetabolized grief produces another devastating developmental consequence to the child.
13. The huge pain of the targeted parent is just the measure of the immense suffering for self-inadequacy and internal emptiness of the borderline parent caused by childhood trauma, and now transferred through the child as a mediator in this process.
How do you diagnose pathology? Well, You don’t seek for the symptoms in the borderline parent. A good psychologist will easily recognize borderline parenting footprints in a child’s behavior. No need to interview a borderline parent at all.
Metal health professionals will then use DSM-5 to set the differential diagnose at multiple counts:
1. 309.4 (F43.25) Adjustment Disorders with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct: Both emotional symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety) and a disturbance of conduct are predominant.
2. V61.20 (Z62.820) Parent-Child Relational Problem
3. V61.29 (Z62.898) Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress
4. V995.51 (QE82.2) Psychological Child Abuse
1. It is critical for all of us, targeted parents, to understand that our children LOVE us with all their hearts, they are just not allowed to show this love.
2. The borderline parent has induced multiple pathologies into the child. The child has a huge risk of developing mental disorders and even passing pathology to its own offspring.
3. The targeted parent is the only force who can save the child, but first needs to stop thinking that the biggest problem is a borderline parent killing the child’s love and that the targeted parent is the great victim. NO. The biggest problem is how to save the child FIRST from the destructive delusional and manipulative power of the borderline parent.
4. This can be done by presenting this type of insight to the courts, and mental health professionals, so that the court can help save the child by deciding a temporary protective separation from the borderline parent.
5. The child is the only one who can save the borderline parent at the end of the day, since all children deserve to love and receive love from both parents.
Milos: I want to tell you that I appreciate the time you took to provide a good outline of what we call attachment-based parental alienation. Craig Childress, Psy.D has written extensively on this topic as has Michael Butz, Ph.D describing it as an Interrelated Multidimensional Diagnosis. I understand and have encountered it in my forensic practice as well, the skepticism of using parental alienation nomenclature in forensic evaluation reports. However, I do believe this is changing and will continue to be less of an issue due to the growing science behind the concept of parental alienation and its admissibility in court.
While you provide a DSM diagnostic framework–as do I in my forensic reports and expert testimony–one still has to explain the intricate psychodynamics including disorganized and insecure attachment processes, psychological splitting, encapsulated delusions, etc. Unfortunately, forensic psychology just does not lend itself well to psychological theories that are not observable, measurable, quantifiable, etc. and much of your explanation is intrapschic phenomena.
I find that using parental alienation nomenclature including the 5 Factor Model, 17 Parental Alienating Behaviors, and 8 Behavioral Manifestations AS WELL as the DSM categories and attachment theory, as the most robust means to support my findings of parental alienation.
Finally, I also think that assuming an alienating parent has Borderline Personality or Narcissism is presumptuous, and can’t be used as the only way to refer to the alienating parent. While I find that alienating parents often have personality disordered features and traits, not all of them do, and not all of them have significant developmental trauma either, and thus using nomenclature such as preferred parent vs. rejected/target parent can be more universal language then being more specific depending on the case at hand. For example, in milder forms of parental alienation, some preferred parents are naive and amenable to changing their behaviors. Some have maladjustment to high conflict divorce, and with proper support, develop more insight and accountability to their contributions to alienation dynamics.
I appreciate your contribution to this evolving conversation.
Wow, amazing article but by the time I was finished reading it I am in tears, this article describes my life but a milder version. I have a 20 year old daughter who hasn’t spoke to me for 6 years now and still lives with her dad, I am about to lose my son too, he is 15. The pain is overtaken my life, the court my case is in is very corrupt system. The magistrate in our case had ex parte communication with the kids dad and she finally recused herself but only after she awarded him custodial parent. Any positive advice is welcome. Thank you.
Absolutely, I love this article but sometimes as my lawyer said give them enough rope they eventually hang themselves! I was dealing with this and worse! She was abusing the kids. The GAL and her lawyer plotted against me even with several reports of physical abuse of the kids, the oldest daughter who is 13 and my 2 younger daughters who are 4 and 6 were in this battle and exhibited signs of like a Stockholm syndrome. My 3 boys 15, 11 and 8 didn’t seem phased but I could tell they were battling with it too. Well finally my ex snapped and is currently facing a class D felony for chid abuse. The police finally found it in them to send charges to the DA in her town due to her having boyfriends who are cops after 16 reports of abuse! Now my kids say they feel safe and don’t want to go back, but had to fight for a few months to get the kids back on track with help of outside counseling thru their schools. Now my kids are faced with testifying about abuses in court in criminal cases and possibly in the divorce. The GAL has only seen them once since they were forced to leave their mom. The GAL she never listened to them and feel safer with me now than their mom! Sad events but kids suffer more than the adults!
This is a helpful article, but compounds my own sadness because it’s so well-reasoned that these responses don’t work . . . which is frustrating because nothing else works either. It’s clear to me that behaving ethically and lovingly and taking the mature high road backfires just as surely as these more assertive missteps. There is nothing that can be done. Once the skillful alienating parent’s work is done, from where I sit now there is absolutely no chance of any improvement in my relationship with my young adult children, ever. I can avoid conflict with them, wish them well, perhaps even provide passive financial support indirectly or let them know it’s there if they ever need it. But without any chance to interact with them their views of me will never change. I feel it’s time to just completely let go of them and try to build a meaningful life as though they had died suddenly, and I feel guilty thinking that but may have to do it to climb out of my own despair.
TR: The stories and accounts from you and many other targeted parents of adult children are tragic, particularly in your descriptions of no-win situations, and a sense of powerlessness with the status. I have shared that the interventions to address the problem with adult children are limited compared to the impact we can have with minor children. While the stories are sad and tragic, they motivate me to work zealously and diligently to educate the mental health and legal professionals on PA so we can better intervene and disrupt the PA prior to the children aging out of the family court system. I am sorry for your loss and the situation you find yourself in. I hope you can find support and counsel to take the next right step for you.