It’s been 7 years since my divorce and dealing with parental alienation as it plays out during a divorce as the alienated parent, and I figured it was time to share from my own experiences related to what it is like to be the alienated parent, and what it is like to be the alienating parent.
If you are here, you are probably going through a divorce, or reeling from the aftermath of the psychological and emotional warfare that goes on throughout the parenting alienation process.
In preparation for this article, I read through page after page of what to do about parental alienation, how to fight parental alienation. I wanted to see what kind of information was out there. Sadly parental alienation is still widely misunderstood.
The answers that I seemed to find the most during my parental alienation (PAS) research :
- Lawyer Up. Fight to stop parental alienation abuse. Parental alienation syndrome is real, they say. Fight to take the kids away from that awful narcissistic parent or limit their child custody rights. After all, it’s abuse.
- Get Therapy from licensed mental health professionals. Spill your beans to someone who can help you navigate the quite complex maze of emotions.
- Hope for the best. Hope that your child remembers they love you.
- Hope that you can make a difference to stop this type of child abuse.
So simple, right? WRONG
If you detect a hint of sarcasm, you’re picking up what I’m putting down.
It infuriates me that people would try to answer the MOST COMPLEX SITUATION I’ve ever dealt with in my life in 4 simple steps.
In my mind, the advice you find is so agenda-tized (is that a word)?
The lawyers say – fight. But who wins when you fight?
I spent $35,000 in legal fees for my divorce, and while the attorneys are busy building another wing on their summer home, my kids and I are stuck with the aftermath of a bloody battle.
Today 7 years later, there are many unresolved emotional issues. There is still a nearly irreparable distance.
But before you think I’m saying take this lying down, nothing could be farther from the truth.
I’m not saying that having a good attorney on your side isn’t wise. I’m just shooting a warning shot across the bow your already fragile situation, encouraging you not to forget that not all fights yield a winner. I think everybody loses in this one, and your kids will carry the torment of this fight in their psyche with them for the rest of their lives.
I’m sorry that I can’t paint a better picture here. But I’m going to shoot you straight.
So what is parental alienation exactly? -Parental alienation is when one parent initiates an emotional campaign against the other, causing the other parent to be seen as less than in the child’s eyes. Essentially it’s parental politics, and a parent may start the emotional campaign intentionally or unintentionally.
Here’s the problem with parental alienation. If you are the parent leaving the relationship, it’s not uncommon for there to be hostility towards you. Kids can overhear the alienating parent talking with someone about the divorce.
The kids will pay close attention to and pick up on these subtleties. When they discover someone cheated or did something mean, they can start to believe that the targeted parent is a villain, they will begin to vilify one parent and prefer the other parent.
One parent starts the campaign and the other is left to outside of the relationship with the child. This is what is meant by alienation.
It really is like this. The alienation experience is very much like being locked out of a house unable to reach those you love inside. You’re like a ghost, and after a while the parental alienation experience makes you question everything about yourself.
This is where things get gnarley. I remember thinking that it’s not worth it any longer. I reasoned my kids hate me. Maybe life isn’t worth living. Enter the parental alienation thoughts of suicide.
In the kitchen, with a knife to my wrist, I realized my kids certainly would never recover from that. So, back in the fight, I went. I put the knife down, nearly sh*t myself for entertaining such a thought.
I was angry. This wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. Surely someone would know I was a good dad.
Sorry, I realize now no one notices. Certainly, no one who can do anything about it. There is no real judge and jury that is going to weigh your side adequately. If you are in the middle of parental alienation, all you have is yourself. The alienation will go on for a long time. Parental alienation will remain as long as there is something to gain for seeking a parental advantage.
In some cases of parental alienation, people can choose to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem, who is essentially a separate attorney who represents the interests of the kids (against) both parents, it’s hard to tell which way is up.
The problem with the alienation is that it can be quite subtle and when you are the middle of it, it’s hard to get a clear read on whether the alienation is in your mind or if the alienation is even really happening.
Where are you to really get proof that this is happening? Surely only you know how your kids used to related to you. Only you will feel the massive shift in perspective. An outsider that doesn’t know you will have a hard time distinguishing the truth.
With a strong Christian upbringing, I felt guilty for leaving the marriage, so for me, I think the guilt made me accept the alienation differently than I should have.
I kept looking for answers from therapists, but nobody really wanted to stick their necks out and say whether it was indeed PAS or not. They didn’t know me, and from the comfort of the armchair, it’s easy to “stay out of it.”
What you can do to stop PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome)?
Besides throwing away the clinical/psychiatric DSM book which offers up an official diagnosis, the first step is recognizing that you will never be able to get back to the “way things were.”
If you are dealing with parental alienation right now, it’s NEVER going to be the same again.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be great. It’s just that holding onto the life you had must be set aside so you can begin to see clearly what road you need to take, and how you can actually support the mental health of yourself and your children.
Move to Costa Rica and tell ’em to stuff it? Nah…
Up until I dealt with parental alienation, I always thought that people that do that were the absolute scum of the earth. Wanna know what I think now?
I think they didn’t know how to handle the alienating parent, the effects the alienating parent had on the kid, and their mental health had gone to sh*t.
If you are the targeted parent, you will know what I mean. Alienated parents are lost, especially when you see that your children may never accept you again.
Some of them couldn’t stand to be hated by their kids. They couldn’t stand being on the hook to pay for their children and ex only to be confronted by the disapproving look on their little faces, the disdain in their eyes, and hate every time they got to see their kids for visitation.
I remember that my children screamed from the moment I picked them up for the entire 40 plus minute car ride back to my house. They threw rocks at me, and somewhere in there, I lost them. Their tiny little hearts were crushed, and I could see that the damage would never be repaired.
It took me a long time to accept that sometimes life takes a turn that is outside of your control and outside of your reach.
It’s like being trapped in the back of an airplane that is spiraling out of control with no access to the cockpit let alone the knowledge of how to right the situation.
If you are wrestling with how your situation is going, you will be happy to know that life does have a way of turning bad situations into something that brings with it an equal or greater benefit.
Recently on a car ride from my former wife to my house (the process that is here to stay), one of my sons (aka the rock thrower) said he was glad that he went through those times. He said he is emotionally much stronger for it.
Here’s where I would tell you that you can’t be held responsible for what others choose to believe, and I’ve had a lot of work to do on what is mine to own and what isn’t.
Certainly, do what you can, and I’ll outline more steps that helped me here.
Depending on your situation, maybe you spent more, maybe you spent less money on attorneys and counselors. Regardless, the point is you and your kids don’t win.
The reality is that as you fight to take your kids away or try to even the score, do you not in fact do the same thing that is being done to you?
Yet if you go quietly, it’s an admission of guilt.
Many times in my post-divorce life, I’ve wondered who is doing the alienating?
Especially as your kids get older and see things a bit more clearly, it takes everything in my power to restrain myself wanting to now switch roles and become the alienating parent.
But, what good would that do? Sure, I’d feel justified. Maybe it would smack of reunification therapy. But, really it won’t make much of a positive difference. It’s good for them to know the facts of my side of the parental alienation story.
So what’s the best way to deal with parental alienation when it comes to your kids? The best way to deal with parental alienation regarding your kids is two words, “FACTS ONLY.” Answer the questions your kids ask, but don’t go into too many other details to prove your innocence.
The second bit of advice that you see online (seek out counseling) places you in a room with someone who probably has never dealt with real parental alienation, and while I love counselors, I think you will probably want to know how familiar they are with the topic before you book an appointment.
They can help you unpack your own raw emotions and trauma you are dealing with.
However, beware everyone (even mental health professionals) have their filters in place and have their own view of the world.
This isn’t a slight against them. No one can be truly objective. Often we are unaware of our personal biases. When I brought up the legal aspects of parental alienation, my reunification counselor shot back that these were very serious allegations.
But let’s do the math.
The slander against me? I left a nearly perfect marriage, walked out on my children, abandoned them, turned against God, and was dating the devil woman. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
What’s a female, Christian counselor to think especially after an exhaustive preemptive campaign against my character.
I can’t really say I blame her.
So, just keep in mind, you won’t be able to take everybody’s advice, and you are better off getting your own counselor to work through this stuff rather than someone trying to put the pieces back together. I think during the divorce is too soon.
Time will heal, but it’s slow.
Let’s push on to the part mentioned above about hoping your child remembers the love you had.
Shared custody helps with this. However, if your child severs the relationship with you with a supportive alienation parental partner, I’m doubtful that things can resolve for a very long time. I find they pick up the traits of someone who ends up trying to control you and the situation.
Once you lose custody, all you can do is hope that one day the scales will shift back.
Finally, PAS is child abuse. When a parent weaponizes their children against the other, it’s a violation of trust. What I have found is that the abused child however tends to protect the abuser. So, proving that it’s happening is difficult especially amidst an already messy situation.
Maybe your situation is more black and white. But, I’ve found there is almost too much grey to handle when it comes to this.
Good luck on your journey. It does get better.