Parental Alienation Part II: The Warning Signs of Parental Alienation with Kids

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Healthy Separation and/or Divorce Counseling | Comments Off on Parental Alienation Part II: The Warning Signs of Parental Alienation with Kids

Parental alienation is the successful efforts of one parent to undermine the authority and connection with another parent and their children.

We previously described the 17 behaviors associated with alienation and how they can impact the relationship between a targeted parent and child. However, not all children respond to alienation from the alienating parent. In fact, they will sometimes resist and push back against lower-level forms of alienation. Still, it is much harder for them to do so when the alienation is more severe.

If the targeted parent isn’t seeing how the alienating parent is influencing the child, then it’s very hard for them to know what is happening. The problem is that alienation can do severe damage to the relationship between the targeted parent and their child.  

Warning Signs of Parental Alienation

Richard Gardner, a psychologist, first identified these symptoms of parental alienation in 1989.  They include:

1. Conspiracy of Denigration

This is when the relationship of a targeted parent and child suddenly changes. Where there was once a positive relationship now the child is being rude, defensive, hostile, and disrespectful. They also “erase” or ignore past memories that were positive. The child spurns any affection or physical contact with the targeted parent.  It’s even hard just to have a good-natured conversation.

2. Frivolously Absurd Reasons for Rejection 

In this case, when the targeted parent asks their child how things are going, they respond with a “lame excuse that’s petty and doesn’t make any sense. For instance, they might say, “You make me mad,” or, “You’re late picking me up.” The feeling is disproportionate to the situation and doesn’t explain the level of animosity.

3. Lack of Ambivalence 

Here, the alienating parent is seen as “all good.” The targeted parent is perceived as “all bad.” Thus, the child exhibits extreme loyalty to the alienating parent.  There is no middle ground where both parents are seen equally in the eyes of the child.

4. The “Independent Thinker”

 This is where the child emphasizes that their opinions about the targeted parent are their own. They say that the alienating parent had nothing to do with forming their opinions. Rather, the child says, “I came up with this all on my own.”

5. Reflexive Support of Alienating Parent

The child consistently sides with the alienating parent on issues. If the targeted parent puts out any assumptions or evidence that they are telling the truth, the child will still side with the favored parent.

6. Absence of Guilt

They do not appear to have any qualms or feelings of guilt with how they treat the targeted parent.  Even if their behavior is, in the eyes of others, cruel they will not register feelings of guilt towards their actions.

7. Presence of Borrowed Language

The child uses words for phrases that are favored by the alienating parent. The targeted parent will see the child use the exact same language when they interact with their child. These are things that the child could not have come up with on their own.

8. Rejection of Extended Family

The alienation spreads to other members of the targeted parents’ family. These include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

The Damage of Parental Alienation

When kids start acting this way, it’s not a good sign at all. These behaviors can cause long-term damage to the relationship between a targeted parent and the child. In fact, research of adults who grew up in these kinds of family dynamics found that their childhood experiences reverberated into adulthood. They experienced low self-esteem, depression, drug abuse, and divorce. They even became alienated from their own children too.

Parental alienation, sadly, thus creates a cycle that gets passed on from one generation to another. If you are noticing your child beginning to act out, now is the time to take action to limit the damage to your relationship.  

Part III of this series will discuss what parents can do and provide some useful tips.

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