During the last week, Dr. Carter and I have had several heartbreaking questions from Surviving Narcissism community members and clients, all experiencing parental alienation. Maybe it’s the post-holiday destruction left in a narcissist’s wake, or the dawn of a New Year and hope for change, that prompts the question “What can I do?” Regardless of the reason, this is one of the most challenging situations to address, no matter the children’s age and whether the ostracized parent is dad or mom.
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a term used to describe situations where one parent uses the children as weapons after a relationship breakdown. This can happen in marriage or in the wake of a short relationship that produced the child. Alienation occurs when the toxic parent, often a narcissist, wants control over the child and money associated with the child. The poisonous parent’s mission is to hurt the other parent.
A narcissist uses systematic teaching and “brainwashing” to lure the child into thinking and agreeing with that parent. The toxic parent wants the child to hate the other parent as much as he or she does. Many times, to win the conditional love of the narcissistic parent, the children fall easily into this trap.
- The alienator may take actions such as missing or blocking visits with the other parent.
- Make untrue accusations about child abuse.
- Tell the child lies about the other parent, with a tiny element of truth attached to make it believable.
- Sway flying monkeys to take the side of the alienator, so the toxic parent has support when needed in court or family situations.
- Encourage the child to miss visits with the healthy parent.
- Continue to be the fun, non-disciplinary parent, so the child doesn’t want to leave (i.e., “Disney Land Dad or Mom”)
- Encourage the child to lie to the parent about spending extra time together.
Kids follow along to please the toxic parent. Children may tell themselves, even at a young age, things like this:
- “I have to do what Dad says so he will love me.”
- “If I don’t hate Dad as Mom does, she won’t love me.”
- “Mom says I need to lie to Dad. Maybe if I do, they won’t fight as much.”
Being the pawn in a game between parents can cause psychological distress in a child. Understandably, there might be fear, anxiety, guilt, and confusion because the child is hearing one story from the toxic parent but witnessing opposite behavior from the healthy parent. Psychologists say this can cause problems with kids later in life.
Healthy parents are left with the sole responsibility of raising emotionally healthy kids and building some sort of relationship with the children.
Here are some recommendations from the Facebook Group, “Actions Against Abuse UK.”
- Stay calm. Anger and aggression can make things worse for your child.
- Have good legal representation.
- Try mediation, and if that doesn’t work, be prepared for family court.
- Keep all custody arrangements and comply with the decree with no changes.
- Make your home a safe and stable place for your child.
- Set up a bank account for your older child and make regular deposits.’
Dr. Carter and I discussed parental alienation at length, and we came up with a few more recommendations as to what else you can do as you navigate such a storm. First, Dr. Carter says, to keep the lines of communication open with the child. Remind your child that you love them unconditionally, no matter what. Even with there’s pushback by the other parent or the child doesn’t respond, continue to reach out occasionally. A simple “thinking of you” text can help.
Secondly, I have seen with my clients who have experienced parental alienation that the healthier ostracized parent is, the better things can turn out for all involved. If you have worked on healing and rebuilding your life after narcissistic abuse, you can stand firm when you need to handle challenging situations. Kids comprehend when mom or dad has grown in power and strength, and they can sense the healthier parent being more emotionally stable than the toxic parent.
Finally, Dr. carter and I both agree that you can hold on to hope, but not to your detriment. There is always the possibility of a breakthrough. When we do our best and keep our side of the street clean, then the lane is open for good things to happen.