As a divorced parent, you often can find yourself feeling that you do not spend enough time with your child. Whether it is an issue of not having enough parenting time or having difficulty enjoying the parenting time that you have, issues can surface that can affect your relationship with your child.
When you are not the custodial parent or you feel that your child has a closer relationship with your co-parent, it can weigh on you. Sometimes, you may notice your child rejecting your attempts to improve your relationship with them.
After communicating with your co-parent, you realize that they are not about to do anything about it. You realize that you are the target of parental alienation.
Understanding parental alienation
Parental alienation is considered to be an attachment-based trauma, where instead of serving the emotional and psychological needs of the child by providing stability, alienating parents use their children to meet their own needs.
This is a well-documented global problem and a threat to public health. It violates the parent-child boundaries of trust, in how misleading the child only serves the best interests of the alienating parent. Parental alienation also is a form of psychological trauma that the targeted parent is forced to endure and is classified as acute, chronic, and externally inflicted.
Recent research has begun to characterize parental alienation as a form of intimate terrorism and child abuse. Colorado State University social psychologist Jennifer Harman co-authored a research article with University of British Columbia associate professor of social work Edward Kruk and Clark University research associate professor of psychology Denise Hines. They found that despite affecting an estimated 22 million Americans, parental alienation largely has been unacknowledged or denied by legal and health professionals as a form of family violence.
“We have to stop denying this exists,” said Harman to the Colorado State University’s publication, Source. “You have to treat an alienated parent like an abused person. You have to treat the child like an abused child. You take the child out of that abusive environment. You get treat for the abusive parent, and you put the child in a safe environment – the healthier parent.”
Some who face parental alienation and recognize the symptoms seek the utilization of reintegration therapy. Also referred to as reunification therapy, this process features a mental health professional building a trusting, therapeutic relationship with the child and eroding the negative image of the targeted parent.
The mental health professional provides incongruent information to the child, refrains from actions that put the child in the middle of the conflict, considers ways to pacify the hurt and anguish of the alienating parent, looks for ways to dismantle the coalition, converts enemies into allies, and never gives up contact, according to Elizabeth M. Ellis, of The American Journal of Family Therapy.
If you are a parent facing parental alienation, you may not have the ability to engage in reintegration therapy, due to how far it has progressed. You may have lost contact with your child and may have to resort to legal channels to prove the extent of the damage.
You will need to contact your family law attorney, and depending on your state, family courts may order counseling that all parties are to participate in. They likely also will issue strict orders against co-parents speaking ill of the other around the child.
In order to prevent further damage, it is in the best interests of you and your child to participate actively with the counselor, making sure that all sides of the story are heard.
The willingness to communicate freely is important when you are facing parental alienation, because your child may attempt to aggressively shut you out of their life. This aggression is the same complex type of aggression that the alienating parent used to harm your relationship with your shared child, inciting family violence and allowing them to hold all of the power in this situation.
Power, family violence, and intimate terrorism
When you are facing parental alienation, children are used as weapons, inciting intimate terrorism. Intimate terrorism is described as a lopsided power dynamic, in which one partner subjugates the other through intimidation, coercion, or threats of (or actual) physical violence.
Of the same notion, many alienating parents perpetrate this form of intimate terrorism by wielding the power of the custody that they are granted, based on outdated stereotypes that pervade the family court system, as opposed to the overall well-being of the child.
Alienating parents often withhold contact or engage in violence through the destruction of the targeted parent-child relationship.
By denying this violence, society has been complicit in it, according to Harman and her research. Parents who face parental alienation are forced to piece themselves together through therapeutic means, and for many, their relationship with their children is gone.
By acknowledging the issues surrounding parental alienation, members of the health and legal communities can be better equipped to help parents and children alike with a real issue adversely affecting real people.