In my experience of battling parental alienation thus far I have come to realise the following: It is generally not recognised by the judicial system, dismissed by so called professionals, and underestimated even when recognised and documented as minimally as possible with phrases such as “exhibits alienating behaviours.” It appears to only be known by those affected by it. So we have a set of behaviours that result in both short and long-term emotional damage of alienated children. But tragically no Government institution in the UK officially recognises parental alienation. For those readers that may not be familiar with the term parental alienation, please see here for a detailed definition.
However for those of us that are targeted parents, it is real. It is something we live with every day. As a parent, there is no worse emotional pain than being denied contact with your very own children. Severe parental alienation involves the alienating parent brainwashing the children into ultimately destroying any previously loving relationship between the children and the targeted parent. The emotional pain for the targeted parent is often described as grieving for children that are still alive.
“In most cases personality disorders are at the core of severe parental alienation.”
So I guess, in line with the title of this article we arrive at the following question. What drives the targeting parent to behave in such an abhorrent way towards, not just the ex-partner, but also their very own children.
The available research and evidence on parental alienation identifies that in most cases personality disorders are at the core of severe parental alienation. And herein lies the issue on non-recognition by numerous Western governments. Family Courts and social workers dismiss parental alienation because they all too often view it as a child custody issue as opposed to a child protection issue. In addition to this, neither of these professional fields have any understanding of mental health. And as such will be unfamiliar with the mental health concept of personality disorders. For example, early on in my own case my Cafcass social worker advised me “trust me, I’ve been doing this job for years, your ex will cool down, and in a couple of weeks she will come around to the idea of letting you see the kids.” That was thirteen months ago. I am still pursuing contact with my children through the courts. My ex has not changed her approach. She continues to breach any Court Orders that promote or would result in contact between my children and I.
Due to the nature of divorce, particularly where children are involved, very few are free from anger, conflict and hostility. And all too often with parental alienation, it is not until separation that the targeting parent’s personality traits are fully revealed. To the extent that the behaviour being exhibited is vengeful, malevolent, dangerous and abusive.
So what are personality disorders? They are conditions whereby an individual will significantly differ from an average person. This is particularly in terms of how they feel, perceive, think and ultimately relate to others. Symptoms or negative behaviours are known to worsen in stressful situations. The British NHS states that “there is no single approach that suits everyone and treatment should be tailored to the individual.” This evidence based statement is clearly not considered by the ‘one size fits all approach’ provided by Cafcass. The futile and misinformed approach from Cafcass is to send both the targeted and targeting parent on co-parenting courses with the intention of modifying behaviours. However in cases of severe parental alienation that involve the targeting parent potentially presenting with personality disorder traits, such interventions will have no effect on the alienator.
The following types of personality disorders are most prevalent in terms of the alienating parent in cases of severe parental alienation:
Narcissistic Personality Disorder will present itself as an individual exhibiting grandiose beliefs about themselves, regardless of whether they are real or imagined. The narcissist is completely lacking in empathy for others. And is normally totally consumed with self-gratification. Available research suggests that this type of personality disorder is most common in terms of the alienating parent of severe parental alienation.
Sociopathic Personality Disorder generally presents itself as a flagrant disregard for the rights and needs of others. In terms of parental alienation, this will normally present as the targeting parent brainwashing a child/children against the targeted parent, therefore engaging in psychopathic behaviour.
Psychopathic Personality Disorder in terms of the personal traits can be quite similar that of a sociopath. However where sociopaths appear more normal, psychopaths are believed to be born with behavioural differences such as impulsiveness and under-arousal. Such characteristics can result in a lack of fear, resulting in risk behaviours and a lack of recognition or understanding of social norms.
Antisocial Personality Disorder is often referred to, within psychiatry as psychopathy or sociopathy. Individuals with this disorder tend to have a complete lack of empathy and exhibit contempt for others’ sufferings, rights and feelings. In most cases they present as arrogant. They also have a tendency to believe productive work is beneath them. They are also known to be highly opinionated.
Borderline Personality Disorder normally presents with very impulsive behaviours. A distinctive trait is repeating pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships. Individuals affected by this disorder tend to fluctuate between opposite and polar feelings and behaviours. In terms of parental alienation, it is typical for the targeting parent to become consumed with the manipulation of others. While at the same time taking measures to protect themselves against any threats against them, whether real or imagined.
So if we’ve explored what makes an alienating parent, it is only fair we look at what makes a targeted parent.
“The experience of being removed as a loving parent strikes at the heart of any loving parent.”
Targeted parents will be subjected to shame and stigma usually due to the character assassination implemented by the targeting parent and their enablers. The alienated parent normally has allegations of emotional, physical and sexual abuse made against them by the targeting parent. This is done to kickstart a safeguarding referral that invariably results in court ordered non-contact, while the allegations are investigated. However for the targeting parent this provides time for initial alienating behaviours on the children. It is worth noting that such allegations are virtually always disproved (Baker, 2005).
The experience of being removed as a loving parent from the life of one’s child due to a court order based on false allegations strikes at the heart of any loving parent. Statistically suicide rates are reported to be of epidemic proportions among parents going through such circumstances. This is of particular concern for fathers, who struggle to fight for a loving relationship with their children (Kposowa, 2000; Kposowa, 2003).
Parental alienation is arguably not a gender specific issue. However due to socio-economic reasons and a cultural and professional biased towards parental stereotyping, statistically most alienated parents are non-residential fathers. This in itself creates a separate issue. Research shows that alienated fathers most pressing need; their justifiable need to be involved with their children’s lives, remains unrecognised and unsupported across the professional field. The expectation and patterns of traditional gender-role socialisation creates a barrier in which fathers are not expected to acknowledge personal difficulties and request help. A pattern that all too often repeats itself across the field of mens mental health. Even respectfully disregarding the suicide rates, such alienation all too often leads to the alienated parent giving up the fight for contact with their children (Lowenstein, 2007). This point is explored in more depth in an earlier post of mine Can there ever be any excuse for parental alienation?
“I had stumbled across an online community with an indescribable outpouring of support, advice and compassion for one another.”
From my own experience as an alienated parent and having sought out specific support, my conclusion is that there is neither support or recognition from any formal or government sanctioned services for alienated parents. So at this point I looked online for support and advice. And what I found was astounding. I stumbled across an incalculable number of alienated parents across the developed world passionately campaigning, advocating and pleading online for some kind of social change that will effectively challenge the abuse that is parental alienation. This was an online world I never existed. This is explored further in an earlier article of mine The Awe-inspiring Online Community of Parental Alienation.
Ultimately I had stumbled across an online community with an indescribable outpouring of support, advice and compassion for one another. This in turn provided me with an invaluable insight into what makes an alienated parent. The support, sharing of advice and overall feeling of camaraderie is astounding.
From my own engagement with other alienated parents, both on and off line I have realised the following. What makes an alienated parent is compassion, strength, resilience, empathy and ultimately support for one another. However in battling parental alienation, particularly when severe, both sides are just as determined as one another, but ultimately for different reasons. One for good and one for bad.
Mahatma Gandhi once said “when I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always.”