Parental alienation usually begins with subtle manipulation as the alienator first makes sure the child feels dependent on him/her (the alienator), then shows displeasure with the child about any positive interaction between the child and the other parent (the target). Eventually, the child becomes fearful of retaliation for showing any positive feelings toward his/her other parent. This manipulative behavior then progresses from “the silent treatment” to actions like blocking the child’s interaction with the other parent, withholding or rejecting gifts, or not sharing the child’s medical or school records, for example.
Some parents will bad-mouth the other parent, make up stories, and even try to relocate, going so far as to change the name of the child. During this time the alienator is using this manipulative “red ink behavior” to blackmail the child emotionally to reject the other parent and be totally dependent on him/her.
Another part of the manipulation is to convince the child that the other parent does not love him/her, is dangerous, or cannot be trusted. Most alienators are conscious of what they are doing, although occasionally they may be unaware. The purpose is to exact revenge for perceived wrongs. Often, though not always, this misperception of wrongs is caused by a personality disorder.
Target parents must realize that the negative treatment they are receiving from their child is because the child is in a desperate survival mode as a result of being manipulated. Knowing this can allow target parents to stop reacting with anger at the child’s hateful behavior because they realize they are not seeing their child’s true feelings. Instead, their child is being psychologically abused.
The critically serious nature of psychological abuse is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in an official statement:
Children who had been psychologically abused suffered from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, symptoms of post-traumatic stress and suicidality at the same rate (and in some cases, a greater rate) than children who were physically or sexually abused. Among the three types of abuse, psychological maltreatment was most strongly associated with depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, attachment problems and substance abuse.
It is important to recognize that parental alienation is not simply a divorce situation where two parents are in high conflict with one another. Although the term “high-conflict divorce” is often used to describe parental alienation, this label seems to imply that both parents share equal responsibility for their lack of agreement. This assumption does not take into consideration the possibility that only one parent may be responsible because he/she has an ulterior motive and does not want to reach an amicable agreement. This is the case with parental alienation.
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