Can the attitude and behaviour of alienators be changed? How can this be achieved?

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services


Abstract and Summary

The behaviour of the parent alienator is not easily changed. Two ways are recommended in order to change the alienator’s attitude and behaviour. These two ways seek to remove the implacable hostility or pathological animosity which is based on the acrimonious separation of the parents. There are two inter-related approaches that are helpful: therapy and the legal system, or a combination of both to break the deadlock. The author recommends firm, judicial action which must ensue in order to help the alienator to desist in further programming a child against an absent parent. Automatic change of custody of the child irrespective of the child’s wishes should occur when an alienator fails to cooperate with both the expert witness and the courts.

Can the attitude and behaviour of alienators be changed? How can this be achieved?

These two questions are frequently asked of expert witnesses be they psychologists or psychiatrists. The next question asked is: How can the behaviour of alienators be altered? This latter question depends very much on the reply to the first questions.

To the first question “Can the attitude and behaviour of alienators be changed?”

The reply is “It can be done but with much difficulty”.

Seeking to change alienating behaviour.

Appealing to the good nature or the rational thinking of the alienator is unlikely to be effective. This is because the basis for alienating children against one parent in the first instance is based on an entrenched hostility or implacable animosity towards the alienated parent. The feeling of hatred for the other parent is so great and so extreme that it approaches pathological proportions, not so different from the irrational thinking bordering on psychotic disorders.

Convincing such individuals to change directions and to encourage a different attitude and behaviour is fraught with difficulties. They simply cannot, or do not, want to realise what is in the best interest of the child. They believe totally that the other parent is evil and a danger to the child, or are unnecessary to the child’s best development. They are ruled by their hostility and blind to the actual harm they are doing in seeking to eliminate the other parent. This is despite the fact that before the parental acrimony occurred, there was a warm and often loving relationship between the child and the now alienated parent.

Possible ways of changing the behaviour of alienators

Two approaches should be attempted with the two being combined from time to time. The first is by the diagnosing of the problem and the alienator followed by the treatment of the alienator. The second is the need to utilize the legal system to coerce the alienator to share willingness for the absent parent to have some contact with the children.

a) The therapeutic approach

The first need in dealing with alienator is to study them in depth via interviews and psychological testing. There is likely to be little value in initially attempting to reason with the alienator. He/she will merely assume the therapist is siding with the rejected and hated other parent. The therapist, despite his intentions for the alienator “to see reason”, must remain neutral and not antagonise the alienator. At the same time the therapist needs to make the alienator aware of what is in the best interests of children who are being manipulated by the alienator. Few alienators respond to this approach. Their hatred for the other parent tends to blind them to the possibility that there is any value in the child sharing the care and love with both parents.

The alienator will counter this argument with the fact that the child is happy being where he/she is and really has no need to be with the alienated parent. The alienating parent will make the argument even stronger by stating that the child was never close to the other partner, and was in danger physically and/or sexually, in being with him/her. Such arguments are difficult to refute even when the absent parent states categorically that there is no evidence for these allegations. The alienator is aware that the alienated parent is seen to be guilty of all the allegations made against him/her unless they can prove otherwise. Hence, there is always the suspicion that the alienator is right in making such allegations for the protection of the child.

b) Using the legal system

Having failed to make any progress through counseling or therapy, the alienated parent is left with the only process remaining open to them – the Courts. Forcing the alienator to participate in the legal process has certain immediate negative repercussions. The alienator uses this attempt by the absent parent to gain access to the child, by using the child as an ally. The alienator will use the argument, often directly to the child: “You and I against the evil [other parent] trying to separate us by punishing us or me by seeking to imprison me. That is the kind of parent they want you to be with.” The child’s reaction is to turn even more against the now absent parent since his current parent is his benefactor and is being threatened.

A child fails to recognise that the reason for court action by the absent parent is due entirely because the alienator fails to be able to share the child with the other parent. It is important for the absent parent to clarify to the child why he/she has to take such action. He/she must make it clear that the action is being taken out of love for the child and the fact that no other method to gain contact has succeeded. It has to be made clear to the child that it is not the intention of the absent parent to eliminate the role of the custodial parent but to seek to share the role of parenting and re-bonding with the child. Much now depends on what the judiciary will actually do to provide real justice for the absent parent and ultimately the alienated child. Only fear expressed by the alienator that he/she will lose control of the child, will encourage a change in the alienator’s way of thinking and behaving. The alienator will be made aware, that there will be punitive consequences if the child is not successfully interacting with the non custodial parent. The alienator will clearly understand that the ploy used, that the child wants no contact with the absent parent, has been unveiled as basically untrue. The alienator must and will learn that he/she will themselves be deprived of custody if the absent parent is unable to resume some kind of sharing of the role of parenting with the child/children.

The child will also learn that their power as children is limited in determining what parent should care for them and which parent will be unjustly rejected by having no contact. Children should not determine which good parent shall be excluded from their lives, due to the influence of the manipulator and alienator. Such alienation should be considered a criminal offence and an abuse of the child. The alienator must desist from this kind of harmful behaviour or lose contact and certainly custody of the child. If the alienator does not encourage the child to have good contact with the absent parent, that parent must be viewed as an emotional abuser and as being in contempt of court such a parent cannot cannot be considered a good parent. The alienating parent should be prevented from continuing to influence the child against the non custodial parent.

Failure of the child to be eager to have contact with the now absent parent should result in the alienator losing custody of the child. This decision must naturally be made by the court after having been provided with the necessary evidence of such an alienating process by careful and thorough in-depth assessment of the situation, that is, the family dynamics.

What if the child loses contact with the alienated parent?

This is likely to be the direct result of the alienation to which the child has been subjected. Courts frequently are in a conflict situation, whether to acknowledge the wishes of the child especially and older child of 10 years onwards, or to ignore it. Judges, too often, take the wishes of the child at face value without exploring the real reason for the child not wishing contact with the absent parent. The refusal is usually due to the programming or influence of the custodial parent. It is not based on what the child truly wishes has he/she not been programmed against the absent parent.

It is hoped that the Judiciary will heed the advice provided by the expert witness who will also have investigated why the child rejects the absent parent when in the past the child enjoyed a close and warm relationship with that parent. If the reason for the child’s behaviour is based on “the brainwashing” carried out by the custodial parent, this must be taken into consideration by the Judiciary and acted upon.

The reaction by the court needs to be robust and swift to prevent a continuation of the adverse and unfair influence and power wielded by the custodial parent. Once contact arrangements have been made the Judiciary needs to act punitively against the alienator by failing to get the child to make good contact with the absent parent.

Among the punitive procedures is a return to court with the court threatening what will happen including fines, imprisonment and losing custody of the child. Custody should then be given to the maligned absent parent once a child has been prepared for this via therapy in a neutral environment. This should be carried out at a centre of social services or with foster parents or with a relative of the alienated parent. Only in this way will the influence of the alienating parent be reversed and the child have contact with the previously rejected parent.