What Can Be Done To Reduce the Implacable Hostility Leading to Parental Alienation in Parents?
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
A previous article already available deals with implacable hostility leading to parental alienation. We are now going to consider some of the strategies that can be used to reduce the impact of both the implacable hostility and the parental alienation towards which implacable hostility frequently leads. This is best achieved through mediation (Cheung, 1996; Hahn & Kleist, 2000; Lowenstein 1998b; Novick, 2003; Bartholomae et al., 2003; Bailey & Robbins, 2005; Baker, 2005).
While implacable hostility does not always lead to parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome, which includes a number of symptoms associated with the alienation process, it frequently does cause such parental alienation. This is detrimental to children as well as the non custodial parent (Johnston et al., 2001, 2005). Sometimes partners remain hostile towards one another while at the same time realising their responsibility to their children and seek to involve both parents in the responsibility of rearing their children together as much as possible. When implacable hostility however, leads to the alienation process, then we have a situation which the courts need recognise and act upon accordingly.
The courts need to work closely with the expert witness, be that a psychologist or a psychiatrist, who is attempting to mediate between the partners whenever possible in order to make them aware of their responsibility primarily towards their children and towards each other in the process of this Gardner, 1997; Lowenstein, 1998b; Heiliger, 2003). Not all parents participate willingly or at all in some cases, in the process of mediation which has the aim of involving both parents and making certain that contact between the children and the absent parent is regular and is of a positive nature (Palmer, 2002).
Sometimes children state that they do not wish to see their absent parent, be it the father or the mother, but this should be looked upon with some suspicion (Johnston et al., 2001, 2005). It should be of especial concern when the absent parent has had a good relationship with his/her children in the past, and following the separation of the couple and the acrimony and implacable hostility that may exist, the children fail to wish contact with the absent parent. This has both short and long term harmful consequences (Caplan, 2004; Baker, 2005).
Ways to combat parental alienation during mediation and treatment
There is no easy way to combat alienation especially if it has taken place over a long period of time and the alienated parent has had little contact with his/her children. One might say the alienator has won but the child/children have lost because of the complete control of the alienator and the lack of beneficial contact with the absent parent. It would appear that the alienator and the child have become an inseparable team who work totally together and appear to wish to “shut out” not only the absent parent but the immediate family of that absent parent. This ultimately is a victimisation or abuse of the child as well as the absent parent.
We must now consider the firm approaches that are necessary in order to reverse this situation whenever possible and not to take the word of the child at face value when he/she says they do not want to see the absent parent. Often this means that they have been involved in “brainwashing” or “alienation” by the custodial parent. Many of the suggestions that are about to be made, overlap to a large degree. There are at least 24 ways of combating parental alienation and all or many of them can be used simultaneously.
- It is important to destroy the effect of denigration by one of the parents towards the other by making the child aware of the happy history before the acrimony and separation between the parents occurred.
- It is important for the child to see the good points about the denigrated parent. Any parent who wishes their child a happy life in the future should do all possible to encourage the child to look favourably on the absent parent and encourage the child to be with that parent.
- It is important to be firm and proactive in changing attitudes and behaviour that have caused the parental alienation.
- It is vital to try to get the alienating parent to co-operate in stopping the alienation process once it has started or to prevent it from starting in the first place if possible. This is easier said than done and many alienators suffering from implacable hostility towards their former partners will refuse to co-operate in this, or appear to co-operate, but not really doing so. They will claim that they have done everything they can to get the child to be with the absent parent but the child has refused and they cannot force the child to do otherwise. As already stated if the child has had a good relationship with the now absent parent it would be simple for the custodial parent to encourage contact rather than the opposite. Only the implacable hostility prevents the custodial parent from sincerely encouraging a child to have contact.
- It is important to appeal to the child’s conscience or what they are doing in rejecting, hurting and humiliating an innocent party who cares for them.
- It is important to have the child seen apart initially, to gain some information about how the child feels about the absent parent, and also to see the alienated parent and the alleged alienator initially separately. Eventually the child and the absent parent and the psychologist or mediator should be seen together in order to seek to change both attitudes and behaviour via rational emotive therapy. There is often a need for the process to be very firm in its communication.
- It is important to make the child aware of what a blood relative might sacrifice for him/her which no other person would do.
- It is important to warn the parent who alienates a child of the harm that they are doing to the child, not just at the present time but in the future also. It could also bring problems for the custodial parent once the child realises how he/she has been manipulated by the alienator.
- It is important to appeal to the child’s critical thinking or intelligence in making the right decisions about the absent parent. The child should be made aware of the unfairness and cruelty in rejecting a loving parent who could do much for that child now and in the future.
- It is important to make the child aware that they have and need both parents and not just the one and that this will not endanger the relationship with the custodial parent in any way.
- It is important to make the child aware that they may lose a good parent if the process of alienation continues and the absent parent eventually gives up trying to make contact with the child after that parent has been rejected repeatedly.
- The child should be made aware that the extended family of the alienated parent is also being unfairly rejected and is very eager to have real contact with their grandchild.
- It is important to encourage the child not only to engage with the alienating parentbut with the alienated parents’ extended family including grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins etc.
- This also will help to reverse the alienating process where everyone will work together to make the child aware that those close to him love him/her and wish to see him/her on a regular basis.
- It is important to curtail or eliminate telephone calls and other communications from the programming parent while the child is with the non custodial parent i.e. during a contact visit.
- It is vital for the children who have been alienated to spend as much time as possible with the alienated parent alone so that a relationship can develop or re-develop between them. The longer this individual contact occurs, the greater the likelihood that the alienation process will be reversed, hopefully on a permanent basis.
- It is vital to curtail the child being used as a spy against the alienated parent. This is often done by the alienator for the purpose of gaining information and advantage over the now absent parent due to the implacable hostility between them.
- In extreme cases the child should be removed from the influence of the alienating parent and custody of the child/children be given to the alienated parent (Gardner, 2001a; Palmer, 2002), or another body which may include a family member of thealienated party. This must be done through the court and at the suggestion of the expert witness or mediator when no progress appears to be made in reversing the process of alienator, and the alienator continues with his/her alienation.
- Passivity and tolerance are ineffective when dealing with parental alienation. What is required is confrontation of a very powerful kind to both counteract the effects of the alienation and to reverse it. Courts unfortunately will frequently listen to older children who claim that they do not wish any contact with the absent parent without giving any good reasons for this. The court under such circumstances must act to reverse the undoubted alienation if it is proven to have taken place.
- The power of the court must back the mediator who is seeking to remove the alienating effects and not work with the alienator by accepting what the child states in not wishing to see the non custodial parent or have contact with him/her.
- The child may need to be removed to a neutral setting for a time (Gardner, 2001b; Palmer, 2002), or placed in care to prevent further alienation. This is only in very extreme cases where severe psychological damage has been done to such a degree that the child suffers from delusions about the alienated parent. This has often been reported by expert witnesses and those carrying out mediation.
- In the case of severe alienation it is best for the alienated parent never to approach the home of the alienator due to the acrimony which exists between them, but that there be a middle person dealing with the contact between the child and the absent parent. This intermediary could transfer the child from one parent to the other.
- It should be remembered that the child who has been the victim of brainwashing, needs to know that it is safe to be with the alienated parent without this reducing their loyalty and commitment to the other parent who has custody. Hence the alienated parent should do as much as possible to reassure the child that there is no desire to separate that child from the custodial parent. If both parents do this there is a good chance that eventually the parents will put the child’s welfare first instead of their own feelings of grievance.
- Once they have contacted their child/children , alienated parents should concentrate about talking about the past and the happy times together, supplemented with pictures or videos. Initially, the child might be very off-hand and fail to make even eye contact especially in the presence of the alienator but this can be improved through reminders of happier times in the past and how this can continue in the future.
- Alienated parents should not give up easily but should persevere in their efforts to make and maintain good contact with their child. Constant rejection from the child is likely to be humiliating and demoralising, but persistence sometimes leads to success with the help of an expert and the support of the courts. One cannot emphasise too much the role of the court working together with the expert witness and mediator in order to find the best possible solution to prevent further emotional abuse of the child through the implacable hostility leading to parental alienation (Goldstein, et al., 1973).
It is difficult to know at the present time with virtually 50% of marriages in the west breaking up how many couples suffer from the problem of parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome due to the implacable hostility between the parents. It is certainly a significant percentage. It is therefore vital for both experts and the courts to act appropriately so that the next generation will not repeat what has been done in the past. There are no winners in the process of parental alienation. It should never be forgotten that alienation occurs as a result of implacable hostility. The main loser is the child who may well have to do without the absent parent for a long period of time, or in fact for ever. Much depends on the determination of the court and the expert working together for the short and long-term benefit of the child/children.
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