The Truth About Parental Alienation - Teal Swan Articles - Teal Swan Jump to content

The Truth About Parental Alienation

One of the most traumatizing experiences that a parent can go through is parental alienation. However, most people and even more frighteningly, most experts, don’t even know what it is; much less understand the complex dynamics involved. Let’s unpack parental alienation so that you can understand this form of relational abuse. 

Parental Alienation is a strategy of a parent destroying their child’s relationship with the other parent by turning the child against the other parent because it serves that parent’s personal agenda to do so. 

As insanely difficult as it can be, when two parents have a child together, what you want to strive for is each parent supporting the child’s relationship with the other parent. It is terrible for a child to feel caught in the middle of two parents. If you are a parent, talking negatively about the other parent to the child or withholding the child from the other parent is extremely damaging to a child. The child is half one person and half the other. Because of this, it puts the child at war with themselves, it rips them in half emotionally and throws poison into a relationship that is very important for them in so many ways. That being said, these kinds of unconscious dynamics such as complaining about the other parent or contention over custody time, or power struggles though detrimental, is something that you see in a great many family system dynamics. But this is not parental alienation. Parental alienation is a whole other ball of wax. Parental alienation is a highly sophisticated abuse process. Remember that the intention, (and believe me it will be a carefully disguised intention) is to turn the child against the other parent so that the child picks their side and then rejects and abandons their relationship with the other parent.  

So, here is a list of things that all people need to know about parental alienation. 

  1. Parental Alienation is a form of abuse. It is nothing less than this. Parental alienation is the Stockholm Syndrome of the family systems world. And the level of damage that it will do to all the people involved, most especially the children involved, is acute, let me assure you. In order for a person to engage in this level of abuse, they must be in a state of narcissism. Essentially, the alienating parent is a parent who is playing a zero-sum game. They are going for their own best interests to the exclusion of anyone and everyone else’s best interests, including their child’s. And they are not connected enough to anyone else in the situation so as to perceive the negative impact of what they are doing. They lack empathy. This is true even with regards to their own children. Do not be fooled by them because they will take great performative care to make it look like they are the only one who is thinking about the best interests of their child. And due to their own projected traumas, may actually believe this. They will make their self-gratifying aims seem self-sacrificing. But the reality underneath that carefully crafted veneer, is that they are perfectly willing to destroy their own child’s wellbeing for their own vendetta. The child has become a pawn in a game that is scary, dangerous and damaging for the child.
  2. Because the alienating parent has no true sense of “other”, being that they exhibit a narcissistic relational style, the child will be in an extreme form of enmeshment with the alienating parent and that child’s feelings and desires and needs and perspective and thoughts and boundaries and truths will be invalidated to the point that they will simply become a reflection of the alienating parent’s. They become like a puppet in a ventriloquist act. Their authenticity is being suppressed. This is a child who for the sake of their own safety, has had to give themselves up to stay safe from the alienating parent and to get their needs met by the alienating parent. This is a child who regardless of what you may see on the outside, does not feel safe. And is not in a safe situation. This child has had to suppress their love for the alienated parent as well as the desire to be close with them. This child has had to suppress their fragile subjective experience because not doing so would lead to HUGE consequences from the alienating parent. There would be retaliation towards them. They would be treated as if they were betraying the alienator and therefore, as an enemy. This child is essentially an emotional and mental hostage of the alienating parent.
    Because of all of this, there will be no differentiation between themselves and the alienating parent. And this deep level of alliance as well as sense of belonging, which is actually enmeshment, will feel good and safe to the child. The kicker is that this enmeshed relationship will usually be mistaken, even by professionals, as evidence of a good relationship. Rather than what it is, which is dysfunction and evidence that differentiation or development of a sense of self with the alienating parent is unsafe. This is a child who is developing a co-dependent relational style as a means of staying safe with the alienating parent. To understand more about this, you can watch two of my videos titled: The Truth about Narcissism and Codependency as well as Exposing The Codependency Mind Trick.
    It is very important to get that when you are interacting with a child that is in an alienation dynamic, you are not actually interacting with the child. You are interacting with a puppet/reflection of the other parent. This means the person you are actually interacting with when you interact with this child, is the alienating parent. You can think of it like talking to the puppet that is part of a ventriloquist act. The child’s authenticity is deeply suppressed… inaccessible. Just because you see your child’s physical body, that does not mean the actual child is present. They are no longer present. This means that you need to stop trying to talk to this child as if the child is actually there. They are not there. They are in a fused state with the other parent. And let me remind you again, they are in fact in a complex hostage situation. 
  3. The parent who is doing the alienating is not a safe individual. Most especially for the child. The child feels this at a deep, visceral level, even though it is too threatening to be aware of this on a conscious level. The child learns very quickly that there are consequences… big ones, for staying aligned with and connected to the other parent. And so, turning against the other parent is actually something they are doing for the sake of their own survival. To do this, they must sever all sense of affinity, allegiance and connection with the parent being alienated. To be in confluence with and therefore safe with the alienating parent, they must adopt the narrative belonging to that parent… that the other parent is an inadequate, horrible and abusive person. As well as the secret agenda of the alienating parent… that the child wants to punish the other parent and wants nothing whatsoever to do with the other parent. Something that is very hard for people to understand, but must understand when it comes to this dynamic is that children will align with the abusive parent to stay safe. 
  4. Parental alienation is a game of deception. And this game is a process. And unfortunately, almost everyone involved in the parental alienation dynamic (relatives, kids, friends, coworkers) and yes… even professionals such as lawyers, mediators, judges, therapists, counselors, social workers and the like will be fooled by that deception. This is the main reason why, if you are a parent who is being alienated, it will feel like either you, or everyone else has lost their minds. It is a particular breed of hell. One of the most gaslighting situations a person can ever find themselves in.  
    The parent who is doing the alienating has a primary goal. That goal is to be seen by everyone around them as “The Good Guy”. This means, they must get everyone around them to see the other parent as the bad guy so as to manipulate them into participating in their aim… to alienate that parent from the child and even potentially from everyone else in their life. This means that every strategy they come up with to achieve this negative aim, must not look like it! Everything they do must be disguised, hidden, explained away and smoke screened, even from the other parent who they are in the process of alienating. And they take great care to make sure this will happen. To make it look like they are the good person and good parent and make sure the other looks like the bad person and bad parent. The alienating parent will convince themselves and everyone else that the parent being alienated is a truly inadequate, horrible and abusive person and that they need to protect the child from that parent. They will then enroll everyone in the game of doing so. And as a society, we play into this game of deception with our own ignorance to this dynamic. As well as our reluctance to accept that parents can do things like this or set up hostage situations with their own children.
  5. Now that you know deception is the name of the game when it comes to the process of parental alienation, you must understand that parental alienation is an Olympic level triangulation game. The subconscious intention when it comes to triangulation is to divide. When a person triangulates, they are using one person against the other. But listen up here… Most people have no idea that they are being triangulated and for one glaring reason. People who are skilled at triangulation as a means of manipulation will never make it obvious that they are trying to turn someone against someone else so as to get their own needs met. Instead, they will gaslight and lie and do and say anything that makes it look otherwise so as to never have their tactic be seen. And the most common camouflage that they use is two things: 1. Other people’s triggers. 2. Any actual issues that may be there. Let’ look at the first form of camouflage. The parent who is doing the alienating will sense the motivations and values, needs, insecurities and pain points of the person in front of them and play those in their favor. An example is they will keenly ascertain that a professional they are dealing with has a real personal trigger around absenteeism and has dedicated their life to bringing families together. The alienator will then highlight any hint of absenteeism in the other parent and even set up scenarios like giving the other parent wrong information (such as the wrong time to be somewhere) so that absenteeism is what that professional sees. This will strike such a cord with the professional, they are likely to develop an issue with that parent without realizing that the fire between them and that parent was in fact created by the other one. 
    Now for the second form of camouflage. They will hone in on any actual flaw that does exist in the other parent or in the other parent’s relationship with the child and place all the focus on that, so as to distract everyone from their game. For example, let’s imagine that a father is not very good at dealing with his child’s emotions. This is an actual and real problem he has as a parent that does negatively affect his relationship with his kids. An alienator would make sure to make everyone aware that him being bad at dealing with his child’s emotions is the problem and is the reason the kids are turning against him. Seeing as how the thing they’ve decided to hide their strategy behind is real, no one recognizes any deception occurring. They fail to realize that something real could just be the best form of disguise tool that a parent could use to disguise their own game.
    Because we are not very good at seeing more than what is obvious at a surface level, we very rarely recognize triangulation when it occurs. To understand more about this, I suggest you watch my video titled: Are You Being Triangulated? A Common Manipulation Technique in Relationships).
  6. It is not normal at all for a child to turn against or reject a parent. This goes against their biology and everything else within them for that matter. This is sadly the case even when a parent is abusive. And this right here should tell you that something fishy is going on. We are a relationally dependent species. Children form extremely deep bonds with their parents. In a genuine conflict between a parent and a child what you will see is that a child is hurt by something the parent did or does, they will then get mad at the parent and react back at the parent back but all because the child wants a close relationship with the parent and feels like they can’t achieve that. Essentially, the parent hurt the child because the child loves the parent. They want a relationship with the parent and they can’t have the relationship they want and so they are angry and oppositional. When it comes to parental alienation, you will see a total absence of “you hurt me, because I love you.” What you will see is simply a full-blown rejection of the parent. An issue with who they are, more than with what they do. At the same time, they will also adopt the other side of the story line, which is that the alienating parent is wonderful, loving and deeply approved of and wanted. 
    Often, when it comes to parental alienation dynamics (and this should raise huge red flags for you) even if you offer to the child the potential of being able to fix all the problems between them and the parent who is being alienated, they will reject the offer. Again, tipping you off to the fact that the rejection isn’t really happening because “I love you and want a relationship but we need to resolve something first, because you hurt me”. It’s coming from somewhere else. Their motivation for rejecting the parent is not coming from a normal relationship process.
    Well, as it just so happens, the thing that could make a child go against their own nature by turning against a parent is if the child perceives themselves to be more unsafe if they do not go against them. This is the ultimate lose-lose for a child. And knowing that children perceive their security to depend on their bond, even with abusive parents, this means that it takes something truly unnatural and unusual to get a child to do that. 
  7. When it comes to parental alienation, because the child has become a pawn in the game of triangulation against one of their parents, the child will become an accessory to attack. It’s not as straightforward as the child simply rejecting and withdrawing from the parent to stay safe. The child will gain safety and security with the alienating parent by going against the parent being alienated. By proving their allegiance. By carrying out the agenda of the alienating parent. They will start to behave in oppositional ways, hostile ways, defiant ways, even abusive ways towards the parent. And when that parent reacts to that, even in perfectly reasonable ways, the child as well as the alienating parent uses that as proof that the alienated parent is horrible. The response that parent has to their poor behavior will become the justification for the anger the child has towards the alienated parent. To understand more about this dynamic, but in this case, in the context of dealing with children and an alienating parent, you should watch my video titled: The Sickest Game you Can Play.  Essentially, any response that the alienated parent has, will ensure that the child’s narrative as well as the alienating parent’s narrative will be that they deserve that treatment by the child. It is as if the child is punishing the parent for their inadequacy. The alienated parent will be out of control of their child’s behavior, in contrast to the alienating parent or even everyone else, for whom the child will behave perfectly. The child provokes negative patterns of interaction between themselves and the alienated parent. The child is not only a pawn, he or she is also a weapon. The child, in essence becomes an external reflection or manifestation of the alienating parent’s psychology.  
  8. Parental alienation is also about power and control. The function of all the processes involved in parental alienation are designed to grant the alienating parent all the power in the relationship and all the control in the situation, this includes the ability to inflict suffering on the other parent. This dynamic happens when the alienating parent experiences something in the relationship that causes them to feel hurt (abandoned, taken for granted, narcissistically wounded) and therefore out of control of what happens to them and what happens in their relationship with the other person. They decide to take back control by setting up a situation where no matter what the alienated parent does, they will suffer. They have decided that the other parent deserves punishment for whatever they perceive the other parent did. So, they decide to inflict that punishment through the worst means possible… their child. If the alienated parent submits to the child’s behavior (that the alienating parent is in fact creating in them) such as the rejection or the hostility or the abuse or the negativity, then the alienating parent has succeeded in using the child as a weapon and has made them suffer for a perceived hurt caused to them. So, they get their way and are therefore in power and in control. On the other hand, if the alienated parent does not accept the behavior and does not allow themselves to be controlled by the alienating parent, they become the scapegoat and therefore are seen as the cause of everything, thus justifying the child’s rejection of them. And this also means the alienating parent is in power and is in total control. If the alienated parent simply accepts the rejection from their kids and allows the kids not to have a relationship with their child, then they lose their child. And so, the alienator wins in that way too. It is one of the least workable situations that a person can find themselves in. The alienating parent is in power and in control. Parental alienation will feel like a lose, lose, lose, lose, because that is how it is set up. The alienating parent is not interested in a working relationship. They are interested in punishment as a behavioral control tactic when it comes to the other parent. And the tool for that is their own child. They are using their own child as leverage, just like what happens in a typical situation where a person has taken another person hostage.
  9. Given that this dynamic is such an abusive dynamic, and I have presented it as such, it is tempting to completely vilify the alienating parent. But it is also important to understand the why behind their behavior. Much of the behavior that you see in the alienating parent, is an externalized trauma re-creation or re-expression. There is a repetition compulsion when it comes to trauma. The reality is that the alienating parent was a victim of trauma in their relationship with the adults in their childhood. It is very common for a person who is alienating to not admit this to themselves. So, don’t be surprised if they report having a good relationship with their own parents. This is part of their false positive personal narrative that helps them to avoid low self-esteem. That abuse is what made them the way they are today. At a deep subconscious level, those old feelings of being the victim to a parent, are very much alive. So, unknowingly, the parent who is being alienated has stepped into the acting out of a traumatic transgenerational relationship pattern from parent to child. The alienating parent, who is in an enmeshed state with the child, will project themselves onto the child completely. And see the other parent as the abuser of them, and therefore the abuser of the child. But this repetition compulsion is a drive to heal. Unlike the alienating parent, who was a helpless victim with no one there to protect them, they can be there for their child (vicariously themselves) to violently protect them against the perceived abuser. They are trying to resolve their post-traumatic relational stress by violently protecting their child as a means of trying to resolve this externalized protection/rescue of the helpless child experience. Keep in mind that the alienated parent is being projected onto. He or she usually poses no actual risk to the child. The alienating parent is trapped in a kind of persistent triggered state and the delusional reality that triggered state has given rise to.
  10. In a parental alienation dynamic, the alienating parent will go to work enrolling people to their side and will discard or even vilify anyone who does not play directly into their deceptive game so as to be manipulated by them. And this makes things even worse because a therapist who catches wind of what is actually happening is likely to be fired. A lawyer who agrees to any kind of cooperation or compromise or family system reconciliation is likely to be let go. They will work to get any information that could threaten their narrative stricken from the record or prevent it from being seen by any party involved. They won’t engage with anyone who challenges their narrative or their aim. Therefore, the alienated parent is likely to find themselves in a situation where they are caught in a web of the only people involved being ones that are allied to the alienator. This is yet again a part of the power and control dynamic that the alienating parent is trying to set up. And the alienating parent will go on a crusade, turning everyone that they possibly can against the alienated parent and enrolling them in the attempt to control the alienated parent. Their mutual and even non mutual friends, boss, coworkers, siblings, parents, support figures, professionals. Because of this, the alienated parent’s child is only one of the many relationships they will be alienated from as a part of this process.     

The damage that is done by parental alienation is truly severe. And the damage that is done by people not recognizing it and not understanding it and not knowing how to deal with it, especially when those people are professionals, is also truly severe. With this in mind, please share this video with anyone who you feel needs to know about this dynamic. Most especially professionals in the mental health field and legal field. Make sure you stay tuned for part two of this conversation about parental alienation, where I will talk about what to know and what to do if you are a parent who is being alienated. 


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