Parental alienation may be the most destructive of all family dysfunction. One basic rule for healthy families, is for both parents to be respected and appreciated, and for children to be allowed to love both parents throughout their lifetime without interference. Parental alienation means one parent commands respect, and the other parent is made to feel less than, difficult, crazy, selfish, and a bunch of other really negative things. For the parent being denigrated, there’s no defense against it. And there’s no way to fix it.
Parental Alienation Is Abuse
Parental alienation is a form of child abuse and spousal abuse that hasn’t been explored much. I didn’t even know there was a name for it until we published an article about it recently, but I’m still experiencing the impact of it long after my divorce. The lasting effects of parental alienation are so persistent that even when adult children finally learn that a parent they don’t respect, appreciate or love, is not the monster they thought, they still retain the negative feelings. Still keep the secrets, still protect the abuser, and still lack respect for the parent they saw denigrated as children. While the damage to children was the basis for the linked article above, there is also incalculable damage to the spouse and the relationship between the spouse and children, and that is what I am writing about today.
The Root Cause Is Control
Divorce does not bring about parental alienation. In my experience, it starts long before that. It starts with one parent’s need to be top dog with all the love and all the control in every situation. Know how dogs fight to guard their territory against other dogs? In people, it’s relentlessly undermining a spouse, being disapproving, causing unnecessary fights, telling stories to the kids that aren’t true, being difficult about relationships, not listening, not letting the spouse get a word in, interrupting. Manipulation, triangulation, denigration, passive aggressive behavior, and just plain aggressive behavior are all hallmarks of parental alienation.
Denial Makes It Impossible To Fix
Every single one of these above abusive behaviors is continuously denied, so meaningful confrontation and compromise is impossible. The spouse being denigrated cannot ever defend against it without being accused of being paranoid, too sensitive, ridiculous, misunderstanding. If that spouse leaves the marriage and the abuser has equal share of the children, then it’s open season. The spouse who abused during the marriage will continue the practice at every opportunity for decades to come. If you've experienced this, you can never be whole except when you heal yourself.
The Cure For Parental Alienation
People who experience parental alienation during a marriage often feel crazy because they live in an impossible situation. While in an abusive marriage, there’s not a lot you can do to feel better. You’re too busy trying to fend off the deluge of emotional blows. The denigrating spouse wants control, and control can only be achieved by your feeling awful. So, you feel awful and try to please, which is a tactic that doesn’t work.
Get Help and Heal Yourself
Here’s the cure in a few short sentences. I wanted to return to the self I used to be. I needed therapy to even know what I wanted for myself. I'd lost myself in defense of myself. It was hard to detach from being enmeshed with other people’s needs and words and behavior. It was hard not to react and fight back. Now, years later, it's still hard to be firm and expect to be treated with love and respect. I had to change myself because I can’t change anyone else. Whether loved ones can heal themselves is always up to them.