Let’s start with why therapists and evaluators often miss alienation.
Targeted parents may present as anxious, depressed, and angry. At the same time, beneath these desperate situational reactions generally lies psychological health.
Alienating parents, by contrast, generally often calm, cool, and charming and therefore look more attractive. They lie convincingly. Alienator and child appear credible by telling similar stories.
Yet beneath the alienator’s smooth exterior lie one or more Cluster-B character disorders:
(1) borderline emotional hyperreactivity, splitting, etc.
(2) narcissistic ignoring of the child’s needs in favor of using the child as their foot soldier against the targeted parent
What hypotheses need to be generated and evaluated in potential alienation cases?
Explore the following two possible causes of the child’s negative view of one parent. Note that more than one of these factors may be occurring.
- Danger from verbal, sexual, and/or physical abuse
- Brain-washing of the child by an alienating parent
When a child’s negative reaction stems from verbal, phyiscal or sexual abuse, children still want a relationship with the abusive parent. In addition however, accusations that a targeted parent has been abusive need to be assessed thoroughly to be certain that these kinds of abuse are not occurring, and if so, addressed directly.
IN contrast, when a child’s negative reaction stems from the abuse of alienation, the child becomes resistant, increasingly hostile, and eventually rejects altogether the targeted parent.
Severely alienated children also manifest splitting, which is not at all characteristic of children who suffer other kinds of abuse. They insist that the alienating parent is all good; they totally reject the all-bad targeted—though, in reality, emotionally healthier—parent. While mildly alienated children do not show the full spilitting phenomenon, it is vital to stop the alienation as early as possible as the phenomenon tends to be progressive.