The Honourable Judge Gomery of Canada put it wisely:
“ Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child. It has to be taught. A parent who would teach a child to hate the other parent, represents a grave and persistent danger to the mental and emotional health of that child”.
Would it were that more judges would share such a view in the UK. It would prevent many injustices to children and alienated parents who are sidelined (usually but not always fathers). Such parents have limited contact with their children, if any contact at all. Some have no direct contact. These parents suffer both humiliation and sadness and more importantly the children also suffer both in the short and long-term (Lowenstein, 2006a). One does not always know from the child’s behaviour that there is anything amiss. Their behaviour is anything but hostile towards the absent father initially, but only later, after a period of considerable brainwashing or programming does the hostility occur, and it eventually becomes an implacable hostility, difficult to reverse.
Behaviour of children who have been alienated (brainwashed) are often:
- they express the same hostility as does the custodial parent, hence the “folie a deux” analogy;
- they identify with and imitate the alienator;
- they do not wish to visit or spend time with the absent and alienated parent;
- the child’s views of rejecting the absent parent is virtually identical with the programming of the custodial parent;
- the children suffer from the same delusions and the irrational beliefs as the alienator in regard to the non resident parent (this occurs because the children have totally identified with the custodial parent);
- the children feel themselves to be powerful due to their alliance with the controlling and powerful alienator;
- they are not frightened (albeit they claim to be) by the absent parent or the court;
- the children have no valid reasons for rejecting the alienated parent, but will often manufacture these reasons, or exaggerate events for the purpose of rejecting alienated parents;
- they can see nothing positive or good about the absent parent and even the absent parent’s family, indeed they claim not to be able to remember anything of a positive nature in the form of memories about the absent parent;
- they have difficulties in being able to distinguish between what they are told about the absent parent and their own recollections of that parent;
- they appear not to feel any sense of guilt about the way they treat the absent parent if and when there is contact;
- they appear to be ‘normal’, yet appear also no longer to have a mind of their own being totally obsessed with the custodial parent and his/her implacable hostility towards the absent parent and frequently his/her extended family.
These reactions are both pathological and unfair towards the targeted parent and harmful to the perpetrator of such behaviour, that is, the child. The result is a refusal of contact with the formerly close and even loved parent (Rand, 1997). Now they feel dread, anxiety and a virtual phobia when being requested to visit that parent (Lund, 1995, Lowenstein, 2006b). If forced to do so they will physically resist, threaten to run away and actually do run away from the alienated parent back to the alienator. The child totally shares the animosity and paranoia with the programming parent. That parent will insist that they have done nothing to cause the child to behave this way. They will claim that they have encouraged contact, but it is the child who rebels so vehemently against visiting the absent parent.
Sometimes this is influenced by different rearing approaches between the two parents. The indulgent parent is usually the programmer, and this is usually the mother. The programmed parent often seeks to guide the child in a certain way and may appear to the child to be more authoritarian and demanding. This is usually the absent father. The child is being used to do what the programmer wants and will resent the parent who directs and guides (this is usually as already stated the father) Lund,(1995).
Sometimes it is the father who is over-indulgent while the child is in his custody. The absent mother fares similarly if she attempts to discipline or direct the child. The warring parents create a climate where the child feels insecure. Instead of unity there is the opposite. The child feels it has to make a choice and chooses usually that parent who had custody to whom to give his/her loyalty. In so doing the child feels inclined to reject the absent parent because that parent has so little power compared with the parent with whom the child resides more or less full time.
Therapists or mediators who seek to resolve parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome may antagonise the child as well as the custodial parent when efforts are made for encouraging the child to have contact with the absent parent. If the therapist goes along with the child’s wishes of rejecting the non custodial parent, and many do, then the parental alienation becomes all the stronger and more difficult to reverse. This means the therapist has fallen into the trap of the alienator who will claim that it is the child’s wishes not to have contact, or only minimal contact with the alienated parent (folie a trios). The courts follow suit by backing the therapist who considers the status quo best for the child. This demonstrates quite clearly how the system of parental alienation works.
Here it becomes imperative that the therapist has the basic principle of “the child needs both parents” firmly in mind. It is important that the therapist is not manipulated either by the alienator, the child, or the current unequal and pathological situation. The therapist must work in order to prevail in getting the child and the alienator to see the value of contact with both parents. As I have so often said, failure to do this, reduces the likelihood of little or no subsequent contact with the absent and alienated parent. “Absence does not make the heart grow fonder”. Absence in fact creates a greater likelihood that the absence will be permanent. Little contact results eventually in no contact.
This allows the alienator to continue his/her work of indoctrination, virtually unchallenged having received the backing of the court. It takes both a wise and courageous judge to seek to see beneath those ‘shenanigans’. There are still too few psychologists whose principle is “the child needs both parents” when such obdurate opposition from the alienator and the child exists.