Parental Alienation During and After Divorce

Parental alienation refers to the manipulation of a child’s mind during or after a divorce, leading the child to show disdain or hostility towards the other parent. Despite the mention of a disorder, parental alienation is not officially seen or recognized as a disorder in any psychiatric community. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a serious issue. Parental alienation is a recognized dynamic in certain divorce cases and may leave a lasting mark leading to other possible issues, including a lack of trust and social withdrawal. Parental alienation can also refer to realistic estrangement, wherein a child fears or displays disdain for an abusive or neglecting parent. But in this page, we will be primarily be discussing pathological alienation.

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What Does Parental Alienation Look Like?

  • Divorce proceedings are not always amicable, and when two parents have to share custody or rely on their child’s right to choose (depending on what state they’re in), chances are that they might try and turn their child against the other parent through misleading statements, lies, or other forms of manipulation.
  • Parental alienation shares the characteristics of unusual and sudden hostility toward the other parent, usually as a result of a misconception of the parent’s true intentions or actions. Pathological alienation is not to be confused with valid feelings of alienation towards an abusive parent, or realistic estrangement.
  • Parental alienation also shares the characteristic of the “independent-thinker phenomenon” with other forms of mental manipulation, in which the child believes that the opinions they hold towards the other parent are their own and are a result of their own conclusions and thoughts, rather than any information implanted by the other parent.

What Causes Parental Alienation?

Younger children are particularly susceptible to parental alienation, because they’re generally easier to manipulate and have a harder time differentiating between what they hear and what they truly think. Critical thinking skills and the ability to perceive more complex levels of manipulation are usually rare in most children under a certain age, yet these feelings of alienation can often persist into the teen years, to the point that a child may continue to vilify or believe that their other parent had done terrible things.

Subtle manipulation – the primary cause for pathological alienation is the work of one parent discrediting the other. In essence, parental alienation generally involves some form of manipulation to convince a child that their other parent deserves to be vilified. These beliefs can persist into adolescence and cause severe damage to the relationship between a parent and their child, as well as massively damage a teen’s trust for other people after treatment.

Realistic estrangement – this is a different form of alienation, wherein a child’s actions and beliefs are justified by real experiences. Depending on the severity of the experiences, a child may be treated for mental disorders related to trauma and post-traumatic stress.

How Can I Help a Teen with Parental Alienation?

Create a nurturing and trusting relationship – parental alienation erodes multiple relationships at once, usually at an early stage in a child or teen’s development. This can severely impact their ability to form social bonds, their capacity to speak out about their emotions, communicate with others, and generally function in a relationship. It’s possible that the damage is very long-lasting, requiring extensive therapy and many years of healing. In cases where the trauma is very deep-seated, these emotions of mistrust will be rooted in other behavioral and mental problems, causing a very complicated situation. It’s important to create a supportive environment for a teen to flourish in and continue to work on their emotional problems through lessons learned in therapy.

Encourage the teen to speak up about their feelings – communication is the most vital and important part of trust, right up there alongside honesty. If you’re taking care of a teen who has experienced parental alienation, it’s critical to emphasize honest, truthful, and constant communication. It may take time and patience for a teen to heal fully, so don’t get frustrated at potential setbacks.

Explore stress management options – parental alienation can cause a teen considerable distress while they’re going through the process of digesting what happened, coming to terms with the fact that they were lied to. During this time, it can be easy for them to lash out and seek ways of forgetting what happened. It’s important to help them go through with the entire treatment process, while also exploring ways to cope with the resulting stress and pain.Video Player

What Types of Teen Parental Alienation Treatment Are Available?

Teen parental alienation treatment largely centers around helping a teen find a neutral place away from both parents, addressing the “family system”, shielding a teen from bad parenting, while giving them the critical thinking necessary to come to their own conclusions, and delve deeper into their memory to consider how the manipulation might have affected them.

Talk Therapy – Some suggest traditional counseling is not effective for parental alienation, but it is potentially more effective to suggest that talk therapy and behavioral therapy are only effective after a certain level of groundwork has already been laid out. It’s important for teens to discuss their emotions and thoughts with a neutral third party, within a trusted environment. Talk therapy can provide that environment, although only in part.

Residential Treatment – It’s probably necessary in most cases of parental alienation to nominally remove a teen from their parents and place them in a transitional home. A treatment facility, such as that at Paradigm Treatment, is perfect. Here, they can work on the issue with professionals and be among other teens as well, while having time away from both parents to come to their own conclusions.

Structural Intervention – Structural intervention refers to interfering in a child or teen’s life in such a way that they are pulled out of their situation and placed on a neutral ground. This has to be done in a legally-permissible way. 17-year-old runaways have unique rights and 18-year-old teens or older are considered adults, yet younger children are in a more complex situation.

Teen Parental Alienation Treatment at Paradigm Treatment

In teen parental alienation treatment, we implement a number of different therapeutic techniques, designed to help address the false belief systems, negative thoughts, feelings of guilt, and stress in relationships, that have all been caused by the poisonous words and actions of one parent, toward another.  We’re especially careful to help teens become aware of the ways in which their own beliefs, both concerning their parents and themselves, have been created and/or affected by their parents’ actions.

A Multimodal Approach – We help teens to make connections between these experiences of teens with the negative symptoms related to other possible co-dependent mental health issues. Parental alienation may be a traumatic experience, or may lead to a general loss of trust in others, leading to social withdrawal, depressive thinking, anxiety towards commitment, and drug use for coping. These issues are all examined, probed, and addressed through a multimodal treatment approach that utilizes different therapies.

Working with Others – Teens with parental alienation may be living with their grandparents, or on their own, after realizing that one parent manipulated them into hating the other. Though Teen parent alienation therapy is sometimes a very prominent and powerful aspect of a teen’s overall treatment plan, it’s always incorporated into a holistic design, which address these familial stressors and challenges in the context of the teen’s greater life experience.  We work carefully with teens to help them rebuild broken relationships, work on themselves, regain trust in others, and learn to cope with any of the effects of parental alienation.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Parental Alienation

There’s no way to know for sure, but a tell-tale sign is that your child has begun acting strange around you, spreading lies or being hostile for no reason. They may begin to actively avoid you, or take the side of the other parent in every argument.

Ideally, a teen should choose after treatment, but it’s unlikely that they would choose to live with the parent who willingly caused them to alienate their other parent out of spite or hatred. They may also choose to live with another relative, either a grandparent or a more distant relative. After a certain age, they’re legally allowed to live on their own. It may take years for a teen to fully feel comfortable with their parents.

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