Parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse that involves the efforts of one parent to alienate their child from his or her other parent by using threats, speaking poorly of the other parent and/or engaging in emotional manipulation. Though parental alienation generally occurs among divorced parents, it can happen in any situation - even unconsciouly in the midst of an otherwise happy marriage.
Thre are two key elements that determine parental alienation. First, the alienator is actively blocking the other parent from forming natural relationships and bonds with the child. Secondly, there exists a pattern of a parent gratuitously criticizing, belittling, and destroying the other parent's reputation in order to give the child a false perception of them for the purpose of creating an environment in which the child will dislike them.
Alienation can manifest itself in various ways. Sometimes the parent engages in consciously negative and unsupportive behavior, while other times they do so without knowing it. There are three genreal types of alienators: naive, active, and obsessed. The naive alienators are the most passive of the three, and may become frustrated with the other parent and occasionally say negative things that they don't realize will affect their child's psyche.
Active alienators are more aware of their behavior, know that it is wrong, and have a tendency of lashing out at or about the other parent in the presence of their child. Although active alienators are conscious of their actions, they lack the intent that obsessive alienators have. Ovsessive alienators cross the line more that active alienators because they are not only aware of their severe behavior, their actions are purposeful and carry the intent of estrangement. Obsessive alienators lack the repsect of the other parent's relationship with their child and generally dismiss any attempts of interaction.
Children can be vulnerable to suggestion and pick up on cues and behaviors, especially from an authority like a parent. While some children might be resistant to a parent's criticism and frustration, others pay closer attention. When parental alienation becomes especially harsh and elongated, a child is more likely to mirror the actions of the alienator and even side with them, creating new reasons to avoid contact with the other parent.
In cases of divorced parents, alienation can maifest itself in the most apparent of forms - physically. Some parents withhold visitation rights or make up false excuses for the other parent not to have contact. The child may be unconsciously coerced into siding with the alienating parent because they feel the need to pretect the alienator who exhibits depressed or frustrated behaviors, or want to avoid the anger or rejection of them.
If you notice the other parent of your child engaging in alienating behaviors, or suspect that your child is exhibiting signs of being "brainwashed", it may be time for a therapeutic intervention. When custody is shared, parents may need to arrange custody in a different manner or have the judge mandate family counseling.