How Clear Communication Could Be the Key to Ending Parental Alienation

Molly Rumbelow, August 16, 2018

Going through a life change  like divorcing the mother or father of your child(ren) is always going to be a difficult experience. Emotions are running high, and both parties are likely to feel destabilized.
 

This is even more pronounced when there’s been infidelity or other wrongdoing on one or both sides.

When emotions are high during divorce proceedings, it can be really difficult to keep a rational view on the bigger picture – namely what needs to happen for the best interests of the child.

This is where parental alienation can occur in some cases.

 

What is Parental Alienation?

The phrase was first used by child psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner in the mid-eighties and relates to the process of one parent turning the couple’s child against the other during high conflict divorces.

It usually happens (but isn’t exclusive to) the resident parent – the one who’s generally spending more time around their child.

 

How does it happen, and what does it look like?

It usually takes the form of one parent being negative about the other in various ways to the child and can include them making false accusations and using blame.

It’s been difficult for experts to pin down exactly what it does and doesn’t include, and to determine the difference between what we would call deliberate and unintentional alienation.

Which is why these days it is usually referred to as being on a spectrum with cases ranging from mild to extreme.

There’s been debate around parental alienation and it had previously been viewed with some skepticism by mental health and legal professionals. But, in recent years it’s gained more ground in divorce courts as a serious issue that needs to be examined and responded to properly.

 

What’s the impact on the child(ren)?

Aside from the obvious disadvantage of not spending time with a parent or close family member – the damage to children can be deep and long-lasting.

Low self-esteem, self-hatred, lack of trust and depression can be seen in the most extreme cases. The child may internalize the hatred being shown to the alienated parent and feel like it’s their fault that they aren’t around anymore. Or, they may experience strong feelings of guilt and feeling like they’ve ‘betrayed’ the estranged parent.

The extreme and damaging ways this can affect children are why the courts take cases of parental alienation during high conflict divorces so seriously. There is nothing more important for a child’s mental (and physical) state than to be free to give and receive love unconditionally from both parents without the fear of recrimination.

 

It’s not just the children who suffer.

It’s usually fathers who are the alienated parent and we see that in a lot of cases they aren’t willing to speak about the emotional difficulties the process of alienation has caused them. Feelings of profound loss, helplessness, anger, and fear are experienced and held inside – leading to post-traumatic stress disorder in some cases.

As well as the alienated parent feeling the loss, so may their parents – the child’s grandparents. If a child has had to ‘choose sides’ between parents, then in many cases their relationship with their grandparents breaks down too.

It can be heartbreaking for those watching a messy situation from the sidelines to watch the situation unfold without having the means to control or diffuse it.

It can also do serious harm to the relationships between the child and the parent who has triggered the alienation, especially in later life. The feelings of inadequacy, guilt and fear that may have been felt by the child in earlier life can be directed back then to the parent.

 

How can we use communication to prevent this from happening?

In many divorces, it’s when communication breaks down between parties that tensions rise, and problems occur. It’s an understandably tense period for all involved and a wrong word here or there could be enough to derail the possibility of compromise.

While we all have the right to our feelings, we have to understand how important words are and the power that they have if used incorrectly.

It’s why we’re so focused on creating a safe communication environment here at Civil Communicator. We know just how easy it is to write words down when angry, words that then can’t be taken back. By using a review specialist this takes away the risk that bitter words can cause the wrong decisions to be made.

And by sharing calendars, relevant documents, and even expenses it takes away the risk of any miscommunication that could lead to more conflict and tension. As with many cases of high conflict, prevention is far easier than cure.

Keeping a level of consistent and civil communication is so key to de-escalating conflict and resolving divorce and co-parenting issues in the best way for all parties involved. Civil Communicator assists parents in achieving this level of communication through its monitored communication service.

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