By: Douglas Darnall, Ph.D.
Caution: The term obsessed alienator is a description of a pattern of behavior and is not a diagnosis.
Parents dealing with an obsessed alienator often feel at the end of their ropes with frustration, anger or rage, hurt, and may feel powerless.
However, it is important that a targeted parent:
- Don’t give up on your children.
- Keep your anger and hurt under control. Losing control only fuels the alienating parent.
- Don’t retaliate.
- With your attorney, be sure the court continues to support your parenting time. The only excuse for terminating parenting time is if there are allegations of abuse or threats to the children’s safety. If you are being falsely accused of abuse, cooperate with the investigation and insist on supervised visits rather than no visits.
- Don’t stop going trying to pick up your children for your parenting time. If the other parent refuses, keep showing up unless the court order says otherwise. I realize this can be painful. Also, to get hostile towards your ex in your children’s presence will only make matters worse for everyone.
- Keep a log of your activities.
- Focus on keeping your relationship with the children positive. Don’t pump your children for information or cause your own alienation.
- Don’t wait to intervene when you start having problems. Many times problems with alienation will occur when you or your ex starts getting serious in a new relationship. If there is a problem, contact your attorney.
- Get a court order requiring you and the other parent to get into family therapy. The therapists will need to determine if the child or children need deprogramming. The therapist doing the deprogramming needs to be a different therapist than the one working with the parents. The reason is to prevent problems with trust between the parent and therapist.
- The Alienator and his or her supports (spouse and extended family) may need to be part of the therapy and be educated about alienation and their role in the problem. At this point, the therapist has to be a salesperson in order to engage them in trying to resolve the alienation. I have learned that a new spouse and grandparent can destroy any progress that the parents make in therapy.
- Monitor your own behavior so you don’t begin alienating. Know the symptoms.
- If the problem continues, try understanding what the other parent is reacting to without getting defensive. Then, if necessary, try to talk openly about what you are seeing and feeling (feedback model). If the problem continues, the alienating parent may need to consider therapy.
- Don’t violate court orders.
- Don’t violate civil laws. Do not “stalk” the other parent, or threaten or use physical force in an effort to see your children
- There needs to be a court order supporting the family therapy and deprogramming.
- The court should have a mechanism, like a Guardian Ad Litem, Parent Coordinator, Special Master or court staff member to monitor the alienating parent’s compliance to the court order. Courts must find sanctions for parents refusing to cooperate. One sanction against the obsessed alienator that can be considered is to increase the targeted parent’s parenting time with the children (thus, deceasing the obsessed alienator’s amount of time with the children).
Dealing with an obsessed alienator can be one of the most difficult and painful experiences you will have because you will feel powerless and it can last for years. What is most important is that you don’t add to the problem by getting caught up in the alienating cycle, even though it is often difficult to not lash out toward the alienating parent. Remember prevention is a must because reversing parental alienation syndrome is near impossible. Most courts don’t have an effective mechanism to handle these cases.