In my first article about parental alienation I talked about what it is, why it didn’t make it as an official diagnosis and why high conflict parents create it. If you haven’t read my first article on parental alienation syndrome (PAS), I would recommend doing so. In this article, I want to talk about what to do about it. I believe that parental alienation can be successfully mitigated. That is, if you feel that you have been on the bad end of parental alienation, it’s possible to offset the efforts against you. But doing this effectively won’t happen the way that you might think it will.
For years I worked with troubled teenagers in treatment facilities. Some of these kids were among the toughest and most delinquent youth that the system managed to scrape up. Many of them were master manipulators and in order for me to become effective at my job, I had to learn different ways to approach manipulative tactics and ultimately learned a couple of extremely important lessons. One was that if I could recognize power struggles and deal with them effectively, most of my battles not only became easy but often not even battles at all. But the other extremely important lesson that I learned was this: My reaction to situations and problems would completely change the outcome. That is, I learned that I could either make a problem worse or vastly better, depending on my reaction to it. And sometimes this has everything to do with just changing my perspective. The same lesson applies to you if you have been on the receiving end of parental alienation, if you change your reaction or approach to the situation, you will change the outcome.
First off, there’s one thing that you may be doing and I would encourage you to stop doing immediately. That is discussing any matters about your ex with your children. This includes matters of custody, court stuff, child support or alimony payments, etc. I do completely understand that it’s more than likely that your ex pulls your child into these matters and you probably just feel like you’re defending yourself and wanting your child to know the truth but I have no doubt that your previous efforts of doing this haven’t turned out the way you had hoped and probably backfired a bit; you may have actually lost ground when you defended or explained yourself. So one of my first rules is that you should leave your child out of it. Adopt the phrase, “that’s between me and your mother/father.” This isn’t just in matters of court, custody, money etc. But I would also encourage you to leave your kids out of any discussion that has to do with your ex. Their decisions, actions, words, etc. Leave the kids out of it. There will be exceptions to this of course, some things will need to be talked about but for the most part, work on leaving your kids out of it. Find a different and better outlet for venting your frustrations, if you want to improve your parental alienation situation, you’re going to need to make this step. There are effective ways to have those important discussions with your kids when they need arises but that’s a discussion for another time.
The goal here is to create a contrast between the two parents. If your kids time in one home is full of anger, hatred and endless slandering, they will notice the difference if their other home is the opposite. You don’t need to verbally dispute the lies being told in a PAS situation if your behavior already does that. Your kids will watch to see if what they have been told about you is true, if they don’t observe the things they’ve been told, they will stop believing them and determine that their high conflict parent is wrong. It may take time and may not change as quickly as you would like but the other goal is to improve your relationship with your children independently of all the actions and efforts shown by your ex. Let me explain.
It’s likely that your ex not only uses gaslighting techniques to manipulate you, the kids and situations but it’s also likely that they do so by proxy, using your kids. What does this look like? For starters, your ex will probably do things that they know will make you furious when your kids are around. They will say certain things or break your personal boundaries, just because they know it makes you mad. They actually want you to get angry and blow your stack when the kids are around so that they can distort reality to fit their version of it. They will use it as ‘proof’ that what they say about you is accurate. But this is fairly easy to deal with compared to when things come directly from your kids. If you are the receiving end of parental alienation, you have undoubtedly observed your kids not only acting like your ex, but saying things that your ex would say. When your kids call you a liar, controlling or tell you that you’re a checkbook, your limits will truly be tested. Try to remember that your kids are just parroting what they hear with little to no insight or understanding of the gravity of the things they are saying or doing. Most of the time it’s really just a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do.’
I understand that what I’m asking is really difficult. I know I talk like things are easy when I know that they’re not. You can learn to make some shifts in your reactions to situations, I think that we all can when we make up our minds to do so and I promise it can really be worth it because we’re talking about your relationship with your kids. I know these situations are always difficulty and I want to express that I understand that much of your life up to this point has been a lot of chaos and you, like many others, sometimes feel like you want to throw in the towel and give up. Sometimes it probably seems hopeless. But I promise that with time and effort, it can improve.
I’ve been developing a communication method that I’m helping people learn that increases their effectiveness in these high conflict situations. It’s based around the Socratic questioning technique. If you’re not familiar with it, there’s plenty of information on the internet but I find it to be extremely useful and effective in most relationships and situations. It decreases defensiveness and power struggling. Though it takes time, effort and practice to learn, it continues to prove to be quite effective. Give me a call and we’ll get you going on learning this technique.