Alienators. Alienators attempt to cause a child to reject a loving mother or father (and/or other loving relatives). Anyone who does this is perpetrating abuse. Some alienators know but don’t care that the rejected parent is actually a safe and loving person. Some alienators are sincere in their belief that the rejected parent is a bad person and a threat to their child. Even if sincere, those parents are deluded, and demonstrate that their perceptions are distorted, their judgment impaired, and that they should not be trusted with the care of children.
Alienators are not just regular people who are really upset about the divorce and are overreacting. Unfortunately most judges, therapists, lawyers and other professionals assume that this is the case and will admonish the alienator to set aside personal feelings and put the children first, but not do much more. They also assume that the passage of time will mellow the alienator and things will ease up. In an article published in 2005 (1), Elizabeth Ellis offered the suggestion that rejected parents “Consider ways to mollify the hurt and anguish of the alienating parent”, for example by expressing sympathy for their suffering and offering apologies for any contributions the rejected parent made to the interpersonal conflict. I don’t know about you, but I spent years expressing sympathy and apologizing to my ex for anything I did, or might have done, that upset him. Sometimes this did seem to help, but only temporarily. Nothing was enough to make him happy, and I think it even made things worse by feeding his sense of entitlement! In my personal experience and from my discussions with other alienated parents and from my reading and research, the only thing that will make alienators “happy” is for you to submit completely to their will and their control, either by obeying and venerating them, or by disappearing, and preferably providing money.
Interestingly, the same author in a 2010 article (2) seems to have changed her attitude to alienators somewhat. She states frankly “the alienating parent will typically have at least some symptoms of a personality disorder” and recognizes that alienators will not be changed by your efforts to be conciliatory. In other posts I will write about the evidence that alienators are mentally ill, and ways to work with or cope with them. Here I would like to describe the alienators that I am personally familiar with, and what appears to motivate them. I would very much like to hear about the alienators that YOU know or are involved with. What seems to motivate him or her, or them? Have you found anything that has improved their attitude to you? Please comment!
All the names are pseudonyms but the situations described are real:
Rejected parent: my friend “Bella”. Alienated from her teenage daughter “Madeleine” for five years by “James”. James is motivated by hatred for Bella and a desire for complete control. He is a smart, attractive and powerful man with lots of money who makes a great first impression. He first also wanted custody of Bella’s teenage son “Timothy” from a previous relationship. When he couldn’t get it, he cut off all contact with Timothy and even sought a restraining order against him, falsely claiming that Timothy had made threats to harm him. At her father’s urging Madeleine made claims (that were found to be false) that her mother had sexually abused her. James did not allow his daughter to use the internet until she was 16 and had to for school. He has remarried, and has succeeded in almost completely excising Bella and Timothy from Madeleine’s life, although Madeleine’s relationship with both her mother and brother were previously very close and happy.
Rejected parent: my friend “Matt”. Alienator: His ex-wife “Clarissa”. Clarissa is motivated less by hatred and control and more by insecurity and money. Matt can keep her happy and see the alienation ease when he gives her what she wants, although she always wants more. Clarissa is hypersensitive, paranoid, narcissistic, childish and status-conscious. Matt thinks that she would like to get back together with him, although she was never satisfied or happy with him and the decision to divorce was mutual. She hasn’t worked in years and finds continual excuses for not working. Matt could be financially comfortable but has gone into debt frequently to please Clarissa, by paying for private schools for example, so that he can keep the peace and see his kids. She takes offence at others too, not just Matt, and has changed her children’s schools several times and ended many friendships.
Rejected parent: My friend “Marie”. Alienator: Her ex-husband “Tomas”. Tomas is motivated by hatred and is extremely controlling. He manipulated Marie into rejecting her own parents and siblings for a while early in their marriage, but did it by blatantly lying. She reconnected with them when she found out the truth. He is relatively successful in terms of career and finances, and has family money. He has no need for more money himself but tries to bankrupt Marie to control and punish her. He has twice made false accusations of physical abuse against Marie, getting the children to lie to the police. She has been arrested, and eventually cleared, twice. Both times this allowed him to keep the children away from their mother for months. Psychological assessments for custody and access have been done twice, and Tomas was found to be alienating and damaging and the recommendation was for primary custody to Marie. He succeeded in getting the second arrest made because he made the complaint to a different jurisdiction, and in Ontario it is not illegal to knowingly make false accusations. There is no penalty. Marie is certain to win sole custody this time and probably no contact with the alienator will be ordered, but she worries that Tomas’ motivation to control their children and take them from her is so strong that he will persist. He has clearly shown little fear of the law or the courts, and obviously no conscience at all in regard to his children. The children are just trophies to him and their well-being is irrelevant.
Rejected parent: “Jeremy”. Alienator: “Penny”. Penny is a professional earning a six-figure salary. Penny is very smart, initially very charming, and lies well, easily, and probably compulsively. She initiated the divorce. Their daughter “Felicity” was only two at the time, and Jeremy agreed that it was better for Felicity to be primarily with her mom, but with the understanding that his time with her would continually increase until it was 50-50. This never happened. By the time their daughter was eight he barely saw her. Penny made all kinds of excuses, and at first Jeremy gave her the benefit of the doubt. According to Penny, Felicity has all kinds of allergies and health conditions that are worsened by stress, and she manipulated Felicity to fear and reject her dad, often exploiting the health problems to keep him away or to accuse him of insensitivity if he tried to “force” Felicity to see him. Penny has remarried and has another child. Her second husband appears frightened and submissive. Although Penny has a high income and owns at least one property, Jeremy discovered that she had defrauded her daughter’s private school by falsely claiming financial need and was involved in a lawsuit with them. She has also changed her daughter’s school very often, has defrauded tradespeople, and can’t sustain friendships. Her motivation seems to be a need for control, and also a weird desire to trick people. Or maybe it’s just financial greed. Clearly she wants to have her daughter all to herself. The supposed health problems have kept Felicity out of school for long periods, and been the excuse for changing schools too. This also interferes with Felicity’s friendships and increases her dependency on her mother.
Rejected parent: Marilyn. Alienator: Gordon. Gordon can be charming and was more so when he was younger, but he is paranoid, narcissistic and easily offended. Although talented, he has never managed to keep a job for long. He resentfully sees himself as the noble, suffering victim, and persists in asserting that he knows better than everyone else despite ending up penniless and living in a shelter until, because he had his (alienated) children with him in the shelter, bewildered social workers found him subsidized housing. Although by any objective measure he is a “loser”, his children are fiercely loyal and devoted to him and arrogantly parrot his criticisms of their mother. His motivation seems not primarily to destroy or even eliminate Marilyn, although if that has to happen in the service of his main goal that would be fine with him, but to get everyone including her to recognize his greatness, to apologize for all the wrongs done to him, get revenge for him and give him the adulation he deserves. He uses the children as soldiers against her, but tells himself and them that when she is forced into accepting the truth according to him everyone will be happy. I’d say this is the same thing that motivates my ex.
Rejected parent: Alex. Alienator: Julie. Julie is very much like Clarissa. Unhappy, dissatisfied, very status-conscious. Julie wanted to change her life, and although without a realistic plan, to start her own business. She initiated the divorce. Financial greed was definitely a factor powering the drive to alienate, along with resentment and anger. Like my ex, Julie seizes on any opportunity to badmouth her former spouse to anyone who will listen. I think she found Alex an inconvenient impediment to the new fantasy life she envisioned for herself. However, in both the case of Clarissa and Matt and the case of Julie and Alex the alienation was less severe than in the families where the alienator is motivated by hatred.
(1) Ellis, Elizabeth M.  Help for the Alienated Parent The American Journal of Family Therapy Volume 33, Issue 5, pages 415-426
(2) Ellis, Elizabeth M., and Boyan, Susan  Intervention Strategies for Parent Coordinators in Parental Alienation Cases, The American Journal of Family Therapy Volume 38, Issue 3, April 2010, pages 218-236