Parental Alienation is a form of undue influence in which one parent deceives and manipulates the child to feel fear, anger, disgust, or other negative emotions towards the other parent and their entire side of the family. Stories are told that might include: the parent doesn’t love them, beat, raped them, are drug addicts etc.. The alienating parent might even attempt to instill false memories of abuse or phobias in the child’s mind. They may encourage the child to spy and tattle on the other parent. In other words, parents who unethically alienate their child against the other parent use similar tactics that cults use to distance their members from family, friends, and ex-members.
According to developmental psychologist and expert witness Dr. Amy Baker, parental alienation strategies can fall into the following five categories:
- poisonous messages to the child about the targeted parent in which he or she is portrayed as unloving, unsafe, and unavailable
- limiting contact and communication between the child and the targeted parent
- erasing and replacing the targeted parent in the heart and mind of the child
- encouraging the child to betray the targeted parent’s trust
- undermining the authority of the targeted parent
Dr. William Bernet, who is president of the Parental Alienation Study Group and Professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, gave a review of the eight criteria for diagnosing parental alienation that were originally developed in 1985 by Dr. Richard Gardner. These symptoms all occur in the child rather than either parent. Although Dr. Bernet cautions that the symptoms still need to be studied further, he says they have held up well as indicators of parental alienation.
- Denigration: The campaign of denigration is when the child repeatedly complains about the parent over and over again.
- Frivolous rationalization for the complaint: Even though they have these complaints, the justification for the complaints are frivolous.
- Lack of ambivalence: When we have relationships with people, they’re usually ambivalent in the sense that there are some good points and some bad points, and that’s normal. For almost everyone we know we can think of some good qualities and not-so-good qualities about the person. These children have a lack of ambivalence, meaning they see one parent as totally good and the other as totally bad.
- “Independent thinker” phenomenon: The child goes out of his or her way to say they thought about these ideas without being influenced by the alienating parent.
- Automatic support/ Reflexive support: Regardless of the topic that comes up, the child will automatically side with the preferred parent and automatically disagree with the targeted parent.
- Absence of guilt: These children can be very disrespectful and say or do horrible things with absolutely no qualms. They show a disregard for the parent’s feelings and emotions and it does not bother them at all to do or say these horrible things about one of their parents.
- Borrowed scenarios: This refers to how a child tells a story about something that happened. Their story will be the exact same story their preferred parent has described.
- Spread of animosity: The child’s hate will spread to others in the target parent’s life because of their connection to the target.
Using the BITE model, children and other family members can be given tools to recognize when manipulation is occurring. “BITE” stands for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control. They can also be educated on what healthy parenting is and how to establish a good relationship with both parents that respects the family structure.