Parental Alienation: When Children Are Turned Against the Loving Parent

mother in green sweater suffering parental alienation

Parental Alienation

When Children Are Turned Against the Loving Parent

Written by Randi Fine

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

The most heartbreaking work I do is helping parental alienation victims; desperate parents whose children have been turned against them by a vindictive narcissistic ex-partner.

These loving parents feel helpless when the children they loved and nurtured, dedicated their lives to, are suddenly alienated from them. Sadly, they have every reason to feel the way they do. Parental alienation is part of the narcissistic smear campaign that survivors cannot control, mitigate, or stop no matter what they do.  

One must understand the workings of the narcissistic mind in order to understand how something such as this can possibly happen.

Narcissists capture people and take them hostage. We call these associations “relationships.” Hostages are considered the narcissist’s property. These people are then objectified and dehumanized in order to justify, in the narcissist’s warped mind, the campaign of abuse he will use to hold them psychological /emotional captives. This guarantees the narcissist a reliable source of narcissistic supply that will entertain him and keep him emotionally fed.

When a hostage escapes (a relationship ends) the narcissist feels as if the property she worked so diligently to keep captive has been stolen. This skewed perception sets off a rage unlike any the hostage has ever witnessed. A cruel, vindictive smear campaign follows.

The narcissist knows that the best way to ruin the escapee’s life is to steal his or her children. This is cruel and unusual punishment but the narcissist does not care. His goal is to decimate the escapee’s life in every way possible; and he will stoop to any level to do that.

Narcissists don’t need to physically steal children. They are fully adept at hijacking the children’s minds. It doesn’t matter if they legally have physical access to the children through court ordered visitation and shared custody or not. They find ways to access the children’s minds, gain control of them, and turn them against the loving parent. In the absence of physical contact (and often as an adjunct to it) the mind manipulation campaign is executed during telephone calls, texts, or email exchanges.

Because of their vulnerability, the most sensitive children are usually targeted first; sometimes exclusively. The other children are targeted and will remain brainwashed, confused, and angry to a degree, but in most cases their minds aren’t fully taken over. Children who are argumentative, challenging, and feisty often fair the best. In some cases, over time, narcissistic parents, unable to capture supply from them, tend to give up on these children.

Sibling relationships are deliberately destroyed by the NPD parent to keep the children from collaborating in ways that will undermine his control.

The most vulnerable child is systematically told lies about the loving parent; first subtly and then blatantly. The narcissistic parent plays innocent and blames the loving parent for everything that is causing the child grief. In addition, the narcissistic parent emphasizes how abandoned she feels since the other parent “selfishly” left the family, and how badly she needs support, company, and comfort. Vulnerable, highly compassionate children fall for this ruse hook, line, and sinker. Feeling as if loving, being with, or treating the good parent kindly is a betrayal to the other parent, they develop a severe guilt complex.  

Children in narcissistic families have no healthy way to cope with the stress of their family break-up. Lacking the ability to process complex emotional situations such as this in an emotionally  healthy way, a skill more associated with adult emotional processing, they become consumed with the guilt and confusion put upon them by the narcissistic parent.

To keep from going insane, their brains must essentially “choose” a side.  The pull of a narcissistic parent, one from whom they desperately want love and with whom they must earn it, is much stronger than the pull of the loving parent with whom they already have secure emotional ties. That choice, understandably, is impossible for the loving parent to understand.

Lacking understanding of what is happening inside the child’s mind, misinterpreting the behavior problems that have suddenly arisen, and believing the child is willingly and knowingly choosing the abusive parent over he or she, the good parent gets upset; sometimes outraged.

It has been reinforced to the child that the loving parent is selfish. So the child judges the loving parent’s behavior as selfish, and therefore confirms everything the abusive parent alleged.  Every subsequent encounter the child has with the loving parent causes more and more damage to their relationship; sometimes irreparable.

Parental alienation is a serious form of child abuse that goes largely unrecognized by the court system. Children are rarely saved from the life altering abuse that significantly increases their risk of mental illness in the future. And since alienating parents play victim so convincingly, they are often seen that way by the court system and the responsible parent seen as the perpetrator.

There are strategies and tactics loving parents can use to help keep their children’s minds from being completely taken over. I discuss this topic in my podcast/video: Divorcing the Narcissist: Strategies for Protecting and Saving Your Children. There is also an entire chapter in my book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery devoted to it.

If you are suffering from parental alienation and need help getting through it or wish to learn strategies to help you navigate the heartbreaking counter-intuitive process, I am available.

Randi Fine is the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.

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