dealing with parental alienation

Understanding Why Your Child is Rejecting You and Mapping the Breakdown of Family Dynamics

atriumadminFamily Coaching, Parental Rejection

Family dynamics are often complicated at the best of times, but the introduction of a high-conflict divorce or separation can have profound effects on the bond between parents and their children. Tense situations hold the opportunity for anxiety and anger to fester, leading to confusion and emotional distress for children caught in the middle of warring adults. This damage becomes even more pronounced when one parent attempts to (or succeeds at) alienating the other parental party by slowly turning their child(ren) against them. 

The early signs of parental alienation, including distance, anger, and sudden fear on the part of your child, can be confusing and heartbreaking to navigate. Knowing how to spot signs of parental manipulation is essential to protecting your child and yourself against malicious relationship breakdowns that serve to cause long-lasting harm to kids. 

At Pathways Family Coaching, we recognize the emotional toll this takes on parents and children alike and are proud to help families fight against alienation with the help of our coaching and learning resources. Below, we’ll examine why your child may be alienating you, as well as how to map out a timeline of family breakdowns to address and heal these issues effectively.

Understanding Parental Alienation

Parental alienation occurs when a child becomes estranged from one parent due to intentional psychological and emotional manipulation by the other parenting party. There are many ways alienation can occur, but it most frequently involves one parent portraying the other negatively, limiting contact, or influencing the child’s perception of the targeted parent. These actions cause a slow breakdown of the parent-child relationship and lead to feelings of rejection, fear, and confusion for both the alienated parent and their child(ren). 

Reasons for child alienation include: 

Influence from the Other Parent

As mentioned above, one of the biggest reasons your child may suddenly begin to reject you is the influence of your former spouse, whether it’s done intentionally or not. Negative comments, emotional manipulation, restricting contact, or ‘punishing’ the child for engaging with you are all hallmarks that set the stage for alienation and allow for the breakdown of your relationship. 

Conflict and Hostility

High-conflict divorces or separations can create an environment where a child feels torn between parents, and in many cases, they may withdraw from the party they see as the “aggressor” or “bad” parent (often influenced by the other parent as outlined above). Witnessing frequent arguments may lead the child to feel the need to pick sides, and continued exposure typically leads to pervasive stress and anxiety that makes children less likely to engage with the perceived source of conflict.

Lack of Communication

Poor communication can exacerbate feelings of alienation and, in some cases, even lead to children mistakenly feeling justified in removing themselves from further contact with you. When a child is being alienated, ‘regular’ misunderstandings can feel much more severe, and a lack of clarity often leads to feelings of mistrust and resentment that can easily be manipulated by the other parent. If one parent has a history of emotional (or even physical) distance, this can also inform a child’s decision to align with the other parent due to perceived safety and consistency. 

Mapping the Breakdown of Family Dynamics

Understanding the timeline of how family dynamics broke down can help identify key moments that contributed to parental alienation, which may protect you during legal proceedings. To map the breakdown of your parental relationship, consider the following:

Pre-Separation Dynamics

Consider the family dynamics before the separation. Were there signs of conflict or issues that might have affected your relationship with your child? Households that maintain a steady baseline of conflict often have extenuating issues that can compound and result in alienation, as can the role that both parents have historically played. 

The Separation Process

The period during the separation is often critical in the development of parental alienation. Though your separation may have started amicably (or may not have, in many cases), if there has been a serious breakdown in communication and respect, your child has likely picked up on this and may have begun to demonstrate behavioural changes. It’s also vital to look at all custody arrangements and how any changes may have influenced things. 

Post-Separation Events

Post-separation events can further solidify feelings of alienation due to the influence of the co-parent, other major life events (one parent becomes pregnant, moving, changing schools, etc). Any aggravating circumstances and subsequent changes should be noted in as much detail as possible. 

How Can We Move Forward?

If you’re experiencing parental alienation, you’re likely feeling alone and wondering what it will take to “get your child back”. Be advised that reunification is not an easy process, and takes serious commitment from all involved parties. With that being said, rebuilding your bond is possible with health, open dialogues, consistent contact, and the assistance of trained professionals like counsellors and family coaches like the team at Pathways

If you’re ready to fight for your parental relationship with your child(ren), Pathways Family Coaching is here to help. Learn more about parental alienation with our Alienation Code course and Pathways Through Conflict resource or by contacting our team today

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