Can Be Done To Reduce the Implacable Hostility Leading to Parental
Alienation in Parents?
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
A previous article already available deals with implacable hostility
leading to parental alienation. We are now going to consider some
of the strategies that can be used to reduce the impact of both
the implacable hostility and the parental alienation towards which
implacable hostility frequently leads. This is best achieved through
mediation (Cheung, 1996; Hahn & Kleist, 2000; Lowenstein 1998b;
Novick, 2003; Bartholomae et al., 2003; Bailey & Robbins, 2005;
While implacable hostility does not always lead to parental alienation
or parental alienation syndrome, which includes a number of symptoms
associated with the alienation process, it frequently does cause
such parental alienation. This is detrimental to children as well
as the non custodial parent (Johnston et al., 2001, 2005). Sometimes
partners remain hostile towards one another while at the same time
realising their responsibility to their children and seek to involve
both parents in the responsibility of rearing their children together
as much as possible. When implacable hostility however, leads to
the alienation process, then we have a situation which the courts
need recognise and act upon accordingly.
The courts need to work closely with the expert witness, be that
a psychologist or a psychiatrist, who is attempting to mediate between
the partners whenever possible in order to make them aware of their
responsibility primarily towards their children and towards each
other in the process of this Gardner, 1997; Lowenstein, 1998b; Heiliger,
2003). Not all parents participate willingly or at all in some cases,
in the process of mediation which has the aim of involving both
parents and making certain that contact between the children and
the absent parent is regular and is of a positive nature (Palmer,
Sometimes children state that they do not wish to see their absent
parent, be it the father or the mother, but this should be looked
upon with some suspicion (Johnston et al., 2001, 2005). It should
be of especial concern when the absent parent has had a good relationship
with his/her children in the past, and following the separation
of the couple and the acrimony and implacable hostility that may
exist, the children fail to wish contact with the absent parent.
This has both short and long term harmful consequences (Caplan,
2004; Baker, 2005).
Ways to combat parental alienation during mediation and
There is no easy way to combat alienation especially if it has
taken place over a long period of time and the alienated parent
has had little contact with his/her children. One might say the
alienator has won but the child/children have lost because of the
complete control of the alienator and the lack of beneficial contact
with the absent parent. It would appear that the alienator and the
child have become an inseparable team who work totally together
and appear to wish to “shut out” not only the absent
parent but the immediate family of that absent parent. This ultimately
is a victimisation or abuse of the child as well as the absent parent.
We must now consider the firm approaches that are necessary in
order to reverse this situation whenever possible and not to take
the word of the child at face value when he/she says they do not
want to see the absent parent. Often this means that they have been
involved in “brainwashing” or “alienation”
by the custodial parent. Many of the suggestions that are about
to be made, overlap to a large degree. There are at least 24 ways
of combating parental alienation and all or many of them can be
- It is important to destroy the effect of denigration by one
of the parents towards the other by making the child aware of
the happy history before the acrimony and separation between the
- It is important for the child to see the good points about
the denigrated parent. Any parent who wishes their child a happy
life in the future should do all possible to encourage the child
to look favourably on the absent parent and encourage the child
to be with that parent.
- It is important to be firm and proactive in changing attitudes
and behaviour that have caused the parental alienation.
- It is vital to try to get the alienating parent to co-operate
in stopping the alienation process once it has started or to prevent
it from starting in the first place if possible. This is easier
said than done and many alienators suffering from implacable hostility
towards their former partners will refuse to co-operate in this,
or appear to co-operate, but not really doing so. They will claim
that they have done everything they can to get the child to be
with the absent parent but the child has refused and they cannot
force the child to do otherwise. As already stated if the child
has had a good relationship with the now absent parent it would
be simple for the custodial parent to encourage contact rather
than the opposite. Only the implacable hostility prevents the
custodial parent from sincerely encouraging a child to have contact.
- It is important to appeal to the child’s conscience or
what they are doing in rejecting, hurting and humiliating an innocent
party who cares for them.
- It is important to have the child seen apart initially, to gain
some information about how the child feels about the absent parent,
and also to see the alienated parent and the alleged alienator
initially separately. Eventually the child and the absent parent
and the psychologist or mediator should be seen together in order
to seek to change both attitudes and behaviour via rational emotive
therapy. There is often a need for the process to be very firm
in its communication.
- It is important to make the child aware of what a blood relative
might sacrifice for him/her which no other person would do.
- It is important to warn the parent who alienates a child of
the harm that they are doing to the child, not just at the present
time but in the future also. It could also bring problems for
the custodial parent once the child realises how he/she has been
manipulated by the alienator.
- It is important to appeal to the child’s critical thinking
or intelligence in making the right decisions about the absent
parent. The child should be made aware of the unfairness and cruelty
in rejecting a loving parent who could do much for that child
now and in the future.
- It is important to make the child aware that they have and
need both parents and not just the one and that this will not
endanger the relationship with the custodial parent in any way.
- It is important to make the child aware that they may lose
a good parent if the process of alienation continues and the absent
parent eventually gives up trying to make contact with the child
after that parent has been rejected repeatedly.
- The child should be made aware that the extended family of
the alienated parent is also being unfairly rejected and is very
eager to have real contact with their grandchild.
- It is important to encourage the child not only to engage with
the alienating parentbut with the alienated parents’ extended
family including grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins
- This also will help to reverse the alienating process where
everyone will work together to make the child aware that those
close to him love him/her and wish to see him/her on a regular
- It is important to curtail or eliminate telephone calls and
other communications from the programming parent while the child
is with the non custodial parent i.e. during a contact visit.
- It is vital for the children who have been alienated to spend
as much time as possible with the alienated parent alone so that
a relationship can develop or re-develop between them. The longer
this individual contact occurs, the greater the likelihood that
the alienation process will be reversed, hopefully on a permanent
- It is vital to curtail the child being used as a spy against
the alienated parent. This is often done by the alienator for
the purpose of gaining information and advantage over the now
absent parent due to the implacable hostility between them.
- In extreme cases the child should be removed from the influence
of the alienating parent and custody of the child/children be
given to the alienated parent (Gardner, 2001a; Palmer, 2002),
or another body which may include a family member of thealienated
party. This must be done through the court and at the suggestion
of the expert witness or mediator when no progress appears to
be made in reversing the process of alienator, and the alienator
continues with his/her alienation.
- Passivity and tolerance are ineffective when dealing with parental
alienation. What is required is confrontation of a very powerful
kind to both counteract the effects of the alienation and to reverse
it. Courts unfortunately will frequently listen to older children
who claim that they do not wish any contact with the absent parent
without giving any good reasons for this. The court under such
circumstances must act to reverse the undoubted alienation if
it is proven to have taken place.
- The power of the court must back the mediator who is seeking
to remove the alienating effects and not work with the alienator
by accepting what the child states in not wishing to see the non
custodial parent or have contact with him/her.
- The child may need to be removed to a neutral setting for a
time (Gardner, 2001b; Palmer, 2002), or placed in care to prevent
further alienation. This is only in very extreme cases where severe
psychological damage has been done to such a degree that the child
suffers from delusions about the alienated parent. This has often
been reported by expert witnesses and those carrying out mediation.
- In the case of severe alienation it is best for the alienated
parent never to approach the home of the alienator due to the
acrimony which exists between them, but that there be a middle
person dealing with the contact between the child and the absent
parent. This intermediary could transfer the child from one parent
to the other.
- It should be remembered that the child who has been the victim
of brainwashing, needs to know that it is safe to be with the
alienated parent without this reducing their loyalty and commitment
to the other parent who has custody. Hence the alienated parent
should do as much as possible to reassure the child that there
is no desire to separate that child from the custodial parent.
If both parents do this there is a good chance that eventually
the parents will put the child’s welfare first instead of
their own feelings of grievance.
- Once they have contacted their child/children , alienated parents
should concentrate about talking about the past and the happy
times together, supplemented with pictures or videos. Initially,
the child might be very off-hand and fail to make even eye contact
especially in the presence of the alienator but this can be improved
through reminders of happier times in the past and how this can
continue in the future.
- Alienated parents should not give up easily but should persevere
in their efforts to make and maintain good contact with their
child. Constant rejection from the child is likely to be humiliating
and demoralising, but persistence sometimes leads to success with
the help of an expert and the support of the courts. One cannot
emphasise too much the role of the court working together with
the expert witness and mediator in order to find the best possible
solution to prevent further emotional abuse of the child through
the implacable hostility leading to parental alienation (Goldstein,
et al., 1973).
It is difficult to know at the present time with virtually 50%
of marriages in the west breaking up how many couples suffer from
the problem of parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome
due to the implacable hostility between the parents. It is certainly
a significant percentage. It is therefore vital for both experts
and the courts to act appropriately so that the next generation
will not repeat what has been done in the past. There are no winners
in the process of parental alienation. It should never be forgotten
that alienation occurs as a result of implacable hostility. The
main loser is the child who may well have to do without the absent
parent for a long period of time, or in fact for ever. Much depends
on the determination of the court and the expert working together
for the short and long-term benefit of the child/children.
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