The Effects on Children in the Future Who Have Been Successfully Alienated Against a Parent
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
All human attitudes and behaviour are learned or are determined by the predisposition of the genes. What is learned begins from birth onwards. Children learn early from a parental example whether to behave positively or manifest less desirable demeanour. Parents who are responsible and caring towards one another, influence the child to behave likewise towards themselves as well as other members of society. Children who are faced with the animosity of one parent against another, may choose to identify with those who maintain the child’s loyalty i.e. the custodial parent, over the non resident parent. Children will view the deceitfulness of the custodial alienating parent as the norm and frequently identify with, and initiate, behaviour shown by the power of the custodial parent. Hence, the child learns early, good or psychopathic traits based on the assumed animosity towards the disadvantaged, alienated parent by developing no conscience or empathy towards that parent, and eventually towards others.
The Effects on Children in the Future Who Have Been Successfully Alienated Against a Parent
It has long been established that we are influenced by many factors or events through our genetic predisposition and the earliest and later experiences of childhood. What we experience then influences us throughout our lifetime. A happy and secure childhood with good parents living in harmony has a good influence on children. The reverse is equally true with a negative relationship with one of our parents, possibly through the alienation process of one parent against the other leads to negative repercussions in later life during adolescence or adulthood.
As a psychological Expert Witness in the courts, one is frequently asked by the court and others about the future of children who are caught up in divorce and separation of their parents following an acrimonious relationship. These children have frequently been alienated against a non custodial following implacable hostility between the parents. Do these children suffer and how are they affected by the hostility between their parents? This leads to many case that have no or little contact with the now absent parent, usually the father.
It also answers the important question whether children suffer or not from being deprived of one of their parents. There are those who believe, of which I am one, that a child has a birthright to two caring, loving and guiding parents. Such parents need to be good role models who can influence by example the future thinking and behaviour or their offspring.
The child who lives with parents who are loving, caring and believe and practice good behaviour towards one another and the child i.e. the right attitudes and behaviour, are likely to have children who believe and act similarly. Let us consider what is likely to occur when one or both parents develop a hostility towards one another. It must be remembered that such hostility develops over time. Previously there may have been a comparative harmony between the partners but this very often does not continue when the relationship ceases. Children need therefore, peace and security when parents are in harmony but experience the opposite when parents are in disharmony. Despite the prior differences which naturally occur in families, the relationship between the parents and their children provides security for all concerned. It does not matter what causes a rift between the parents, for the children there is only tragedy both in the short and even the long term.
It will be demonstrated that many children develop psychopathic tendencies of behaviour as a result of being inadvertently embroiled in the conflict between parents. The children learn how to lie, become underhanded, hostile and deceitful, often at a very young age. This then is perpetuated during adolescence and adulthood. One might well claim that the life of the alienated child is sadly affected over a lifetime. The repercussions go even deeper, as will be seen, into the next generation.
The impact of children who become implacably hostile to a parent
Children will react to the behaviour of their parents. Children are affected by the behaviour of parents towards one another. When conflict occurs children who have been close to both parents will frequently need to choose sides. The will often be forced to choose between closeness or loyalty to both parents, to that of one parent. Hence children who have had a good relationship to a now absent parent due to separation, will begin, if indoctrinated, will begin to consider the absent parent as somehow less worthy of their love. This tendency is directly or subtly encouraged by the custodial parent of the child. This could be the mother or the father but is more likely to be the mother.
The bitterness, the resident parent feels and expresses towards their former partner is usually transferred into the minds of the child/children. The child/children frequently develop a similar view about the now absent parent as the resident parent. The absent parent may seek to retaliate but as that absent parent has no or limited contact with the child/children such retaliation will be ineffective. The alienation or denigration of the absent parent leads to the child/children resenting the absent parent and wishing to have as little contact as possible with that parent at the instigation of the custodial parent. This happens for two reasons: 1) the child is angry with the absent parent for “deserting” him/her; 2) the child blames himself for the absent parent leaving and feels resentment against the absent parent. The resentment in turn is picked up by the custodial parent and the course of denigration begins. The child therefore becomes an accomplice to the alienator.
This results in years of court appearances for both parents, increasing the bitterness towards one another. Needless to say, the alienating parent is to blame for the situation developing. Such a parent cares little about this. They will claim that they are merely responding to the hated parent for real or imagined misdeeds. Such a parent does not act in the best interest of the child/children. Ideally, as previously mentioned, children prefer harmony rather than disharmony between their parents.
The children eventually become embroiled in a web of hostility, anger, aggression and deceit. This they have learned from the most important adult in their lives who does not inculcate positive, and constructive emotions in the child. It is not strange therefore, that the children have learned to hate and deceive as instructed, or at least not discouraged, by a custodial parent. Let me illustrate this by an actual ongoing case:
An illustration of alienation, deceit and hostility
For over four years there had been an acrimonious relationship between Mr & Mrs X. The alienation of the two daughters aged 7 and 9 began when Mr X, a Muslim decided he wished to divorce his Muslim wife, due to the acrimony which developed between them. Both parties sought total control of their children. They both wished to run the home as they themselves wished it without considering the other party. Mrs X resented the husband seeking a divorce and threatened that if he did so, she would do all she could to prevent his seeing their two children. She therefore sabotaged all contact of the children with the father when father left the home. She totally dominated the children and insidiously prevented them from communicating with the father.
There were numerous court appearances with the Judiciary arranging weekly contact for the father of the children. Mother defied the court asserting that the girls did not wish to have contact with their father because of the way he had treated them and her in the past. It seemed that the Judiciary was unable to, or unwilling to use more firm means, including punishing the mother for failure to encourage the girls to have contact with their father.
The role of the Judiciary
The Judiciary, unfortunately will tend to listen to some psychologists and some psychiatrists who claim that terrible harm will come to the children if mother suffers for her wrong actions. Such kind of unjust Judges unfortunately perpetuate the brainwashing of children against the now absent parent. As a result of the intervention of myself, having been requested to mediate in many cases between parents, the two girls had some contact with their father which increased their desire to be with him. It was however, minimal contact as yet. Mother insisted the two girls only stayed for a few hours with the father and that they should not eat food the father had prepared or accept any presents that the father bought.
The children were also encouraged by the mother to spy on the father and report back to her. They were instructed to listen to the father’s telephone conversations and read what was on his computer as well as reporting back to the mother what they had observed about the home and its contents. They had also been told that father had enough money to buy them clothes despite the fact that their father was already contributing financially to the mother and children. When he did so however, the clothes were promptly thrown in the bin or never worn. The children showed considerable disrespect to their father having been indoctrinated to do this by the mother.
This is just one of many such cases of alienation resulting in children learning patterns of disreputable behaviour that are maladaptive to the future life of the children. These children have learned early, via their alienator, how to lie, manipulate and deceive others and show lack of respect to the male species in general. Such behavior from the mother can only be described as psychopathic and this has been passed on to the child/children.
This kind of behaviour manifested by the child is indeed psychopathological and has been well described by Gardner (2006). In some severe cases of parental alienation, efforts by hostile parents to inculcate the fact that the absent parent (usually the father) is a sexual abuser has been used to great effect. Frequently mothers make the allegations and this is passed on to the police. Hence an innocent parent is frequently involved in being an alleged sex abuser when all he has done is to bathe and dry the children after a bath and has been considered a paedophile for that reason. Such parents sometimes face criminal charges but in the end, on the whole, are found to be innocent. This can be very damaging for a parent and even threaten his livelihood or job. It is certainly psychologically devastating and humiliating for a parent to go through even when found innocent at the end of the process.
This is likely to occur especially when children masturbate or manifest certain sexualized behaviour which can be interpreted by alienating parents that some kind of sexual abuse has occurred. (Another paper dealing with “child contact disputes between parents and allegations of sex abuse” will cover this more widely. It will also provide an inventory or test to ascertain whether sexual abuse is likely to have occurred or not, having been fabricated via programming a child.)
Children who are “programmed” and hence alienated against the non resident parent have a great tendency to develop conduct disorders in later life. This is in accord with DSM IV–
“a repetitive and persistent pattern of behaviour in which the basic rights of others on major age appropriate societal norms or rules are violated…….”
Such children become insensitive to others and do not suffer from any lack of guilt. They therefore intimidate, victimise the likely parent who still loves them. They do this verbally and sometimes physically at the behest and approval of the alienating parent.
Sometimes they sabotage and actively destroy the targeted parent’s home, knowing this is expected by the alienating parent. The child obviously seeks to please that alienating parent and therefore does at much possible harm and damage as possible to the now non resident parent and his extended family.
Such behaviour has been described as psychopathic, because those who behave in this way lack a conscience or moral principles and therefore are likely to behave in antisocial ways in other areas of life later on functioning, as stated by Gardner (2006),, “the exhibit an impaired obligation to comply with the social standards…….when it comes to the treatment of the alienated parent.” These children suffer from an absence of guilt and shame in what they are doing to the absent parent.
These early experiences of a child who colludes or sides with one parent against another sets up a pattern of behaviour which becomes increasingly difficult to change. Sometimes later in life, this may engender guilt about what they have done to the caring and loving parent at the instigation of the alienating parent. Living with such guilt is difficult and so the victim who has been alienated seeks for justification in mistreating and rejecting a loving adult, usually the father. Parents who carry out the “programming” against the other parent have no conscience in what they are doing, on the contrary they often justify the “safeguarding” of the child as an excuse to justify their behaviour. This lack of conscience is communicated to the child who equally adopts the same lack of conscience.
The long term effects vary, but there is considerable evidence that as adults, they are likely to show less respect for authority and are likely more often than not to behave in unsocialised ways. The child has never learned to treat others such as one’s father/ mother with respect. This negative pattern of behaviour will therefore continue in school, in the work setting, and in interpersonal relationships.
The result is coming into conflict with others and being punished by being rejected by others and frequently by the Law as well (Gardner, 1988a, 1988b). Such punishment although necessary and just is frequently unsuccessful with the psychopathic type personality who feels no sense of guilt because he/she is devoid of a conscience or positive principles which guide behaviour.
The lack of empathy in being able to put oneself in the position of the unjustly treated and alienated parent, limits any sympathy or empathy one should feel for the demeaned or rejected father /mother. Instead the child, and later adolescent and adult, has totally identified with the alienator. Children on the whole are unable to counteract the brainwashing they have received. This is because they have totally identified with the views of the alienator.
Among other traits they frequently have is impulsivity, that is, they will tend to act without considering the consequences of their actions. Alienators, who are often paranoid, frequently call on the child protection agencies against the alienated parent when this is unnecessary and hence without justification. A parent who drives or walks by the mutual home will sometimes be viewed as someone who is “harassing” them.
Such alienators will have difficulties in later life in having a good relationship with another partner, since they have the need to be in control and have the need to dominate a relationship. The cycle of alienation has been noted to continue when children are born (Baker,) and the previous victims of alienation often continue the process of alienation against their partner and his/her family. Hence the deceit of alienation is perpetuated.
What can and should be done to counteract the process of parental alienation
It is unfortunate that those suffering from often pathological implacable hostility against their former partner never consider what is in the best interest of their children. This is because the primary concern of alienators is their hostility towards their former partner. The result is deceit and doing all they can with the power that they have to destroy the often previously good relationship between children and the now demeaned and rejected former partner. Such parents therefore have no hesitation to behave in the most sadistic and rejecting way towards the targeted absent parent and also encourage this in their children.
Only through the courts can this behaviour be curtailed. This, however, needs to be done sooner rather than later. Children when very young need to be stopped from behaving in this way as must the alienator. This can only be achieved by a threat by the court but the threat must have “teeth”! The poisoning of the child’s mind by the alienator and relationship with a partner can only be repaired by the voluntary or involuntary alternatives.
Should a parent fail to encourage a child to have good contact with the other parent and that contact actually takes place, then the child must be removed from the influence of the alienator to a neutral setting where and effective and intensive therapy can be provided, in order to stop the current mind set of the child. Until this has been achieved, there should be no contact between the abusing alienator and the victimized child. Furthermore, when this change of mindset has been achieved, there needs to be a “legal separation” of the child and the alienator, and the child being placed for some time, if not permanently, with the alienated parent. Hence, the alienated parent should be given legal custody. There should be no contact between the harmful alienator and the child until the implacable hostility gives way to truly encouraging in the future good contact between the child and the former victim of alienation. It is unfortunate that many Judges still fail to see the insidious programming of alienators and even fewer take the necessary steps to curtail it by the legal means described as soon as possible. The longer the process of alienation continues, the more difficult the process of rehabilitation becomes and the longer it takes. It must be accepted that many alienators suffer from psychological problems themselves such as delusions and feelings of entitlement that their process of alienating is justified as is the empowering of children to attack and show malevolence towards the innocent non resident parent. This frequently indeed leads to the resident parent making accusations of sexual abuse against a non custodial parent to prevent any contact between that parent and the children.
Such emotional abuse when found, should lead to an automatic removal of a child from a custodial parent. That parent who is taking cruel advantage of his/her power over a vulnerable child and vulnerable absent parent should not be allowed to continue having custody of that child. The process is seeking to turn the child against the absent parent, instead of encouraging and making certain that the child has good contact with the now absent parent. The most damaging and unjust allegation is when the child is brainwashed into claiming that some kind of sexual abuse has occurred, when this is totally unfounded.
Numerous fathers (approximately 20%) who are the non custodial parent according to one researcher (Gardner, 2006). Sometimes fathers will allege sex abuse against their former partner who has a new relationship with a new partner. This is unfortunate and equally is to be discouraged. Any such accusation if found to be valid should lead to the removal of the child from the parent who is responsible for care. Interrogating children wrongly and often frequently, results the interrogator receiving the replies that support sex abuse having occurred. The alleged sex abuse victim is most often a girl, especially when the child reports pain or injury in the sexual area of the body. Such physical reactions may be due to lack of washing, sensitivity to soap or self-manipulation including masturbation. Constantly questioning a child about sex abuse also often leads to the child responding by saying what is expected by the abusing custodial parent who frequently inculcates sex abuse where there is none in the child.
Where a mother wishes to exclude the absent parent from contact with a child, and more or less obliterates that parent from the child’s life, such allegations are common due to the implacable hostility that one parent, usually the custodial parent, feels against the non custodial parent. It is probably one of the most powerful weapons that can be used against any parent and tends to be false. Neutral questioning needs to be asked of the child and not leading questions as is frequently the case in conducting such evaluations. Only in this way can the truth be established. Those carrying out such assessments need to be totally independent or not biased.
If sex abuse, or any other abuse has occurred, such children require immediate therapy but this should not occur when the sexual abuse is viewed as doubtful. One must be extremely careful and highly skilled when questioning any child about any abuse that has been alleged. This is due to the fact that children, and especially young children are highly suggestible. Some children are sometimes inculcated with lies by the custodial parent in order to demean the other non custodial parent who possesses little or no power in connection with the child. The child virtually always identifies or imitates the custodial parent (usually the mother). This means demonstrating the same deceitfulness and aggressive behaviour towards the non custodial parent (usually the father). Programmed children are less likely to be able to distinguish between truth and lies because they tend to accept that which the more influential adult claims has happened.
The child who has previously had a warm and loving relationship with a now absent parent will soon forget this as the custodial parent attacks and states that the absent parent has done dreadful things to the child in the past. Hence truth becomes a lie and the lie the truth. This is because children are suggestible.
Even interrogators who are allegedly skilled can inculcate the idea that the child has suffered from being sexually or otherwise abused, by continuingly searching and questioning. When the questioning is not in the court with the biased interrogator the interrogator will frequently reply that he wishes the child be very careful about how they are responding and questions continue with the over zealous questioner waiting for the answer that he/she wishes to occur. Such questioners can actually create the abuse in the mind of the child. The child will from then on develop a “delusion” that a parent has actually abused them. Hence the child begins to believe, often for a lifetime, what has not really taken place.
This creates in the child’s mind a hypervigilance and fear that anyone, especially a member of the same gender, usually a male, is capable of sexually abusing them in the future. It is not at all unlikely that children who have been thus alienated are likely themselves to live lives of lies and deceit and become alienators towards their future adult partner. They therefore perpetuate their own learned psychopathic behaviour and inculcate this into the next generation.
Such children may for a lifetime suffer from sexual inhibitions and an inability to sincerely love a partner who want such a relationship. Hence the alienated child’s future relationship has become affected. This is a fertile ground for the likelihood of further alienation to continue from one generation to the next.
Gardner, R. A. (1988a). Psychotherapy with adolescents. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
Gardner, R. A. (1998b). The girls and boys book about good and bad behavior. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
Gardner, R. A. (2006) Future Predictions on the fate of PAS children: what hath alienators wrought? In, The International Handbook of Parental Alienation Syndrome. USA: Springfield, Illinois, Charles C. Thomas.