Parental alienation tends to happen by implication. This is a form of covert abuse. The alienating parent uses a form of manipulation to imply to the children that the targeted parent is undeserving of their love and respect.
Oftentimes, when adult alienated children are involved, the alienated parent tries to find a therapist to help counsel the children to get them to stop rejecting them. Usually, this is a poorly thought out strategy as the rejecting children have no interest in attending therapy in order to hear the feelings and thoughts of the parent they have been trained to reject.
Because each family is different, each family’s dynamic system is different. This implies there is no “one size fits all” solution. This is important to note, and I recommend if you are an alienated parent you figure out what dynamic fits your family situation.
Now, the alienating parent can be either the mother or the father. In addition to this, not all alienation is caused by “brain-washing” from the other parent. Some rejection of a parent involves actual fault on the part of the rejected parent. Whatever the case is, if you are the parent being rejected it is important for you to take ownership of your own “stuff.” We all have it.
What is “stuff?” It is the issues and triggers from our own psyches that are involved in any relational dynamic. When you are being rejected by your children it is important to own your responsibility in the dynamic. This is not victim blaming, it’s taking responsibility.
Sometimes parents get rejected because they weren’t strong enough to instill respect from the children to overcome the onslaught of mind-control the other parent was throwing their kids’ way. If this is you, then you let yourself be disrespected by your spouse and your children and you didn’t protect yourself or demand respect yourself. I don’t say this as a judgment, I say this as a contributing factor to the problem – one that you have the power to change.
Sometimes alienated parents don’t take on a strong parental role, but rather a weak, helpless, victim-like role in the relationship. Sometimes they act more like a sibling than a parent. This contributes to children being disrespectful to them, particularly if the other parent is reinforcing bullying behaviors toward the targeted parent.
Some alienated parents may dissociate and/or use other forms of avoidance of reality, such as denial of a problem, when faced with difficult encounters with their children. They may “check out” and become oblivious to what is happening to their relationships.
Regardless of what you do, it is valuable to identify your own role in the family. Most likely, the main role you serve is being the family scapegoat.
In order for you to improve the situation, I recommend you analyze yourself, your children, and the other parent. One way to do this is to write down the “abuse cycle” in your family. For example, suppose the other parent is rude to you in front of the kids, encourages the kids to be rude to you, or covertly implies that you should be disrespected, etc.
Write down the patterns you see in the family relationship in order to see how you respond to each part of the process. For instance, when the other parent is rude to you, what do you do? Or, if the other parent encourages the kids to be rude to you, how do you respond? If the children treat you poorly, how do you react? How do you feel? What age do you feel you are in those moments? It is also very helpful to analyze how your children’s behaviors affect you.
Notice what YOUR patterns of behavior are. Remember, we can’t change anyone but ourselves, so once you see what you are doing in the abusive situation, you figure out how this behavior impacted your relationship with the children.
Make the end goal to establish a healthy life. You may or may not be able to repair the relationship with your children. This is in part based on the ages of the children involved, and how committed they are to holding on to their position in the relationship. It takes one to change a dynamic, but two to create a relationship and establish a healthy connection.
The reason why I say the goal is to have a healthy life is because if you make the goal to change the relationship, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Plus, if the goal involves the children changing, this puts too much pressure on outcome, and the relationship. If you make the goal to be a healthier person, then regardless of the encounters you have with your children, you will personally be better off.
It’s important to realize that sometimes children are so affected by narcissism that they become narcissistic themselves. There is a genetic component and if one of their parents has a personality disorder, than they may be genetically predisposed to have a personality disorder as well. And just like in your relationship with the other parent – there is nothing you can do to fix that.
Here is a quick list of steps you can take to be healthy when you’ve been rejected by one or more of your children:
- Manage your expectations. On the one hand it is important not to be committed to needing (expecting) your children to change. On the other hand it is important for you to expect respect from your children.
- Ask your children what their thoughts and feelings are. Ask them what they need or want from you and why they are rejecting you.
- Consider how much of what they say is based on “brainwashing” by the other parent, and how much is within your power to change.
- Make your time spent with them about them, not about you or your hurt feelings.
- Look them in the eye and be affectionate.
- Think of ways to enjoy your children. If you can’t think of anything, just be present as much as you can.
- Think in terms of how they feel and try to be smart about how you present yourself in the relationship. For instance, don’t beg your kids to spend time with you, this will engender more disdain and less respect for you. Instead, present yourself as being strong, confident, and stable.
- Don’t bring your emotional needs to your children. Take care of them outside of that relationship.
- Don’t idealize your children. If they have poor behavior, call it out and expect nothing less than respect from them. Don’t think in your mind, “My son is the best of all sons and I can’t stand him treating me so poorly. This isn’t who he is. He’s a good boy.” If your son is being rude and hurtful then see that for what it is without minimizing it.
- Have self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself always. Don’t overly think about every little thing you did wrong as a parent. No parent is perfect and children don’t need to have perfect parents in order to be kind and embracing.
- Don’t present a victim role. I’m not saying you aren’t a victim. I’m saying, don’t “play the victim.” Think of yourself in a positive, confident light. See yourself as someone others want to be around. Don’t allow yourself to denigrate your own value. If you don’t feel confident and proud of yourself, pretend you do. “Fake it till you make it.” Bring your body and the feelings will follow.
- Project an air of confidence.
Remember that no matter what you do it is important for you to focus on yourself and on no one else. Don’t let the external world define your sense of self. Learn to have an “intrinsic locus of control.” That means, evaluate your life based on how you feel and what you want and need. Don’t place the responsibility for your happiness on others.
As you live a happy, well adjusted life, your kids might notice and if they have rejected you they may start feeling left out of the awesome life you’re living. It is better for them to want to be with you than for you to make them be with you.