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June 24, 2014 by Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D

This is the first of three blogs providing an overview of “Surviving Parental Alienation, A Journey of Hope and Healing,” a recent book by Amy Baker and Paul Fine on parental alienation In the book, several stories are written by targeted parents and analyzed by Baker and Fine in order to say something larger about the dynamics of parental alienation. In the first third of “Surviving parental alienation,” four stories are presented and analyzed. Each story describes the early relationship between the author of the story (the targeted parent) and his or her spouse (the alienating parent). With the benefit of hindsight, admittedly, the stories are deconstructed to identify the ways in which the seeds of alienation were sown into the relationship from the very beginning.

Looking first at the personality of the targeted parent, four themes are discussed: their lack of experience in detecting deception in relationships; their overall gullibility; their generally low self-esteem; and their denial of the red flags. The targeted parents tended to be young and naïve, with limited experience in romantic relationships, and unable or unwilling to detect when their partner was not honest about his or her actions or intentions. The targeted parents quickly became invested in the relationship and believed that their worth and value was derived from the acceptance of the other person. Their need for the relationship was more important that the quality of the relationship. In this way, they overlooked all of the signs that the relationship was neither healthy, nor mutually respectful or beneficial.

Looking next at the personality of the alienating parent, the themes of intentional deceit, power and control strategies, and domestic violence are discussed. Unlike the targeted parents, the alienating parents were considerably more worldly and independent. They were older and had more life experience. They exuded power and credibility and were able, through the force of their personality and the use of emotional control strategies, to override the needs and feelings of the other person. They were skilled at having their needs met and presenting themselves in such a way as to confuse and undermine the future targeted parent. They believed in the inherent rightness of their needs and opinions at all times.

And finally, the parenting style of the alienating parent is examined with a focus on their sense of entitlement, their possessiveness of the children, their belief in their superiority as parents, their devaluation of the contribution of the other parent, and, for some, their prior history of alienation behaviors. Once the couple had children together, all of the elements of alienation were present. The future alienating parent believed that he or she was entitled to a greater share of the family assets (such as money, time with the children, and the like) and believed in the inherent rightness of his or her actions and choices in all situations. There was no room for the needs or opinions of the other parent. Even while married and in a committed relationship, the future alienating parent dominated and controlled the future targeted parent’s relationship with the children. Once the relationship ended, there was even less motivation for the alienating parent to value or accommodate the targeted parent. The foundation for alienation was set.

The purpose of this analysis was not to lay any blame for the alienation on the targeted parents. Rather, the purpose is to understand the unique role that each person plays in the alienation drama. Ideally, the information presented can, first and foremost, help targeted parents understand themselves and feel understood by others. Secondly, perhaps the information can be used to educate future targeted parents about the potential warning signs so that, despite their naiveté and lack of experience, they can take a second look at their situation before it is too late. Perhaps future targeted parents — who may not be willing to read the warning signs on their own behalf — can be persuaded to do so on behalf of their children.

Dr. Baker has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Teachers College of Columbia University. She is the Director of Research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection at the New York Foundling. She is the author of Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the ties that Bind (WW Norton) and author or co-author of more than 60 peer reviewed articles on parent-child relationships.

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