How do you explain parental alienation to someone who has never heard of it?

My brother knows what I went through with my ex.  I talked to him about some bits but probably never really told the whole story as there were children involved and it wasn’t all my story to tell.  I don’t think he fully understood because, well it’s almost impossible to understand.  I don’t know if I did back then but last year he moved to a new village and made some new friends.  They had a housewarming party and one of his new friends started telling him about how his ex was blocking contact with his child.  Suddenly my brother looked at me and said “isn’t that what you do?”

parental alienation

Sadly, for victims that look of bewilderment is all too common.  People just don’t get it.  They understand parents using their kids.  They understand dad’s who don’t see their kids any more.  But they have no clue about the reality of it and the damage it does.

Children learn more from what you are than what you teach

With every bewildered look, there comes an element of blame.  They may not externalise it but often they are thinking “you must have done something to deserve it”.  Or they explain it away as “children don’t always want to spend time with their kids past a certain age”.  Whilst there may be some truth within both of these, the reality is that parental alienation and the behaviours associated with them are far more manipulative, insidious and destructive.

Most parents already feel wracked with guilt, they do not need anyone else piling that on them

I am not having a go at anyone here because let’s face it, until we experienced it for ourselves, we had no real idea about it either.  Part of me feels glad that not everyone does know about it because that would mean more children affected but the other part of me wants everyone to WAKE THE HELL UP! This is happening to their friends and family, their colleague, their neighbour.  It’s real and the sooner we all take notice, the faster the abuser can be seen for the true monster they are.

So how do you explain it to someone who has never heard of it?

  1. Well first off I personally would think carefully about who you tell. Not everyone can be trusted and may be gathering intel for you ex.  Equally, it can be really painful when you tell someone and they don’t understand.  You have to relive it every time.  Try to find a way you can answer the “do you have children?” question which doesn’t invite too many questions but equally doesn’t paint you as the problem.  Something like “yes I have two children but they live with their mum/dad at the moment, we are in court to resolve custody issues”.  You can then change the subject.
  2. Avoid using labels like narcissists or personality disorders.  Not because it isn’t true but because the average person won’t understand and it won’t help you as it’s just another thing to explain.  Keep it short and to the point – “my ex has issues and it is affecting our co-parenting relationship”.  Yes that is a huge understatement but remember you are talking to someone who doesn’t understand ANYTHING. So baby steps.
  3. If it is someone a bit closer to you, I would talk about your own feelings rather than the situation.  There is a huge temptation amongst victims of parental alienation to go into every little detail with anyone who will listen.  From my experience this can actually leave you feeling more isolated as two things happen. 1) you think they are sick of hearing you talk about it so you pull back. 2) they struggle to know how best to support you so go quiet which you take as rejection and feel more hurt.  Find a therapist or support group who understand what you are going through and vent to them.  By all means keep people posted but share the details for partners or specialists.
  4. Be aware that your partner is experiencing this too and will be being traumatised by the process.  It’s horrible watching the person you love being abused and not being able to do anything about it so think really carefully about how you communicate with one another.  Obviously you want to share but make sure it doesn’t overtake your whole life.  They may have come into this with no idea whatsoever that people did this sort of thing.  I was a rainbow and unicorns kind of girl before all of this and it has been traumatic to come to the realisation that people can be so evil.  Consider other’s experience when you are deciding what to share.
  5. This is just a personal one for me but remember that there are children involved and so going around telling the whole world your business is actually telling everyone their business as well and I would always seek to protect that.

I want to make the point here that I am NOT talking about professionals who absolutely SHOULD have heard of it.  If they haven’t point them in the direction of industry training (i.e. if they are a Cafcass worker, point the towards their own online training portal).

 

Finally remember that you actually don’t need them to understand the situation.  If they are close to you all they really need to understand is that you are hurting and may be angry sometimes.  What you need is compassion and love.  

 

Take care