This is Part 2 of a two-part Q&A with parental alienation expert Dr. Richard Warshak. Part 1 looked at the signs of parental alienation, how to deal with it, and how to restore your relationship with an alienated child.
Part 2 will examine the affects parental alienation syndrome has on children and what advice Warshak has for those alienated parents.
Warshak is the author of Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, a book that gives parents powerful strategies to preserve and repair loving relationships with their children.
DadsDivorce.com: We’ve talked about the parents and dealing with parental alienation. But what about the affects on the lives of the children? How damaging is this to them?
Dr. Richard Warshak: We’ve known for a long time that people who grow up with a conflicted relationship with a parent are more likely to have relationship problems of their own. That’s why the roots of a lot of problems come from childhood experiences.
A child who rejects a parent because of “divorce poisoning” will grow up to regret the behavior, feel guilty for having betrayed one parent, missed out on that parent’s presence at important events, and harbor anger at both parents. The rejected parent should have tried harder, the favored parent exploited the child for his/her own satisfaction, and so on.
When a child is part of the alienation, they lose touch with a part of themselves and that damages their self-esteem.
DD: What advice do you have for those alienated parents who right now feel hopeless about the future, hopeless about ever having a healthy relationship with their child again?
RW: There are reasons for hope. Some alienated children do get over it. As they mature and get outside the orbit of the favored parent, they want to reach out to the other parent.
There are now interventions and workshops that we didn’t have in the past that are proven to be effective in overcoming severe alienation. They will help the child reconnect with the parent they’ve been taught to hate over the years. (Editor’s Note: Warshak offers Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships™.)
There’s a growing awareness of this problem in society and in the courts, which will help the rejected parents in feeling that people understand what’s happening. Parents are embarrassed by a child’s rejection. But just because a child rejects a parent doesn’t mean the parent has done anything to deserve that rejection.
The problem of course is even if children reconcile in the future, nothing makes up for that lost time. So don’t let the problem go on too long without taking action.
Let alienated children know that their behavior hasn’t pushed you away, that when the time comes to reach out to you you’ll be receptive to them and be happy when they come back. They won’t be confronted with how poor their behavior has been, they won’t be asked to apologize. Take the relationship from the present and move on. It’s important for the child to feel emotionally safe so they won’t be afraid to come to you to start new relationships.
Finally, parents need to recognize the important of giving children the guarantee of two parents in their life, no matter the failure of their marriage.
Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part Q&A with parental alienation expert Dr. Richard Warshak. Click here to read Part 1.