Craig Childress, PsyD says, over and over, that children do not turn away from a parent; it is counter intuitive in the developmental process. It is not the child’s agenda to reject and when this occurs, he affirms, there is always a predator lurking. That is, regardless of how bad or sick the parent is, a child does not reject them and that in order to do so there has to be a pathological process initiated and sustained by the alienating parent. That said, the destruction to the child’s development is extreme.
In order to have a healthy sense of self a child needs to have the world as a mirror, as a place to have their thoughts, feelings and desires validated. Essential to the development of a healthy self is attunement, that is being aware of the other-their feelings, desires-being able to be on their page and read their emotional state of being and readiness. Good attunement is a prerequisite to good attachment which is then a prerequisite for the formation of healthy relationships in life. In normal parenting it is the parent that attunes to the child-the parent connects with the inner working of the child to foster their strengths and desires and passions; with alienating parents it is the opposite. In these cases, the alienating parent essentially robs the child of their own authenticity; their own ability to see and develop themselves. With the sick parents it is all about the parent. Yet the child doesn’t know that. When questioned, these children say that it was not the parent who caused their viewpoints of the targeted parent, but themselves as they have independent views. If not helped or reversed these children are set up to repeat the pattern, be the victim (as they have been to the alienating parent) AND the abusive perpetrator (as they have been to the targeted parent) and are prone to deep depression from the sadness they deeply harbor for abandoning the targeted parent and for abandoning their own sense of themselves; they become an empty shell.
Keeping secrets of the alienating parent and harboring contempt for the targeted parent, the child, through their own fears of the alienating parent’s rage and abandonment, allies with them and completely turns away from the targeted parent. In this way the child can avoid the sadness that comes with the turn away. This is exactly what makes it so hard to repair; it is easier for these kids to stay away rather than face the grief that so keeps them distant from their formed loved parent.
In cases such as this, the child needs to be removed from the alienating parent until the parent can have some sense of guidelines (which often does not occur) on how to superficially parent as connection is not an option. (You can’t have a healthy relationship with a narcissist). Supervised visitation is typically mandatory. This is just the first step.
Structured family therapy/reunification therapy is required to unbalance the sick family system and promote a healthier system. However, when dealing with alienating parents who are really sick there is no solution as they cannot be part of treatment; they never see their role in the process and when the therapist seeks to change the balance of power they leave treatment and disallow their child to continue in the process as well. Unless the sessions are well controlled by a competent therapist, these experiences typically implode, as orchestrated by the sick alienating parent. In order for the child to heal they will require treatment perhaps after 18 when there are no restrictions nor parental approval for therapy. Many, however, do not yet acknowledge the alienation; often it takes a while and sometimes until they have their own children do they see that history. Sometimes it takes until either parent is deceased and sometimes it never happens.