However true parental alienation is not just a few bad words a parent lets slip out about that mean awful Daddy or Mommy. Although various experts define it differently, Dr. Douglas Darnall, Ph.D., a psychologist with 30 years of experience, including working as a psychologist assigned to an Ohio courthouse and author of numerous books on divorce, explains what he calls the "Obsessed Alienator." Which sounds awfully familiar. Dr. Darnall has dedicated his practice to dissecting and defining parental alienation in the hopes of helping families overcome it.
- The obsessed alienator thinks, "I love my children. If the court can't protect them from their abusive father, I will. Even though he's never abused the children, I know it's a matter of time. The children are frightened of their father. If they don't want to see him, I'm not going to force them. They are old enough to make up their own minds."
- The obsessed alienator is a parent with a cause: to align the children to her side and together, with the children, campaign to destroy their relationship with the targeted parent. For the campaign to work, the obsessed alienator enmeshes the children's personalities and beliefs into their own. This is a process that takes time but one that the children, especially the young, are completely helpless to see and combat. It usually begins well before the divorce is final. The obsessed parent is angry, bitter or feels betrayed by the other parent. The initial reasons for the bitterness may actually be justified. They could have been verbally and physical abused, raped, betrayed by an affair, or financially cheated. The problem occurs when the feelings won't heal but instead become more intense because of being forced to continue the relationship with a person they despise because of their common parenthood. Just having to see or talk to the other parent is a reminder of the past and triggers the hate. They are trapped with nowhere to go and heal.
- They are obsessed with destroying the children's relationship with the targeted parent.
- The children will parrot the obsessed alienator rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other parent.
- The targeted parent and often the children cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings.
- Their beliefs sometimes becoming delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries is the enemy.
- They will often seek support from family members, quasi-political groups or friends (Admin: Or TV talk shows?) that will share in their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent and the system. The battle becomes "us against them."
- They have an unquenchable anger because they believe that the targeted parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the children is justified.
- They have a desire for the court to punish the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted parent from seeing the children. (Admin: Gate pickups/dropoffs?) This confirms in the obsessed alienator's mind that he or she was right all the time.
- The court's authority does not intimidate them.
- The obsessed alienator believes in a higher cause, protecting the children at all cost.
Unfortunately, says this psychologist, there are no effective treatment protocols that have been validated for the obsessed alienator. The courts and mental health professionals are sincere in wanting to help these families but their efforts frequently fail. The best hope for children affected by an obsessed alienator is early identification of the symptoms and prevention. After the alienation is entrenched and the children become "true believers" in the parent's cause, the children may be lost to the other parent for years to come. There can still be hope in that spontaneous reunification can occur, usually in response to a crisis that causes the alienated child to reach out to the rejected parent.