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Subjecting a child to negative statements about their own parent violates the most basic job we have as parents: to protect their heart.
When I think back on all the negative things (whether truthful or a lie) our son heard about me, what did they all have in common?
They hurt his heart.
This blog wouldn’t exist if parents out there were able to do this fundamental job of theirs. Their inability and/or refusal to protect their child from completely inappropriate hate, negativity, contempt, and denigration is a true tragedy– and millions of children suffer as a result.
You just discovered something about your ex? Ask one question: Will this information hurt or help their heart?
As no other question matters.
“By seeing himself as a victim, a person is able to justify just about any kind of immoral action”
Parents that try to peel a child’s love away from an ex all have something in common: they view themselves as victims in the failed marriage or relationship. A parent who is going through a divorce or just went through one can either pick up the pieces, shoulder the hurt, and move on… or they can view themselves as an aggrieved party. The former tend to keep talk about the ex to a minimum, no matter what he or she did wrong or even maliciously.
The latter, however, set the stage for hostile action against their ex which includes turning the child on him or her. Called “Parental Alienation Syndrome” by most professionals (I’ve never liked this term, as a lie that one parent is not worthy of love is abuse– not a “syndrome”).
There is a direct correlation… the more a parent sees himself or herself as a victim, the greater the possibility that he or she will go after the child’s relationship with ex. And once they do, there is often no limit to their efforts. They will falsely accuse and malign everything associated with their ex, and will manipulate the child like a puppet. In short, they have little to no boundaries. They will spill anything damning– both truths and lies– into the child’s soul. So can you blame the child, who loves this parent unconditionally, for believing the messages being heard?
Sadly, there is no short term solution to you, the alienated parent. Sitting your child down and speaking factually about yourself and what’s going on will, in fact, usually backfire (except with teenagers, but you have to be careful). Long term, instead of using words, be yourself and use your actions to allow your child to see who you are. Over the course of a few years and long summers together (especially important for noncustodial parents), all the vicious lies and stories will begin to be questioned by the child. Consciously, subconsciously, or both. But you have to be patient– this is going to take years! But once this happens, the reversal of their hardened heart towards you will begin…
What keeps a parent who is capable of damaging a child mentally and emotionally from damaging them physically or sexually as well?
Parents who are mentally abusive lack the ability to control themselves. Which means they’re unable to contain their emotions, which then spills into doing what’s right for their child, which is sheltering them from harm– any harm. A parent who is OK knowing that their child is suffering (especially over lies that the parent creates) is a toxic father or mother, and toxic fathers and mothers are bad people who have few limits on what they’re capable of doing.
What I’ve noticed in my own experiences and in the experiences of blog commenters is that parents who can harm kids on one level frequently harm them on others, too.
These “manure-spreading” parents are capable of damaging kids across the spectrum of child abuse: physically, mentally, sexually, medically, and educationally. To be fair, few toxic parents damage via all of the five categories.
A parent who is physically or sexually abusive is also mentally abusive. Comments are made such as:
“Look what you made me do, don’t tell anyone about this or else…”
“This is your fault because…”
Name calling also goes hand in hand with these forms of abuse.
Here’s the thing: You can’t have a physically or sexually abusive parent who isn’t also mentally abusive. Any attack on a child’s body also is an attack on their mind.
To restate something important, not all parents who are mentally abusive are physically or sexually abusive. However, they have the potential to be, and too frequently are.
Bottom line? Once someone’s an abusive parent in one of the categories, they very often abuse on one or more of the others.
A happy parent is one who nurtures his or her children physically and emotionally. Happy people don’t molest, pass hurt feelings on to, deprive the other parent’s love from, or otherwise hurt their kids. Happy people who go through divorces or break-ups hurt just like anyone else, but they elevate their behaviors to protect their children from the adult pain.
“All abusive parents are unhappy parents, and unhappy parents are feelings-based people who act out on these feelings without regard to whether what they’re saying or doing is right or wrong for their child” – www.brainwashingchildren.com
Look at your own situation of mental abuse or even milder alienation efforts. How happy is the person who’s damaging your child? Are they an overall happy person?
Whenever I think of the environment that my child is in, I think of his home with a big giant neon sign above it flashing, “UNHAPPY – 24 hrs/day.” The nearly decade-long campaign of harming my son’s relationship with me has been so pervasive, how could such behavior come from a normal, happy parent? It can’t.
The unfortunate part is the long-term outlook. Since it’s impossible for you to change the unhappy person’s core, what are the odds of the damage being done to the children who are in their midst stopping? Quite low. The only real way to help the children that live with these negative, unhappy, parents is to have them spend more and more time with the positive, happy parent. It can be a complete change of custody in severe alienation and emotional abuse cases, to granting the “happy” parent a lot of meaningful time in the decree.
When you’re the noncustodial parent, days and weeks go by without you being around your child or children. During this time the custodial parent– your ex– who’s hell-bent on sabotaging your relationship with your child has ample opportunity to do so.
There are some strong signs that appear in most brainwashing households. You can’t be there in person to observe all the things said, the lies told, or the subtle put-downs, so you will have to look elsewhere– to the telephone, cellphone, text messages, and emails.
The openness and normalcy of the electronic communications with your child is in most cases directly related to the level of mental abuse taking place in the other house. Evidence that your child is being coached and lied to include:
How to fight this? The short answer is to call your child on a regular basis (once a week, twice a week, etc), and stick to it. Also send texts and emails, even super short ones, when you think of your child. If you’ve been unable to get through to speak to him or her, make sure you let them know that you’re excited to finally reach them. If you’ve left a voicemail, ask them “So did you get my voicemail?” That way, if they didn’t (as is likely), they’ll realize that you did reach out to connect with them. Older kids will even figure out on their own that a parent is withholding messages from them.
The big picture, of course, is to get the child into counseling. Even call Child Protective Services if your child’s emotionally wrecked. Make sure you document everything– to include tape recording phone calls (if legal in your state), logging all the times you’ve tried to reach your child, etc.
If your child custody decree doesn’t mention anything about telephonic or electronic access, then consider hiring an attorney who can make a “motion to modify” the decree. Some decrees include specific hours whereby your ex must make your child contactable. That way if your ex doesn’t comply, he or she could face the wrath of a judge.
It’s a very difficult thing to have to suffer through month after month after month, with the only let-off being when you have possession of your child. But hang in there. Keep a steady flow of calls, emails, and texts to your brainwashed child. One day your child will see the “unhappy” parent for who she is, and your consistent actions at reaching out will be rewarded in 95% of cases.
In my study of mental child abuse I’ve noticed how prevalent it is that the child abuser is highly narcissistic.
What’s a narcissistic parent? It’s someone who is self-absorbed, authoritarian (watch out for their outbursts), negative, a know-it-all, never culpable or blameworthy for anything, highly critical of others, secretive, cunning and conniving, manipulative, exploitive, stingy, ungrateful, a pathological liar (twists the truth with incredible ease), envious and competitive, deaf to other’s opinions, doesn’t listen (zero empathy), brags and exaggerates, plays favorites (and it’s a rotating favorite list at that), has no boundaries, inept at basic manners, lacks a sense of humor (especially at themselves), and excels at making others feel guilty… He or she is one unhappy person (read this post on Unhappy Parents) who sucks the energy and life out of those around them.
Looking at these traits, how many of them apply to your parent or ex? A narcissist will have most of the traits listed.
There’s a simple reason why the more a parent brainwashes his or her own children (or dishes out any other form of abuse), the more narcissistic tendencies they have:
It takes an extremely selfish and sick parent to inflict such harm onto their own child.
Any mature parent can set aside anger or hurt from a divorce and keep their child on neutral ground by refusing to enroll them in the middle of the conflict. But a narcissistic parent will be hell-bent on minimizing or even outright destroying the child’s relationship with the ex and unable to place their child out of the emotional turmoil. They can’t do it. In fact, they will actively bring pain to their own kids. That’s how mentally ill they are.
So how do you counter these parents, and is there hope for changing them? A sobering quote:
“Trying to reform narcissists by reasoning with them or by appealing to their better nature is about as effective as spitting in the ocean.”
That has been one of my biggest frustrations with my ex, thinking that reasoning with her and letting her eventually calm down and see for herself that I’m a good Dad would temper her behavior towards our son. But it never happened, and her actions even got worse over time. The sad reality is that you can’t change the narcissist. They don’t have the self-awareness or humility to see that they’re out of control and need help. They’re incapable of introspection. It’s deeply unfortunate, especially if your ex is the custodial parent and has ample amounts of time to transfer these narcissistic traits onto your child.
The only recourse for you is to be a normal parent, providing needed contrast for your child. It’s very important to insist that any behaviors in him or her that mimic your narcissistic ex are stomped out immediately. So if your child is flippant, rude, and lacking manners– and they will on many levels when they’ve been living with a narcissist– don’t tolerate it.
“The narcissist is governed by his or her feelings, the decent person is governed by his or her obligations” – Dennis Prager
Since a narcissistic parent is governed by his or her feelings, they don’t have the ability to own up to their obligations to shield their child from emotional heartache, adult issues, stories of how bad Mommy or Daddy is, etc. They will actively get the children involved in the conflict. It’s inappropriate, it’s evil, and it’s abusive.
These parents are a vortex of negative energy, and will suck the life out of those around them. Children of narcissists suffer, and they come in two camps: those that are aware of this parent’s bizarre, completely irrational behavior “Yeah, there my Mom/Dad goes again…”, or they’re not and are mentally smothered by the parent. Sadly lots of these children end up inheriting the narcissist’s traits, supporting the findings that many children of narcissistic parents become narcissists themselves.
The reality is this. Once the children become adults, the only way for them to not further suffer under the tyranny of a severely narcissistic parent is to move away from them. Creating physical separation, and thus limiting contact, from a parent might seem like a bad solution. But the alternative is living a life of suffering. Remember, the narcissist will never change. After all, he or she isn’t the wrongdoer or person with flaws. Everyone else is.
Finally, here is a quote I would like to share that was left in the comment section (scroll down) from a reader, Eve:
“The narcissist has no conscience and no feelings for others, especially their own children. The only thing that matters is their own selfish ego– coercing, manipulating, causing chaos, and damaging lives everywhere they go.”
Of course we know that kids aren’t generally aware of these dates and to reach out to loved ones, which is why they usually need a parent’s guidance. In a divorce, that means the parent with the child should help the child reach out to the other parent on these special days. However, a parent bent on minimizing or destroying the importance of their ex will place barricades up to keep the child from connecting to the other parent. It’s simply sick.
Recently on a big holiday, my son’s mother conveniently produced cell phone technical issues and the ridiculous “phone was being charged” argument. Nevermind that almost every phone can be used while it’s being charged.
This difficulty and sometimes outright inability for you to get through to your cute loved one(s) is a telltale sign of that parent’s hostility towards the child having a solid relationship with you. These parents brainwash their children on top of the gag on their child’s communications, and end up harming the child considerably.
One way to take the bull by the horns on this is to ask, preferably via text (so that it’s documented), a few days earlier when’s a good time to call on that day. If it becomes a recurring theme, then it’s time to contact your lawyer and consider a strongly worded letter for starters, up to a full blown hearing. Don’t let this parent get away with such awful behavior!
Think about what this teaches the child:
1. Important occasions don’t warrant even minimal telephone contact with the other parent
2. Ignoring the other parent on Father’s/Mother’s Day, a birthday, or Christmas is completely OK
3. Ignoring your siblings, uncles, and other relatives is also completely OK
It’s sad that parents routinely pull this ploy on their kid’s relationship to the other parent. It’s despicable.
Who has more inroads to damage a child psychologically, the parent with whom a child spends 85% of the time, or the other parent (also known as “noncustodial” parent)?
Clearly, the custodial parent has the most opportunity to brainwash, align, and otherwise create distortions and lies in a child’s mind. And because women are overwhelmingly awarded custodianship in divorces and paternity suits, the majority of emotional abusive parents are women (to be clear, this does not mean that fathers do not brainwash).
Living with the child nearly full time provides a lot of opportunity to shape a child mentally and emotionally. Custodial parents have a lot of bearing in their child’s upbringing due to this massive imbalance of time awarded them compared to the noncustodial parent. And this time can either be productive or destructive.
Which is why it’s important for courts in America to grant meaningful visitation to the noncustodial parents, especially if mental child abuse is alleged. But sadly the opposite often happens– one parent is actually denied the ability to seek counseling for an abused child.
So sadly, the parent with the most time with the child has the best opportunity to damage her own child psychologically… and if that’s happening to you, it’s time to get the court and CPS involved.