About that Thing Abusers (and Enablers) Like to Call “Parental Alienation”

Originally posted on Breaking the Silence for Women 11/6/21.

This morning I woke to notification of a comment that has since been deleted by its writer.

That’s okay. Either they decided not to risk a public comment that the wrong people might see, or changed their mind about what they said. But I want to address it. It’s an excellent discussion point.

I often write about the challenges of “coparenting” with a narcissist and sociopath, and how the abuse continues for us in still-traumatic and damaging ways even after we’ve left the relationship, while also overlapping onto the kids we’re working so hard, so thoroughly, to raise well.

The way I read the comment — quoted in this text graphic — was to spin the narrative as if the survivor of the scenario is somehow behaving inappropriately, somehow making a victim of the real abuser.

“She just wants her kids to hate him. She’s trying to break down their opinion of him, and ruin their relationship.”

But no, that’s not true. Let’s be clear.

A domestic abuse victim who was brave enough to leave, and who is brave and responsible enough to raise her child(ren) alone and despite her abusive other parent’s counter-attempts, isn’t doing anything wrong. No, she’s not alienating anyone. The abuser’s own behavior is laying the groundwork for that. Read: They are responsible for their own eventual alienation.

Our survivor, meanwhile, is doing everything she can to heal herself, and make sense of a new life, while also trying to mitigate the effects of abuse on her kids. She herself is working to counter — not contribute to — all that toxicity she has no control over. And let’s be clear about this, too: Her abuser is the one who will, in subtle, coercive ways, sow seeds against her.

To accuse her of “parental alienation” is to pour on more victim blaming and shaming, and that’s unacceptable. This is one factor of the many which have enabled our epidemic of domestic abuse.

Must we survivors be careful about how we discuss the abusive parent with our kids? Yes.

Family court makes that all too clear.Are we to toe that line and protect our kids from knowing how misguided and delusional their abusive parent is? Early on, yes. When they’re young, yes.

It’s an urgent matter of preservation (and legal requirement) — as long as possible — until they become old enough and wise enough to recognize and internalize these realities all on their own. THEN it becomes our obligation to help them navigate this world of their abusive parent’s design, so they don’t grow up with a belief that the damage done is their own fault. So they themselves become as least toxic as possible.

This isn’t alienating our kids’ other parent. This is proactively avoiding complicity in our kids’ trauma, and the long-term effects of the abuse they themselves are victim to.

This, for the record, is the hill I will die on.

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