Is it parental alienation, or protecting children from sociopaths?

Young girl in Gap_300x200Editor’s note: The Lovefraud reader “tootrusting” posted the following as a comment on yesterday’s article, Horrifying saga of multiple predators, sexually abused children and murder. She asked an important question.

Donna, have you heard about the young 12-year-old girl in Georgia, who took her own life, and streamed it live for all to see? This tragedy occurred December 30, 2016, and I just learned of it yesterday. It seems she had to grow up very young in life, and just could not take it anymore. This story has rocked me, and my heart breaks for the life this young soul endured. It appears many people, whom she should’ve been able to count on, repeatedly let her down. Mom, Dad, Step-father, etc.

Anyway, in obsessively reading as much as I could about this young girl, I stumbled on a term — Parental Alienation. A reader, who evidently is composing a book on this subject matter, was trying to get into contact with this girl’s father, thinking he (and she) were a product of parental alienation. So I got to researching ”¦ mainly because I had never heard of parental alienation, and how it affects the children and/or parents involved.

My ex, the father of my child is a sociopath (or a narcissist — probably both). I reached out to you last May via email to seek some guidance in my own personal situation. First, thank you for your response. I don’t think I said that at the time.

To recap, my ex assaulted me with a gun when I was 26 weeks pregnant with our child. The incident lasted a little more than an hour, and during the entire event, he repeatedly made me think he was going to shoot me. I walked away (obviously), pressed charges, went to court, he lied, got off with a slap on the wrist, etc.

I became a hot hormonal mess after delivering my baby girl — stuff like: my daughter’s not going to have a father, poor her, poor me, poor him. I ended up contacting him when she was a month old, and invited him to have a relationship with her.

It lasted all of 6 months or so, during which time, I discovered I suffered from PTSD from the gun saga. So, basically, even if he’s not trying to kill me, I become extremely paranoid (in my head) that he is. I’m still not convinced that paranoia inducing wasn’t part of his master plan, to screw with my mind. Anyway ”¦ he’s been out of our lives since April of 2013.

October of 2015 I heard from someone in his family, and then started to hear from him on a monthly basis. I never bit. I never responded. I reached out to you when the fear became paralyzing, and you encouraged me to continue my stint of no contact. Which I have. He last reached out to me on Christmas Day, 2016.

Anyway, my point of all this (cuz I do have one) is: am I doing parental alienation? When I had my daughter, I never named him on her birth certificate”¦in effort to create a roadblock, albeit temporary once he decides to pursue it. I’m petrified he’ll hurt our daughter, or use her to hurt me, try to turn her against her brothers or me, mentally mess her head up all of the above really.

This whole time I justify not responding to him (which I would like to point out she had three birthdays before he ever reached out to her/me) as I am protecting her, and me, and us. She has asked about him a few times, and I try to keep my answers as short and non-critical of him as possible. Things like yes you do have a dad, no he’s not in heaven, I don’t know where he is; and then she starts talking of something else.

I still have a big question mark in regards to how to handle answering the tough questions when they come. But — Parental Alienation”¦are my actions fitting that description? Am I messing her up in my quest to protect her? I don’t know that there’s a book for dummies on this particular subject. Any help or suggestions are welcomed.

I should also mention he hasn’t changed ”¦ and I sincerely don’t think he needs yet another chance. I stumbled on a social media post of a very recent ex girlfriend of his. She described a violent situation that occurred between he and her that mirrors many situations he had with me.

Donna Andersen responds


First of all, your ex is likely a violent sociopath, especially if he is exhibiting the same behavior with a recent romantic partner. The best thing you can do is keep him out of your life, and out of your daughter’s life. However, you may need to be careful about how you accomplish this, in case he ever decides to claim that you engaged in parental alienation.

The entire concept of parental alienation is a minefield.

Dr. Richard Gardner

First of all, the concept of parental alienation was promulgated by a man named Dr. Richard Gardner. As explained by Joan Zorza, J.D., writing in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, parental alienation “blames the mothers for any hostility that the children feel towards their fathers, maintaining that children normally always love and respect their fathers unless mothers poison the children against them, even when the fathers beat or sexually abuse the mothers and/or children.”

Zorza, and many people who support abused mothers, say that parental alienation is “junk science.” They point out that Gardner’s theories have no scientific basis and were never recognized in the mental health profession. Plus, Gardner had other ideas that were downright disturbing. Zorza writes:

“Gardner also advocated many deviant sexual behaviors, including sexual sadism, child sexual abuse, necrophilia, and sex involving animals, enemas, or urination as supposedly beneficial, normal behaviors.”

Many people who advocate for battered women and battered mothers insist that parental alienation does not exist, and that abusive men use the claim to take children away from good and loving mothers.

Sociopathic parents

But just about anyone who has attempted to co-parent with a vindictive sociopath knows that parental alienation does exist. Whether the sociopathic parents are mothers or fathers, they frequently do everything they can to badmouth and denigrate the other parent. The sociopaths’ goal is to hurt the other parents where it hurts the most, by prying away their children. Unfortunately, sometimes they succeed.

Furthermore, many parents like you, Tootrusting have good reason to want to keep their children away from their former partners. The exes may be violent, abusive and negligent. Even when the abuse isn’t physical, if the parent is sociopathic, there will likely be psychological or emotional abuse, which is just as damaging to children.

Clueless courts

Unfortunately, most family court officials believe that all children should have two parents. They don’t understand that sociopathic parents damage their children, and that children have a better chance of growing up to be healthy if sociopathic parents are not in their lives.

Furthermore, sociopath parents whether they are the mothers or fathers are adept at accusing their former partners of parental alienation. They cry in court, plead that they “only want to be in their children’s lives,” and judges buy it. In many cases, the judges take the children away from non-disordered parents, who are legitimately accusing the other parent of abuse, and award them to the sociopaths.

Incapable of love

So Tootrusting, here is my advice for you:

Understand that sociopaths are not capable of loving anyone, including their children. If your ex is asking for contact with the child, it is likely a pretext to have contact with you, and perhaps draw you into his web again. I recommend that you continue to ignore him as long as possible. Hopefully he will just go away.

Know that no matter what other people say to you, children do not need both of their parents when one of them is a sociopath. Understand that the less contact your daughter has with her father, the better her chances of growing up healthy and happy. Do not feel like you should encourage your daughter to have a relationship with her father.

Keep your case out of court if at all possible. If your ex ever starts ramping up the pressure and threatens that he will take you to court to enforce his parental rights, you may want to agree to let him see the child in a public place. Perhaps you can make arrangements to meet at a Chuck E. Cheese, or someplace like that.

Then, send your daughter with a trusted friend or relative. Do not go yourself. Most likely, he just wants to get his hooks into you again, and that can’t happen if you don’t show up. If he asks for contact again, do the same thing. Hopefully, after a few times, he will lose interest, and that will be the end of the court threats.

The custody game

But if he does pursue a court case, recognize that you are now involved in a custody game, and you do not want to be accused of parental alienation. So don’t say anything bad about him.

You may want to pretend to be willing to allow him to see your daughter, while stalling as long as possible. The older she is before having contact with her father, the more she will be able to protect herself, or at least tell you what happens when she’s with him.

In any event, be sure to document everything that happens. Courts want evidence in order to make decisions. If he has a pattern of asking for visits and then not showing up, or if he mistreats your daughter in any way, you want to have a record of it.

Tootrusting, parental alienation takes place when a parent vindictively keeps children away from a healthy parent. Even though he might accuse you of parental alienation, that’s not what you are doing. You are legitimately protecting your daughter. But you may need to be careful, because many courts don’t understand that.


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4 Comments on "Is it parental alienation, or protecting children from sociopaths?"

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My ex spent years telling our kids that I was stupid and didn’t know what I was talking about. When we were divorcing, he told the kids not to eat any food I touched because I was trying to poison them. Then he turned around and called social services on me several times, claiming that I didn’t feed the kids or allow them to bathe, etc. He told the kids that I would kidnap them and he would never get to see them again, that I was evil and would get them sick because I wanted them dead.

The court gave us joint custody. When he refused to turn the kids over to me after his parenting time, the court reduced his time with them. When it happened again, his time was cut more. Eventually he slipped up and engaged in unacceptable behavior in front of third-party witnesses during his parenting time. The third party was worried enough about my kids to testify in court, and I finally got sole custody. If the kids want to see him, it has to be under court supervision. So far they haven’t wanted any contact.

He sporadically tries to contact them, but his messages are filled with rants against me or admonishes to them that they must have been brainwashed if they don’t want to be with him. The kids don’t respond. My youngest is frightened of the possibility that my ex may show up to kidnap the kids at some point, so both kids have phones and know how to call 911. We have practiced what information to give on a 911 call and safe places to go if they are not home.

What my ex did is parental alienation. He wants the kids so I would have to support them/him until they are grown. He knows the only way to get them is if they reject me in favor of him. They are smart kids and can see through his tactics, so it isn’t going to happen. The court gave him plenty of chances, and he screwed up every single chance he had, on his own.

No More Wool,

Sorry to hear of your travails.

I had a highly contested custody battle for my 2 kids with my narcissistic/psychopathic ex-husband. He also tried to alienate them from me during and for many years after the divorce. In my case, him having some custody was not really a bad issue, as pre-divorce he was “fun dad”, although some real problems came out later. No physical or sexual abuse, so I did not know what he did was defined as abuse, back then. Due to my having been Ms. Dad for years, supporting the whole family, he tried to get 100%, then on the advice of counsel 70%. I succeeded in getting 50% 50% custody, which is what I wanted. I was not trying to deprive our children of their dad. I just wanted them to see separate normal, and be with me at least half the time to accomplish that. I thought the contrast between how we lived and how they lived with him would accomplish that. What really helped in the legal proceedings was 1) to have a psychological evaluation done, which largely supported what I claimed, in addition to the custody evaluation, 2) hire a children’s attorney, and 3) get him to show his harmful narcissistic ways in court, which he did. Prior to that, in preliminary hearings, he pled poverty (as I proved he avoided working for most of 20 years), and cried actual tears for the 5 minutes he was on in court, then was dry-eyed and fine moments later outside the courtroom.

I was the one who filed for divorce. He kept telling the kids Mommy is just leaving us to go to find herself. I never did know what that expression really means! He would say they would stay with him and I could visit all of them if I wanted to, yes with him! When I was not there, during the divorce and during his custody time for years thereafter, he constantly bad-mouthed me in multiple ways. I heard some of it from others. He also alienated me from his entire side of the family, though 3 family members did come back and get back in touch with me. He stalked and harassed members of my family. I tried to get a R.O. twice. In one case, after seeing the evidence, the family court judge actually referred me to the proper place to get one, but that got lost in the legal process and I did not see the referral until much later, too late.

In the end, he hoisted himself on his own petard. He fought with the kids, did not feed them (or pets) properly and made them fend for themselves, kicked them out of his house multiple times, did not host them for his holidays or vacation times, and then up and moved while our younger child was still in high school, for no reason. They naturally separated from them. But sadly, our older daughter ended up siding with him and we have been largely alienated for the last 4 years, especially the last year. We have made some progress recently, but I do not feel I can trust her. She allows him to continue to abuse me through her, and she has taken on some of his qualities.

Parental alienation is real, though not always. It can be overcome by staying in their lives and leading by example in some, but not all cases. From what I have seen or heard, such sociopaths will either just leave or fight with everything they have to hurt you via the kids.

Know that in addition to concerns about being a parental alienator, the other side of that is the need to be a “protective parent” for children who otherwise would be abused. That was a tough balance for me where abuse was much more covert, but for you with the violence obvious, pointing to the need to be a protective parent theoretically should be good. However, Donna is right, the courts do not get the damage these types do or how they operate. And it is made hard to prove their psychology with existing tests and procedures. I used to say the court would award them custody unless they were cooking meth in the basement while raping the kids. It is just about that hard to show the damage they do. Research statistics bear out that abusers get primary custody in the majority (about 70%) of contested cases. So, Donna is right. Better to avoid court.

I have a male friend I’ve known for years who lost his daughter from parental alienation by his likely sociopathic ex-wife, after years of fights in courts. And she did something very extreme, like movie of the week extreme. She still got majority custody. At the time, he did not really understand that she was a sociopath. Between court battles, brainwashing during majority custody time, and interference with his limited visitation time, she succeeded in keeping his daughter from him and his whole side of the family. It is a sad story. He is a nice, caring father who did not deserve that.

I do think most cases of parental alienation are stories of abusers crying foul and trying to gain custody, often for support payments or to avoid making support payments, as well as for revenge. But sometimes, they are real, against really caring parents.

It is hard, and expensive, to separate truth from fakery in these cases unless the children are old enough to be wise to truth vs. tricks.

Thanks for your response. Sometimes I still feel like I failed my children by not getting us out sooner, but I have to stop and remind myself that we all got out *alive,* which is the important part.

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