Home > Parents > Methods of Emotional Manipulation: Understanding Parental Alienation using Behaviorism

Methods of Emotional Manipulation: Understanding Parental Alienation using Behaviorism

Methods of Emotional Manipulation: Understanding Parental Alienation using Behaviorism: Pigeonholed:  by Monika L.  Logan

This article is not intended for advice or any form of therapy


Methods of Parental Alienation

Parents and Pigeonholes

Parental alienation is an insidious plan.  The plan  is not necessarily well-thought out. An un-happy ex-spouse does not jot down verbal snares for future use. On the contrary, the plan is primal. The plan is one that feeds and fills a wounded adult. Sorry to say but the plan works.

Psychology terms may benefit when it come to understanding Parental Alienation (PA). The first term is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement works. Parents use positive reinforcement to increase the frequency of   desired behaviors. The reinforcement may be gifts, stickers, recognition, or accolades. In cases of PA, the manipulative parent may buy the child a toy each time the kid reports happenings during the other parent’s visitation time. The kid will learn to report the events of the other parent’s life.  A manipulative parent will use this as part of his or her plan. So, when asked, does (dad or mom) say bad things? The child’s answer is no.

The second term is known as negative reinforcement.  This method works by compliance and exhaustion. Let’s say a kid calls the non-custodial parent every night before bed.  However, the parent feels threatened and rants about 30 minutes before the call is made. The out of control parent cannot tolerate frustration. Consequently, they resort to a nightly ritual of yelling, screaming and the use of derogatory terms .The parent may additionally threaten the kid. Obviously the kid would like to avoid the aversive conditions. One can conclude that the kid will stop calling. In this case, the kid desires the parent to cease child-like tantrums.

The third is partial reinforcement. If positive reinforcement is consistent, the behavior and subsequent rewards will remain. On the contrary, partial reinforcement is unpredictable. This may be maddening for parents that demand loyalty. It is akin to a drug user needing a fix. Let’s say a parent bought a new video game every time the child reported (mom or dads) new dating status. But wait, the child is getting older. The kid has a new set of friends and moved into adolescence. At times the kid will report events and other times they will not. The parent cannot predict if they get to know the happenings of his or her ex-spouses life. Out of desperation and the requirement for an emotional fix, the parent behaves in a compulsive manner. The parent wants to get back on track with a steady stream of reports from parental spying. The parent craves consistency.

Next is punishment the difference is in the timing. In negative reinforcement dad (or mom) starts yelling before the kid leaves for the weekend or vacation. Punishment can manifest in many forms. The worst may sound something like this, “if you go visit on Wednesday night, then we are moving five states away.” Punishment is a consequence of a behavior that the favored parent refuses to tolerate. In PA the word behavior should be replaced with love. That is, the favored parent cannot have the kid loving the other parent. Consequently, the kid will become fearful and may refuse to go. They reason, at their young age, that it is better to refuse visitation than to move five states away. Fear itself becomes reinforcing.

Last but not least: traumatic learning. In this case the kid will adopt a response style of fear and avoidance. There are many methods the parent may employ. Regardless of the means, it is enough to scare the kid for life. It may alienate the child or lead to a severed relationship. As just one example, the kid that arrives home happy from a weekend at dads may not be met with a pleasant smile. Instead, the child may come home to a parent screaming what a sorry no good nothing of a parent the child’s father has been. Worse yet, the parent rant, raves, and sobs. They will not stop; the parent goes on ranting about adult matters, such as affairs, and personal faults. The outcome is an alienated child. Parental Alienation is frequently associated with a plan. While the plan may not always have a lot of forethought, it provides covert gains. The gains are a quick fix to deep-rooted issues, pigeonholing kids into a life without one parent.

Categories: Parents
  1. Jennifer Ryan
    September 9, 2010 at 6:17 AM

    Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceburg. So so many tactics are used, you didn’t mention guilt for having left the favored parent for the weekend and making the child feel they are crucial to their happiness and therefore the targeted parent has to be dismissed. There are the carrots which never materialise but serve to get the child to do the dead (vacations, new bedrooms..), the manipulated scenes to make the child think one thing has happened when actually it was the opposite.

    What we’re really interested in is how to combat PAS. What I’ve learned is never give up. Do everything to stay in contact with the child, texting, emails, calls etc. Remind the child how important it is to maintain the bond regardless of the actual time together. Show them pictures of the happy times when they were younger, before the PAS started, to counter the false images painted by the “favored” parent. Remind them of the loving moments together in any way possible. Let them see other children loving you whenever possible. Always tell the truth, they’ll know this in their heart and it will serve in the future.

    Not many methods compared to those of the alienator, but they are effective. Please share others.

    • September 12, 2010 at 2:57 AM

      Thanks Jennifer. I agree; it is just the tip of the iceburg. There are many tactics. Too many to list. Good points you made! One cannot give up hope and doors have to remain opened. Until this problem is taken as seriously as other problems, such as PTSD, it will be dismissed and viewed as a tactic. Regardless–parents cannot give up! If you have contact, the video Pluto by Dr. Richard Warshak is beneficial. Good for all ages to view. Helps staighten out distorted black and white thinking (stinkin’ thinkin’). It also covers terminology;terms that are easily understood by all ages and cognitive abilities.

  2. Jennifer Ryan
    September 13, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    Thanks, we are planning on getting it. Thanks for this newletter too!

  3. October 23, 2013 at 7:22 PM

    My daughter has been alienated from me, her mom, & her family; the last time my mother went to pick her up to take her to a holiday event, my daughter was crying and nervous when she stepped out of her dad’s house. Her dad showed disrespect towards my mom even while we were married (we also found out he cheated her out of several hundred dollars when she had hired him to manage her property via his real estate company).

  4. Job
    December 18, 2016 at 5:18 AM

    I feel as though I’m fighting behavior which would be alienating in nature by all accounts. I’m a custodial father who barely managed to get custody of his 5 yr old boy. Mom return this past spring with orders for the return of b her son who’d been kept from her. Truth be told, her absence in his life was her doing not mine. Lucky for my son and me the judge maintained the status quo and I got custody. What’s hard to fight the animosity and disgust(im succeeding but constantly checking myself) I have towards his mom. All she had to do was gradually re-enter his life. Instead she claimed I kept her away and with no evidence, the judge scolded me and also told me I abused my son when he asked one time where’s mom? My answer: “I don’t know where mom is exactly but I know she loves you, shes just moved to far away to visit.” What else should i have said? I could have told him the truth “shes in the area somewhere but never comes around.” Talking about shocked, I was totally taken aback. Her lies got her full visitation and all holidays for the next two years “to help make up for lost time.” Oddly enough, “mom” sought custody AFTER she moved out of state. Now I’m driving halfway 5 hrs everywhere weekend to meet his mom for visitation which is basically been zombified by video games. It’s hard to be nice but I am. Scary thing is, that’s what got me in this mess to begin with. I’m scared for my son, he’s not the same boy as he was prior to her abrupt re-entry and I feel like I’ve been abused, mistreated, whatever so that my son can be a pawn in a sick game. It’s a game that my daughters mother has played and won. My daughter is not in my life. I’m scared I will also lose my son too.

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