I often talk with victims of Parental Alienation who are tremendously frustrated by their inability to effectively describe PA. Friends, associates, and even family often find it extremely difficult to understand the alienation process and how it could possibly work unless the targeted parent was somehow to blame. It is beyond their understanding that a child could develop so much animosity toward a parent that actually loves them and has done nothing to deserve the hate and rejection. And, the fact that Family Courts tend to side with the manipulative parent naively lends more inaccurate evidence that the targeted parent is either abusive, neglectful, or simply a poor parent.
I have found that sometimes people can better understand if they think about parental alienation in the same context as a cult. As with a child, nobody wakes up one morning and decides to join a cult. Cults recruit members by identifying vulnerable individuals and methodically developing a relationship over a period of time where the cult replaces the family in fulfilling the targeted individual’s emotional needs. There are few individuals suffering greater emotional distress than a child caught in the middle of a toxic divorce. The mystery has always been how cult leaders and alienating parents do it.
In the 1930’s the sociologist, Max Weber identified the dynamic he called “Charismatic Authority.” An individual with Charismatic Authority is perceived by the target as a loving and sheltering individual who can relieve the fears, tensions and instability experienced by the child target/recruit. The target eventually learns to trust and rely on the charismatic individual and eventually becomes fully dependent on the leadership of that individual. Cult members truly believe what they are told and taught by their leader.
If we think of Parental Alienation as a process or dynamic exercised by a disordered parent it helps to think of the relationship as a mini-cult. Who has more inherent charisma or commands more love and respect from the child than a parent. The parent naturally commands charismatic authority with his or her own child. If he or she uses that charismatic authority to manipulate the child against the other parent the process is extremely similar to cult recruitment. All the techniques used in cult recruitment can be identified in the relationship between an abusive parent and a targeted child. Behavior such as “love bombing,” the promise of physical and emotional security, threats (even if implied) of withdrawal from the relationship or expelling the target, communicating hurt to the target if he or she expresses an interest to withdraw, so-called “Gas lighting,” and even sexual abuse are all tools used by both cult leaders and parents who choose to create a dependent relationship and turn their own children against the other parent. In both cases the target is a victim who often fails to recover to live happy or normal lives.
Many of us who have experienced Parental Alienation know that offenders are often people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Is there any doubt that cult leaders share this same disorder? A section of “Tears In The Rain” is devoted to the similarity of cults and Parental Alienation and the concept of “Charismatic Authority.”
For what it’s worth, I recommend that victimized parents become familiar with the process of cult recruitment. Not only can this familiarity help the victimized parent truly internalize that this terrible process is not their fault but it might also help friends, family, and associates better understand the process.
If anybody who reads this has any more insight I would ask you to please post it on this blog.