Narcissistic Parental Alienation: Signs To Watch Out For

Parental alienation is when one parent actively tries to damage their child’s relationship with the other parent. And while this is harmful enough, a narcissistic parent can take the behavior even further, harming the essential child/parent relationship and often causing damage to the child’s well-being. 

What is parental alienation?

At the end of a high-conflict relationship, one parent may use their child to get back at the other partner. Parental alienation occurs when one parent unfairly tries to turn their child against the other parent without justification. 

A parent who is trying to make their child feel disconnected from their co-parent may voice critical comments about the other parent or portray them as unstable or dangerous. They may tell their child that the other parent doesn’t love them or doesn’t want to spend time with them. In more severe cases, the alienating parent may restrict the other’s parenting time or even move away without telling them.

A parent with narcissistic tendencies can take parental alienation to an extreme. They’ve used manipulation to control everything in their lives, and when forced to share their child with an ex-spouse, all their narcissistic traits can go into high gear. 

Someone with a narcissistic personality has an inflated sense of self. They consider themselves superior and have little empathy for others. They hate not being in control of the narrative, and when forced to do something they don’t like, such as cooperating with an ex-spouse, they have no problem manipulating and exploiting, even when it involves their own child. With a narcissist, the end always justifies the means. Unfortunately, it not only hurts the other parent, but it also hurts the child. 

Read: Narcissist Traits: Male vs. Female

What are some signs of parental alienation?

Although a child may not want contact with a parent for justifiable reasons, such as neglect or abuse, when they reject a parent because they’ve been taught to, it can be considered emotional abuse.

Parents who are actively trying to create animosity between their child and their co-parent can go on a campaign of untruths and coercion. They may do this in any of the following ways:

  • Bad-mouthing the other parent and representing them as “bad,” dangerous, or unloving while idealizing themselves
  • Confiding negative personal information about the other parent to the alienated child
  • Telling the child their other parent doesn’t love them
  • Encouraging the child to be disrespectful to the other parent
  • Limiting the child’s communication or contact with the other parent
  • Acting hurt when the child says something nice about the other parent

With enough of these messages, the child may begin to parrot the alienating parent’s comments and attitudes and act angry, upset, and disrespectful toward the targeted parent. 

The effects of parental alienation can be devastating to both the alienated parent and the child. A child who has been the subject of parental alienation may do any of the following:

  • Express the alienating parent’s opinions about the other parent and not want to spend time with them
  • Act hostile toward the targeted parent and justify it with negative remarks about them
  • Have no remorse after treating the other parent badly
  • Idealize the alienating parent as the only one who loves them

Unfortunately, a child who is fed negative information about one parent can’t help but internalize it when they have nothing to balance it. Parental alienation is considered child abuse because it negatively impacts the child’s life, development, and self-esteem.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a term used to describe the negative behaviors of children toward their alienated parent. They may also display negative behaviors when away from their alienated parent, such as at school.

How to know if a child has been subjected to parental alienation

How can you tell if your child is truly being subjected to a campaign of denigration by your former partner? A recent study establishes four factors mental health practitioners can use to differentiate an alienating parent’s behavior from other estrangements:

  1.  There was previously a positive relationship between the child and the alienated parent.
  2.  There was no mistreatment of the child or unacceptable parenting by the targeted parent.
  3.  Others have identified alienating behaviors by one parent.
  4.  Several indications of parental alienation are noted in the child’s behavior and responses toward the targeted parent. 

A child who has been systematically alienated from a parent will act and talk very differently than one who has made the decision not to see their parent on their own. 

Read: Understanding and Protecting Kids' Mental Health in Divorce

How to cope if your child displays these behaviors

If you suspect your child is the victim of parental alienation, it’s important to get this confirmed by a mental health professional who understands this behavior so you can work toward counteracting it. You want your child to experience the love, patience, and attention that they deserve. It’s not their fault that they are being manipulated by your ex. 

A manipulative household is a stressful one. When your child is caught in an alienating situation, it can have a negative impact not only on your relationship but also on their emotional well-being. 

Let your house be where your child can be themselves and feel safe without judgment. Don’t talk badly about your co-parent or try to get information about your ex’s potential alienation tactics. Spend quality time with your child without pressure, and listen closely to what they have to say. Let them experience who you are and not what your co-parent is telling them. 

Getting the help of a therapist who understands the importance of the parent-child relationship and treats parental alienation cases can help. If the alienation has gotten out of control, you may need an attorney to ask for changes to your court order, limiting your ex’s contact with your child. 

Parental alienation is emotionally abusive. It can harm your important relationship with your child. It can also be considered unlawful if your ex is not following your existing court order and parenting plan.

Don’t go through this alone. At Hello Divorce, we may be able to help. Schedule a free informational phone call to learn more about our services, which include legal advice from an attorney for a flat fee and mediation sessions with a professional trained in conflict resolution.

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.