Understanding Brainwashing in the Context of Parental Alienation:
Brainwashing is something we normally think of when we talk about a cult or prisoners of war, but is something far less abstract and distant than what most people think and happens in homes around the world. What is brainwashing? In the world of psychology, it is also referred to as thought reform, with its source
being social influences. It’s a way to change someone’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. “Brainwashing is a severe form of social influence that combines…[compliance, persuasion, and education]… to cause changes in someone’s way of thinking without that person’s consent and often against his will.” (http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/brainwashing.htm)
- Compliance – behavior changes
- Persuasion – attitude changes
- Education – is considered the “propaganda method” or teaching one’s own distorted “truth”
Brainwashing has been studied since 1929 by Mao Tse-tung, the leader of the Chinese Communist party – who called it “thought struggle” – to 1951 by the CIA who developed their own mind-conrol research with a program called MKULTRA.
Esteemed expert on the topic of parental alienation, Amy J.L. Baker wrote, “The Cult of Parenthood: A Qualitative Study of Parental Alienation (2004),” where adult survivors of alienation “described their parents in much the same terms that cult leaders are described.” She concludes in her paper that, “these parents required excessive devotion and utilized a range of strategies in order to cultivate their children’s dependence on them.”
In spite of a well-established body of research on the culmination of brainwashing children (parental alienation), the professional community is slow to catch up to the research. Therapists will say, “don’t you think that if a child could be brainwashed that all parents would be able to get their children to do their homework?”
Clearly, there is a considerable lag between what is known about brainwashing children today and the generalization of professional expertise in this area. While the U.S. military teaches soldiers about brainwashing in their training with the understanding that knowledge about the process makes it less effective, parents whose children are at risk for being brainwashed must arm themselves sooner than later with this information to help prevent it.
In Dr. Richard’s book, “Divorce Poison,” chapters 5 and 6 outline the “Alienating Environment” and “The Corruption of Reality” of brainwashing within the family, respectively. These pre-requisites and tactics unveil the secret ways that parents are able to successfully turn one child (without legitimate cause) against the other parent.
PREREQUISITES TO BRAINWASHING:
(Programming parents need be effective in at least one of these measures, with the objective being to create psychological dependence and to prevent exposure to competing views of reality.)
- Isolation: Parents who have the most access to the children tend to be more effective at the brainwashing, but this is not a pre-requisite. Parents with little access can also alienate their children. (See my post: https://waiting4ethan.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/whose-fault-is-alienation-the-gender-question). The alienator will sabotage visits with the other parent one way or another to reduce their time, restrict communication, and screen phone calls. Gradually, the time the child spends with the Target Parent is reduced to zero. Isolation leads the child to becoming more and more dependent on the alienating parent. The negative messages about the Target Parent eventually become ‘the truth’ because there is no access to people who can offer the child any competing views.
- Stripping: The emotional and symbolic connection with the Target Parent is broken through stripping. The child is ‘stripped’ of any reminders of the Target Parent, whether physical (photos, gifts received from the Target Parent) or simply conversational.
- Fear: The Favored Parent demonstrates aggressive behavior, lashes out at the Target Parent in front of the child. The child does not want to become the next target. To the child, it is ‘safer’ to choose the parent who is abusive. In some cases, the child has also been a victim of abuse (aside from the alienation efforts) from the alienating parent.
- Age: While Dr. Warshak doesn’t list age as a prerequisite factor in Chapter 5, he does point out in his book “Divorce Poison” that children ages 9 to 12 are the most susceptible to alienation.
OVERT AND COVERT TACTICS:
- Names: Alienators will encourage the child to use the Target Parent’s first name, signifying that the Target Parent does not deserve the respect that accompanies being a parent. The child may also hear the Target Parent referred to as a “witch” or other perjorative labeling that the child will use the same terminology.
- Repetition: Per Dr. Amy J. L. Baker, the alienator will repeatedly (overtly or covertly) convey to the child the that “basically that parent doesn’t really love you, they’re not really around, they’re not really doing anything to take care of you and in some cases, the message is that person is dangerous.” “In fact, studies have found that if just one person repeats the same opinion three times, it has a whopping 90 percent chance of converting three different people in the group to have the same opinion.” http://www.cracked.com/article_21309_6-incredible-ways-you-can-use-words-to-brainwash-people.html
- Selective Attention: This tactic is a “potent image shaping tool” whereby the alienator capitalizes on the child’s natural mixed feelings (all healthy children have mixed feelings about both parents) of the Target Parent by selectively magnifying the minor negative thought the child may have had and making it into a reason worthy of rejecting the other parent. At the same time, the alienator will intentionally leave out any mention of positive aspects of the Target Parent. This tactic can be obvious, or very calculatingly subtle. “While braiding her daughter’s hair, a mother asked, “Does Daddy do this for you?” (pg. 154 Divorce Poison)
- Judging Behavior out of Context: This tactic is a way to train the child to misinterpret the Target Parent’s behavior to always support the message that the parent does not love the child, is unavailable, and is unsafe. The Target Parent who is working long hours and cannot take time off from work to come to the child’s sporting event is judged by the alienator to the child as selfish and unloving.
- Exaggeration: The Target Parent who has started to date occasionally is portrayed to the child in an exaggerated way, e.g., preoccupied with men/women. Exaggerated messages that are repeated enough times will become integrated into the growing distortion of the Target Parent.
- Lying: Blatant lies may be told particularly if the child has been resistant to the brainwashing tactics described above. “Though such behavior is common among psychotic parents who have lost touch with reality, it also occurs among less disturbed people.” (Divorce Poison, Ch. 6)
- Revisionist History: The alienator devalues the formerly warm, close relationship the child and Target parent have/had. The alienator will review the pre-divorce family life with the child in the terms that supports the alienator’s distorted view. Especially if isolated from the Target Parent, the child will gradually adopt this revised family history, sometimes to the point that the child demonstrates a form of amnesia.
- Suggestions, Innuendos, and Implications: These are the more sneaky and subtle ways to program the child that can be especially potent and more difficult to prove. Dr. Amy J. L. Baker provides a good example of this category in an interview. Dr. Baker explains that, “It’s the trick that the alienating parent — one of their strategies — is that they send their kids for visitation trying to have a big fight with the targeted parent. The targeted parent often takes the bait and then they end up spending the whole visitation fighting with their kids. Then, the kid leaves and goes, “Mom’s right! Dad is unsafe. All he did was yell at me all weekend.” http://www.pvmhmr.org/82-parenting/article/14784-wise-counsel-interview-transcript-an-interview-with-amy-j-l-baker-phd-on-parental-alienation
- Exploitation: The alienator will support and encourage the child’s efforts to denigrate and disrespect the Target Parent. It is another expression of alienation.
- Projection: An Alienator’s repeated accusations about the Target parent that have no basis in reality are actually self-descriptive. Don’t dismiss cues of projection just because it seems too obvious. These texts from an alienator to a Target parent shed light into what the alienator subconsciously thinks about himself and his own real danger he presents to the child. He wrote:
You are absolutely crazy, a bad person. You are angry and bitter. [The child] is downright scared of you. [The child] is a prisoner in your own home…don’t get mad or defensive…stop ignoring [your] deficiencies and embrace them…deeply concerned at the prospects of your current mental state…Is something wrong that I don’t know about? You do need help! Holy Shit!…I’m very scared for the children to be in your custody…I’m going to do everything in my power to make you undergo psychological evaluation to confirm you are fit to have the children. I really do not think you are [fit to have the children]…I am very sad for the kids…scared for their well-being…I feel very sad for [the child] to continually suffer at he hands of your actions…I am very sad the kids are continually being adversely impacted…[you are] immature…[a] joke…manipulative…petty…There will come a day when the kids’ opinions will matter. You are not going to like that day. Personally, I can’t wait for that day. You are having a hard time differentiating between your feelings and the right of the kids to have their own feelings. You need to talk to someone with whom you can be totally honest.
- Rationalization: “A lie that is intended to seem plausible.” The alienator will rationalize to defend their own behavior…and attempt to convince themselves and others that they did nothing wrong. It can also be used to make the Target parent’s behavior look bad.
- Holier Than Thou: The child is exposed to the alienating parent’s particularly self-righteous hatred for the other parent. Children are particularly suggestible to this tactic.
- The “Truth” : Alienators (and cult leaders alike) will talk about “the truth” repeatedly, which is code for their own distorted sense of reality. The child who is being brainwashed will have heard the alienator’s description of ‘the truth’ so many times, that if the child is interviewed by a court professional about whether or not he/she was coached, the child will proclaim that the parent only said for him/her to tell the truth!
- Overindulgence: Gifts, extra privileges, not expecting the child to partake in age appropriate responsibilities are all ways for the alienator to “avoid rejection of the child,” “counteract the malevolent associations built up by the programmer,” “cement the children’s alliance with them while furthering the alienation from the target parent.” This tactic is particularly effective if the child is kept from enjoying time with the Target Parent. One way to ensure that is for the alienator not to pay child support (if otherwise expected) so that the Target Parent is unable to afford the same quality of life.
- Encroachment: This tactic is something that is done while the Target parent still has custodial time with the child. The alienator will ‘encroach’ on this time in order to ensure that the brainwashing efforts are not diminished. The alienator will call the child multiple times and keep the child on the phone for lengthy conversations during this custodial time.
- Cloak and Dagger: This tactic is employed once the alienator is more confident in the child’s loyalty. The alienator will “instruct the children to keep secrets, to spy, and to report back to the other parent…An element of excitement accompanies such collusion and appeals to children of all ages.” The child may be asked to break into the Target Parent’s email, particularly to find communication between the Target Parent and a new boyfriend or girlfriend and then to deliver it back to the other parent.
- Cognitive Dissonance: The more the child behaves in a rejecting, hateful way to the Target Parent, the more the child needs to confirm that he truly feels hatred for the Target Parent. In general, people want to have their behaviors and thoughts/feelings match.
- Conspiracy: The alienator’s parents, siblings, and close family friends collectively put enormous pressure on the child to maintain loyalty only to the alienator and to reject the other parent.
- Tamper Resistant Packaging: A way to confirm and solidify that the child is brainwashed and will remain so going forward, the alienator will tell the child ‘signs’ to look for that in fact the other parent will try to brainwash the child. The alienator will tell the child that if the Target Parent tries to tell you certain things, i.e., rational messages that counter the brainwashing, then the child feels as though the alienator must be right because they knew ahead of time that the Target parent would try to ‘manipulate’ him/her.