In our ongoing series #NoOneWins: Everything you need to know about Parental Alienation, we've uncovered just how disturbing Parental Alienation really is via interviews with local experts who have attempted to assist readers suffering through this complex experience.
To learn more read: Parental alienation explained: FAQs, terms and concepts
While it is hard to imagine what might inspire the deliberate attempt to cause a rift in the family, experts at SD Law South Africa say that when a parent acts as a divisive agent between a co-parent and a child (especially when lacking a valid reason) this may be a hallmark of a personality disorder, and in some cases, borderline personality disorder.
The parent with borderline personality disorder (BPD) has difficulty controlling their emotions. In many ways they are like children. When their emotions become too intense for them to handle, they become angry. They are also hyper-emotional – certain circumstances trigger a much greater emotional response than a healthy adult would display.
Despite diagnoses, persons with BPD, often play – or genuinely think they are – the victim. They blame others for the tragedy in their lives, and as a way of self-soothing they victimise those around them.
This is prime parental alienation behaviour – a desire to make the other parent suffer by casting them as incapable, unloving.
Parents with BPD might very well attempt to distort reality, accusing the other parent of flaws that are in fact within themselves, such as selfishness or instability. Another common strategy by a BPD parent may be to divide and conquer.
This is called splitting, where the BPD parent labels certain members of the family as either enemies or allies - be it grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins.
The support network that children desperately need in the wake of divorce is eroded and, of course, no one suffers more than the most innocent victims – the children.
Handling an explosive situation
Identifying what might be the root of the Parental Alienation you may be experience might not present an immediate solution, but it may be the first step to healing your family.
Here are a few ways to handle an explosive situation with an ex who may be a BPD parent.
Be compassionate but to a point
While the affected individual's behaviour can be infuriating and exhausting, they deserve an element of compassion (however small!).
Most people, given a rational choice, would opt to be well-balanced, mentally healthy, mature adults. But don't let sympathy turn you into a doormat.
Your children need you to provide stability, as their other parent will be incapable. You need to put their interests first, and part of that means putting your interests first.
It's very hard to find the energy a young family demands if you are feeling drained and debilitated by your ex's treatment of you. Make time for self-care.
It's not selfish; think of it as part of your duty as a parent.
Acknowledge their feelings
Someone with BPD is acutely emotionally sensitive, but they're not on another planet. Like any human, they want to be accepted and listened to.
Try to see the issue behind the tantrum and acknowledge it in an adult manner. This may make a reasonable conversation more likely...or at least possible.
Manage your own emotions
This may mean suppressing them. Don't get sucked into the BPD's emotional maelstrom.
This will only intensify an already volatile situation. Take deep breaths or use whatever coping strategy works for you.
Don’t take anything personally
Your ex is very likely to blame you for the divorce, and therefore for any distance that has arisen between them and their children.
This will happen regardless of who initiated the divorce or whose behaviour triggered it. Blaming others for their problems is a classic BPD tactic. Their coping mechanism for the guilt and shame the divorce has generated in them is to build themselves up by knocking you down.
However hard it may be, remember that this is a symptom of the disorder; you are not to blame!
Be honest with your children, but in an age-appropriate manner
What you tell a six-year-old will be very different from the conversation you have with a 16-year-old (but remember, teenagers are nowhere near as mature and "sorted" as they may appear).
Keep the focus on the importance of a safe environment for them and the need to help them maintain their relationship with both parents. It's OK to say that the other parent has some challenges, and you are both working out the best way to manage the situation.
Keep your feelings about your ex to yourself and explain the circumstances as unemotionally as possible.
Because it is likely the other parent will give the children a different point of view, your calm, rational demeanour will make a stronger and more lasting impression on them.
Submitted to Parent24 by SD Law South Africa.
Share your stories and questions with us via email at email@example.com. Anonymous contributions are welcome.
Don't miss a story!
For a weekly wrap of our latest parenting news and advice sign up to our free Friday Parent24 newsletter.