Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

Children Who Hate

Inside every alienated child is a child who feels rejected.

Posted Aug 12, 2016

I came across an article from 1986 about aggressive children and the more I read, the more I saw a connection to parental alienation. Here are some phrases that popped out at me in the beginning of the paper: “children with violent unmanageable behavior” “defensive style, replete with loud threats and sudden, wildly destructive outbursts”  “"children who hate” “they do not experience shame, anxiety, or guilt” “children who just act as if they had no conscience.” With respect to mental health treatment, the paper used phrases such as “beyond the reach” of intervention, and “few actually benefit from the individual therapies” “deemed untreatable” “this unproductive scenario is very likely to repeat itself.” These children sound very similar to how alienated children behave towards the targeted parent (hateful, lacking in remorse) and towards attempts to provide corrective treatment (angry, resistant, unreachable).

The premise of the paper is that much of the anger and violent behavior of these children is related to underlying narcissistic vulnerability. The author argues that “behind the defiant, "tough guy" facade, these are angrily alienated children who feel basically unwanted, unappreciated, and unloved.” When the author uses the word “alienated” I do not think he meant to refer specifically to parental alienation, but rather more generally to the child’s disaffection from the caregiver. The author explains, “Uncertainty about their caretakers' regard gives them profound doubts about their self-worth and constitutes a fundamental source of narcissistic vulnerability.”

This is entirely consistent with my own understanding that inside every alienated child (i.e., an angry hostile rejecting child) is a child who feels unloved and rejected by the targeted parent. The author argues that feeling unloved is extremely painful, especially for a child. In response to parental unavailability and rejection, the child will work hard to defend against that feeling by acting as if he doesn’t care about the parent who is perceived as rejecting him. The catch is, that in families affected by alienation the belief that the parent doesn’t love the child is not reality- based. It is a false belief implanted by the favored parent. Nonetheless, to the child it is true. Moreover, once this belief has taken hold, the child will be on the lookout for any whiff of rejection from the targeted parent. “Constantly fearing rejection, abandonment, and other forms of disregard, hyper-aggressive children maintain hypervigilance for any hint of it.” Because all parents are imperfect, there is always something that the favored parent can point to as proof that the other parent doesn’t love the child.

This is yet further support for the importance of the targeted parent maintaining a loving stance towards the child – refusing to take the bait – no matter how provocative the child is. This is the core struggle for targeted parents and one that is well worth grappling with.