Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

How to Get Your Alienating Ex Out of Your Head

Thinking about what your ex is thinking about you is not always a good thing.

Posted May 24, 2017

Many times during a coaching session, a targeted parent will make a statement about how the alienator is probably laughing at them. Often when they have to make a tough choice about how to respond to an alienated child, the targeted parent will imagine what the alienator will do or say to the child in response to the actions of the targeted parent. Often it is very helpful to anticipate what the alienator is going to do or say, as it can allow for strategic and informed decisions. However, there are times when it seems to be unhelpful. For example, a mother client was working through with me whether or not to pay for her child’s baseball instruction even though the child lived full time with the father (in contempt of the court order) and the father was arrears in money he owed the mother. The mother felt that it was the right thing to do to pay for the baseball but got stuck when she thought of how the alienator would probably laugh at her for being such a fool—paying for something she really shouldn’t be paying for. She imagined him smirking gleefully as he realized that once again he put one over on her, that he got her to pay for something she shouldn’t be paying for. In our discussion together we came to the understanding that her distaste over what the alienator might be thinking was at least in part a reflection of her own unresolved feelings about whether she should or should not be paying. When she came to terms with her own decision, she became less focused on what the alienator might have been thinking. We also discussed how she had been married to this person for many years and it was natural to be anticipating his thoughts and wondering about how he would be responding to her actions. That is what a good spouse does. So we began to think about the process of getting the alienator out of her head as a symbolic divorce, a process that did not come automatically or all at once. The mother made a commitment to become aware of when she was making assumptions about what her ex was thinking, and challenging herself to stop caring about what he thought of her. She is looking forward to the day when the alienator is no longer sitting inside her head beating her down, mocking her, and being a negative influence in her life.