Over the last four decades of my work with cults and destructive groups, I have seen the almost standard operating procedure for mind-control cults to instruct members to do parental alienation behaviors. For example, if one parent realizes they are in a cult and leaves, if the other parent doesn’t leave with them, they are indoctrinated to remain loyal and keep the children. In destructive groups, like Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, Moonies, and many others, the parent still in the cult is ideologically driven to poison the child against the parent who exited. This is known as parental alienation. However, years later I learned that Parental Alienation is a global problem affecting millions of individuals who were never in a formal destructive cult (religious, political, therapy, commercial).
Parental Alienation is a form of undue influence in which one parent deceives and manipulates the child to feel fear, anger, disgust, or other negative emotions towards the other parent and their entire side of the family. Stories are told that might include: the parent doesn’t love them, beat, raped them, are drug addicts etc.. The alienating parent might even attempt to instill false memories of abuse or phobias in the child’s mind. They may encourage the child to spy and tattle on the other parent. In other words, parents who unethically alienate their child against the other parent use similar tactics that cults use to distance their members from family, friends, and ex-members.
According to developmental psychologist and expert witness Dr. Amy Baker, parental alienation strategies can fall into the following five categories:
- poisonous messages to the child about the targeted parent in which he or she is portrayed as unloving, unsafe, and unavailable
- limiting contact and communication between the child and the targeted parent
- erasing and replacing the targeted parent in the heart and mind of the child
- encouraging the child to betray the targeted parent’s trust
- undermining the authority of the targeted parent
This systematic mind control programming of children against their non-custodial parent is absolutely dangerous.
We must raise awareness about this practice! This week, I interview author Dana Laquidara and discuss her story of being alienated from her mother and how it relates to mind control. We are open to telling other people’s stories too.
Dana Laquidara is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Mamalode, Literary Mama, Brain Child Magazine, Boston Mamas, The Grub Daily, and Spirituality & Health Magazine.
She speaks from experience about parental alienation in order to raise awareness and support parents and children who are caught in this devastating aftermath of a volatile divorce. Dana is currently working on her memoir entitled, Alienated: A Daughter’s Memoir. You can learn more about her experience and work at danalaquidara.com.
Discussion with Dana Laquidara
Dana begins by telling her story of being alienated from her mother after her parents’ volatile divorce when she was about four years old (and her sister five years old). The alienation was complete, drastic and took place pretty quickly. And within a few months of their separation, she had lost all contact with her mother and her maternal extended family, including grandparents and aunts, whom she had been very close with and saw frequently. She was powerless in the situation with no chance to grieve the abrupt departure of her mom. (This later affected her authentic self and core identity and, later in life, fueled her writing where she began seeking the truth. You can read some of her work here.)
Just as with mind control groups, there was very black-and-white thinking in with her father and step-mother whom she was forced to call “mom.” Her father was good and worthy of being her parent. Her mom was bad and unfit. There was a smear campaign against her mom. And again, very similar to how a mind control group functions, she did not feel safe in asking questions about the situation. She feared her father’s anger. In reality, Dana’s mother did not want to abandon her children but only wished to leave an abusive marriage. She had an affair as her way of getting out, (something I have seen endless times with people raised in destructive cults as a way of being kicked out of the group). The alienating parent was so angry at the betrayal that he kicked her out of the house and prevented her from seeing her children.
Dana’s mom had no car. No education. Lived with her parents. And, ultimately, had a bit of a breakdown.
Sadly, society, in general, would think that her mom must have done something awful if her kids didn’t even want to see her. A principle in social psychology, the fundamental attribution error, describes when people try to understand other people’s behavior, they overestimate the individual’s disposition or personality and they underestimate the social influence context variables involved. There is this notion that if you are not seeing your kids, you must have been a terrible parent. But once you understand that mind control exists and phobias are real and can be put insides people’s heads deliberately to alienate people from a loving parent, then it becomes clear.
Dana goes on to explain that when her older sister got older and could drive, her sister located their grandmother. She wanted to know why they abandoned her and Dana. They heard the “other side of the story.” From there, they reconnected with their aunts. Then their mother. Her sister treated it like an interrogation. She had this anger and thought the storyline was true where their mother just straight up irresponsibly abandoned them. Dana had only loving memories of her mother and the abandonment storyline had never made sense to her.
They questioned their grandmother and then, later, their mother, and both gently responded to the questions. Dana began to learn the truth about what her father had done. But the hardest part was understanding why she hadn’t asked to see her mom, spoke up, or even rebelled and insisted upon seeing her.
But once Dana learned about destructive undue influence and mind control, she recognized it was not her fault nor due to any weakness on her part. She felt as if she was in a dream. She likely had lived in a pseudo-identity and was not connected to her real thoughts and feelings of her authentic self.
Now, Dana aims to help and educate others about parental alienation. If her mom had understood more about it and mind control, she may have been able to deal differently with Dana’s father. And it is Dana’s hope that children estranged from a parent will speak up and ask questions and recognize the signs of parental alienation, saving them from the pain she endured.
(Dana is a wonderful storyteller and shares her story honestly and bravely. See video below.)
“As you say in Combating Cult Mind Control about the idea of “mind control” not being well received in courts and focus needs to be on the diagnosis for cult mind control being in the DSM-5 as 300.15 Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorder, so too does “parental alienation” have an established diagnosis. Dr. Craig Childress has been trying to convince alienated parents, and mental health professionals, when in court, to steer away from the “parental alienation” term which is too unclear and new to judges, and instead use established principles of professional psychology. He refers to the diagnosis of the child, after meeting specific diagnostic indicators, (spelled out in his book, Foundations) of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, confirmed. (perhaps both Dissociative Disorder and Child Psychological Abuse may apply in cases of “parental alienation”?)Many parents have reached out to me over the years, after coming across one of my essays, and expressed extreme frustration from not being able to “prove” parental alienation in court. Most become depleted, financially and emotionally, in a losing battle. It seems we need more mental health professionals who understand this pathology and can appropriately diagnose the child so the claim of alienation holds up in court as the psychological abuse that it is.”
“Turning a child against the other parent, and blocking communication with that parent, is Child Psychological Abuse. It is so easy for a parent to negatively influence their child. Parental alienation is an extreme form of undue influence and the methods are well documented.The alienating parent typically exerts confidence in what they are doing and has no tolerance for criticism. Ignorance empowers them. Educating mental health professionals, judges, lawyers, teachers, and society in general, is our only hope of ending this abuse.”
And I would like to add the following plea:
I invite any that are estranged from a relative (parent, sibling, grandparent) and their side of the family to safely reality check what they have been told. As a strategy, I recommend that you ask someone you trust, such as a therapist, to call them and say that you were told they were abusive and kept apart. And, now, you aren’t so sure. The truth will hold up to scrutiny. (This does not include confirmed abusive relatives where you could be harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally from reaching out.)
I will end by again quoting Dana and a case I did many years ago:
“To those who are alienated from a parent:
You owe it to yourself to seek information about alienation, mind control, and undue influence. Give your alienated parent the chance to talk to you and to give you the love that is your birthright. Consider seeking qualified help from someone who is well versed in parental alienation. Reach out to someone who has been through alienation.”
IMPORTANT NOTE: One expert witness case I did over twenty years ago, Kendall vs. Kendall, which went to the Supreme Court and was upheld, the father who had been recruited into Kip McKean’s Church of Christ was trying to recruit his wife and Jewish children telling them they were going to Hell. The mother went to court. The decision said that the children were being harmed by the father and that the cult member’s right to free speech was less important than the children’s welfare and relationship to their mother. In other words, the court said the father did not have the right to alienate his children against their mother and the religion of their family.
Interview Discussion with Dana Laquidara
Two other people doing impressive work in the field are Dorcy Pruter of Conscious Co-Parenting Institute and Dr. Craig Childress, a licensed clinical psychologist in CA. Dorcy was an alienated child herself, as well as experienced alienation as a mom during the early years of her own divorce. She has worked boldly and tirelessly in this field to develop actual solutions to interrupting, stopping, and preventing alienation. Dr. Childress, who came to this dynamic through his work as a child psychologist in private practice, eventually partnered with Dorcy in the past few years because he recognized her successful work. They are a great fit as a team to truly help families. Dr. Childress has the clinical background to understand and ground the psychology behind it all, and Dorcy’s work is about educating families and delivering solutions.
To read more of Dana’s work, visit here.
You can contact Dana here.