Parental Alienation: Is That What the Left Does, Both in Israel and in the US?

Do President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu merit such continuous ire as both steadily receive from their political left? And what is the impact of this acrimony on the citizens of the countries they lead?

I have had a run recently in my clinical practice on cases of parent alienation syndrome. One of my clients mentioned that maybe those cases reflect the polarization that has been happening politically in the U.S. His comment got me thinking.

What came to mind was the image of our President giving what seemed to me a sensible and at times even inspiring State of the Union Address…and the Democratic Congress-people in the hall in which he spoke sitting glumly, scowls on their faces, some sitting on their hands instead of clapping, and some even walking out on the talk. I thought then of the extreme negatively of much of the liberal press in Israel vis a vis the Prime Minister.  Hmmm.

Parental alienation syndrome occurs when one parent attempts to turn his or her children against the other parent. 

Usually the syndrome emerges in response to divorce. A less emotionally healthy parent aims to poison the children against the other parent. With political leaders from the left and the right, both in the US Congress and in the Knesset, unwilling to talk collaboratively with each other, they certainly look like angry divorcing spouses.

In my clinical practice, the mother most often has been the alienating parent, turning the children against their Dad. At the same time, I also have had families in which Dad is the toxic parent. In the political world, the alienating parent is usually the one that is out of power.  Currently in both countries, that is the Left.

An alienating parent usually shows narcissistic and also borderline tendencies. 

To understand parent alienation syndrome therefore, here’s a quick course in these two psychopathologies.

Narcissism is a stance of all-about-me. Narcissistic individuals tend to be poor at listening to others’ differing perspectives, hyper-focusing on what they themselves want, think, believe etc instead of being able also to take into consideration others’ desires and ideas.

Narcissism becomes evident when such a parent uses the children as weapons, pawns in his/her battle to destroy the other parent. They claim to be protecting the children against the ostensibly evil other. In fact, by using the children in their perpetual fight to hurt the other parent, they show little capacity for taking into consideration what is in the best interests of the child.

Kids need both parents. They certainly do not need parents who fight with each other, and even more so do not need parents who drag the kids into the parents’ power struggles.

Borderline tendencies involve hyper-emotional responses. The excessively intense emotion often gets expressed as anger.

In addition to getting emotionally aroused too often, and too intensely, people with this disorder often have difficulty self-soothing. Their distress thus tends to be longer-lasting than the distress that most people experience. In this regard, they have deficits in emotional resilience, in the ability to recover once they have felt frustrated or disappointed. They become at risk therefore for blaming others for what has gone wrong for them—which in turn justifies, in their minds, their right to victimize others. “I’m a victim so I have a right to victimize you.”

Borderline tendencies become evident in the way the parent twists reality. Often their trumped up accusations against the healthier parent actually are projections of how they themselves are. “Your dad is selfish,” says the actual selfish parent. Or “Your mother is crazy,” says the dad who is himself emotionally unhealthy.

Alienating parents typically also engage in a quintessential borderline pattern, the habit that therapists refer to as “splitting.” They enlist others in the social system to join their side in fighting against the supposedly evil other, splitting the family into us against them.  People who see themselves as altruistic tend to be quick to come to the defense of victims. They therefore are at risk for siding with the alienating parent, becoming their unwitting foot-soldiers.

Individuals with borderline features get mad at those who won’t give them what they want—e.g., a spouse who has decided to leave the marriage or a politician who has beat them in an election. Their goal then becomes to destroy the other’s relationship with the children—in politics, the citizenry. They corral in the children to join them in this battle as a fighter for their side. They do all they can to deprive the other parent, their enemy, of being able to continue to be a parent. One particularly likely tool: false allegations of wrong-doing.

So what does the parent alienation syndrome that can emerge from narcissism and borderline tendencies have to do with the current political functioning, or dis-functioning, in the US and in Israel?

Looking at these governments through my clinical lens, I see one side trying to govern the country, addressing the many issues that governments are responsible for from security and immigration to health care and taxes.

The other party, which in both the US and Israel is the left and their media megaphones, seems to be using all its resources to criticize and deprecate Trump and Netanyahu, perpetually accusing them of wrong-doings.

An alienating parent finds fault with everything the other parent does. If the other parent steps forward first with their right foot, it should have been the left. If the other parent first puts out their left, the alienating parent criticizes, “You should have put out your left foot first, right foot then.”

Democratic Congress-people in America are no longer engaging in constructive discussion of issues.  Forget old-fashioned political give and take.  It’s just accusations and criticism, over, and over, and over again. is the left behaving similarly in Israel?

Does it take two to tango? Are Republicans locked similarly in constant criticism?

Parent alienation syndrome is seldom symmetrical.

While the alienating parent is continually trying to put a wedge between the children and the other parent, the other parent genuinely is trying to do what’s in the best interest of the child. The healthier parent may sometimes get frustrated, and may sometimes complain about the alienating parent, and sometimes erupt in anger.  Overall, however, the attempt to poison the children against the other parent is usually primarily one-sided.

At the same time, unless the healthier parents do find ways to fight back, their children will begin to believe the negative view of them that the alienating parent is conveying. Yet if they do try to fight back, they too then begin to look similarly angry and aggressive. It’s a terrible conundrum.

I am very disappointed. 

What are the children in a family with an alienating parent to do if one of the parents who is supposed to be nurturing them just wants to keep fighting the other parent? And what if that parent wants us “kids” to join them in their hatred?…

“United we stand. Divided we fall.”  Oy vey.

About the Author
Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver clinical psychologist, writes about marriage, therapy, and emotional self-help. Her popular psychologytoday.com blog—Resolution, Not Conflict—has received more than 10 million clicks. Dr. Heitler's book The Power of Two teaches the communication and conflict resolution skills that sustain harmonious relationships. Power of Two has been published in six foreign languages including Hebrew [Kocham Shel HaShenayim] as well as in a fun interactive online version at poweroftwomarriage.com. .
Comments