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Family Wars (PAS) — Severe Alienation: The Fully Enmeshed Child

5. Severe: The Fully Enmeshed Child

If the alienation is allowed to progress and the child has few resources with which to resist the influence of the alienating parent, the child may become fully "enmeshed" with the alienating parent.  It is estimated that very few children suffer this harm (between 1% and 5% of alienation cases [22]), but there are those situations where it is impossible to encourage or even force a child to be with the target parent.  These children have only extremely hostile feelings for the target parent, and no amount of evidence disproving their stated reasons for their hatred will serve to dissuade them.  Enmeshed children have incorporated the alienating parent's hatreds, emotions and desires with regard to the target parent, such that it is often difficult to discern who is expressing them. 

In some of these cases, the enmeshment is so complete that it would cause the child to suffer an emotional breakdown of devastating proportions if custody were awarded to the hated target parent.  In these cases, the child's sense of self is totally dependent on the relationship [with] the alienating parent, and a loss of that relationship would mean destruction of the self.  Certainly, attempts to switch custody would be fought against and undermined by the child: tactics would include runaways; reports by the child of physical/sexual abuse by the hated parent; reports by the child of self destructive behaviors such as drug abuse, suicide attempts; refusal to participate in school; etc. 

In these rare cases, the child must stay with the alienating parent, as it is not proper to use a child to punish a parent for misbehavior. [23]  For whatever solace it is, the target parent must be assured that at some point children do seek out the other parent, and the relationship is not lost forever. 

When there is no relationship allowed or allowable between the target parent and the enmeshed child, some courts have suspended a target parent's child support or allowed the target parent to escrow child support so that the target parent does not have to provide financial assistance to the household that hates him so profoundly.  However, even this sanction must be used cautiously as the detriment may be experienced by the child, not the alienating parent. 

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2002 03 05 (added link to Table of Contents)