“Programming” and “Brainwashing” are two terms used by Dr. Stanley Clawar and Brynne Rivlin [1] to describe the methods and techniques used by alienating parents to manipulate their children into rejecting and/or hating the target parent. According to Clawar & Rivlin (2013), “programming and brainwashing is a process (intentional and unintentional) whereby a parent … attempts to limit, damage, and interfere with the love, contact, and image of the target parent” (p. 9). In their 25-year study of 1000 divorced/separated families commissioned by the American Bar Association, they identified 12 brainwashing techniques used by alienating parents (Clawar & Rivlin, 2013, pp. 31-63);

Denial-of-Existence Technique ~ One of the basic techniques parents use to assault the character of the other parent is to deny or not acknowledge the social existence of the other parent. The manner of denial can vary greatly. One common technique is simply never to talk about the other parent. By excluding any discussion of the other parent or ignoring the topic when raised by the child, the brainwashing parent can send a subtle message to the child that the other parent is not significant. He or she does not exist in our conversation, and therefore, he or she does not, in social terms, exist.

The “Who, Me?” Technique ~ A subtle but powerful technique is to make indirect attacks on the other parent. When questioned about such attacks, the brainwashing parent will say, “Who, me?” The programmer indicates that he or she meant no such thing and that the listener or child was certainly misinterpreting. The list of indirect attacks is infinite, but the basic pattern is that the programmer/brainwasher attacks something about the character, lifestyle, past, present, or future of the target parent.

Middle-Man Technique ~ By speaking to the child about issues that should be first discussed with the other parent, the programmer/brainwasher can compromise and/or damage the child’s relationship with or image of the target parent. For instance, discussing time-schedule arrangements by asking questions such as, “Do you think you would like to have more time with Mom?” often places the child in the middle. The pressure on the child is to make a choice in front of an inquiring parent.

Circumstantial Technique ~ By manipulating, changing, rearranging, and commenting on time, the programming parent tries to gain dominance in the eyes of the children. “Your mother’s always late for delivery and pickup. I wonder if she would be late for her own funeral.” The other parent told her children, “He’s always early for pickup, but late for delivery.” These parents are attacking character by discussing punctuality. Not informing the other parent of school dates, plays, conferences, ceremonies, awards, sporting events, and the like is a way of signifying to the children that the other parent lacks importance.

“I Don’t Know What’s Wrong with Him” Technique ~ Many parents have developed a technique whereby they create and/or exaggerate differences between themselves and the other parent in front of the children. A behavioral pattern is that arguments develop at the time of pickup and delivery of the children. Often the initial phase of the conversation is polite and appropriate. If the conversation goes on beyond a certain point, however, the brainwashing parent might instigate an argument by using a phrase or presenting an idea that he or she consciously or unconsciously knows will incite the other parent.

Ally Technique ~ Attempting to get the children to side with one parent against the other occurs both in and outside of marriage. At the time of separation, divorce, or custody conflict, however, the attempt to ally the children is stronger. An example would be asking the children direct questions such as, “Don’t you think your mother is wrong to try to get all the money she can from us?” Other such questions are “You’re a sensitive child—do you think it’s fair for a father to have all that money? He just bought himself a new car and a house—look at how we have to live.”

Morality Technique ~ Programming behaviors often include moral judgments against the target parent concerning his/her values, lifestyle, choice of friends, successes or failures in life (career, financial, relational), or residential choice. These criticisms are intended to elevate one’s own position in comparison with the target parent, who becomes diminished by this good/bad dichotomy. Criticizing behaviors are often insidious, occurring over a period of time with different degrees of intensity but always powerful. Like the wearing away of a stone constantly assaulted by waves, the child’s perception of the target parent changes from its original, more positive view, finally conforming to the programming parent’s negative opinions and sentiments. In such cases, the effect can become almost irreversible. These children are no longer able to accept both parents as equally good. In successful brainwashing, even if the child is deprogrammed with valid counter-information or has positive experiences with the other parent, the child may rewrite reality or will rationalize, ascribing ulterior motives to the target parent in the service of maintaining the beliefs of the indoctrinating parent.

Threat of Withdrawal-of-Love Technique ~ This is a coercive, powerful, and almost universally successful technique utilized by parents who programme. Here, the children come to fear rejection or loss of love from a parent if they express love or a desire to be with the other parent. It becomes implicitly or explicitly understood that to be loved and accepted, the child must become a cohort and also turn against the other parent.

“I’m the Only One Who Really Loves You” Technique ~ The intent is to create the belief that the target parent or those who are associated with that parent are not sincere in their love and caring for the child. Genuine love, interest, and involvement, by contrast, exist only in the heart of the programmer. The child is led to peer beneath the surface where ulterior motives lurk. The child comes to believe himself/herself a fool for being duped into attributing such positive qualities of love and caring to an obviously clever person who is bent on driving a wedge between the parent (programmer) and child.

“You’re an Endangered Species” Technique ~ One method of instilling distrust, fear, lack of love, or the belief that a parent is unable to care properly for the child is accomplished through a procedure of judgmental, opinionated, and negative commentary and/or physical inspection and interrogation once the child arrives “home” again. Through these techniques, the child comes to interpret anything associated with the target parent as wrong or unsafe and to perceive his or her ongoing existence as being at risk with each contact. If the child is tired from a full weekend in which there were enjoyable activities, the interpretation might be, “Your father always wears you out. What’s wrong with him? Doesn’t he know you have school tomorrow?”

Rewriting-Reality Technique ~ This technique is also referred to as rewriting history or rescripting. Through rewriting reality, the brainwasher attempts to convince a child to doubt his or her ability to perceive reality. A child may observe a scenario unfold from beginning to end, but as the brainwashing parent repetitively goes over the scenario and resists the child’s interpretation, the original and “true” reality is ultimately filtered out and the rewritten script is eventually adopted. The basic reward is parental acceptance and love.

Physical-Survival Technique ~ Although each of these syndromes, administered individually or in combination, works its inexorable effects on children, the use or threat of physical punishment is one of the most potentially injurious acts for children. When a brainwashing parent or other agent resorts to threatening and/or physically punishing a child, it is usually the result of frustration over the child’s noncompliance in adopting the programme

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