In alienation cases, the problem is very similar. Most family courts have a standard court order that says something like this: “Neither parent shall make disparaging remarks about the other parent while in the presence of the child, nor shall a parent allow others to do so.” This is a good court order to address explicit alienating behavior.

I think the problem isn’t explicit alienation – the problem seems to be implicit alienation. They can’t see it and we need to understand that, rather than lecturing them on their bad behavior, as though they know why they act badly and chose all of their behavior carefully.

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Implicit attitudes, beliefs and non-verbal behaviors about the other parent are much harder to recognize. In most cases, parents and professionals are not even aware of their own implicit biases and how they pass them on to the children. This seems to relate to the old song about prejudice from the musical South Pacific, about World War II:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught from year to year,

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear – You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid – Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade – You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate – You’ve got to be carefully taught!
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Few people are consciously aware of being taught this. Before you are six or seven or eight, your learning appears to be mostly non-verbal, emotional messages absorbed by your right brain from your family and culture – relatives, friends and the media. The brain research is helping us understand how subtle this can be.

How could a court make an order against implicit disparaging emotions? Perhaps parents and professionals should be required to learn about how emotions are contagious and this unconscious implicit bias. Then, parents could be required to state how they are going to protect the children from their upset emotions during the divorce process, and professionals could be required to state how they are going to protect their clients from their upset emotions.


About Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of High Conflict Institute. He developed the "High Conflict Personality" theory (HCP Theory) and has become an international expert on managing disputes involving high conflict personalities and personality disorders. He provides training on this subject to lawyers, judges, mediators, managers, human resource professionals, businesspersons, healthcare administrators, college administrators, homeowners’ association managers, ombudspersons, law enforcement, therapists and others. He has been a speaker and trainer in over 25 states, several provinces in Canada, Australia, France and Sweden.

As an attorney, Bill is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California and the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law for six years and he is on the part-time faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law and the National Judicial College.

He is the author of numerous articles and several books.

Areas of Expertise: Mediation, Family Law, Workplace, Judicial Officers, Court Systems, Governmental Entities, Mental Health Professionals, New Ways for Families.

To view his book, “BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People,” visit this link:

To view his book, “Don’t Alienate the Kids!” Visit this site: