I have to say that most people using this method of alienation are parents who are divorced against each other. I have seen the kids feeling like they are stuck in the middle of the fire. This really stresses children who try to then keep the peace between family members. The parent who is doing this is also teaching the kids how to be manipulative. They also are not teaching the child how to resolve conflict but teach them how to get what they want by manipulation of others. Also the appearance and disappearance of relative in the child's life but create emotional attachment problems. For instance, when my niece who was 4 moved away she asked me why did I move away. I explained to her that she moved but I never did. She was pretty angry with me because she thought I had left her. You can minimize the affect by giving the child a lot of love and telling them that you wish to see them more often.
This involving the child in the conflict is called triangulation
dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior and even abuse on the part of individual members of the family occur continually and regularly, leading other members to accommodate such actions. Children sometimes grow up in such families with the understanding that such an arrangement is normal. Dysfunctional families are primarily a result of co-dependent adults, and also affected by the alcoholism, substance abuse, or other addictions of parents, parents' untreated mental illnesses/defects or personality disorders, or the parents emulating their own dysfunctional parents and dysfunctional family experiences.
Dysfunctional family members have common symptoms and behavior patterns as a result of their common experiences within the family structure. This tends to reinforce the dysfunctional behavior, either through enabling or perpetuation. The family unit can be affected by a variety of factors.
The table below shows the symptoms of family dysfunction according to three sources (two taken from the same expert). Symptoms that are roughly equivalent are shown in the same row:
Triangulation is most commonly used to express a situation in which one family member will not communicate directly with another family member, but will communicate with a third family member, forcing the third family member to then be part of the triangle. The concept originated in the study of dysfunctional family systems, but can describe behaviors in other systems as well, including work.
Triangulation can also be used as a label for a form of "splitting" in which one person plays a third person against the person that they are upset about. This is playing the two people against each other, but usually the person doing the splitting, will also engage in character assassination, only with both parties.
In the family triangulation system the third person can either be used as a substitute for the direct communication, or can be used as a messenger to carry the communication to the main party. Usually this communication is an expressed dissatisfaction with the main party. For example, in a dysfunctional family in which there is alcoholism present, the non-drinking parent will go to a child and express dissatisfaction with the drinking parent. This includes the child in the discussion of how to solve the problem of the afflicted parent. Sometimes the child can engage in the relationship with the parent, filling the role of the third party, and thereby being "triangulated" into the relationship. Or, the child may then go to the alcoholic parent, relaying what they were told. In instances when this occurs, the child may be forced into a role of a "surrogate spouse" The reason that this occurs is that both parties are dysfunctional. Rather than communicating directly with each other, they utilize a third party. Sometimes, this is because it is unsafe to go directly to the person and discuss the concerns, particularly if they are alcoholic and/or abusive.
EFFECTS ON CHILDREN:
Children growing up in a dysfunctional family have been known to adopt one or more of six basic roles:
"The Good Child" a child who assumes the parental role.
"The Problem Child" the child who is blamed for most problems, in spite of often being the only emotionally stable one in the family.
"The Caretaker" the one who takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family.
"The Lost Child "the inconspicuous, quiet one, whose needs are often ignored or hidden.
"The Mascot" uses comedy to divert attention away from the increasingly dysfunctional family system.
"The Mastermind" the opportunist who capitalizes on the other family members' faults in order to get whatever he/she wants.
They may also:
think only of themselves to make up the difference of their childhoods. They're still learning the balance of self-love
have difficulty expressing emotions
have low self-esteem or have a poor self image
have difficulty forming healthy relationships with others
feel angry, anxious, depressed, isolated from others, or unlovable
perpetuate dysfunctional behaviors in their other relationships (especially their children)
lack the ability to be playful, or childlike, and may "grow up too fast"
often learn to live far away from their families.