What Is Parental Alienation
Parental alienation is the act of one parent attempting to turn the child or children against the child’s other parent through manipulation, criticism, or other negative behaviors without reasonable justification. The strategies used include denying the child access, criticizing, encouraging disrespect, or forcing the child to cut ties with the other parent. An indoctrinated and controlled child feels unwarranted fear, hatred, and rejection toward the targeted parent and refuses contact with them.
The parental alienation behavior is a form of child abuse.
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a term coined by American psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 19851 to describe the impact of the abuse on children.
What Is Not Parental Alienation
Parental alienation is one parent’s attempt to eradicate the child’s relationship with the targeted parent without legitimate justification.
However, a child rejecting a parent on reasonable grounds does not constitute alienation.
Good reasons for the child’s rejection include a history of domestic violence, child physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, emotional neglect, mental disorders, or substance abuse.
Rejection due to these reasons is an estrangement, not parent alienation syndrome.
Because of this distinction, parental alienation and abuse accusations are prevalent in high-conflict divorce cases in the family court system2.
In a high-conflict separation, a child is often dragged along in custody litigation and made to publicly denounce the rejected parent with accusations of abuse or abandonment, which causes them great distress.
Parental Alienation vs. Parental Alienation Syndrome
Parental alienation (PA) and parental alienation syndrome (PAS) are different.
Parental alienation refers to the alienating behaviors of parents, while parental alienation syndrome refers to the child’s symptoms.
However, researchers, authors, and legal professionals often interchange these two terms, causing much confusion3.
Further adding to the confusion is using terms such as parental alienation disorder (PAD) and parental alienation relational problem.
The validity of this phenomenon is still up for debate.
Signs of Parental Alienation
No matter what the term is used or whether it is recognized as a diagnosable disorder, parental alienation is associated with certain behavior patterns in the alienating parent and the alienated child.
Alienating Parent’s Behavior
Alienating parents frequently engage in the following harmful parenting practices4.
- General badmouthing
- Making the target parent appear dangerous or sick
- Sharing the child custody case or child support issues with the child
- Accusing the targeted parent of not loving the child
- Defaming the targeted parent in front of the authorities
- Restricting visitation or withholding contact information
- Sharing parental conflict and marriage issues with the child
- Making negative remarks about the targeted parent’s extended or new family
- Intercepting calls and messages from the targeted parent
- Hiding the child or moving away
The Child’s Behavior
Gardner has identified eight symptoms of parental alienation syndrome commonly found in alienated children5.
Campaign of denigration
The child may relentlessly engage in name-calling, criticizing, and deprecating the targeted parent.
Rationalizing why the child rejects the parent is a common sign of parental alienation.
When asked, the child gives weak, frivolous, or absurd rationalizations for their criticism
Independent thinker belief
The child insists that their feelings are their own, not that of the alienating parent.
Lack of ambivalence
The child perceives the alienating parent as all-good and the targeted parent as all-bad.
Therefore, they support the preferred parent over the non-preferred parent regardless of the issue.
Absence of guilt over cruelty to the alienated parent
Since the child feels that the targeted parent is all-bad, they have no empathy for their treatment and appear to gloat about their hatred.
Use of borrowed scenarios
The child uses the memories or opinions from the alienating parent as their own justification.
In severe cases, children actively spread animosity to the alienated parent’s extended family.
Also See: Co-Parenting Tips
Impacts On Adult Children Of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation can have severe negative effects on children that last into adulthood6.
The negative psychological and social outcomes for the adult child due to improper parenting include the following.
Low self-esteem and self-hatred are prevalent in adult children of parental alienation.
It can be devastating for a child to hear that their parent hates them and will never love them.
An alienating parent often making that assertion can lead to low self-esteem and self-hatred in the child.
Major depressive disorder
Depression is a mental condition prevalent among adult children.
Depressive episodes are linked to feelings of being unloved by alienated parents and separation from them at an early age.
When alienating parents deny the child the freedom to make independent decisions, self-sufficiency is undermined.
Thus, children lack the autonomy to develop a sense of self-reliance7.
Insecure attachment style
A parent who alienates their child is often more concerned with their own needs than meeting the child’s needs; they cultivate dependency and manipulate the child psychologically to control them.
Children who grow up in such an environment tend to develop insecure attachments.
Adult children who suffer pain or loss as young children may turn to substance abuse as a way to escape their pain and loss.
Lack of trust
A lack of trust in themselves and others is a recurrent theme.
Some adult children believe that no one else would love and commit to them if their own parents didn’t love them enough to stay in their lives.
Alienation from own children
Tragedies tend to repeat themselves.
Many adult children have destructive patterns that lead to family breakdown, a poor parent-child relationship, and alienation from their own children.
This group has a higher divorce rate than the national average.
Adult children tend to choose life partners remarkably similar to their alienating parents.
These partners put their own needs first, lacked empathy for others, and sought excessive control over them, eventually leading to a divorce.
Also See: Malicious Parent Syndrome
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- 1.Gardner RA. Parental Alienation Syndrome vs. Parental Alienation: Which Diagnosis Should Evaluators Use in Child-Custody Disputes? The American Journal of Family Therapy. Published online March 2002:93-115. doi:10.1080/019261802753573821
- 2.Templer K, Matthewson M, Haines J, Cox G. Recommendations for best practice in response to parental alienation: findings from a systematic review. Journal of Family Therapy. Published online October 3, 2016:103-122. doi:10.1111/1467-6427.12137
- 3.Bernet W. Parental Alienation and Misinformation Proliferation. Family Court Review. Published online April 2020:293-307. doi:10.1111/fcre.12473
- 4.Baker AJL, Darnall D. Behaviors and Strategies Employed in Parental Alienation. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. Published online May 31, 2006:97-124. doi:10.1300/j087v45n01_06
- 5.Darnall D. The Psychosocial Treatment of Parental Alienation. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. Published online July 2011:479-494. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2011.03.006
- 6.L. Baker AJ. The Long-Term Effects of Parental Alienation on Adult Children: A Qualitative Research Study. The American Journal of Family Therapy. Published online July 2005:289-302. doi:10.1080/01926180590962129
- 7.Ben-Ami N, Baker AJL. The Long-Term Correlates of Childhood Exposure to Parental Alienation on Adult Self-Sufficiency and Well-Being. The American Journal of Family Therapy. Published online March 2012:169-183. doi:10.1080/01926187.2011.601206