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17 Signs Of Parental Alienation & Effects On Adult Children

| What Is Not Parental Alienation | Parental Alienation vs. Parental Alienation Syndrome | Signs of Parental Alienation | Impacts On Adult Children Of Parental Alienation |

What Is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is the act of one parent attempting to turn the child or children against the other parent through manipulation, criticism, or other negative behaviors without reasonable justification. It can 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.

This type of behavior is regarded as a form of child abuse.

Children impacted by this emotional child abuse are said to have parental alienation syndrome (PAS), a term coined by American psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985​1​.

boy faces away from dad

What Is Not Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is one parent’s attempt to eradicate the relationship between the child and the targeted parent without reasonable justification. However, a child rejecting a parent on reasonable grounds does not constitute alienation. 

Good reasons for rejection include a history of family violence, child physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, mental disorders, or substance abuse. Rejection due to these reasons is an estrangement, not alienation.

Because of this distinction, accusations of parental alienation and parental abuse are prevalent in high-conflict divorce cases in family courts​2​.

While one parent accuses the other of manipulating the child to reject them, the other side argues it is done to protect the child from the abusive parent.

Children are often dragged along in child custody ligation and made to publicly denounce the targeted 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 not the same things.

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 confusion​3​.

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 child.

Alienating Parent’s Behavior

Alienating parents frequently engage in the following harmful parenting practices​4​.

  1. General badmouthing
  2. Making the target parent appear dangerous or sick
  3. Sharing court cases and child support issues with the child
  4. Accusing the targeted parent of not loving the child 
  5. Defaming the targeted parent in front of the authorities
  6. Restricting visitation
  7. Sharing parental conflict and marriage issues with the child
  8. Making negative remarks about the targeted parent’s extended or new family
  9. Intercepting calls and messages from the targeted parent
  10. Hiding the child or moving away

The Child’s Behavior

Gardner has identified eight symptoms of PAS commonly found in alienated children​5​.

Campaign of denigration

The child may relentlessly engage in name-calling, criticizing, and deprecating the targeted parent.

Rationalizations

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.

Spreading animosity

The child actively spreads animosity to the alienated parent’s extended family.

Impacts On Adult Children Of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation can have severe negative effects on children that last into adulthood​6​.

The negative psychological and social outcomes for the adult child due to improper parenting include the following.

Lower self-esteem

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.

Lower self-sufficiency

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-reliance​7​.

Insecure attachment style

Parent who alienates their child is often more concerned with their own needs than meeting the child’s emotional 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.

Drug/alcohol abuse

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. 

Divorce

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

References

  1. 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. 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. 3.
    Bernet W. Parental Alienation and Misinformation Proliferation. Family Court Review. Published online April 2020:293-307. doi:10.1111/fcre.12473
  4. 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. 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. 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. 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

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is a bestselling author. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more

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