What Are the Dangers of Parental Alienation?

What Are the Dangers of Parental Alienation?

What most children of divorce want most is the love, support, and presence of both of their parents. Divorce is often as difficult, if not more so, for children involved as it is for their parents.If the process is filled with conflict, it can have lasting effects on a child’s development and relationships. Parental alienation is common among separating and divorcing couples, and creates an even wider family rift in the wake of divorce. Learn more about what parental alienation is and the damage it causes.

What is Parental Alienation?

Child psychiatrist, Dr. Richard A. Gardner, coined the term “parental alienation syndrome” in the 1980s. Parental alienation involves one parent turning their child against the other parent. This behavior is the result of the alienating parent’s failure to separate the conflict in their relationship from the child’s needs. The child becomes a means to an end in the alienating parent’s objective, which is to hurt or drive the other parent away by interfering in their relationship with the child. In extreme instances, the child’s view of the alienated parent becomes almost entirely negative.

When one parent seeks to alienate the other from their child’s life, they often use a series of strategies, such as:

  • Talking badly about the other parent in front of the child
  • Restricting the child’s time with the other parent
  • Erasing the other parent from the child’s life (i.e. taking away photos)
  • Leading the child to believe the other parent is dangerous
  • Forcing the child to choose between them and the other parent

What are the Symptoms of Parental Alienation? 

If you are wondering how to tell if your child has parental alienation, there are a few warning signs to look out for. Listed below are a few symptoms of parental alienation:

  • The child shows constant hostility toward the targeted parent or is unfairly critical. 
  • The child is unable to provide a rational reason for why he or she has negative feelings toward the targeted parent. They may not be able to provide specific examples, or the examples given are wildly untrue. 
  • The child believes the parent doing the alienating can do no wrong, while feelings toward the other parent are almost always negative. 
  • The child does not feel guilty about his or her treatment of the alienated parent. 
  • The child will use language or present ideas that do not appear to be his or her own. The child may also borrow ideas that he or she does not seem to understand. 
  • The child may also alienate extended family members.

What Are the Effects of Parental Alienation?

Is parental alienation bad for a child? No child is completely impervious to the potential dangers of parental alienation, and the effects can last into adulthood. Dr. Amy J.L. Baker’s qualitative retrospective study (2005) delved into the long-term effects of parental alienation on 38 adults. During her semi-structured interviews, she identified the following:

  • High rates of low self-esteem and self-hatred
  • Depression in 70% of the participants
  • Problems trusting themselves and others
  • Alienation from their own children in 50% of the participants

Low self-esteem, self-hatred, trust issues, depression, and substance abuse are common outcomes of parental alienation, and can manifest in children early on. Self-hatred and depression are often rooted in the child’s belief that the alienated parent didn’t love or want them. The child may also develop a distant and complicated relationship with the parent who alienated them from the other, and may become alienated from their own children once they reach adulthood and start a family.

Parental alienation can sound like active, malicious behavior, but it can also be perpetrated by parents meaning no harm and simply going through a messy divorce. When parents fight their way through a divorce, it can create a catalyst for parental alienation and other harmful behaviors that can cause lasting damage. Children are inevitably thrown in the middle when parents let their emotions take over.

Collaborative divorce and divorce mediation allow divorcing parents to talk through issues such as child support and parental responsibilities and come to an agreement without litigation. When a divorce is over-litigated and fraught with conflict, the fight isn’t restricted to the courtroom; it spills over into everyday life and into family relationships.

Rely on Our Collaborative Divorce Attorneys in Chicago & Oak Park

Whether you’re considering divorce or are being alienated by your ex-spouse, the team at Conniff & Keleher, LLC can help you understand your rights. Contact us to schedule a consultation at our Chicago or Oak Park office.

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We’re here to stand up for you and your child’s best interests. For immediate case review, please call us at (708) 763-0999.