The term parental alienation was coined by the child psychologist, Dr. Richard Gardner in 1985. Parental alienation happens when the child is completely alienated from one of their parents. This usually happens in divorce when one parent convinces the child that the other parent should be rejected and hated, without having unjustifiable reasons. For example, the mother tells her child that their father abandoned them or a father tells their child that their mother doesn’t love them anymore. Regardless of how good the relationship was between the child and the alienated parent; these comments will still convince the child to alienate their parent.
Besides the alienated parent suffering in this type of situation, so does the child. The child will have a sense of loss, similar to that of a parent who has died. They will feel neglected, which further fuels the anger they already feel towards the alienated parent. As well as this, two psychologists based in America, Amy J.L Baker & Amy Eichler, carried out a study in 2016 to find out how parental alienation effects their behaviour. They found out that these children will grow up to have increased feelings of anger, rigid way of thinking because things are only seen in “black and white”, they lack empathy, and tend to become more prone to lying to others. As much as children want to believe that they are old enough to form their own thoughts, they can easily be influenced.
If you feel your child is alienating you, here are some signs to be aware of it;
- Unwavering loyalty to the other parent – While the child may criticize you, when it comes to the other parent, they would always defend them. They believe that the other parent could do no wrong, while you are always in the wrong. If you tell them that their parent is influencing their way of thinking, they will deny it and emphasise that it is their choice to reject the alienated parent.
- Constant criticism – Children experiencing parent alienation will constantly criticise you and believe that you can do no right. Even if you try to give them everything that they want, they will still unjustly criticise you.
- Feel no guilt – When they criticize you or say something hurtful, they will feel no feelings of guilt like most children who might say something hurtful when angry. They will believe that you deserved to be treated that way and will find no reason to apologize to you.
Treating parental alienation depends on how severe it is. If it is only mild then a social worker can work with both parents and the child to support being with the child when talking to the alienated parents. However, if it is more severe, then a therapist could first work with the couple to learn to communicate better and then bring in the child to better understand the new family dynamics.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Mandy Brincat is a Gestalt psychotherapist who enjoys working therapeutically with adults on various issues, such as general mental health and wellbeing. She also has experience working with anxiety, stress, relationship problems, victims of domestic violence and eating disorders.
- Baker, A., & Eichler, A. (2016). The Linkage Between Parental Alienation Behaviors and Child Alienation. Journal Of Divorce & Remarriage, 57(7), 475-484. doi: 10.1080/10502556.2016.1220285
- Brennan, D. (2020). Signs of Parental Alienation. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-parental-alienation