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Battling Parental Alienation and the Impact on Kids

by | Feb 15, 2024 | Divorce, Domestic Violence

Parental alienation refers to when one parent turns a child against the other parent through manipulation and other harmful behaviors. This causes the child to unjustifiably reject and harbor animosity towards the targeted parent. Parental alienation is a form of child abuse that can have devastating lifelong consequences for the children.

The Behaviors of an Alienating Parent

Alienating parents engage in behaviors aimed at damaging the relationship between the child and the targeted parent. This includes bad-mouthing, limiting contact, forcing the child to choose sides, confiding inappropriate details about the marriage and divorce, and restricting mention of the other parent. The alienating parent makes the child believe falsehoods about the targeted parent while portraying themselves as the only true ally and protector.

Short and Long-Term Effects on Children

Children caught in parental alienation situations exhibit increased anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and substance abuse issues. Their moral development also becomes compromised as they lose the ability to think critically and form accurate perceptions about people and events. Parental alienation robs children of a loving relationship with a parent and half of their family heritage. The unjustified rejection leaves deep psychological wounds that can last a lifetime.

As adults, alienated children struggle to form healthy relationships as the pattern of denial, betrayal, splitting, and projection continues. The loss of one parent’s active involvement also has negative impacts on career, relationships, parenting, self-sufficiency, and more. Many adults who were alienated as children describe the experience as a form of living death for the lost parent-child bond.

The Problem of Power and Control

At its core, the alienating parent’s motives are about power, control, and causing harm more than any concern for the child’s best interests. They seek allies to further isolate the other parent and force the child into a loyalty bind. The alienating parent often has personality disorders or other mental illnesses. In severe cases, the alienation turns into a dangerous obsession fueled by a desire for revenge against the targeted parent.

Effective Intervention Strategies

Early intervention provides the best hope of overcoming parental alienation before attitudes and behaviors become rigidified. Providing counseling, parenting education, developing parenting plans, legally enforced sanctions, and supervised visitations are some approaches professionals take. Appointing a parenting coordinator to work with high-conflict couples is also beneficial. Family reunification counseling helps children reconcile and heal damaged bonds with the targeted parent.

Battling Emotional Abuse and Manipulation

Battling parental alienation starts by recognizing it for the emotional abuse that it represents. Targeted parents need support networks to help withstand false accusations and the loss of their children’s affection. Documenting all interactions and exchanges also helps combat alienating attempts. Courts are increasingly recognizing parental alienation as a serious form of abuse, but punishments for alienating parents are still often mild. Continuing advocacy work and education for those working in legal and mental health fields are vital for protecting children.

Parental Alienation in Divorce Cases

Parental alienation often occurs in high-conflict divorce cases where one parent manipulates the child to unjustifiably reject and harshly judge the other parent. The alienating parent employs strategies like badmouthing, limiting contact, forcing the child to choose sides, and portraying themselves as the sole protector while the other parent is unsafe or unloving. This divides the child’s loyalty and leads to false beliefs about the targeted parent.

The issue of parental alienation can stem from the alienating parent’s desire for revenge against the ex-spouse or as a way to cope with loss through obsessive hatred. Some parents may use alienation tactics to ensure child custody outcomes in their favor by destroying the child’s relationship with the other parent. Without proper interventions, the child absorbs damaging attitudes that sabotage their ability to have healthy relationships across their lifespan.

Recognizing alienation early and requiring supervised visitations and reunification therapy is critical for preventing estrangement and long-term emotional scars. Co-parenting education and classes for divorcing parents can help prevent alienation from taking root in a high-conflict separation.

The Hope of Recovery

Though challenging, overcoming parental alienation is possible in many families, especially when caught early or dealt with by an experienced divorce attorney. With proper interventions and support, children can regain accurate perceptions of both parents. Relationships scarred by alienation can transform and heal over time as trust is rebuilt. As awareness of this insidious form of abuse spreads, more children will have hope of avoiding or recovering from its devastating emotional impacts.

If your spouse is seeking to alienate you from your children during a divorce, it is vital that you work with an experienced divorce attorney. Contact us today at our offices below:

  • Bellevue – 10900 Northeast 4th St, Suite 2300, Bellevue, WA 98004
  • Kirkland – 1207 Market St. Kirkland, WA 98033

Call now for a free consultation on (206) 792-0981.