What is Parental Alienation?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Parental alienation is a term used to describe the deliberate or unconscious acts of a parent to thwart or alienate the child from his/her other parent. Even the best parents in happy relationships with spouses may occasionally practice an unconscious form of parental alienation. Saying unkind things about a spouse or giving examples of a spouse’s misdeeds can cause the child to feel conflicted about his love for both parents, and he might share the same resentment that the spouse feels at that moment. Usually, in solid marriages this occurs rarely, and parents should simply be careful not to involve children in the inevitable conflicts that will occur from time to time between spouses.

Even the best parents may occasionally practice an unconscious form of parental alienation.
Even the best parents may occasionally practice an unconscious form of parental alienation.

Different types of parental alienation can occur that are deliberate and extremely abusive to the child. This is where one parent’s intent is to rupture or destroy the relationship of the child and the other parent. This may occur in difficult divorces or thereafter, but it can also occur within marriages and partnerships, or between two parents who have never been married to each other.

There are numerous ways that a parent can practice parental alienation. They may routinely and gratuitously criticize the other parent by giving laundry lists of misdeeds, lying about actions or simply by keeping up a constant critique. Some parents withhold visitation rights to cause alienation or they may show their unhappiness if a child expresses pleasure in spending time with the mom or dad who is not the alienator.

Sometimes types of alienators are broken into three groups: naïve, active and obsessed. Naïve alienators occasionally say terrible things about spouses or prior spouses without realizing their behavior can cause parental alienation. Active alienators tend to be angry people who may have legitimate reason for disliking a former or present spouse, and they may lash out at that spouse in front of the child, or simply become so angry that they lose control for a moment or a period of time and say or do things that promote alienation.

Usually active alienators know their behavior is wrong, and naïve ones need to learn this fact. Both can be helped through counseling, since neither type truly wants parental alienation to exist. Obsessed alienators, on the other hand, are very aware of what they’re doing and their actions are purposeful. They don’t want a continued relationship between the other parent and their child, and they may feel that the parent’s present or former behavior justifies their attempts at alienation.

In some cases, parental behavior is obscenely bad, but even under these circumstances, the more responsible mom or dad should not attempt alienating behavior, but should work with a good therapist to help find a way for a child to come to terms with the bad actions of the offending mother or father. This isn’t always possible, and some parent’s actions were or are so abusive that permanent separation of parent and child is completely desirable. Yet again, this is a matter best handled with a good therapist to help that child cope with a parent’s loss from their life because even abused children tend to love their abusers.

There are numerous symptoms that can arise in children who are the victims of parental alienation. These can include unjustified and unexplained anger, confusion, refusal to meet with one parent, and many other things. When someone suspects this situation is occurring, there are excellent books that cover the subject in great detail, and help from a family therapist may also pinpoint if behaviors suggest one parent’s actions are alienating.

When parental alienation is obvious, it’s very important for therapeutic intervention to occur. In the long run, a child who is separated from a parent emotionally can suffer greatly. Sometimes when custody is shared, people may need to go to court to arrange custody differently or to have the judge mandate family counseling so the alienator can learn to stop his/her behavior.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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