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Parental Alienation

Separation or divorce often result in children not seeing one of their parents. As we would agree that this may disrupt the child’s need of spending time with both the parents, the reasons behind this would be interesting to explore.Ideally this includes the child being given a choice of opting for one of the parents over the other. In the latter process, it may be called as estrangement or alienation.

What is the difference between Estrangement and Alienation? Estrangement refers to a child’s rejection of a parent that is justified “as a consequence of the rejected parent’s history of family violence, abuse and neglect” (Johnston, 2005). On the other hand, alienation refers to a child rejecting one of the parents without a valid reason.Here are some research findings indicating the importance of Parental Alienation Bernet (2008) goes on to report that 10% of children (7.4 million) in the United States live with divorced parents and 10% of these (740,000) are involved in custody or visitation disputes of which 25% (185,000) develop parental alienation. Fidler and Bala (2010) report both an increasing incidence and increased judicial findings of parental alienation; they report estimates of parental alienation in 11 to 15 percent of divorces involving children; and Bernet et al. (2010) estimate that about 1 percent of children and adolescents in North America experience parental alienation.

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Richard Gardner in 1998 coined the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).This is characterized by a cluster of symptoms that usually appear together in the child, especially in the moderate and severe types. These include the following:

1. A campaign of denigration- this means that child constantly defames or criticizes the alienated parent unreasonably.

2. Weak, absurd, or frivolous rationalizations for the deprecation- The child typically gives superficial or frivolous reasons for not wanting to be in relation with the unfavored parent.

3. Lack of ambivalence- In the child’s view, the unfavored parent has absolute negative qualities and lacks positive or any redeeming qualities.

4. The “independent-thinker” phenomenon- when the child terms their resistance to seeing the unfavored parent is not the result of other the parent’s influence, but their own independent thought.

5. Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental conflict- this means during the parents’ conflict, the child is supportive of the alienating parent.

6. Absence of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the alienated parent- when the child throws hateful or belittling comments on the targeted parent, she or he experiences absence of guilt in doing so.

7. The presence of borrowed scenarios- when the child believes in stories where the targeted parent has been misrepresented.

8. Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent

Different ways one parent is alienating the child from the other parent:

     – telling the child, the other parent doesn’t care about them (quoting twisted scenarios)
     – parent moving out of the house or changing locations with the child
     -not letting the unfavored parent and the child keep any contact via phone or any other means
     – making the child fearful of the other parent
     – not keeping the other parent informed of child’s developments
     – brainwashing the child so that he or she starts hating the other parent

Signs that your child may be experiencing parental alienation:

Watch out for the following signs in children that may need to be addressed immediately.

   – requests from them not to attend activities they should be participating in.
   – requests from them not to contact people or stakeholders in their lives –like their friends,
       teachers, schoolmates and so on.
   – they display argumentative behaviors most of the times, regardless of the situation
   – they fail to identify positive qualities or actions by you
   – responding with defiance or oppositional behavior to anything you say or ask for

What do alienators use to stand their grounds: Alienators may use anything and everything concerning the other parent and portray them as “a problem”. This can range from their nationality, immigration status, race, gender, occupational status, or even any other stereotypes to leverage their own pattern of coercive control.

The Impact of Parental Alienation on Children

The exposure to toxic stress caused by this phenomenon has long lasting effects on a child’s mind. It is damaging to the developing brain of children and intensity of practiced parental alienation is closely regarded as an abuse or violence as well. There is now scholarly consensus that severe alienation is abusive to children (Fidler and Bala, 2010), and is a largely overlooked form of child abuse (Bernet et al, 2010), as child welfare and divorce practitioners are often unaware of or minimize its extent.

Children if in case, stay with this alienating parent, they will be completely dependent on this parent who could be very controlling of what the children think or feel at all times.

Children actively experiencing parental alienation take lots of efforts to even realize what is going wrong and coming out of it usually takes a very long time with regular therapy.The Impact of Parental Alienation on the Targeted Parent:

The targeted parent usually experiences depressive moods, trauma symptoms or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and in extreme vulnerabilities even suicidal ideation. Divorce or separation is already a draining process and when it is topped with a child custody battle with an ex-partner it can be a life-stirring phenomena.Is parental alienation based on gender?

No, this could be practiced by either males or females. Studies suggest that females express their aggression indirectly, thus engaging more into gossips, spreading rumors, undermining the reputation of people they dislike, while males express aggression both directly and indirectly.


Treatment and care will definitely depend on the severity of parental alienation experienced by the child. If it is of mild intensity, the child can benefit from parenting time and psychoeducation. If the intensity is moderate in nature the child will benefit from regular counselling and joint sessions by

the parenting coordinator to minimize the exposure of parental conflicts and improving communication.

However, this is subject to agreement of both the parents in owning the joint responsibility of their child’s mental health. In severe cases, the child may display intense hatred for the unfavored parent and both the child as well as the alienating parent refuses to attend joint meetings or even address the concerns. In a nutshell, Parental Alienation happens when two parents separate or divorce. In this phase, it is ideal to opt for shared parenting keeping in mind that love and responsibility of one’s child is greater than hatred for one’s ex-partner. If this default option is not voted for, it has the potential to cause irreparable damages to unfavored parent and the child. Additionally, it is critical to identify and accept such happenings and proactively work to safeguard everyone’s mental health in the process.

Blog By:

Gayatri B.


Gaba Tele-psychiatry provides services through a HIPPA complaint video platform, as if you were in the office. We do not treat patients via phone or text message.All affiliated practitioners are US licensed , trained, and insured psychiatrists , who are screened, verified, and are known to follow US psychiatry guidelines and standards of care.

Now you can see your US qualified licensed & licensed Psychiatrist from anywhere in the world via Gaba Tele-psychiatry’s encrypted video platform.

Dr. Gundu Reddy, Certified Psychiatrist, NY

Dr. Gundu Reddy, Certified Psychiatrist, NY

Dr. Gundu Reddy is a Board Certified Psychiatrist with ten years of experience practicing forensic psychiatry and fifteen years of experience practicing clinical psychiatry. Dr Reddy has served as an expert witness in many high profile cases, both in the private and public sector, working for both plaintiff and defence.

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