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 Effects of Parental Alienation?

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 Law Offices can help you understand your rights. Contact us to schedule a consultation at our Chicago or Oak Park office.

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