Parental alienation is a tactic parents may use during and after high-conflict divorces or separations. One parent psychologically manipulates his or her children to reject, fear or even hate the other parent without any valid justification.
Alienation can have long-lasting effects on the children’s emotional and mental well-being and relationship with the other parent. By watching out for signs of parental alienation, parents may be able to catch it early and save their children from exposure to toxic actions.
Parental alienation usually involves smearing the other parent in the eyes of the children. This may involve telling lies about the targeted individual’s character, leveling false accusations against him or her or blaming him or her for the divorce. It is not uncommon for the alienating parent to make the other one out to be a big bad villain, the evil person in a black-and-white story.
This can confuse the children as they fall for the falsehoods, causing them to mimic what they hear and act cruelly in several ways; formerly loving children become disdainful and accusing and develop restricted ways of thinking:
- The children may belittle or criticize the alienated parent with words that may sound too old for them because they are the alienating parent’s words
- The children may justify their negative feelings with weak or absurd reasons, blowing trivial issues they did not mind before the alienation out of proportion
- Instead of the normal ambivalent love for both parents, children may demonstrate an absolute hatred or dislike for the targeted parent, showing no mixed emotions
- The children may insist the dislike is solely due to their own thinking despite evidence of outside influence
- The children may blindly support the alienating parent no matter the circumstances
- The children may display a complete lack of guilt about any hateful or disrespectful behavior toward the targeted parent
Alienation twists how children view the other parent. It is important to remember that they behave the way they do because of manipulation and not because of innate badness.
According to Psychology Today, parental alienation can result in low self-esteem, mental health issues, fear of loss and difficulty relating to peers and forming healthy relationships; they may also struggle with academics. The children may also struggle with trust issues and face challenges in managing their emotions effectively.
Parental alienation is a form of child abuse and may be grounds for a child custody arrangement modification. Early intervention and support can help mitigate emotional damage and work towards rebuilding the parent-child relationship.