What is Parental Alienation?
It’s no surprise that divorce can be a painful and even contentious experience, with lasting effects on a parent, their friends, and their family. And while many going through the process are eager to put it behind them, there are those who purposefully use their circumstances to hurt and undermine their spouse in the eyes of their children. This concept has come to be known as parental alienation.
In these situations, one parent takes deliberate steps to turn a child against the other. There are, of course, circumstances in which a child has good reason to reject a parent. If they were addicted to drugs or abusive, for example. However, the reasons behind this form of alienation are often rooted in the anger one spouse feels toward the other.
The parent can accomplish this is many different ways. It’s sometimes done through derogatory comments and false accusations. It can be done by defying rules or boundaries the other parent has set for the child. In some instances, it’s accomplished by a parent disrupting the time the other is scheduled to spend with their child.
Through this behavior, a system is created in which a child is encouraged and even rewarded for disobeying and disrespecting the targeted parent. In addition to being hurtful, this also sets up a range of problems the child may face later in life, as behavior toward the parent is applied in future relationships. It can also create an unhealthy dependence on the parent who is manipulating them into this behavior, as the child comes to fear the possibility that their relationship will be ruined, much as it was with the other parent.
What Causes Parental Alienation?
The most obvious cause of parental alienation is anger felt toward a spouse and a desire to hurt them in one of the only ways available. However, not all forms of parental alienation are intentional. While direct alienation is done deliberately, forms of indirect alienation can be done unknowingly and without an understanding of how it will affect the child. In some cases, this is triggered by the parent’s own experiences. For example, going through a divorce may bring back feelings a spouse experienced when their own parents separated. If a spouse harbors feelings of anger or resentment toward one of their parents, holding them at fault for the divorce, those feelings are sometimes transposed to their spouse. In an effort to “protect” their child from the pain they themselves went through, they begin to undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent.
Parental alienation is generally considered to be a form of abuse which can have real and lasting effects on a child as well as the targeted parent. In many cases, it can take years of professional therapy to overcome, and to piece together the broken relationship with the parent the child has been turned against. It can also affect a parent’s custody of a child, should this behavior be brought to the attention of the court. If you believe this is happening to you, the attorneys at Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson can help.