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Understanding parental alienation

High conflict divorces sometimes lead to parental alienation, a mental condition affecting children that may impact the whole family now, and in the future.

The issues that lead couples to divorce do not often simply fade away after they finalize the legalities. For parents, this commonly creates issues as they learn to co-parent with each other while no longer maintaining the relationships they once had. Despite the struggles, most people recognize the importance their children’s other parents play in their lives. In some cases, however, people allow their feelings and problems with the other parents to impact how they interact with their children.

Sometimes, people allow this impact to reach the level of causing parental alienation. When this occurs in families, it often has damaging effects on all involved.

What is parental alienation?

Parental alienation is a type of mental condition. Children with this disorder reject a relationship with one parent without justification and strongly favor the other. Often, this occurs during high-conflict divorces. An alienating parent will commonly pressure the child to cut off the other parent-child relationship. They may do this through manipulation, convincing their kids that the alienated parent harbors them ill-will or does not care about them. Alternatively, they may threaten or punish children for pursuing a relationship with the alienated parent, making it difficult or otherwise unpleasant for them to do so.

What are the signs of parental alienation?

Parent-child strife does not always rise to the level of parental alienation. However, some common indicators may indicate this type of problem is occurring in people’s families. The signs that sometimes point to parental alienation include the following:

  • Lacking remorse for hurtful words or actions
  • Criticizing the alienated parent severely and without cause
  • Making false accusations against the alienated parent
  • Showing unwavering support for the alienating parent

Children with this condition may refuse to interact or spend time with the alienated parent. In some cases, the alienating parents limit the time their kids spend with the other parents to aid in cutting off the relationship.

What are the potential long-term effects of parental alienation?

Parental alienation sometimes affects children well into the future. As a result of experiencing this type of manipulation by a parent, children will occasionally struggle with mental health issues such as depression and substance abuse. Trust and relationship difficulties often plague kids of parental alienation, sometimes into adulthood.

How do families recover from parental alienation?

While a challenging road, families may move beyond parental alienation and its effects. In mild cases, simply stopping the inappropriate behavior, such as talking bad about one parent or not sticking to the parenting plan, proves enough to reverse course. In more serious cases, however, families require assistance from professionals to improve communication, deal with the emotional impact or adjust the custody arrangement.

After a divorce, most parents still want the best for their children. Refraining from engaging in negative behaviors that may cause parental alienation often benefits them, as well as their kids both in the short- and the long-term.

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