Parental Alienation

CPTSD Foundation
5 min readFeb 5, 2024

Divorce or separation is messy and very hard on any children caught up in the process. Often, children worry about losing one or both of their parents, even when the divorce or separation is amicable.

But what happens when one parent decides to cause alienation between their children and their ex? This article will explore parental alienation and how it affects children.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation includes doing or saying things by one parent against the other that damage the child’s relationship with the other parent. One parent causes their children to hate, fear, and reject the targeted parent and paints them as somehow unworthy of the children’s love.

Some forms of manipulation used by one parent against the other include:

  • Withholding information from the children
  • Exaggerating and lying to one’s children about the other parent
  • Saying wicked things about the other parent
  • Telling the children that the other parent doesn’t love them
  • Forcing the child to choose who their favorite parent is
  • Telling the children information they should not know
  • Talking negatively about the other parent

All the manipulative behavior listed above is highly damaging, not only to the target parent but also to the children as well.

Other tactics used by the alienating parent that put great force on the children and that damage their mental health might include the following.

Isolation. The most commonly used tactic is where one parent isolates their children from the targeted parent.

Undermining the other parent’s authority. The one parent alienating the other may use negative attitudes and beliefs to vilify, ridicule, or demean the target parent.

Pressure. The alienating parent may pressure their children to provide them with negative information about the other parent, putting the children in a horrible conundrum.

Emotional manipulation. The parent who is alienating may use threats that they will withhold their love from their children to manipulate the child into emotional compliance.

Denial. The alienating parent denies the children access to the other parent.

How Parental Alienation Affects Children

One can imagine a child’s confusion when being manipulated by one parent against the other. They may feel forced to choose which parent they wish to remain loyal to. Parental alienation is a form of child abuse that harms children, and that hurt carries over into adult life.

Children experiencing parental alienation might experience anxiety, depression, trauma reactions, and other mental health problems. Mental health issues form because the push/pull by the parents sets up a cognitive dissonance in the child’s mind.

Cognitive dissonance describes children’s uncomfortable feelings when one parent’s words or actions conflict with the child’s beliefs. Cognitive dissonance leaves the child with a conflicted mind filled with confusion and fear.

Negative consequences to children include disturbing the child’s ability to trust because of their inability to trust their perceptions and feelings. The child may also develop an uncertain identity and feel insecure. Also, the child may learn that lying and manipulating others is okay to get their way. They may also learn to be cruel, uncooperative, and challenging.

Parental Alienation and the Law

Most judges treat parental alienation as child abuse in hopes of improving the child’s situation. When considering a case of possible parental alienation, the judge considers many things, such as what is the driving force behind a child’s negative actions toward the other parent and the child’s thoughts, emotions, and wishes.

Of course, the judge examines the evidence, including all relevant communications between the two parents, such as text messages, emails, and letters.

The judge may order that there be an evaluation of the child to determine if parental alienation is happening in the case and to what level it is operative. Sometimes, the judge will order individual therapy for the alienating parent.

The judge may also order that the alienating parent comply with a parenting plan set up during the divorce. If there is continued noncompliance, the judge can hold the alienating parent in contempt of court.

Another consequence of parental alienation is a modification in the custody arrangement. The court can change the physical or legal custody of their children, even disallowing contact between the alienating parent and their children.

As one can see, the law takes parental alienation very seriously. It will do what it takes to either bring the alienating parent in line with the judge’s ruling or, in severe cases, disallow contact between the alienating parent and their children.

Ending Our Time Together

Parental alienation is a terrible trauma to force children to experience. Not only do the children need to face the fact that their parents are no longer married, but they also experience child abuse from one parent against the other.

There is never an excuse for attempting to alienate your children from the other parent. The tactics are harmful and have life-long consequences. The long-term effects of parental alienation include an uncertain identity, lack of self-esteem, and deeply felt insecurities.

Although I haven’t experienced parental alienation, I have experienced attempts by my grandfather to alienate me from my mother. He used tactics such as telling me what a horrid woman she is and how she doesn’t love me. I was stuck between a grandfather I wanted to please very much and a mother unaware of what he was doing.

To this day, I live with the scars of being pushed and pulled by a man who did not have my best interest at heart. He would never have put me in that awful position if he loved me like he said. I find it very hard to trust anyone, even those I know well. My self-esteem was in the gutter for many years until I earned it back in therapy.

The final word on this topic is this: Don’t use your children as pawns in a nasty game of keep-away. Your children deserve better than that from you. If you are angry at your ex, keep it between the two of you; don’t allow it to flow over into the lives of your innocent children.

If you are a parent who has been alienated from your children, you do have rights. Unfortunately, for many, the high cost of combating this form of child abuse in the courts prohibits many from ending this horrendous practice. Some organizations can help by offering free or low-cost legal services. Check them out in your state.

“A child’s innocence is the one gift that, once stolen, can never be replaced.” — Jaeda DeWalt

Originally published at https://cptsdfoundation.org.

--

--

CPTSD Foundation

Successfully equipping complex trauma survivors and practitioners with compassionate support, skills, and trauma-informed education since 2014.