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Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a complex and emotionally charged family dynamic that occurs when one parent deliberately attempts to distance their child from the other parent, often resulting in strained or severed relationships. This can happen overtly and covertly, making some cases more challenging to identify and address. 

Feeling alienated from a parent can have profound and lasting effects on children, causing emotional distress and impacting their overall well-being. Recognising and addressing the signs of parental alienation is crucial for neutralising its harmful effects and fostering healthy parent-child relationships. 

Understanding Parental Alienation 

Parental alienation can manifest in various ways, including denigrating remarks, false accusations, interference with communication, and manipulation of a child's emotions. The alienating parent may consciously or unconsciously engage in these behaviours, creating an unhealthy dynamic that negatively influences the child's perception of the targeted parent. 

In some cases, the parent causing the alienation is unable to manage their own sadness, hurt, anger or other negative feelings following a separation and instead directs them towards children involved in the relationship. This negatively impacts all parties involved, hurting the child and the alienated parent. It also creates an unhealthy avenue of expression for the parent who is responsible for alienation. 

Negative Comments and Criticism 

Alienating parents may make disparaging remarks about the targeted parent in the child's presence, earshot, or on a social media platform that the child has access to, portraying them in a consistently negative light. This can create a distorted image of the other parent in the child's mind. 

Limiting Contact 

Restricting or monitoring communication between the child and the targeted parent is a common sign of parental alienation. This may include interfering with phone calls, messages, or care arrangements. An alienating parent may not allow a child the privacy to speak with the other parent (when no valid reason exists) or monitor texts and other communications. 

False Accusations 

Making false accusations of abuse or neglect against the targeted parent is another tactic that may be employed in situations of parental alienation. This can lead to legal complications, including serious ramifications for the falsely accusing parent, and adds further strain on the parent-child relationship. 

Undermining Authority 

Alienating parents often undermine the authority of the targeted parent, portraying them as unworthy or incapable of providing emotional, financial, or practical support. This erodes the child's trust and respect for the targeted parent.  

An example would be if one parent has set a fair disciplinary action, and the other parent says to the child it is unnecessary. This is not an instance of abuse, or parental neglect, but is often over small issues such as different mealtimes, use of screens/devices, different perspectives, or ideas of discipline. 

Refusal To See Any Positives 

In healthy relationships, even if one or both parties have flaws, most people can still see the good in another person or show some level of compassion and ability to positively reflect in some areas. In many cases of parental alienation, the alienating parent shares very ‘black and white’ negative views of the other parent with both the children and other parties involved such as mutual friends or extended family. 

Encouraging Rejection 

Alienating parents may encourage the child to reject the targeted parent, fostering an environment where the child feels compelled to choose sides. This "us versus them" mentality can lead to lasting emotional scars, for both the child and the alienated parent. 


Addressing Parental Alienation 

In Australia, the courts recognise parental alienation and have the power to act on matters in which this is determined to have occurred. This can be a complex process, which may require children living with the alienating parent to speak to child-related professionals or have psychological assessments done. 

If a child believes that the other parent is ‘bad’ without any real coherence of what this means, or has been told lies or half-truths, or been emotionally manipulated, this can cause significant distress. It can take considerable effort to identify and address, but resources and awareness are growing in this area. 

High Conflict Divorce & Separation Increases the Likelihood of Parental Alienation 

When a relationship ends in a ‘high conflict’ situation, parental alienation is more prevalent. 

Often children will ‘side’ with the parent who has more custody, which can be a safety mechanism or due to being repeatedly told negative things about the other parent, whether they are true or not. This will often lead to children absorbing the views of the alienating parent and defending the alienating parent while attacking the alienated parent. 

In our second part of our series, we will look at some common signs of parental alienation and how you can get help if this is affecting your family.  


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