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Illinois PAS Lawyer: Devastating Effects of Parental Alienation on Children

The Devastating Effects of Parental Alienation on Children

Anger, guilt, grief, disconnection, and low self-esteem.

Parental alienation is a form of child abuse that we are only beginning to recognize. Technically speaking, it’s when a child aligns with one parent and rejects its other parent for reasons that are not warranted. According to The Parental Alienation Study Group, at least 3.9 million children in the United States are “moderately to severely” alienated from a parent. Put another way, there are three times as many children in the United States who are alienated from a parent than there are children with autism.
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This is, obviously, a staggering number. But what are the effects of parental alienation on children? This was the question of a study conducted by psychologists Caitlin Bentley and Mandy Matthewson of the University of Tasmania.

In order to pursue this inquiry, they recruited adult participants who had a history of parental alienation. From there, they conducted semi-structured interviews, asking a series of exploratory questions about the alienation. Their narratives were then analyzed for themes.

The results were striking. Seven themes were identified, revealing the breadth and depth of the effects of alienation well into adulthood. A selective overview of the study’s findings is provided below.

Alienating Behavior and Impact

Adult children reported a multitude of alienating behaviors that damaged their relationship with the Target Parent and their own well-being. This theme broke down into seven sub-themes:

  • Abuse and control. Participants were emotionally and physically abused by the Alienating Parent. For example, they were made to feel fear or guilt when they didn’t comply with the Alienating Parent’s view of the Target Parent.
  • Denigration of the targeted parent — to the point where it damaged the child’s bond with the Target Parent.
  • Adultification — in which their parent inappropriately disclosed information and sought support during custody disputes.
  • Disrupting alienated adult child and targeted parent relationship. The bond between children and the Target Parent was damaged. Some moved to different states or overseas, making a relationship or even communication with the Target Parent difficult. Others were told that the Target Parent didn’t love them.
  • Perceptions of the Alienating Parent’s characteristics — including self-absorption, criticalness, and lacking in empathy and insight into how their behavior impacts others—even when confronted by their child.
  • Neglect. Basic needs and safety were disregarded.
  • Alienated adult child experience suppressed. Participants pushed down their thoughts, emotions, and memories, particularly regarding the Target Parent.

Mental Health

Adult children reported mental health struggles both as children and adults. This theme consisted of three sub-themes:

  • Mental Health Difficulties. All of the participants experienced mental health issues, ranging from anxietyPTSD, to suicidal ideation, which they traced to their Alienating Parent’s abuse.
  • Self-EsteemParticipants reported having low self-esteem and low confidence in themselves and their abilities.
  • Substance use. Alienated adult children disclosed using alcohol and drugs, for some at an early age, in order to cope with the abuse.
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