Parental Alienation: Devices to Blur Parental Roles

man with child on dock

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When one parent forms an alliance with the child against the other parent, the effect can be a kind of domestic abuse by proxy.

Parental Alienation:

Dr. Richard A. Gardner, a child psychiatrist affiliated with Columbia University, often served as an expert witness in divorce cases. In 1985, he published his observation that in 90 percent of custody cases, a syndrome he labeled “parental alienation” was taking place. He described the situation as a disorder that was often seen in child custody disputes where one parent programs the child to feel hatred for the other parent.

Parental Alienation as Abuse.

In the hands of the courts, the notion of parental alienation often blurs real communication, allowing theory to interfere with the perception of fact. It has been found that parental alienation is a form of child abuse. Dr. Amy Baker interprets parental alienation as a form of child abuse. Using forms of intimidation to deceive children to conceal or confuse facts and reality is a kind of abuse. The instigator of alienation sends misleading messages to the child.

  • I am the only parent who loves you and you need me to make you feel good about yourself.
  • The other parent is dangerous and is not available when you need them.
  • When you get close to the other parent you jeopardize your relationship with me (you can’t have both).

This kind of reality distortion can scar a child for life, if it is carried out over a long period of time, partly because a child manipulated in this way can no longer correctly interpret affection. The child goes to extremes, even living with cognition distorting events to please the alienator. The child lives in a world where he or she recalls one parent as toxic.  This reality distortion can make the child angry with and hateful of the non-alienating parent.

There is a difference between a child’s rejection of a bad parent and the rejection of a parent who has been alienated. In the former case, the child is the rejecter, in the latter case the rejection comes to the child via stories told by the alienator. The process of parental alienation is a process of cognitive distortion or a form of brainwashing and cultism. The courts ought to be able to make that distinction but often they do not. The differences between parental alienation fed parent rejection and bad parent rejection are exemplified in an article by social worker, Lisa Moore.

Gardner’s Influence on the Courts:

Gardner’s notion has had a powerful effect on the way courts handle cases of child abuse, especially in custody cases related to divorce, often throwing doubt on claims of child abuse. It may be that the courts should be able to consider the abuse associated with the alienation itself, however, they often neglect to accept alienation as a form of abuse.

A typical case where parental alienation was cited was determined in the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court in 2011.  Two children ages 13 and 11 protested their contacts with their mother and the attorney for the children sought to end the mother’s contacts. The court found against the children’s wishes out of a belief that the father had instigated a process of parental alienation against the mother.

The question remains, is it possible to completely correct the cognitive distortion that remains in the minds of the children once they are subjected to this kind of abuse on the part of the alienator? An article by Sher, appearing in the International Journal of Adolescent Medical Health documents the mental health issues of male children affected by parental alienation. They exhibit low self-esteem, depression, associated with guilt, poor impulse control and tendencies toward substance abuse and delinquency.

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