Mental health practitioners confront a crisis in families: Parental alienation

What is the common denominator between Brad Pitt, Alec Baldwin and Lita? They have news stories published about them with references to their struggles with parental alienation.

A 10-year-old girl, severely isolated from her father, drew a drawing of a military vehicle with soldiers on board and a military tank firing a large shell – an unusual drawing of a girl.

The girl composed a short story accompanying the picture, which ended by saying: “The father was shot by a tank. The children lived happily ever after with their mother. ” There was something ominous going on in this girl’s mind to create such a scenario.

The need for more public conversations about parental alienation

Divorce rates have fallen dramatically during the pandemic as families become overwhelmed and economic problems worsen.

Now that the pandemic has subsided and the courts reopened, American families are once again facing the complications and anxiety associated with marital breakups and the upheaval of children’s lives. An epidemic of some sort occurs between divorced and divorced families.

Alan Plotke

The phenomenon of parental alienation is well known to some mental health professionals, but it has not received much attention in the mainstream media. The public is largely unaware of this problem and its harmful effects on children and parents.

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Alienation behavior refers to the deliberate and purposeful maneuvers by one parent to sabotage and disrupt a child’s relationship with the other parent. These maneuvers can range from constant bad talk to false allegations of abuse to interruptions of paternity time.

For the child, parental alienation develops in which he adopts an inaccurate and distorted belief that the target parent is unlovable and even dangerous.

In severe cases, the child’s relationship with the rejecting parent is broken and the child does not feel guilt or ambivalence about it. In mild to moderate cases, the child’s relationship with the other parent is strained and unhappy, but not completely disjointed.

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Effects of parental alienation on children

Children naturally want to love their parents without interference or hindrance. In fact, the adjustment of the mental health of the child is expected through a close relationship with each of the parents. Aversion to a parent impedes a child’s adaptation by interfering with, undermining and even destroying the relationship with the target parent.

To be clear, creating extreme alienation from a parent is considered a form of child abuse. A parent who actually spoils the child and teaches the child to hate the other parent poses a serious risk to the child’s mental health.

William Burnett

William Burnett

As mental health professionals, we see parental alienation at an alarming rate. It is estimated that 11% to 15% of divorced couples who have had children experience a parental alienation. About 1% of all children in this country suffer from parental alienation. Not all cases are serious, but attempts at alienation by a parent should not be condoned or dismissed as illogical.

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Research shows that parental alienation has negative and devastating effects on children and rejected parents. The consequences of extreme parental alienation on children are well documented: low self-esteem, self-hatred, depression, anxiety, distrust of others, substance abuse, and more.

Studies show that separated children have conflicting relationships later in life. Expatriate children are more likely to reject their children in adulthood. Rejected parents suffer from depression and anxiety because they are demonized and excluded from their children’s lives.

The good news is that a parent’s aversion can be treated successfully. It can be reversed, but in order to do that, the problem must be properly and accurately diagnosed.

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How to deal with aversion to a parent

Unfortunately, parental alienation often goes unnoticed or misdiagnosed due to a lack of understanding of its features and dynamics. Alienation behaviors are often hidden by a parent and strongly denied, to the point that the offending parent portrays himself or herself as the victim rather than the aggressor.

All professionals who work with divorced or divorced families need to understand this phenomenon. This includes lawyers, judges, mediators, and mental health practitioners.

The general public – especially those with children – must be made aware of patriarchal alienation and its various manifestations. As with other forms of child abuse, a child’s alienation from a parent must be prevented.

When it is detected and diagnosed, it must be treated successfully, or legal consequences must be imminent. It is time to raise public awareness of this serious problem.

Divorced and post-divorce families are a reality for millions of people in this country. Children need healthy, nurturing home environments in order to thrive. Parental alienation cannot be allowed to destroy the mental health of our children now and in the future.

Allan D. Plotke, Ph.D., is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist who works in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also a Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham.

William Burnett, MD, is professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

This article originally appeared in Nashville, Tennessee: A parent’s alienation creates a negative impact on children

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