Alienation isn’t the same thing as estrangement

“What is the effect on kids?

When I interviewed alienated parents about their children for my new book, I learned that some children are quite resistant to the behavior of the alienating parent. In fact a child may even be critical of the alienating parent’s motivations.

However, this resistance places children in a difficult situation if they are also dependent on the alienating parent. Many children live “split” lives to cope with this situation. In other words, they behave in totally different ways depending on which parent they are with at any given time.

Most of what we know about the effects of parental alienation on children is based on small clinical or legal studies. There has yet to be a large-scale study on the prevalence of parental alienation, or on the different outcomes for children, let alone how outcomes change over time.

The limited research that has been published on this topic suggests that alienated children and parents suffer many negative outcomes. These can include psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and even the contemplation of or attempted suicide. Declines in academic performance among children and decreases in work productivity of parents can also occur.”

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is often confused with estrangement, but they are not the same thing.

Estrangement can occur if a parent is abusive or has shortcomings that damage or strain his or her relationship with the child. For example, a parent may have a mental illness or other problem that makes it challenging to communicate with the child in a healthy way. As a result, the child may not want to have much contact with the estranged parent. In such cases, the child will express ambivalence toward the estranged parent.

Parental alienation, on the other hand, is when the actions of one parent intentionally harm the relationship the child has with the other parent. In these cases, the child feels little to no guilt about his negative feelings towards the alienated parent.

This difference is one reason why the clarification in the DSM-5 is important. Clinicians need to be better trained…

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