Symposium 4: Parental Alienation: Impacts, Strategies, and Interventions

  • 9:30 am To 11:00 am on July 20, 2019
  • Gallery Room 1 Bramber House

Parental Alienation: Impacts, Strategies, and Interventions

Parental alienation refers to a child’s refusal to have a relationship with a parent for untrue, exaggerated, or illogical reasons. The behaviors that cause parental alienation are considered a form of family violence, and their impact on members of the family system are devastating. This symposium highlights research on parental alienation by a panel of researchers from social work, clinical and social psychology, law, and women’s studies. Across five presentations, the presenters will illustrate the complexity of this violence from multiple disciplinary and international perspectives, and will discuss the broader implications of their work for the mitigation of parental alienation.

Being Used as Weapons: Children’s Experience of Being Alienated From a Parent

This presentation explores the experience of parental alienation from the perspective of adults who were alienated from a parent during childhood. Adults who had been alienated from a parent were interviewed about their experience. It was found that targeted adult children had been severely impacted by their experience of parental alienation. Specifically they reported experiencing anxiety and depression, low self-worth, guilt, attachment problems and difficulty with forming and maintaining healthy relationships. They also described the intergenerational transmission of alienation. This study demonstrates that children’s exposure to parental alienation has life-long ramifications for their psychological well-being and functioning in adult relationships.

I See a Wall...Then I Cannot Reach My Son: Alienated Mothers, Coercive Control, and Post-Divorce Parent-Child Relationships

This qualitative exploration is based on an analysis of in-depth interviews with ten divorced mothers in the Netherlands who are denied visitation with more of their children. Thematic analysis focuses on relational dynamics, coercive controlling tactics by the father, and the impact when one parent exerts a malignant influence on their children. A consideration of tactics and consequences examines the factors that determine which parent gain dominance over the children and the wider social and professional network, and how children respond over time to these controlling tactics.

Using Power Differentials Between Parents to Understand the Type of Violence That Parental Alienating Behaviors Are

Little is known about power/aggression dynamics between parents in families affected by parental alienation. We examined the level of interdependence between parents where parental alienating behaviors have caused the alienation of a child and whether custodial status was related to asymmetries in dependence. Transcripts from interviews with 80 parents who have been the target of parental alienating behaviors were analyzed. Results indicate that parental alienation is more similar to intimate terrorism than situational couple violence, and having primary custody or allegiance of a child was related to asymmetrical dependence. Discussion centers on implications for theoretical advancement and intervention development.

Family Law and Parental Alienation in Portugal

Children, as a subject of rights, have the fundamental right of free development of their personalities as a whole. In difficult cases of the deprivation of family coexistence, children have been shown to be exposed to toxic stress, and develop symptoms of depression and anxiety in response to loyalty conflicts and symbiotic relation with one parent. This analysis of case law in Portugal finds that parental alienation behaviors are recognized as dangerous situations for children’s welfare, and interfering with personality rights of the child to have continuity of deep psychological relations with both parents.