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The Long-Term Effects of Parental Alienation on Adult Children: A Qualitative Research Study

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Abstract

A qualitative retrospective study was conducted on 38 adults who experienced parental alienation as a child. Individuals partic-ipated in one-hour semi-structured interviews. Audiotapes were transcribed verbatim, and submitted to a content analysis for pri-mary themes and patterns. Findings pertaining to the long-term effects of parental alienation were analyzed for this article. Results revealed seven major areas of impact: (1) low self-esteem, (2) de-pression, (3) drug/alcohol abuse, (4) lack of trust, (5) alienation from own children, (6) divorce, and (7) other. These seven themes are discussed at length to provide the first glimpse into the lives of adult children of parental alienation. Every year one million marriages end in divorce, resulting in more than 100,000 couples battling over the custody and visitation of their children (Turkat, 2000). Children whose parents divorce suffer emotionally and psy-chologically, especially when the divorce is contentious and the children are exposed to ongoing conflict between their parents (e.g., Amato, 1994; Johnston, 1994, Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1996). One specific form of post-divorce conflict has been relatively overlooked in the empirical divorce literature: parental alienation, when one parent turns the child against the other parent through powerful emotional manipulation techniques designed to bind the child to them at the exclusion of the other parent (Darnall, 1998; Gardner, 1998; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1996; Warshak, 2001). These parents create a "cult of parenthood" and, like cult leaders, they undermine the independent thinking skills of their children and cultivate an unhealthy dependency designed to satisfy the emotional needs of the adult Address correspondence to Amy J. L.
The American Journal of Family Therapy, 33:289–302, 2005
Copyright © Taylor & Francis, Inc.
ISSN: 0192-6187 print / 1521-0383 online
DOI: 10.1080/01926180590962129
The Long-Term Effects of Parental Alienation
on Adult Children: A Qualitative Research Study
AMY J. L. BAKER
Center for Child, Welfare Research, The Children’s Village, Dobbs Ferry, New York, USA
A qualitative retrospective study was conducted on 38 adults who
experienced parental alienation as a child. Individuals partic-
ipated in one-hour semi-structured interviews. Audiotapes were
transcribed verbatim, and submitted to a content analysis for pri-
mary themes and patterns. Findings pertaining to the long-term
effects of parental alienation were analyzed for this article. Results
revealed seven major areas of impact: (1) low self-esteem, (2) de-
pression, (3) drug/alcohol abuse, (4) lack of trust, (5) alienation
from own children, (6) divorce, and (7) other. These seven themes
are discussed at length to provide the first glimpse into the lives of
adult children of parental alienation.
Every year one million marriages end in divorce, resulting in more than
100,000 couples battling over the custody and visitation of their children
(Turkat, 2000). Children whose parents divorce suffer emotionally and psy-
chologically, especially when the divorce is contentious and the children
are exposed to ongoing conflict between their parents (e.g., Amato, 1994;
Johnston, 1994, Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1996).
One specific form of post-divorce conflict has been relatively overlooked
in the empirical divorce literature: parental alienation, when one parent turns
the child against the other parent through powerful emotional manipulation
techniques designed to bind the child to them at the exclusion of the other
parent (Darnall, 1998; Gardner, 1998; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1996; Warshak,
2001). These parents create a “cult of parenthood” and, like cult leaders, they
undermine the independent thinking skills of their children and cultivate an
unhealthy dependency designed to satisfy the emotional needs of the adult
Address correspondence to Amy J. L. Baker, Center for Child Welfare Research, The
Children’s Village, Dobbs Ferry, New York 10052, USA. E-mail: a.baker@childrensvillage.org
289
290 A. J. L. Baker
rather than the developmental needs of the child (Tobias & Lalich, 1994;
Warshak, 2001).
According to Gardner (1998) children can experience three levels of
parental alienation: mild, moderate, and severe (although Turkat, 2002 out-
lines conceptual issues with this scale). In mild cases there is some parental
programming against the other parent but visitation is not seriously affected
and the child manages to negotiate having a relationship with both parents
without too much difficulty. In cases of moderate parental alienation there
is considerable programming against the other parent, resulting in struggles
around visitation. The child often has difficulty during the transition from
one parent to the other but eventually is able to have a reasonably healthy
relationship with both. The child in severe alienation is adamant about his
or her hatred of the targeted parent. The child usually refuses any contact
and may threaten to run away if forced to visit. The alienating parent and
the child have an unhealthy alliance based on shared distorted beliefs about
the other parent. The relationship between the child and the targeted parent
is completely destroyed.
The number of cases of severe parental alienation is unknown, in part
because the concept is relatively new and there is no formal mechanism for
measuring or tracking it (Turkat, 2002). What is known is that the number of
children involved in divorce has increased from 6 in 1000 in 1950 to 17 in 1000
by the 1980s, per year. Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) found that one quarter
of all divorces in their sample met the criterion of being high-conflict more
than one year after the separation while Garrity and Baris (1994) contend
that one third of all children of divorce are caught in the middle of animos-
ity between their parents. Opperman (2004) estimated that approximately
20 million children are already victims of mild, moderate, or severe alienat-
ing behavior and another 25 million children will likely face some form of
alienating behavior between the time of the divorce and attaining adulthood.
Despite the widespread nature of this problem, surprisingly little is
known about the children who are alienated from one parent by the other
(Cartwright, 1993; Johnston, & Kelly, 2004). Waldron & Joanis (1996) specu-
late that the likely immediate negative effects of parental alienation include
self-hatred, guilt, distortion of reality testing, and general emotional and psy-
chological problems. However, no empirical data exist documenting the long-
term effects of parental alienation on the child victims. The current study was
designed to address this gap in the knowledge base by asking what kinds
of adults do these children grow up to be and what do they perceive the
impact of parental alienation to have been on their lives.
METHODS
A qualitative retrospective study was launched in the Fall of 2004. Subjects
were recruited from word of mouth and from postings on the Internet. A
Parental Alienation 291
message was posted on over 100 Internet message boards inviting people
to respond if they believed that as a child they were turned against one
parent by the other parent. People who responded to the message and/or
heard about the study from someone who saw the message were asked to
briefly describe their situation in order to ensure that the alienation was at
least in part due to the behaviors and attitudes of the other parent. That is,
people who reported that a parent abandoned them and they had no reason
to believe that one parent caused the other to leave were excluded from
the study. Appointments were made with people who met the criteria. At
the beginning of the appointment it was explained that the interview was
voluntary, for research purposes, and could be stopped at any time. It was
also explained that although I am a psychologist I am not a clinician and
would not be able to provide counseling. It was explained that no one else
would hear the audio tape of the interview or see the complete transcript
of the interview. Following this discussion, informed consent was obtained
and the audiotape was turned on. Only one person declined to participate
after the study was explained. She did not provide a reason.
Sample
Forty adults participated in the interview process (2 were subsequently re-
moved from data analysis because of faulty tapes). An additional two people
agreed to participate by e-mail but then did not follow-up. Thus, data for 38
participants are presented. Participants were between 19 and 67 years of age
(M = 40.5, SD = 11.8); 14 were male and 24 were female. For three fourths
(n = 28) the parents had divorced during the participant’s childhood and in
all but seven cases the alienating parent was the mother.
The Interview Schedule
Interviews followed a semi-structured protocol which ensured that the same
information was obtained from all participants while allowing each person
to “tell their story” in full. The first section of the interview obtained ba-
sic demographic information including age, gender, place of birth, and so
forth. Section two focused on memories of the marriage, the participant’s
relationship to each parent up until the time of the separation/divorce, how
the participant was told about the separation, who moved out of the house
and a description of the custody/visitation schedule through the age of 18.
1
The third section of the interview focused on the alienation, beginning with
which parent was the alienating parent and which was the targeted parent.
Participants were asked to list all the different strategies used by the alienating
1
This section was eliminated for the participants whose parents never separated/divorced.
292 A. J. L. Baker
parent and to provide examples of each. The participant was asked to de-
scribe his/her relationship to the targeted parent and how that changed over
time, as well as the participant’s relationship to the alienating parent during
this period. This section ended with a discussion of how the targeted parent
tried to counter the alienation, whether the participant knew about these
attempts at the time or only found out about them later, and the perceived
motivation of the alienating parent. In the fourth section of the interview, we
discussed how and when the participant’s thinking eventually changed about
the targeted parent. They were asked when they began to think that their
feelings and thoughts about the targeted parent were induced by the other
parent rather than based in reality. Whether or not the alienating parent was
ever confronted, whether the targeted parent was told about the realization
was also discussed and what, if anything, could the targeted parent have
done to mitigate the alienation, Any reunification with the targeted parent
was described in full including who initiated it and what happened. The fi-
nal section of the interview entailed a discussion of the person’s life at the
present, including what kind of relationship he or she had with each parent
and what they believed the impact of the alienation has been. If they were
experiencing alienation from their own children this was also discussed at
length. At the very end of the interview a checklist was reviewed in order
to ensure consistency of data across participants including questions about
domestic violence between the parents as well as parental alcoholism/drug
abuse, physical or sexual abuse of the participant, alcohol/drug problems
and depression of the participant, and any divorce/alienation as an adult.
Data Analysis
Each one-hour audiotape was transcribed verbatim (about 12 pages of text).
These transcripts were then submitted to a content analysis in which each
unique unit of thought was separated from the transcript and taped onto
an index card. Cards were then coded according to its essential idea (i.e.,
relationship with targeted parent prior to the alienation, strategies utilized by
the alienating parent, impact of the alienation). In all there were 11 major
categories including a category on the perceived impact of the alienation.
These “impact” cards were further coded into sub-categories that pro-
duced the major findings presented in the current paper. Future papers will
present the findings pertaining to other aspects of the interview including
the strategies used by the alienating parent and the process involved in the
adults realizing that they had been manipulated.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
This article presents the results pertaining to one portion of the interview
protocol, those responses that reflected the impact of the alienation on the
Parental Alienation 293
study participants. This is presented in the following seven sections: (1) low
self-esteem/self-hatred, (2) depression, (3) drugs/alcohol abuse, (4) lack of
trust, (5) alienation from own children, (6) divorce and (7) other. Each of
these will be discussed in turn.
From the outset three methodological and conceptual issues need to
be noted. First, not all participants experienced each of these negative out-
comes. Further, many of the study participants experienced themselves as
having many positive life experiences and personal attributes in addition to
the problems discussed below. There were islands of strength in their lives
despite the fact they also experienced real hardship and difficulty. Second,
it is also important to note that it is not possible to isolate these outcomes as
directly resulting from the alienation as opposed to the more general expe-
rience of divorce and the parental pathology that was probably underlying
the alienation for at least some of the families. Nonetheless, these outcomes
are what the participants themselves believed to have been the effects of the
alienation and as such they offer insight into their felt experience. Further,
the findings discussed below can serve as the foundation for future research
endeavors that aim to isolate the effects of alienation. A final methodolog-
ical consideration is that these findings can only be generalized to people
who identified themselves as having been alienated from a parent. It is quite
likely that there are individuals for whom the alienation was so subtle and
so successful that they never realized that they had been manipulated. It is
not possible to determine whether the long-term life outcomes of that group
would resemble the outcomes presented below.
Low Self-Esteem
Consistent with the predictions of Waldron and Joanis (1996) there were high
rates of low self-esteem if not outright self-hatred was prevalent in the sample.
Twenty-six of the participants directly referenced negative self-feelings. As
one woman explained, “My brother always thought he was ugly and I always
thought I was and I don’t know if it was because thinking they didn’t want
us as babies you know. I did think I was bad, really nasty. I always had
no confidence, nothing. Nobody likes me.” Similar statements were made by
other participants. The negative self image experienced by the participants
seemed to derive from at least three sources.
The first source of low self-esteem was the internalization of the hatred of
the targeted parent. This process is consistent with object relations theory in
which the bad object is taken as an “introject” into the child’s understanding
of himself (e.g., Greenberg & Mitchell, 1983). Plainly stated, because the
participants felt that the “bad” parent was part of them (genetically as well
as through an early relationship) they felt that they must also be bad. The
alienating parent’s rejection of the targeted parent was experienced as a
rejection of that part of the child that was like the targeted parent. “When
294 A. J. L. Baker
you have somebody like my mother who is constantly sitting there telling you
this person who is your dad and is a part of you is such a bad person and he is
going to do all these terrible things and it is like if he is so bad and I am a part
of him then doesn’t that sort of make me like that too?” This phenomenon
was particularly powerful for participants who were alienated from their
same-sex parents and, as they matured, took on the physical likeness of that
rejected parent. Amato (1994) also found difficulty experienced by children
who physically resembled one of their parents in a high-conflict divorce. One
woman in the current study reported gluing her ears to the side of her head
so that they looked less like the “sticking out ears” of her father. In general,
the participants said that they could not distinguish between the parent’s
hatred of the other parent and the parent’s hatred for those parts of the child
that were like the targeted parent. As children they naturally concluded that
the alienating parent hated them as well. Because the alienation campaign
against the targeted parent started when the child was relatively young (for
many it went as far back as they could remember) the negative self-feelings
seemed to be incorporated into the very core of their self-identity and sense
of self-worth.
Self-hatred also seemed to result from the alienating parent telling their
children that the targeted parent did not love or want them. More than one
participant told how an alienating parent claimed to have actually saved the
child from an intended abortion (one woman recalled her father describing
the procedure in detail and providing graphic illustrations of aborted fetuses).
One man recalled his mother telling him that his father wanted to throw him
in the river. These vivid and horrifying images planted themselves into the
mind of the child as a fundamental truth (especially because the stories were
repeated) about the targeted parent’s feelings about the child. A particularly
diabolical form of this strategy was a mother who returned letters that the
father was sending (the father later showed them to her with the postmark
intact). The mother then asked her daughter to explain how her father could
love her if he couldn’t even bother to write. The girl eventually capitulated
under the weight of the “evidence” and concluded that her father must not
really love her. Many others had memories of the alienating parent claiming,
“Daddy doesn’t love us anymore,” conflating in the child’s mind the end
of the marriage with the parent’s rejection of the child. In these cases, the
children grew up assuming that the alienated parent had found them to be
unworthy of love and concluded that they were in fact unlovable. In many
instances the participant did not know at the time that the targeted parent had
been trying to contact them and actually felt tremendous love and affection
for them. They believed that the alienating parent was telling them the truth,
exemplified in the statement, “Of course I believed my mother. She was
god.” As Peck (1983) among others have explained, when parental love is
lacking, the child will naturally assume himself rather than the parent to be
the cause, resulting in an unrealistically negative self-image. It is much too
Parental Alienation 295
frightening to think that the parent—upon whom the child is dependent—is
at fault. This self blaming has also been borne out in the empirical research on
parenting styles. Studies have confirmed that warm but consistent and strict
parenting is related to positive child outcomes including self-esteem while
hostile parenting is related to self-esteem problems in children (Maccoby &
Martin, 1983; Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dorsnbusch, 1991). This is also
consistent with the notion of internal working models of the world and self
as described in attachment theory and research (Bowlby, 1969, Bretherton,
Ridgeway, & Cassidy, 1990). What begins as the child’s interaction with the
outside world (being told the parent is rejecting him) becomes incorporated
into the child’s only known inner reality (the child is not worthy of being
loved).
And, finally, the participants expressed self-hatred as an apparent out-
growth of the guilt they experienced from betraying the targeted parent. One
man who was made to verbally abuse his father on the telephone worried
about what impact that had on his father, “I don’t know if he believed we
really felt that way or not because we were saying these things to him. I am
hoping in my heart that he knew but it must have hurt like hell anyway.” He
described his own feeling at the time as being like “slicing his wrists.” This
suicidal imagery perhaps indicates an unconscious wish to die; that is, to
both escape the pain of the guilt and to be punished for the pain he caused
his father. Another participant was encouraged to denigrate and belittle her
father and only later did she realize that he was in fact a person worthy of
respect and dignity. She recalled driving through her hometown one day
when she was 18 years of age. She saw a sickly man with an obvious phys-
ical handicap holding on to a lamppost for support, trying to make his way
down the street. Her first thought was how sad it was that this poor man
was alone and had no one to assist him. As she approached the man she
realized that he was her own father, trying to make his way to the family
home to visit his children. At that moment she literally saw him in a new
light, as he really was and not as her mother wanted her to see him. She was
flooded with feelings of shame and self-loathing. “I was a horrible horrible
person to him. I joined in with my mom as far as saying he didn’t do anything
right. I was like a little copy of her when it came to him.” To this day she
feels ashamed and guilty about how she treated her own father who had
done nothing to deserve such contempt. Another woman went so far as to
take her own father to court for custody of the younger siblings when the
alienating mother passed away. Even now she does not understand her own
motivation, but she finds herself replaying in her mind the conversation she
had with her father when she told him of her plan, “I can see his face in my
mind’s eye and he looked devastated and I feel really bad that I did that to
him.”
Participants who left younger brothers and sisters behind when they
finally escaped an abusive alienating parent also experienced tremendous
296 A. J. L. Baker
guilt. One woman risked her own life to return to the home of a violently
abusive father in order to rescue her younger half siblings. She was able to
escape with all but one, a young man who subsequently committed suicide.
Although participants seemed to recognize that they did the best the could
under terrible circumstances and that they had been manipulated and lied
to, many nonetheless suffered from feelings of guilt and shame at their own
behavior, contributing to low self-esteem and a negative self-image.
Depression
Not surprisingly, the majority (70%) also reported suffering from significant
episodes of depression in their adult lives. Participants believed that their
depression was rooted in early feelings of being unloved by the targeted
parent and from the actual extended separation from that parent, both of
which are psychosocial risk factors for depressive episodes (Bowlby, 1980).
An older woman whose mother died when she was just two months old
provided a particularly poignant example of this. At the time of the mother’s
death, her father was having difficulty caring for five children while hold-
ing down a full-time job that required him to be away from the home on
alternating weeks. For this reason, he agreed to let his sister raise the baby.
This aunt, whom the participant called mommy, subsequently alienated her
from her father. She prevented visitation, denigrated him to her, and let it be
known that any preference for the father would be disloyal, hurtful, and not
tolerated. She only saw her father a few times a year despite the fact that
he lived less than an hour away. Not only did she lose her mother from an
early death but she lost her father as well. Because the loss of her father was
unnecessary, she was particularly bitter. “You lose your mother and you lose
your father and you’re alone. I always felt alone.” Another man explained
his experience with depression, “I feel like I have a hole in my soul. And it
is not something you can physically point to and say here it is but you know
it is there.” Another participant, a Pakistani woman whose mother pushed
her father out of her life said that not only did she lose her father because
the mother made visitation impossible but she also felt that she had lost her
mother because of the conflict that ensued between them when the mother
made her choose between her parents. “I think I lost two parents. I think the
way she handled it was incredibly na
¨
ıve. She assumed that we would reject
her for our father especially me because I had such a strong bond with him.
She was scared of that rejection. I don’t know if I am depressed but there
are times when I can’t function you know I can’t get out of bed or I can’t do
work and I am out for days and it is really difficult.”
The impact of the loss of the targeted parent was exacerbated by the fact
that as children the participants were denied the opportunity to mourn this
loss. In fact, quite the opposite was conveyed to them, that it was a positive
event for that parent to be out of their lives, essentially a “good riddance to
Parental Alienation 297
bad rubbish” message. The participants were discouraged by the alienating
parent from talking about and/or expressing interest in their relationship
with the targeted parent. One man reported that his mother introduced her
new husband to him in the following way, “Your father was a bad man.
You can’t have a bad man for a daddy. You deserve a good man to be your
daddy. I have found a good man to be your daddy. This man will be your
new daddy.” From that point on the word daddy was used to describe the
stepfather and there was no language available to ask about the man who
used to be his father. In this way it was made clear to him that there was
to be no discussion of that other person; and the little boy was left alone
to manage his feelings of loss and rejection. Grief researchers and clinicians
have outlined different stages that people dealing with catastrophic change
or loss experience and it is generally believed that being able to process
the loss and go through the stages is a necessary part of healing (Bowlby,
1980; Kubler-Ross, 1997). Conversely, inability to experience these stages of
grieving is believed to be associated with subsequent relational problems and
depression (Bowlby, 1980). This certainly seemed to be the case for many
of the study participants. The interview itself seemed to bring to the surface
intense feelings of sadness for the child they had been and the traumatic
loss they unnecessarily experienced at the hands of their own parent. Many
wept quietly as they recalled their early histories of separation and loss and
felt gratitude that someone acknowledged the import of this experience for
them.
Drug and Alcohol Problems
About one third of the participants reported having serious problems with
drugs and/or alcohol at some point in their lives. Some recognized that they
were drawn to substance abuse as a way to escape the feelings of pain and
loss that they felt as young children. The following type of comment was
common throughout the interviews, “It was very painful and I started taking
a lot of drugs at that time to try to block it out, not feel it.” One young man
reported, “My drug abuse had gotten pretty bad and I had to get out of there
or I was going to die and I knew it. I was slowly destroying myself.” Many
participants reported being in recovery and were now aware that they had
been consuming drugs and alcohol as a way to avoid the pain of the loss of
the parent, the pain from low self-esteem, and the pain of the conflict that
was part of the fabric of the relationship with the alienating parent. That is,
in many—but not all—cases, the alienating parent’s campaign to eliminate
the targeted parent from the child’s life took its toll on their relationship
as well. The constant pressure to agree with the alienating parent that the
targeted parent was of no value eventually backfired and many participants
reported having a highly conflicted relationship with the alienating parent.
In many, but again not all cases, the alienating parents were emotionally
298 A. J. L. Baker
abusive in their attempts to subjugate the child’s independent thoughts and
feelings to their will. One response to this abuse was to escape into alcohol
and drugs. For many the realization that the alienating parent had manip-
ulated them also led to pain, anger, guilt, and resentment. The emergence
of these intense negative feelings coincided with attainment of late adoles-
cence/early adulthood, a time when there tends to be increased access to
and experimentation with drugs and alcohol.
Lack of Trust
Lack of trust in themselves and others was a recurrent theme in the interviews,
with 16 of the participants speaking about their difficulty trusting themselves
and/or other people. Some were women who were alienated from their
fathers and reported not trusting that a man would be able to love them. They
assumed that if their father (their first male love) did not love them enough to
stay involved in their lives how could any man find them worthy of love and
commitment. This idea was expressed in the following question posed by
one young woman, “If my father can’t love me who will?” One such woman
explained that she continually created conflict in her romantic relationships,
testing to see how much the man could take before he eventually rejected her.
When he finally did leave, she concluded that of course that would happen,
all men will eventually leave her as her father did. As she explained,“It all
stems from my parent’s separation and I think also because I wasn’t allowed
to have a fruitful relationship with my father after he left. That really scarred
me in my relationships with men. I keep thinking they are going to leave
and I have to test them until they do leave. As a result I am divorced and I
find it really difficult to trust men.”
Psychoanalysts call this pattern of repeating the past, no matter how
painful, the repetition compulsion (Freud, 1920), while others call it a self-
fulfilling prophesy (Merton, 1968). Regardless of the term, the need to repeat
the primal rejection of the parent in all subsequent romantic relationships
was apparent in some of the study participants. In this way, the individ-
uals were recreating the only experience they knew (rejection by a love
object) and confirming that what was is what should have been. Accord-
ing to object relations theory, as painful as it is to repeat the rejection, it is
less painful than the terror of being alone that would result from breaking
with the past. Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) explain Fairbairn’s theory of
repetition in this way, “Beneath the pain and self-defeating relations and or-
ganizations of experience lie ancient internal attachments and allegiances to
early significant others.” To find new ways of relating entails losing the past
and facing the terror of being alone. Warshak (2001) also noted that parents
who promote alienation tend to have conflicted and/or distant relationships
with a parent. He too concluded that a compulsion to repeat the past was at
play.
Parental Alienation 299
Another version of the lack of trust expressed by the participants was
a sense of doubting their own perceptions of people because from a young
age they were told by one parent that the other parent (whom most had
positive memories of) was bad, dangerous, or in some other way worthy
of fear or contempt. From this conflict between their own perception and
what they were told to believe, they developed a lack of trust in people
in general and in their own ability to make decisions and make their way
in the world. Further, once they realized that they had been manipulated
and that what they been led to believe their whole lives about the targeted
parent was not the truth (or at least not the whole truth) they became even
more unsure of what to believe and whom to trust. “Everything I believed is
not so true.” Said one participant and another, a young man suffering from
great emotional distress, explained, “I don’t trust. You are supposed to trust
your parents. They are supposed to give you love, care, and support. If one
accuses the other parent it splits you. I was played off from one parent to
the other and I learned I couldn’t trust and so it has made me so I can’t trust
people or be confident with people.”
Parental Alienation From Own Children
Another form of repetition was seen in a particularly tragic long-term out-
come of parental alienation: many of the adults interviewed had become
alienated from their own children. Fully half of the 28 participants who were
parents at the time of the interview were alienated from a child. There were
a few different ways that this occurred but in each scenario the individuals
seemed to be repeating their early experience of loss, rejection, and feeling
unloved. Not only were they unloved by a parent but they were unloved by
their own child as well.
One scenario entailed participants with a narcissistic parent (who alien-
ated them from the targeted parent) marring a narcissistic person who alien-
ated them from their own children. Several of the male participants remarked
that they had married women very similar in personality structure to their
mothers (who was the alienator). To them, this is what love from a woman
felt like and it was all they knew. When these marriages soured, the men
became non-custodial parents who were subjected to the same alienation
as their own fathers had been. One man recalled taking a trip out west to
be with his dying father (whom he had been estranged from as a child)
and returning home to find that his wife had moved away with his son. He
didn’t see his son again for seven years. These men reported that they had
been devoted fathers trying to be involved in their children’s lives in a way
that their fathers could not be there for them. They were shocked and bitter
that nonetheless they ended up in the same place: unwanted intruders being
squeezed out of their children’s hearts and lives. Because of their experience
as alienated children, many were conscious of how important it was that
300 A. J. L. Baker
their children know they cared, despite the alienation. They sent cards and
letters on a regular basis even though they were probably not well received.
One father was particularly energetic in this regard. He told of creating sev-
eral photo albums and scrapbooks commemorating the fun times he and his
daughter had shared as a reminder to her that they once had had a close and
loving relationship. Another father created a website in the event that his son
wanted to contact him via the Internet. These men knew what rejection from
a father felt like and were devastated that they were implicated in causing
that pain in their children’s lives.
Two women who were alienated from their fathers subsequently lost
their own children to their mothers. In both cases these mothers were dom-
ineering and narcissistic women who cultivated her daughters’ dependency
on her, which extended to her grandchildren as well. As one such woman
explained, “My son kept running away to my mother and they were not
bringing him back and they were saying I was hitting him and all that so
they put in for residence for him and...I just didn’t see that she was doing
the same she did with me and my dad. I thought she had changed but. . .
Her own mother convinced her two children to make abuse allegations and
based on that report she lost custody. She understands parental alienation
from both sides and looks forward to being able to help her children through
the anger and guilt that she believes they will likely feel once they realize
that they have been manipulated to hate their mother.
Divorce
Two-thirds of the participants had been divorced at least once (one-fourth
were divorced more than once). This rate is higher than the national average
and will probably be even higher as time passes because some of the par-
ticipants who had not yet been married or were currently married may join
the ranks of the divorced. This heightened rate of divorce is consistent with
the general statistics of children of divorce (Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakeslee,
2001) and also speaks to the relational and self-esteem issues already noted
as being prevalent in this sample. Many said that their marriages failed be-
cause of their lack of trust in their partner, their inability to be intimate, as
well as their problems with depression and substance abuse.
As noted above, many reported selecting for a life partner a person re-
markably similar to their alienating parent. This typically meant a person who
put their own needs first, lacked empathy for others, and desired an excessive
degree of control over them. One woman explained how she married a man
who was quite similar to her narcissistic mother. “My ex-husband is a terri-
ble person. The world revolves around him like he is a copy of my mother
almost and the funny thing is I didn’t realize that until later on. Everything
is about him even to the point where if I was spending time with my little
boy he was getting angry because I wasn’t spending that time with him.” A
Parental Alienation 301
man who also married a woman similar to his mother, a parent who did not
understand his need to have a relationship with his father explained, “When
my wife and I had disagreements she always yelled at me and I was always
capitulating to her because she was the woman and we could not resolve
things. I couldn’t seem to get my point across or get any understanding of
any kind.”
Other Impacts
Other effects of the parental alienation that were mentioned by a few of the
participants although the themes were not as prominent as those discussed
in detail above include: problems with identity and not having a sense of
belonging or roots, choosing not to have children to avoid being rejected by
them, low achievement, and anger and bitterness over the time lost with the
alienated parent.
SUMMARY
In sum, at least six major areas of functioning were affected by the experience
of parental alienation. Many of the participants suffered from low self-esteem,
lack of trust in themselves and others, depression, drug-alcohol problems,
alienation from their own children, and divorce. These findings are not sur-
prising in light of the multiple traumas associated with parental alienation.
Not only did the participants experience the loss of a parent but they were
also forbidden to mourn that loss or share their thoughts and feelings with
their primary caretaker. They were essentially encouraged to deny and/or
bury whatever positive regard they had for the targeted parent, cutting off
and denying a piece of themselves in the process. The ensuing negative self
regard as well as the other outcomes discussed above can be viewed in that
light. At the time of the interview, all of the participants were aware that they
had been manipulated to turn against the targeted parent. Although that was
a painful realization, it was the beginning of reclaiming the parent they lost
and the part of themselves that loved and cherished that parent and that part
of themselves. One participant claimed that the moment he met his father
for the first time in 40 years he could feel the hole in his soul closing.
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... A study examining the experiences of 40 alienated adult children in North America found that alienating parents used similar tactics to cult leaders to alienate the child from the targeted parent [11]. The similarities included: requiring excessive devotion; the use of emotional manipulation and persuasion techniques to reinforce dependency; denigration of the targeted parent (or outside influence for cult followers); creating the impression that the targeted parent is dangerous; deceiving the child about the targeted parents' feelings; withdrawal of love as punishment and erasing the memory of the targeted parent [11]. ...
... A study examining the experiences of 40 alienated adult children in North America found that alienating parents used similar tactics to cult leaders to alienate the child from the targeted parent [11]. The similarities included: requiring excessive devotion; the use of emotional manipulation and persuasion techniques to reinforce dependency; denigration of the targeted parent (or outside influence for cult followers); creating the impression that the targeted parent is dangerous; deceiving the child about the targeted parents' feelings; withdrawal of love as punishment and erasing the memory of the targeted parent [11]. The idea that alienating parents use similar tactics to cult leaders is supported by Haines et al. [5], who argued that processes evident in cultic groups, such as psychologically abusive group processes, isolation, control, and indoctrination, also held true in the case of the alienating parents' tactical agenda. ...
... Despite this, Kelly and Johnston [13] suggest anxious, fearful, or overly passive children may lack the resilience to withstand the alienating process; however, the psychological consequences for children subjected to parental alienating behaviours are clear, with both negative immediate and long-term effects. These include self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, substance use, increased suicidality, school-related difficulties, and a greater risk of being alienated from their children in the future [11]. Children exposed to parental alienating behaviours may develop a confused sense of self-perception and fail to remember how to trust their perceptions and feelings, resulting in an uncertain identity, lack of selfesteem, and deep insecurity [10,15]. ...
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This study qualitatively investigated the mental health of adults exposed to parental alienating behaviours in childhood. Research suggests that exposure to parental alienating behaviours in childhood can have a profound impact on the mental health of those children later in life, including experiencing anxiety disorders and trauma reactions. An international sample of 20 adults exposed to parental alienating behaviours in childhood participated in semi-structured interviews on their experience and its impact. Four themes were identified: mental health difficulties, including anxiety disorders and trauma reactions, emotional pain, addiction and substance use, and coping and resilience. Intergenerational transmission of parental alienation was found. Confusion in understanding their experience of alienation, the mental health sequelae, and elevated levels of suicidal ideation were found. This study demonstrated the insidious nature of parental alienation and parental alienating behaviours and provided further evidence of these behaviours as a form of emotional abuse.
... Jak wskazują Johnston i Sullivan (2020), alienacja rodzicielska (parental alienation -PA) jest zagadnieniem najczęściej rozpatrywanym w odniesieniu do rozwodu lub rozpadu relacji rodziców wspólnego dziecka i definiowana poprzez zachowania bądź reakcje dziecka wobec rodzica alienowanego lub stosunek dziecka do niego. Geneza tego stosunku jest przypisywana oddziaływaniom drugiego rodzica (zwanego w piśmiennictwie rodzicem preferowanym), które prowadzą do izolowania się i niechęci dziecka w stosunku do rodzica alienowanego (Baker, 2005a(Baker, , 2005b(Baker, , 2006Darnall, 2011;Gardner, 2002a). Jeśli tego rodzaju sprawy opiekuńcze (jako sprawy o kontakty, rodzaj opieki lub ograniczenie bądź pozbawienie władzy rodzicielskiej) trafiają do sądu, mogą być postrzegane jako postępowania, w których tle występuje przemoc będąca źródłem niechęci dziecka do spotkań z rodzicem. ...
... Pierwsze badania empiryczne, w większości oparte na retrospektywnych raportach młodych dorosłych alienowanych w dzieciństwie lub okresie dojrzewania, dotyczyły głównie zachowań alienujących rodziców (np. Baker, 2005aBaker, 2005bBaker, , 2006 oraz subiektywnych doświadczeń dzieci (np. Baker, Chambers, 2011;Godbout, Parent, 2012;Hands i Warshak, 2011;Verrocchio, Baker, Bernet, 2016;Verrocchio, Baker, Marchetti, 2018). ...
... z uwagi na podobne konsekwencje długoterminowe. Z badań wynika, że dorośli alienowani jako dzieci cierpią na poważne długoterminowe skutki nadużyć, których doświadczyli w dzieciństwie, takie jak niska samoocena, negatywny stosunek do samego siebie, pozabezpieczne przywiązanie, poczucie winy, lęk, depresja i skłonność do nadużywania substancji psychoaktywnych (Baker, 2005a;Baker, Verrocchio, 2013). Osoby alienowane od rodzica jako dzieci w dorosłym życiu mają trudności z zaufaniem innym ludziom oraz stworzeniem relacji intymnej opartej na głębokiej więzi uczuciowej, a także mają problemy z komunikowaniem się z własnymi dziećmi (Aloia, Strutzenberg, 2019;Hartman i in., 2018). ...
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Artykuł jest analizą alienacji rodzicielskiej z perspektywy diagnozy psychologicznej umożliwiającej jej odróżnienie od reakcji dziecka na rodzica faktycznie krzywdzące-go. W pierwszej kolejności należy wskazać, że wywieranie na dziecko wpływu prowa-dzącego do alienacji jest formą emocjonalnej przemocy i powoduje skutki podobne do innych form jego krzywdzenia. Opiniowanie i wyciąganie wniosków wyłącznie na podstawie diagnozy dziecka nie jest wystarczające. Opierając się na współcze-snych modelach alienacji rodzicielskiej, proponujemy systemowe podejście do jej dia-gnozowania, w którym konieczne jest uwzględnienie psychologicznej charakterystyki funkcjonowania dziecka, cech funkcjonowania rodziców oraz interakcji między nimi, podłoża motywacyjnego towarzyszącego alienacji, a także relacji każdego z rodziców z dzieckiem. Artykuł kończą wskazówki mogące służyć diagnozie alienacji rodziciel-skiej i różnicowaniu tej sytuacji z innymi formami przemocy oraz sygnalizujące sytu-acje złożone, w których dziecko doświadcza wielu form krzywdzenia. Słowa kluczowe: alienacja rodzicielSka, przemoc, rodzina jako SyStem, diagnoza różnicowa
... As a result, feelings of abandonment, loss, and fear grow inside the child, who will then interpret any of TP's behaviours through these cognitive biases, and will consistently express unreasonable anger, hatred, and rejection [15]. On the other hand, the child seems not to regret their hateful behaviour against the TP [11], but paradoxically a sense of betrayal and loss is likely to develop, leading to feelings of guilt and shame [51]. In her retrospective study of adults who experienced PA as a child, Baker [51] reported that most individuals in her sample recalled claiming they hated and feared the parent they rejected. ...
... On the other hand, the child seems not to regret their hateful behaviour against the TP [11], but paradoxically a sense of betrayal and loss is likely to develop, leading to feelings of guilt and shame [51]. In her retrospective study of adults who experienced PA as a child, Baker [51] reported that most individuals in her sample recalled claiming they hated and feared the parent they rejected. However, they did not want that parent to disappear from their lives and hoped someone would realise their words and acts were not truthful. ...
... The consequences of this are severe in the medium-to long-term. School-related difficulties, depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, and low self-esteem have been found in adults victims of PA during childhood [9,25,51], leading to the conclusion that turn a child against a parent is to turn a child against itself [30]. The child's belief that a parent does not love them has a significant impact on their self-esteem [52]. ...
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Parental alienation (PA) is a form of childhood emotional abuse in which one parent instrumentally uses the child to inflict psychological harm on the other parent for revenge. The consequences of parental alienating behaviours range from mild (e.g., the child shows a certain resistance towards visiting the targeted parent but warm parenting is still possible) to severe, where the positive affective parent–child bond is severed and extremely difficult to reinstate under family therapy. In PA processes, parenting is disrupted with the targeted parent and dysfunctional with the alienating parent. Consequently, the child is at a high risk of developing internalising (e.g., depression, anxiety) and externalising (e.g., use of drugs/alcohol, violence) problems during later developmental stages and through the lifespan. Although the prevalence and severity of PA cases in our societies are largely unknown, in part because the construct is still an ongoing debate among academics, practitioners and family justice professionals, different authors defend that it should be treated as a public health problem. Early prevention should be the primary objective and family justice, child protection and mental health services must coordinate efforts to support the families and promote the best conditions for the development of affected children.
... Although its clinical features are known, Parental Alienation Syndrome is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM 5) and International Classification of Diseases 11 (ICD 11) because there are serious debates about its validity and reliability ( 5) . For this reason PAS is not well-known and often overlooked by judges, attorneys and mental health professionals ( 6,7) . In this study, parental alienation syndrome was discussed by presenting an 8-year-old girl who was alienated from her mother by her father. ...
... As was reported in a study of adults who were alienated from their parents in their childhood, the impaired parent-child relationship lasted for at least 6 years, and more than 22 years in half of the cases (12) . Children who are alienated from their parents can suffer from low self-esteem, depression, alcohol-substance abuse, lack of self-confi-dence, attachment difficulties, alienation from their own children, divorce, identity problems, lack of sense of belonging, refusing to have children, low achievement, guilt, anxiety, and various phobias ( 7) . Therefore, in PAS early diagnosis and necessary intervention by clinicians has a crucial importance. ...
... Lavadera et al., in the comparative study conducted on children who were parentally alienated in a sample with an average age of 11, has exclusively found in them the tendency to behave in a manipulating way, a lack of respect for authority, affective ambivalence, and a distorted perspective of the family dynamic [24]. Studies carried out in the case of adults who were parentally alienated during childhood have shown increased levels of anxiety [25], depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, estrangement from their children, divorce, a feeling of lack of identity, and lack of belonging [3,26,27]. ...
... Parental alienation can be considered a complex form of child abuse in terms of its aspects involving psychological abuse and depriving the child of the support of one of the parents, which can be perceived as a form of neglect [21]. The consequences of the phenomenon at the social level can be the child's social disinsertion, stigmatization, and family dysfunction in adulthood [26]. ...
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Parental alienation, an entity situated at the limit of psychiatry, sociology, and justice, still represents a controversial concept despite the legal dispositions that take it into account. The scope of this paper is to consider the relationship between parent and child, and child abuse from a psychosocial perspective, as well as to depict parental alienation, considered a form of child abuse, without omitting contradictory arguments which are also based on prudence in the minor’s interest, turning the attention to parental estrangement. Although parental alienation is not a psychiatric diagnosis per se and neither is parental estrangement, recognizing the difference between them is vital to adequately manage the situation at the time of establishing custody.
... Association studies correlate the phenomenon with a greater presence of psychopathology and low levels of wellbeing (Baker, 2011a(Baker, , 2011b(Baker, , 2013Ben-Ami, 2012;Bernet, 2015;Rowen, 2019;Verrocchio, & 2019. Case series qualitatively document the same findings (Bagshaw, 2007;Baker, 2005Baker, , 2006aBaker, & 2006bBentley, 2019;Buckley, 2010;Dunne, 1994;Finzi-Dottan,2012;Godbout, 2012). Finally, expert opinion agrees in defining parental alienation as a form of child abuse (Bernet, 2010;Gomide, 2016;Harman, 2016;Loredo, 2010Loredo, & 2011Salles, 2012;Summers, 2006;von Boch-Galhau, 2018;Warshak, 2015aWarshak, & 2015b. ...
... Estudios de asociación correlacionan con mayor psicopatología y bajo estado de bienestar (Baker, 2011a(Baker, , 2011b(Baker, , 2013Ben-Ami, 2012;Bernet, 2015;Rowen, 2019;Verrocchio, & 2019. Las series de casos documentan de forma cualitativa los mismos hallazgos (Bagshaw, 2007;Baker, 2005Baker, , 2006aBaker, & 2006bBentley, 2019;Buckley, 2010;Dunne, 1994;Finzi-Dottan,2012;Godbout, 2012). Finalmente, la opinión de expertos también señala que es una forma de maltrato infantil (Bernet, 2010;Gomide, 2016;Harman, 2016;Loredo, 2010Loredo, & 2011Salles, 2012;Summers, 2006;von Boch-Galhau, 2018;Warshak, 2015aWarshak, & 2015b. ...
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Several studies regarding research integrity in the subject of parental alienation appeared recently, what they found was a number of publications with severe errors such as falsification of data, adulteration of original sources, and defamation for which, once the retraction requests were formulated, there were no appropriated mechanisms nor scientific criteria observed, the complaints were ignored and in some cases, there was not even appropriate transparency in the process. Due to this situation, an international research community responsible for the matter was established, and after carefully analyzing the problem in a spirit of scientific reconciliation, they decided to create the Statement of the Global Action for Research Integrity in Parental Alienation, to develop an approach for this scientific crisis which editorial houses and other institutions must responsibly address to avoid scientific fraud through screening processes in retraction, that is, meta-science activities. This Statement is an invitation for the international scientific community and for the society throughout the world so that the spirit of truth prevails over science, and so that the processes of research integrity are rectified, and to emend all possible errors in the research of a sensitive topic such as the human rights of children of divorced parents who, due to lack of awareness or ignorance, expose their children to this type of abuse. / This Statement is a highly specialized technical-scientific study on the subject of research integrity in parental alienation. It supports itself through the most relevant documents in the field, such as those of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Chair in Bioethics, the World Conference on Research Integrity, the Global Research Council, Committee on Publication Ethics, Standard Operating Procedures for Research Integrity (SOPs4RI), as well as guidelines from publishing houses such as Wiley and Emerald, with the help of digital tools for the identification of major plagiarism. We refer to three specific works that constitute a scientific fraud and that have refused to follow the standard retraction procedures or have ignored the letter to the editor. The reputation of these institutions has caused that the content of the errors become viral and spread as a phenomenon of infodemic. We intend to reveal and focus on the negative consequences of this type of child abuse, which includes stigma, defamation, slander and libel, “scientific” misinformation campaigns, censorship, politicization, legal involution, negligent training, human rights violations, inadequate interpretation of children human rights, social distrust, discrimination, erroneous expert reports, trials with major errors (big mistake), funding and quality of research. We formulate our proposals according to research integrity as an invitation to the institutions to review retraction procedures, especially in cases of parental alienation, we also request the support of the international scientific community and the intervention of the United Nations. We conclude that the recurrent identification of scientific fraud makes it clear that it is not a question of a theoretical or opinion disagreement among authors, but rather a serious problem of scientific malpractice that includes data falsification, adulteration of original sources and defamation. Resumen En recientes estudios de integridad científica en materia de alienación parental, se encontraron publicaciones con severos errores como falsificación de datos, adulteración de fuentes originales y difamación en las cuales, una vez formuladas las solicitudes de retractación, no se observaron los mecanismos adecuados, ni criterios científicos, siendo ignoradas y, en otros casos, no se tuvo la apropiada transparencia. Debido a ello, se constituyó una comunidad científica internacional responsable en la materia quienes, después de analizar debidamente la problemática y en un ánimo de reconciliación científica, decidieron formular la Declaración del Movimiento Global de Integridad Científica en Alienación Parental, para realizar el planteamiento de esta crisis científica que debe ser abordada responsablemente por las casas editoriales y otras instituciones de manera que se elimine el fraude científico a través de procesos de cribado en retractación, es decir, actividades de metaciencia. La presente Declaración es una invitación a la comunidad científica internacional y a la sociedad mundial para que prevalezca el ánimo de la verdad en la ciencia, se rectifiquen los procesos de integridad científica y se subsanen los errores en un tema tan sensible como los derechos humanos de los niños, niñas y adolescentes de los hijos de padres separados, que por desconocimiento o ignorancia, exponen a sus hijos a este tipo de maltrado. Esta declaración, es un estudio técnico-científico altamente especializado en materia de integridad científica en alienación parental, donde se utilizan los documentos más importantes en el campo como los de la Cátedra de Bioética de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura, la Conferencia Mundial sobre la Integridad de la Investigación, el Consejo de Investigación Global, el Comité de Ética de Publicaciones, Procedimientos de Estándares Operativos para la Integridad Científica (SOPs4RI), así como lineamientos de casas editoriales como Wiley y Emerald, con el auxilio de herramientas digitales para la identificación de plagio mayor. Se ilustran tres obras con fraude científico que se han negado a seguir los procedimientos estándares de retractación o han ignorado la carta al editor, y debido al renombre de las instituciones, el contenido de los errores se ha viralizado y extendido como un fenómeno de infodemia. Así mismo, este estudio analiza y da a conocer las consecuencias negativas en este tipo de maltrato infantil, tales como: estigma, difamación, calumnia e injuria, campañas de desinformación “científica”, censura, politización, involución legal, capacitaciones negligentes, violaciones a los derechos humanos, inadecuada interpretación de los derechos humanos de la niñez, desconfianza social, discriminación, peritajes erróneos, juicios con craso error (Crassus Errare), financiamiento y calidad de la investigación. Se formulan recomendaciones en apego a la integridad científica como una invitación a las instituciones para revisar los procedimientos de retractación, de igual manera se pide atención especial en estos casos y se solicita el apoyo de la comunidad científica internacional y la intervención de Naciones Unidas. Se concluye que la identificación recurrente de fraude científico, deja claro que no se trata de un desacuerdo teórico o de opiniones entre autores, sino de un grave problema de malas prácticas científicas que incluyen falsificación de datos, adulteración de fuentes originales y difamación.
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Antecedentes: Son diversos las/os investigadoras/es que se han interesado por el fenómeno de la alienación parental. No obstante, esta compleja dinámica relacional no ha estado exenta de controversias. Objetivo: Realizar una revisión sistemática de las perspectivas y tendencias actuales del concepto de alienación parental, sus características y efectos en la población que experimentan estas circunstancias. Método: Se utilizó la metodología PRISMA-P para llevar a cabo una búsqueda bibliográfica exhaustiva de artículos publicados entre el año 2016 y junio de 2020 en revistas indexadas Scopus y/o WOS. Se contemplaron 95 estudios, de los cuales 11 fueron considerados para la revisión, de acuerdo con los criterios de inclusión y exclusión preestablecidos. Se identificó un amplio campo investigativo en el cual se circunscribe la alienación parental, como dinámica relacional. Resultados: Los 11 estudios seleccionados establecían relaciones entre la experiencia de alienación parental e indicadores de salud mental, tanto en niños, niñas, adolescentes, como adultos que experimentan o experimentaron estas dinámicas. Así también, se relacionó con maltrato psicológico. Conclusiones: La alienación parental es un fenómeno con una importante prevalencia en la población y se ha vinculado con un deterioro en la salud mental de las personas que la experimentan o la han experimentado.
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