Firstly, I want to establish my personal credentials. In addition to my professional qualifications, I have first-hand experience of the process by which one parent deliberately ruptures the relationship and destroys the loving bond between their child and the other parent, having lost contact with one of my children due to Parental Alienation.
This can happen when the process of ending a relationship becomes entrenched in conflict or after a relationship ends if both parents do not form a different relationship focused on the children.
You may wish to watch this video of me introducing Parental Alienation at a seminar – my apologies for the audio being missing in the second half.
Many people seem to believe there is either a normal family relationship between parents and children or there is parental alienation where the other parent (the ex-partner) has deliberately ruptured the relationship between the child and an alienated or target parent).
This kind of black-and-white thinking tends to rule out the many nuances and variations in the way parents and children relate and attach. The original work in defining parental alienation done by Gardner then followed up by many others tends to reinforce this view and leads to much confusion in family law circles. Legal and psychological professionals engaged in your situation in family law are often at risk of confusing one form of affiliation and attachment style with another. They may often consider that the child is aligned with a parent rather than alienated from a target parent and vice versa. However, make no mistake, parental alienation is at the extreme end of the spectrum of affiliation and alliance forming behaviours and styles and has its own unique characteristics that differentiate it as a form of child abuse still unrecognised in Australia.
More recently, Kelly and Johnston (2001) described a spectrum of attachment and alliance behaviours and styles between parents and children. This ranges from affiliation which is considered perfectly normal to parental alienation which is not.
Parental alienation is differentiated from affiliation, alliance, alignment, estrangement by the actions (or omissions) of an hostile and aggressive parent who is focused upon the target parent and is using the children against that parent without regard to the children’s welfare. In the more extreme forms of parental alienation, an alienating parent deliberately ruptures a previously loving relationship relationship between a child and a loving but targeted parent.
The Greeks documented all forms of human frailty in their myths and gods. Parental alienation is captured in the story of Medea, who kills her children to punish her errant husband, Jason. Sometimes this process is called the ‘Medea complex’. However, the act of severing the bond between child and parent is unfortunately undertaken by both men and women. In the U.S it is sometimes called Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and it is being considered for inclusion as a diagnosed mental illness.