New social science research inquiry seeks to establish the social pathology of parental alienation as another dimension to its already well-established medical pathology.
THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG when the state does not intervene when ‘good enough’ parents are rejected by their alienated children but a rehabilitated sex offender can gain access to publicly funded IVF treatment to become a state-sanctioned parent (Sex offender with a foot fetish), or when social services devote enormous efforts to keep a distressed and abused child in the care and responsibility of possibly criminal and drug addicted parents, at least one of whom kills their child (Trial-over-murder-of-nikki-franciscoslovich-continues).
This is not to say that society should not rehabilitate its citizens who have transformed themselves. The purpose of this juxtaposition is to point out that how unjust and discriminatory it is for society to invest comparatively much more effort in keeping children together with demonstrably ‘bad’ parents who abuse and even kill their children than in keeping children together with ‘good enough’ parents who do not abuse their children.
Rejected/alienated parents may legitimately feel they are discriminated against and marginalised because the implication is that they are lesser members of our society for being rejected by their children than a former sex offender whose foot fetish is in remission.
The Social Injustice of Parental Alienation
Indeed, many rejected/alienated parents present with a type of “social shock” not just at their inexplicable rejection by their children who previously loved them but from the critical social commentary that they are in some way responsible for their own rejection.
Parental alienation is likely to cause social disadvantage, inequity, discrimination, abuse of power, and diminution of the social standing, and loss of identity of its victims (alienated children and the parents whom they reject). These intended victims of parental alienation (there are no unintended victims of parental alienation, no innocent bystanders accidentally caught out in the open) are more likely than others to require social supports such as housing, mental health interventions, income supports, legal support, and educational support. The net socio-economic impact to society may be significant and uncharted.
The Case For a Social Science View of Parental Alienation
The more than 30-year focus upon the scientific-medical pathology of parental alienation has established this presentation in the scientific and medical firmament. However, notwithstanding this notable achievement, this alone will be unable to deliver the knockout blow that will make society devote its resources to preventing and remediating parental alienation as a form of abuse and fundamental social injustice.
It is time for social science research to explore the nature of the injustices and oppression parental alienation causes to both society and its targets as it has done for family violence. The social and cultural dimensions of parental alienation need to be defined in which parental alienation exhibits it own unique phenomenology alongside its medical pathology.
The Case for Disenfranchised Social Trauma of Alienation
A significant number of rejected/alienated parents suffer from a form of disenfranchised trauma. This can adversely impact their capacity for empathy, mood regulation and to symptoms of PTSD that prevents them from re-engaging with their children. Yet, many rejected/alienated parents are often unable to find support for their silent struggles, yet alone engage with socio-legal institutions because there is no social acceptance of their trauma.
Social science research needs to focus on parental alienation as a unique form of triangulated socio-cultural-psychological abuse that inflicts social, cultural, and psychological trauma upon both the rejected/alienated parent and the alienated child.
The Social Causes of Parental Alienation
Until now the emphasis on parental alienation has been upon defining it as a pathological problem within an illness narrative. As such, research focus has been placed upon its formulation into scientific taxonomies and diagnostic criteria rather than upon the social causes and enabling factors.
Social trauma is inflicted upon both the alienated child and the rejected/alienated parent by way of exploitation, marginalisation, and abuses of power and gender that have been previously unrecognised. The act of alienation may violate cultural norms and kinship rules or even reinforce them. Research is needed to identify the symbolic role of children and family in a particular culture.
The role of research is to characterise the social and cultural nature of parental alienation that enables it to occur and perpetuate — in effect, to create a social pathology of parental alienation that may provide a microscope to reveal the hitherto hidden social bacteriology of alienation.
What Will Social Science Research Do for Parental Alienation?
The work of women in particular of more than four decades has seen the development of a family violence discourse that has turned the social focus toward its manifestation as a social evil. This has enabled society and its institutions to more appropriately focus upon the victims, proscribe the perpetrator’s behavior, address the manner in which society and its structures enable family violence and then to engage science to identify prevalence and develop assessment tools and interventions.
Similarly, social science on behalf of society needs to undertake this project for parental alienation, to develop a social discourse about parental alienation may establish a consensus that, at the very least, alienation is both an abuse against the child and abuse against the parent whom the child is coerced to reject and address the manner in which society and its structures enable alienation.