What is parental alienation and how can it be prevented?

Parental alienation is a sad by-product of divorce or other breakdown between parents…

It is, unfortunately, usually the result of deliberate sabotage by one parent against the other. It is very rarely an organic response by the child, provided there is no physical or emotional abuse present.

According to clinical psychologist, Dr Marilé Viljoen, “Parental alienation is a set of processes and behaviours conducted and enacted by a parent to deliberately and knowingly damage or sever the relationship between a child and another parent with whom the child enjoyed a prior loving relationship.”

A child may express “disapproval and even hatred toward a parent they loved and respected before the separation or divorce”.

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Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

Strictly speaking, there is a distinction between Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and simple parental alienation. However, the difference is one of degree. For the purposes of understanding the concept, we will use the term ‘parental alienation’ to refer to all types of alienation between a parent and child in the context of separating parents.

Estrangement vs parental alienation

It is important to differentiate between estrangement and alienation. Estrangement is sad and all too common but it does not arise from the same vindictive motives as parental alienation. Estrangement refers to the breakdown of the relationship between a parent and child, which may come about because of the parent’s:

? Poor treatment of the child
? Abuse or neglect of the child
? Poor parenting behaviour
? Low insight into parenting behaviour
? Inability to understand the child’s world or to place themselves in the child’s shoes
? Struggle to take responsibility for their own emotions and behaviour

Some of these factors can be blamed on the parent, some are unconscious behaviours. None is driven by the other parent, as is the case in parental alienation.

It can be argued that the dying days of a relationship, when the couple still inhabits a common home, can be more damaging to a child than the divorce itself

Pre-divorce

Although we talk about parental alienation as a consequence of divorce, the roots of it can often be found in the family dynamics before the marriage ends.

It can be argued that the dying days of a relationship, when the couple still inhabits a common home, can be more damaging to a child than the divorce itself.

Where children are used as emotional bargaining tools, they are often manipulated into a situation in which they side with one parent or the other. When the relationship between the parents is resolved, even if that is via divorce, children are often relieved of the triangulation and harmonious relations with both parents can be restored.

About the author:

Simon David Dippenaar BBusSc LLB PDLP (UCT), Founder & Managing Partner
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