Parental alienation syndrome first got its label back in 1985, when Dr. Richard Gardner first described distinctive behaviors in children that included extreme (unwarranted) fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent. That was 35 years ago, meaning we have had time to see and study the corrosive effects of this emotional abuse. What do we find in adults who had parental alienation syndrome as children?
Dr. Lori Love, who holds a doctorate in philosophy (and so is not a medical doctor, to be clear), outlines six lifelong effects of parental alienation in her work, “Custody Evaluations 101: Allegations and Sensitivities.” She based her study on some 22 years of working with child custody issues, parenting mediations, and collaborative divorce.
#1: Unhealthy entitlement to a sense of rage
The adults who grew from alienated children feel the world must allow their tantrums. As children, they were rewarded for being hostile and angry toward a parent, so that rage is standard operating procedure. They feel entitled to be angry and express it in immature, inappropriate ways whenever they like.
The adult who was abused into perceiving her or his own parent as entirely bad or evil has a hard time seeing other adults as nuanced. Splitting is the immediate bifurcation of people as either all good or all bad. No shades of gray exist: this situation is all black, and that situation is all white.
Splitting reduces others in the damaged adult’s social circle to cartoon cutouts, leading to difficulties coping. The adult survivor of parental alienation is on a track to borderline personality disorder.
#3: Difficulties forming and maintaining relationships
Adults who lived through parental alienation will face lifetimes of difficulties forming and keeping healthy relationships with every social tier:
- Work colleagues
- Daily helpers such as waitstaff, doormen, the newsstand operator, Uber driver, and others
- Followers of their religion
- Intimate partners
The rationale in the adult who was brainwashed into alienating one parent is that no other adults can be trusted. The mind says, “Get rid of them before they hurt you.”
#4: Inability to tolerate anger or hostility
Adults who were alienated children cannot handle other people’s anger, aggression, hostility, or sometimes even just mild displeasure. They interpret all those legitimate feelings in others as abuse towards them.
Adding to that damage is the inability to own their own behavior. If they feel panicky, angry, or upset, they excuse their own feelings and behaviors. They do not take responsibility or make amends.
#5: Long-term risk of being psychologically vulnerable or dependent
The child who was abused into alienating one parent by the other parent becomes dependent on that abusive parent. As an adult, the same person looks for someone else to provide control, stability, and direction. It is not healthy or mature, but it is a hallmark of the alienated child-turned-adult.
#6: Conflict with authority figures
The alienated parent was an authority figure for the child before the other parent destroyed that relationship. The child learned to disrespect the parent and work around his authority (most cases of parental alienation are against the father and perpetrated by the mother). The adult continues these traits, with damaging effect, against bosses, law enforcement figures, medical professionals, and others typically viewed as authority figures in society.
In the 35 years between identifying this form of emotional abuse and now, we have seen children alienated from their fathers who, as adults, never reconcile with their Dads. The emotional vacuum and loss is life-altering.
Undoing the damage of parental alienation takes longer the longer you wait. When you first see signs that your children are being turned against you as their father, you need to enlist professional help at all levels:
- Religious leaders to counsel you and (if she will listen) the children’s mother
- Counselors for children, you, and (if she will agree) the children’s mother
- Law enforcement officers to enforce parenting time schedules
- Family law attorneys to make the children’s mother accountable for the damage she is inflicting
Handling parental alienation by yourself is not wise. You, after all, are the target of your children’s and their mother’s wrath. Nothing you say will seem unbiased. Turn to the neutral voices of professionals around you. Turn to your family law attorney to get the wheels of justice moving. The longer you wait, the worse the situation will grow.
Facing a problem with child custody, parenting time, or parental alienation? Contact us at The Firm For Men or call our offices at (757) 383-9184 today. We are family law attorneys focusing on helping Virginia’s men preserve their rights, including the right to healthy relationships with their children.