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is Emotional Abuse of Children
Amy J.L. Baker
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Amy Baker is the author of Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties That Bind, W.W. Norton, April 2007. This article was written for EQI.org. Her website is AmyBaker.com
|Parental alienation is a set of
strategies that parents use to undermine and interfere
with a child's relationship with his or her other parent.
This often but not always happens when parents are
engaged in a custody battle over the children. There is
no one definitive set of behaviors that constitute
parental alienation but research with both parents and
children has revealed a core set of alienation
Parents who try to alienate their child from his or her other parent convey a three-part message to the child:
Children who succumb to the pressure and ally themselves with one parent against the other often exhibit a set of behaviors that have become known as parental alienation syndrome. These include:
Discussion with "adult children" of parental alienation syndrome (that is, adults who believe that when they were children one parent turned them against the other parent) highlights the way that parent alienation represents a form of emotional abuse. Although several definitions of emotional abuse exist, a widely accepted one was developed by Hamarman and Bernet (2000) based on earlier work by Garbarino, Guttmann, and Seeley (1986), and it includes 7 behaviors:
This definition provides a useful framework for understanding the experiences of the adult children of parental alienation syndrome. In explaining how the alienating parent was able to turn them against the targeted parent, they described many of these emotionally abusive behaviors. Additionally, these described 7 additional behaviors that could be considered emotional abuse as it pertains to parental alienation:
Discussions with the adult children also revealed that they believed that the experience of parental alienation was associated with several different negative long-term effects including depression, drug abuse, divorce, low self-esteem, problems with trusting, and alienation from their own children when they became parents themselves. In this way the cycle of parental alienation was carried forward through the generations.
Few of the people interviewed were aware that there was a name for what they experienced and it seems that the parent that they became alienated from was not always aware of the cause of their losing contact with their child.
Clearly, the best way to prevent this from continuing to harm children and parents is through greater awareness that it is possible for a child to suddenly reject a parent with whom he or she had a loving and closing relationship. Children who are feeling a strong need to choose sides in parental conflicts should seek help from a neutral adult as soon as possible and parents who believe that they are being targeted for alienation should seek mental health and legal assistance..