Why Does a Parent Alienate Their Children?

Often in my practice, parents are confounded as to why their ex-spouse would alienate the children from them.  Surely their ex loves the children and would not want to cause them psychological harm? If you are unsure of what parental alienation is, read a previous post here.

Going through a marriage breakdown triggers a grief reaction in people. After all,  a relationship breakdown constitutes a significant loss. It affects the brain neurochemicals and hormones), resulting in a variety of symptoms such as loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, fatigue, anger, and anxiety. The fundamental difference between the death of a loved one and a marriage breakdown is the person lost, is alive. The added acrimony exacerbates the grief response and can set the stage for pathogenic parenting. Many parents, typically early in separation, do engage in alienating behaviours; however, because the engaging parent knows it is wrong, it causes feelings of guilt, and they soon stop. Some grieving spouses convince themselves that their alienating behaviour is in the best interest of their children and with professional intervention, will also cease. 

Unfortunately, there is a small percentage of parents who refuse to remediate and lack insight into their harmful behaviour. They can become obsessed with the alienation, and go to great lengths to destroy the children’s relationship with the other parent. Researchers suggest that there is a link between personality disorders and obsessed alienators. These parents can be motivated for many reasons; namely, anger, entitlement, need to control, revenge, paranoia, jealousy, and child support issues. Whatever the parental motivation, alienation is a severe form of psychological abuse and clearly a type of family violence. If this is happening in your life, it is critical to seek professional and legal help promptly, because time is of the essence to repair the relationship between you and your child.

Connie Lupichuk, BSW, MSW, RSW, and works at Incentive Counselling as the Senior Consultant.