Parental Alienation

Updated: December 02, 2022

Parental alienation is a term that describes a situation in which one parent/caregiver attempts to turn their child against the other parent/caregiver. Sadly it is very common, and often harms children.

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What Is Parental Alienation?

When relationships break down between parents, and there exist bad feelings, it can be very easy to use children as weapons. This can be to alienate a child from the other parent and often takes the form of seemingly harmless comments or actions to influence how the child views the other parent. It can also be more obvious. For example, when accusations are made about the other parent, or when one parent interferes with the relationship between the child and the other parent.


As the saying goes “Love your child(ren) more than you hate each other”. Indeed, parental alienation is a selfish and short-sighted thing to do to a child because it creates estrangement between a child and parent. The child may refuse to spend time with the parent, or even stop speaking to them altogether. This may seem like a victory for the parent who instigates it, but it’s likely to have a very negative, long-term impact on the child’s relationship with the alienated parent, other relationships, mood, self-esteem, and overall well-being.


It must be stated, however, that sometimes children refuse to spend time with a parent for their reasons (for example, neglect, or abuse) and not because of parental alienation. But if there is no legitimate reason for the child’s refusal, parental alienation may be happening.

What Are The Symptoms?


When children show aggression or hostility towards a parent for no reason (that is, the parent has not done anything to warrant such a response).

Being Critical

When children begin to criticise or denigrate a parent and use phrases or language that are unusual for them, or more adult-like/beyond their normal vocabulary or understanding.

Refusal To Spend Time

When a child refuses to take part in activities and events and does not spend any time with one of their parents, alienation may be occurring. This is particularly likely when court-ordered time has been granted, and the child still refuses.

Showing No Care

When children appear cold and feel no guilt or remorse toward the alienated parent, and their treatment of them.


When one parent (the alienated one) is viewed as “all bad” with no consideration of their positive qualities, and the one who instigates the alienating is seen as “all good”.

Taking Sides

When children favour and take the side of one parent and justify their behaviour, even when it’s unreasonable.

Unfair Narratives

Even though there may be no truth to accusations or stories about a parent, when children state them as if they are true, they may be repeating what they have heard from the alienating parent.

What Causes Parental Alienation?

Usually, there is no single cause of parental alienation. The reasons why a parent might alienate their child(ren) can be complex and multifaceted. Some common contributory factors include:


  • High-conflict separation or divorce: When parents are involved in a contentious and acrimonious separation or divorce, the stress and tension they feel can start to impact their relationship with their children. One parent may start to use the child as a pawn or attempt to turn the child against the other parent.


  • Personality disorders: Narcissism or borderline personality disorder can make it difficult for a person who experiences them to see their child’s needs as separate from their own. This can make it difficult to have a healthy co-parenting relationship with the other parent.


  • History of abuse or neglect: Sometimes a parent might alienate a child from the other parent with the intention of protecting them due to the other parent’s history of abuse or neglect. This however can still cause harm to the child and their relationship with the alienated parent.


  • Parental insecurity or jealousy: If one parent feels threatened by the other’s relationship with their child, they may engage in alienating behaviours as a way to undermine that relationship and maintain control over the child.


  • Lack of co-parenting skills: Some parents do not have the resources or skills to effectively co-parent, this can lead to conflict and alienating behaviours.

How Phinity Therapy Can Help

The effectiveness of psychotherapy depends on a several factors, including how severe the alienation is, how willing parents are with engaging and participating in therapy, and the child’s age and personality. When people are engaged however, therapy can be a useful and powerful tool to help families recover from the damage caused by parental alienation, and help to rebuild healthy relationships.

Psychotherapy can be helpful in addressing parental alienation, both for the parent who is engaging in alienating behaviours and for the child(ren) involved. At Phinity we will work with you to help you recognise the harmful impact of alienating behaviour, and together develop strategies to aid behaviour change. For example, you may want to learn how to manage difficult emotions, or improve communication skills, and build a more collaborative co-parenting relationship.

It may also be important to restore and rebuild the relationship between your child and the alienated parent. We will help your child and the alienated parent build their relationship in a safe and supportive environment. We may do this through trust-building exercises, communication building skills, and addressing negative feelings and any unresolved issues.

We will also pay attention to supporting your child’s emotional well-being because when children get caught in the middle of parental conflict and alienation, they often experience a range of difficult and unpleasant emotions. For example, they may experience low mood and depression, anxiety, and guilt to name some. Through psychotherapy, your child will develop coping skills, be able to process their emotions rather than burying them and struggling, and feel supported and heard.

We can help both parents develop a co-parenting plan that focuses and prioritises your child. We do this by mediating and coaching and helping you both to create a plan that works for both parents.

What Causes Parental Alienation?How Phinity Therapy Can Help


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