What is Parental Alienation?

Parental Alienation is the outcome of a process of one parent (the alienating parent)  
influencing a child (alienated or targeted child)  
to turn against and reject their other parent (alienated or targeted parent)  
without legitimate justification. The alienating parent can also be a grandparent, a step parent and even a non-family member.

Parental alienation can occur even when the relationship between the targeted child and targeted parent was once a very positive one. It occurs when a child is forced to choose one parent’s side over the other after family separation and during parenting disputes. 

Levels of Parental Alienation

Mild Parental Alienation

The child is able to maintain contact with the targeted parent but is closely aligned with and concerned for the alienating parent who is distress over family separation. 

Moderate Parental Alienation

The child struggles with the transition from the alienating parent’s care to the care of the targeted parent. Once they have made the transition the child quickly settles and bonds with the targeted parent. 

Severe Parental Alienation

The child is emphatic in their rejection of the targeted parent and refuses all contact with them.


Causes of Parental Alienation

The challenge for a family following separation is to transition from an intact family structure to a separated family structure that is now united by the children and by the continuing parental roles and shared bonds of affection with the child. Sometimes the emotional reactions and psychological functioning of one parent in response to the separation prevents this transition. When this occurs children can be exposed to that parent’s continuing anger and sadness.


TYPES of Alienating Parents:

The Naïve Alienator

Naïve alienators are parents who are passive about the children's relationship with the other parent. They will occasionally do or say things to contribute to alienation.  Naive alienators can respond well to education about the negative impacts of their behaviour. 

The Active Alienator

Active alienators are aware of their behaviour and intentionally alienate their children from the other parent out of hurt and anger. Active alienators have some insight and will express remorse for their behaviour after they are aware of the damage it has caused. 

The Vengeful Alienator

Vengeful alienators believe the targeted parent has to pay for the end of their relationship. Because of this they make it their mission to destroy the targeted parent. Like obsessed alienators, the vengeful alienators have no self-control or insight into their behaviour. They typically present with narcissistic and borderline personality traits. When their relationship ends with the targeted parent, for whatever reason, the vengeful alienator experiences an abnormal grief reaction called narcissistic injury.  They will intensely feel the loss and embarrassment of the loss. They will externalise the cause of their pain and will want the targeted parent to suffer for their pain.

The Obsessive Alienator

Obsessed alienators make destroying the targeted parent part of their identity. The obsessed alienator typically has little self-control and insight into their behaviour. They may present with problematic personality traits such as narcissistic and borderline traits.  


The Alienating Parent

  • paranoid orientation to interactions with others
  • cognitive distortions
  • externalising unwanted emotions and responsibilities
  • abnormal grieving response
  • problematic family of origin
  • family violence and abuse 

Cluster B personality disorders:

  • narcissistic personality traits 
  • borderline personality traits
  • paranoid personality traits
  • histrionic personality traits

For more information about B Cluster personality disorders visit PROJECT AIR.

Alienating Parents and their Alienating Tactics

Alienating parents tend to externalise unwanted emotions and responsibilities.

They display an abnormal grieving response and demonstrate severe cognitive distortions (i.e., abnormal thinking patterns) that are difficult to challenge.  
Alienating tactics used by alienating parents include, but not limited to: 

  • Damaging the loving connection between the child and targeted parent
  • Unreasonably interfering with time the child spends with the targeted parent
  • Eradicating the targeted parents from their child’s life
  • Purposefully withholding information about the child from the targeted parent
  • Making decisions about the child without consulting the targeted parent
  • Denigrating the targeted parent
  • Making false allegations of abuse against the targeted parent
  • Utilising support services to facilitate their campaign of denigration and false allegations of abuse
  • Emotionally manipulating the child
  • Demanding that the child chooses a side in the custody dispute
  • Encouraging the child to have an unhealthy dependence on them
  • Inappropriately disclosing adult information about the targeted parent and custody dispute to the child
  • Encouraging the child to be defiant towards the targeted parent

For a more extensive list >>

Tactics used to damage the loving connection between the child and targeted parent.

Alienated Children (Targeted)

  • disrupted social-emotional development
  • insecure attachment style
  • interpersonal problems
  • paranoid thinking 
  • obsessive-compulsive tendencies
  • low self-esteem 
  • resentment
  • grief
  • anger
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • somatic symptoms
  • substance related problems
  • suicide

a) family violence and abuse

b) trauma related disorder

c) persistent complex bereavement 


List of Detection Factors of Brainwashed Children

1. Contradictory Statements
2. Inappropriate and Unnecessary Information
3. Character Assault
4. Collusion or One-Sided Alliance
5. Child Becomes Spy or Conduit of Information
6. Use of Indirect Statements
7. Restrictions on Permission to Love or Be Loved
8. Unchildlike Statements
9. Good Parent versus Bad Parent

10. Comparative Martyr Role

11. Fear of Contact with the Other Parent
12. Anxiety Arousal
13. Cohort in Secret-Keeping
14. Child Appears as Mirror-Image of Programmer
15. Confusion of a Birth Parent’s Importance
16. Manifestation of Guilt
17. Scripted Views
18. Unmanageability for No Apparent Reason
19. Radical Changes and Dysfunctional Behavior Manifested in Other Spheres
20. Nonverbal Messages
21. Coaching Behavior
22. Brain Twirling
23. Child Threatens Parent
24. Child as Parent’s Best Friend
25. Physical Survival

Reference: Stanley Clawar and Brynne Rivlin (2013) Children Held Hostage: Identifying Brainwashed Children, Presenting a Case, and Crafting Solutions. ABA Publishing.


Impact of Parental Alienation

The impact of parental alienation can last for years or even a life time.  It denies children a normal childhood free from parental conflict and denies them a relationship with both parents.  It can also prevent a child from having a relationship with the alienated parent’s family.


Consequences for Alienated Children

Alienated children display unjustified contempt for the alienated parent and an attitude of entitlement toward the alienated parent. They are taught to have a perception of an “all-wonderful” alienating parent and “all-bad” targeted parent. As a result of this alienated children experience disrupted social-emotional development as a consequence of parental alienation.

Alienated children experience a complex grief for the loss of a parent who is still alive. Because this loss is the result of emotional manipulation, alienated children experience psychological difficulties associated with this type of trauma and abuse.  Parental alienation causes emotional pain for children.  The long-term outcomes of parental alienation on children include: social isolation, fragile sense of self, anger, depression and anxiety.


Consequences for Alienated Parents

The loss of a child is devastating.  Alienated parents also experience complex grief for the loss of their child who is still alive. This loss is compounded by being denigrated and vilified as part of the alienation process. Alienated parents experience despair, helplessness, frustration, anger and confusion. Many alienated parents experience significant financial and emotional costs associated with trying to find a resolution in a legal system and mental health services that do not understand parental alienation.   

Alienated parents are loving mothers and fathers who try to keep their child out of the parental conflict.

Children's Rights Litigation

Trauma Caused by Separation of Children from Parents

Trauma Caused by Separation of Children from Parents

Testimony: Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff

Dr. Shonkoff testified about both the trauma that such a forcible  separation can cause, as well as the long-term effects of toxic stress  that continue to compound until separated children and their parents or  caregivers are reunited.

"From a scientific perspective, the forcible separation of children from their parents is like setting a house on fire. Prolonging that separation is like preventing the first responders from doing their job." - Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.



(CAPRD) Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders [DSM-5]

(CAPRD) Child Affected  by Parental Relationship Distress 

under "Other conditions  that may be a focus of clinical attention."


QE52.0 Caregiver-Child Relationship Problem

International Classification of Diseases for Trauma Caused for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics [ICD-11]

(QE52.0) Caregiver-Child Relationship Problem

under "Problem associated with interpersonal interactions in childhood."