Research Provides Insight Into The Psychology Of Parental Alienation

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Psychology News

Researchers at the Colorado State University led a scientific inquiry into parental alienation, one of the most overlooked types of partner abuse. The study is published in the journal Personal Relationships.

Understanding Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a process by which one parent manipulates a child and makes him/her estranged from another parent. Such behavior is usually common in the aftermath of a divorce and separation. It should be noted that parental alienation is very different from child estrangement, in which the child himself/herself cut off ties with the parents.

The Study

The researchers interviewed 29 mothers and 50 fathers who self-reportedly experienced parental alienating behavior. The study applied the interdependence theory to study the power dynamics in family units affected by parental alienation.

Interdependence theory is a social contract theory that states that people’s interaction with each other influences their experiences. It studies interpersonal relationships, asymmetries in power, and health outcomes.

The Findings

The researchers found significant similarities between parental alienation and partner abuse, noting that the former is caused by the same power imbalances in a conflicting partnered relationship. The perpetrating partner creates a power imbalance and uses controlling abuse against the other disadvantaged partner. In most cases, such partner abuse takes the form of coercion, violence, intimate terrorism, threats, physical abuse, and battery. The resulting climate disempowers and intimidates the alienating parent, who fears that he/she will lose the children or hurt themselves.

The researchers also noted the gender-neutral nature of parental alienation and linked its prevalence to co-parenting arrangements in which the perpetrating parent has more resources and sole custody of the children involved.

Drawing Inferences

The researchers have inferred that parental alienation, like other abusive relationships, has a significant impact on the children of the estranged partners. They are often deprived of childhood experiences and familial support which, in turn, impact their physical and mental well-being and social functioning.

Through the study, the researchers have sought to bring credibility and awareness to the problems parental alienation causes for children, families, and society at large. This can help change the ways in which parental alienating behaviors are viewed and addressed in family court proceedings. The lead researcher, Jennifer Harman, elaborated, “Parental alienating behaviors are abusive and should be included under legislation and policies that seek to protect children.”

To Know More You May Relate To

Harman, J. J., Maniotes, C. R., & Grubb, C. (2021). Power dynamics in families affected by parental alienation. Personal Relationships, 28(4), 883-906.

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