Emotional Abuse Post Separation

By 21st April 2022 Blog

Parent Alienation Awareness Day is on 25 April, it is a date recognised across the world and it aims to raise awareness of Parental Alienation.

Parental alienation is a “behaviour by a parent (or an adult a child trusts, such as a grandmother/father, aunt, uncle, etc), whether conscious or unconscious, that could create alienation in the relationship between a child and a parent.”

These behaviours are also described using different terms such as ‘Hostile Aggressive Parenting’ or ‘Psychological and Emotional Injury or abuse’*. The behaviour displayed can be mild and temporary but may also be extreme over a long period of time.

Any kind of behaviour that is displayed as a result of a child being alienated from a much loved parent, can be damaging for a child and could have potentially life long consequences if the behaviour of parent/guardian/carer and child is not recognised and effectively addressed.

Highlighting Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation Awareness Day aims to highlight to care givers the effects that this behaviour could have on children and to educate adults in order to identify signs that either they or others are behaving in a manner that could affect the children in their care.

Parental Alienation usually involves one care giver attempting to turn a child against another often with a view to persuade the child that they wish to exclude the other parent from their life permanently.

Typical types of behaviour displayed by parents can include:

  • constantly belittling the other
  • limiting contact with the other
  • forbidding the child from discussing the other parent
  • portraying an impression that the other parent does not love the child
  • subtle or direct influencing the child to reject the other parent.

This can be conscious or sub-conscious and may be motivated by the urge to punish the other parent for behaviour that they believe resulted in the breakdown of the relationship.    However, ultimately the negative impact on the child, often not recognised by the parent with care, and the child becomes the victim of this behaviour.

Karen Woodall Psychotherapist, Writer, Trainer, Researcher says:

“I believe that we are at the point at which the harm which is caused to children who suffer induced psychological splitting after divorce or family separation, is beginning to be universally recognised. In my work in the courts, with social workers and with adults who were alienated as children all around the world, I see the evidence, that the dynamics which cause children harm, are increasingly recognised. The campaign ‘noise’ around this issue, which is created in a deliberate attempt to normalise behaviours which are harming children, is silenced when we understand that the racket which is being made about the label parental alienation, emanates from those who use primitive defences in everyday life. When we understand that noise as a projection, we understand the intent and the underlying motives and by not engaging with that, we see it fall away.”

It is recognised that delays in accessing family courts to agree contact can have the unintended consequences of planting the seeds of alienation. It is important that all those who work with families are sufficiently trained to recognise the signs early to safeguard children and that includes Judges, Solicitors, Social Workers, Health Visitors, Counsellors, Mediators and other Voluntary and Community Sector family Services.

It is of the utmost importance that separating parents access education on child development and early intervention family support services such as family mediation to facilitate initial agreement on co-parenting plans.

Though Family Mediation parents can communicate in a safe space to negotiate and agree a co-parenting plan which puts their children’s needs at the centre, find out more here.

Parental Alienation statistics

200 children a day lose contact with a parent in family court. That is 1 in 3 children never seeing their alienated parent again after divorce and separation.

1 million grandparents in the UK are denied access to their grandchildren’. (MOJ/GB Stats 2021, please note no information is collected in Northern Ireland)

Other reading

  • Karen Woodall’s blog
  • ‘Divorce Poison’, Daniel Penz & Dr Richard. A. Warshak et al
  • ‘Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome’, Amy J.L Baker

*Not to be confused with Parental Alienation Syndrome which relates to the behaviour of the child, Parental Alienation focuses on the adult’s behaviour.