Parental Alienation vs. Parental Estrangement.Apr 06, 2023
by Ginger Gentile, Coach Reversing Parental Alienation
At times, they may have been deceived, or the other parent may exaggerate minor flaws in the other parent's behavior. I refer to parental alienation as “conditioned love manipulation” since it conveys to a child that they will receive love, assistance, and everything they require only if they refuse the other parent and potentially their entire family. On the other hand, estrangement pertains to a situation where a child chooses to no longer have a relationship with one of their parents. Generally due to valid reasons such as the parent's past involvement in violent behavior, abuse, or neglect towards the family.
People Who Think they are Experiencing Parental Alienation.
I have encountered parents who claim to be alienated from their children, but they haven't made any effort to communicate with them in 10 or 20 years, which is really alienating behavior. I advise these parents that they are no longer alienated, but rather estranged from their children because of their lack of outreach.
There are a few parents who seek my assistance for dealing with their alienation issues, but the truth is that they are actually estranged from their children. Despite this, I continue to support them as I strongly believe that if a parent is mentally and physically well, it is always in the best interests of the child to maintain a connection with them. Children who are estranged from a parent deal with my psychological issues, such as “Daddy issues”, no sense of direction or a skewed moral compass.
The Rise of Alienation.
A growing number of young adults are describing themselves as having a strained relationship with their parents, even though most would be considered to have a very normal family dynamic. They consider typical disagreements between parents and children to be harmful and consequently cease communication with a specific parent without legitimate justification, and are spurred on by support from social media.
This unreasonable concept of what a parent should be or do has led to a spike in cases of alienation. With this flippant attitude towards relationships, the child may eventually find themselves dealing with alienation and estrangement, as they would not have not developed the coping skills required to manage negative feelings. Many adult children are often turning to substance abuse as they too become alienated.
I collaborate closely with parents who are separated and are no longer close with their kids. In certain instances, it's evident and straightforward to understand which camp they fall into. In my experience, approximately 75% of the parents I collaborate with are dealing with genuine parental alienation cases, but that doesn't imply their actions can't contribute to this detrimental situation.
My Experience as an Alienated child
Being a child from a high-conflict divorce, I could only begin to truly heal myself once I reconnected with my father. Building a relationship with him was essential for my recovery. He never sought therapy or tried to improve himself, and frequently instigated conflicts with me. However, being in a relationship with him allowed me to recognize these harmful patterns in myself instead of ignoring them. I could choose not to behave like my father, but this decision would not have been possible without having a relationship with him. My whole life improved and was one of the best decisions I have made as an adult child. As a mental health professional who specializes in parental alienation, my experiences with my father showed me the importance of adult children connecting with their parents. Learning to see their parents for the raw humans they are and learning from them and not just dismissing them.
An Example of The Difference between Parental Estrangement and Alienation.
A mother approached me and expressed that she had a case of parental alienation, and to a certain extent, her claims were valid. The father was obstructing the mother's efforts to maintain a relationship with their adolescent daughter, and was also encouraging the daughter to avoid any contact with her mother. The mother attempted to resolve the matter through legal means, but later decided to withdraw her case.
Once I began collaborating with the mother, she ultimately revealed the truth that she had struggled with alcoholism and during a fit of drunken rage, she physically hit her daughter, creating the expectation of further high conflict situations. This accounted for why her daughter refused to interact with her. I collaborated with the mother who had managed to overcome her addiction and put in significant effort into improving herself.
She acknowledged that expressing a desire to engage in retreats, prayer, and meditation with her daughter, activities she found fulfilling, could be received unfavorably. Because to her daughter, she was the mother who hit her, not the mother who grew.
I assisted my client in improving her bond with her mother by illuminating that it's difficult for her daughter to desire to see her if she refuses to have any contact with her mother.
The woman made excuses, admitting her mother was negative, unpleasant to spend time with and the perpetrator of psychological abuse. I pointed out that her daughter also perceived this quality in her. I advised that she would receive the same treatment that she put out. The mother agreed to work on herself. A few months later, she contacted me to report that she had developed a close relationship with her teenage daughter and was teaching her how to drive.
She abandoned the need to prove and show how much she had healed and how right she was, or even that this definitely was an alienation case. She embraced the hurt that she had caused and found ways to make it right through healing the relationship with her mother.
All situations can be improved. Any parent, regardless of their past actions, can learn valuable skills by demonstrating unwavering love and taking accountability for their mistakes, such as choosing the wrong spouse or subjecting their children to disagreements, and fully accepting responsibility without downplaying it. Additionally, it is crucial to understand the needs of the child.
There is hope for anyone. I have seen too many miracles to think that these are rare cases. I hope you're one of the 1000 parents who I reunite with their children this year.
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