Parental and sibling alienation are more common than we think or understand: it’s a topic that is important if we are to change how ‘the family’ work. Sadly, parental and sibling alienation is very real and has been around for years.
It involves ‘the programming of a child by one parent, who attempts to denigrate, interfere and undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent.’ It also happens with siblings and can result in siblings becoming separated from one other.
It is common in families and relationships. Family dynamics can be such that this kind of behaviour is slowly introduced. Feuding families and mismatched couples may also emulate this type of behaviour.
It usually comes about because of a parent’s inability to separate from the couple’s conflict and they instead choose to focus on the needs of the child. Psychiatrist Richard Gardner developed the concept some 20 years ago, brought about through child custody disputes.
Fidler and Bala (Family Court Review 48, 2010) report both an increasing incidence and increased judicial findings of parental alienation; they also report estimates of parental alienation in 11-15% of divorces involving children; Bernet et al (American Journal of family Therapy, 2010) estimate that about 1% of children and adolescents in North America experience parental alienation.
There is also a scholarly consensus that suggests this type of alienation is abusive to children, but unfortunately it isn’t recognised as a form of abuse. The sad reality is that children do become embroiled in their parents’ battles, and a child can replace the other parent as a target.
Sadly, this will not only have a marked effect on the targeted parent and their other siblings, but on the dynamics of the whole family. Although it is not recognised as a form of abuse, being on the receiving end, it can feel like abuse.