Parental & sibling alienation

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.


24 Dec, 2016

4 thoughts on “Parental & sibling alienation

  1. It’s very sad when a parent chooses to behave like this, instead of dealing with their problems with their partner or spouse. I agree it is a form of abuse.

    Thankfully my parents, were too busy trying the make ends meet to behave like this towards me or my siblings; but I do recognise this in the way some parents treat their children.

    1. Thank you, yes I have seen first hand what happens to children and the targeted parent when this happens.

      Not only is this a form of abuse, but it is totally unnecessary. If we have a problem, with our spouse, we need to come forward and say what the problem is, rather than use children as a scapegoat to get back at our spouse.

      The sad reality is that children do become embroiled in their parents’ battles, where a child is continually targeted and replaces the other parent. Although this clearly goes on in families today, it actually dates back 20 years, brought about through child custody disputes.

      It really is a shame is not more recognised or that it’s a form of child abuse. It’s also not fair on the targeted parent, as they’re also exposed to abuse, through the act of being a target, brought about through their spouse.

  2. My father told me his secret, that he was not the father to my older sister. My mother and sister treated me badly, more my mother.

    I have kept myself away from my family for the longest time. I have one other sister and two brothers that don’t understand why I have been distant.

    My mom would not feed me, clothe me, and would not wash the only clothes I had and did not do my hair. The kids at school were mean, calling me names, and my mom use to beat me all the time for nothing.

    I thinking I look just like my dad. My sister was so mean to me and I did not know why, but I emailed her today and I told her that she might want to find out who her dad was, not really knowing whether it was true or not.

    But who tells someone something like that without it being true. She got really mad, because I brought the subject up again. I think to clear my thoughts everyday and to be able to function in the public as an adult, I needed the answers.

    It is true, which is no problem but the entire extended family knew except my siblings, that looks like me. She does not look like us. All my siblings that look like me got upset, and started emailing me about what is wrong with me when it was not their monkey to get involved.

    I was thinking did I do the right thing by them to get the answers? I know I did not do the right thing in the way I sent it. But I had to clear my mind of this past information, that was running my life for the last 30 years.

  3. Hi Leticiea and welcome to the site. I think you did the only thing you could do. With the information you had been given, it wasn’t your information to keep, but to pass on.

    However you passed on that information, you would always look to question how you passed that information on. Your father should never have given you that kind of responsibility. That said, the life we come into, is the life we must deal with.

    It begs the question why we would choose the life we come into. I think it does make us stronger. Your issues are not for you to carry. It’s clear where those issues belong.

    It is good that you have chosen to distance yourself. Perhaps now you can start to build a life around the things that you want to do.

    It is up to your family to sort their own lives out. You are not responsible for them.

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