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Parental alienation is a form of child abuse -- although many people don't think of it as such. Certainly, the parents who participate in the type of mental and emotional manipulation that drives a wedge between their children and their children's other parents likely don't see themselves as abusive -- but that's exactly what they are.

Anyone who lets their anger at a failed marriage and failed spouse control them -- and then weaponizes the affections of their children against that failed spouse is an abusive parent. The children often grow up with long-term effects that include depression, substance abuse, problems bonding, intense feelings of distrust and suicidal ideations. Once they realize that they've been "played" by one parent against the other, those children may feel deeply guilty about rejecting the other parent.

What are the warning signs of parental alienation?

  • The child develops a reluctance to visit the noncustodial parent despite always having a warm relationship and a generally good experience with that parent.
  • Without good cause, the child sees one parent as "all good" and the other as "all bad."
  • The child begins to echo negative sentiments about one parent that sound like something the other parent would actually say.
  • The tone or language the child uses when describing the alienated parent is above the child's age and intellectual level.
  • The child fixates on one or two small "bad" experiences with the targeted parent and elaborates on them or blows them out of proportion to others.
  • The child becomes disrespectful, hostile and full of contempt toward one parent without any good cause.

It's important not to try to fight "fire with fire" in these situations -- because that will only reinforce the idea that you're the "bad" parent. There are ways to overcome parental alienation, but it generally requires counseling, mediation and -- quite possibly -- a custody modification.

If your child is being emotionally abused by your ex-spouse and you're the victim of parental alienation, find out more about what you can do to intervene.

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