The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

Effects of parental alienation include low self-esteem and self-hatred – Ingrid Vassallo

Jeremy Micallef Wednesday, 15 May 2019, 13:14 Last update: about 4 years ago

With an already broken family court system, parent alienation is another burden by which children are being negatively impacted, and sometimes even manipulated against one parent or the other. Jeremy Micallef speaks with Service Manager for Court Services & SAV Service Ingrid Vassallo on parent alienation and its inclusion in the WHO’s ICD11 (International Classification of Diseases).

What is Parent Alienation?

Parental alienation is mostly common in the context of child-custody disputes and its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a loving parent, a campaign that has no justification.

It results from a combination of brainwashing by the parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the targeted parent. This is not related to cases where true parental abuse and/or neglect are present and a child’s animosity is justified.


It is often defined as a mental condition in which a child – usually one whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict separation/divorce – allies himself or herself strongly with one parent (the preferred parent) and rejects a relationship with the other parent (the alienated parent) without legitimate justification.

This process leads to a tragic outcome when the child and the alienated parent, who previously enjoyed a loving and mutually satisfying relationship, lose the nurture and serenity of that relationship for a long time and at times even a lifetime.

The child’s maladaptive behaviour which is often manifested in the child’s refusal to see one of the parents, is driven by the false belief that the alienated parent is a dangerous or unworthy person.

Parental alienation involves a set of strategies, including badmouthing the other parent, limiting contact with that parent, erasing the other parent from the life and mind of the child such as by forbidding discussion and pictures of the other parent, forcing the child to reject the other parent, creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous, forcing the child to choose between the parents by means of threats of withdrawal of affection, and belittling and limiting contact with the extended family of the targeted parent.

There is now scholarly consensus that severe alienation is abusive to children.

Who tends to suffer in cases where this goes on?

All parties involved tend to suffer to some degree with children being the most affected.

The severe effects of parental alienation on children include low self-esteem and self-hatred, lack of trust, depression and substance abuse and other forms of addiction are widespread as children lose their capacity to give and accept love from a parent.

Self-hatred is particularly disturbing for children as they internalize the hatred targeted towards the alienated parent, and are led to believe that this parent did not love them or want them, and experience severe guilt related to betraying the alienated parent.

These children feel split between wanting to connect with the alienated parent and yet having to hate them to feel safe around the other parent. Their depression is rooted in feelings of being unloved by one of their parents, and from separation from that parent, while being denied the opportunity to mourn the loss of that parent or to even talk about them.

Alienated children also tend to have conflicted or distant relationships with the alienating parent and are at high risk of becoming alienated from their own children too.

Research also shows that alienating parents tend to be at risk of mental health and show traits of personality disorders while the rejecting parents also tend to suffer from mental health suffered during this process of constant battles.


Why is the World Health Organisation only just now talking about including it into the ICD11? Is this because it is a new area of research?

Parental alienation is a relatively new coined concept which has emerged in research in the 1980s.

Although the existence of parental alienation has probably always existed, it could have easily been termed under other mental and behavioural issues. Furthermore, given that the numbers of separations and divorce are on the increase locally, the incidence of parental alienation might be more observed and visible.


The inclusion of parent alienation is facing resistance from a number of groups. They say the concept is based off of faulty methods or pseudo-science. Why do you think they say so?

Like every other new emerging trend, adapting to change brings about resistance and this might also be the case with parental alienation, whereby this might give rise to various ways of interpretation.

However, research carried out globally has increasingly and consistently pointed out to the presence of parental alienation in some complex cases of marital disputes and highlighting the adverse effects it has particularly on children.


Considering that Parent Alienation is not yet in the ICD11, is some form of it taken into consideration when examining cases?

Research has highlighted a number of indicators in the assessment and evaluation of parental alienation cases and these are taken into consideration during assessment and intervention of these cases.

Did you find yourself coming across any cases of it? Without breaching confidentiality, could you describe what these cases are like?

From the outside, such families could easily be identified by experienced and trained professionals as one key feature that stands out is the physical and emotional split that is visible when working with such cases.

Usually there is the presence of a polarity between the good parent usually the alienating parent, and the bad parent which is usually referred to as the rejected parent.

There are various other characteristics that one would observe such as badmouthing about the rejected parent, refusal or resistance of contact with the ‘rejected’ parent, and a breakdown in the relationship with one parent which previously was experienced as healthy and loving for the child.

Are there other areas that you feel are overlooked, and need further investigation or attention in this area?

Every child has a fundamental right and need for an unthreatened and loving relationship with both parents. To be denied that right by one parent, without sufficient justification such as abuse or neglect, is itself a form of child abuse.

Children who have been violated by a parent’s alienating behaviours are highly subjected to post-traumatic stress. Research has shown that many alienated children can transform quickly from refusing or staunchly resisting the rejected parent to being able to show and receive love from that parent.

Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to the vast majority of children, it has to be taught. A parent who would teach a child to hate or fear the other parent represents a serious and persistent danger to the psychological wellbeing of that child.

Alienated children are no less damaged than other child victims of extreme conflict whereby they are likely to identify with their abusers to avoid pain and maintain a relationship with them, however abusive that relationship may be.

Thus, acknowledging that parental alienation is another form of child abuse and poses serious risks to mental and emotional well-being of children is paramount.

This calls for a more comprehensive and holistic collaboration between all entities to prevent the onset of parental alienation as early as possible in cases of marital disputes.

For further info or support contact on [email protected] or make contact on 22959000.


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