Long term results of parental alienation to the alienated child

By Sharie Stines, Psy.D.
October 7th, 2020
parental alienation

(Source: Dr. Lori Love, Custody Evaluations 101: Allegations and Sensitivities)

What are the long-term effects of parental alienation on the child who has been alienated?
The results are devastating for the alienated child and can last a lifetime. Not only does the child miss out on a lifetime of having an enjoyable and fulfilling relationship with the parent they have been conditioned to reject, they also develop some serious pathological behaviors and attitudes that carry in to their adult lives.

Following are descriptions of some of these disturbing effects:

• Splitting: This is the psychological phenomenon of seeing people as either “all bad” or “all good,” or “black or white.” Everything is polarized and the person has an inability to see shades of gray. Think of the borderline personality disordered person who has to split in order to cope with relationships and life in general. This is not a disorder you want your child to possess and leads to endless problems.

• Difficulties forming and maintaining relationships: Alienated children struggle with developing healthy relationships because they have been conditioned to “get rid of people” whenever they experience a perceived threat. Since most people are flawed, the alienated child would need the skill of knowing how to accept flaws in others in order to maintain the relationship. Skills such as flexibility, acceptance, forgiveness, do not exist when you reject people outright for minor infractions, as alienated children have been trained to do. Whenever someone causes a perceived threat to this person, he/she is triggered to remember, “I know how to handle this,” and they proceed to reject the other person easily. Their mind tells them, “You just hurt my feelings. I’m going to close you out and now you’re done.”

• Lack of ability to tolerate anger or hostility: Alienated children as adults (and as children) have a very low tolerance for any kind of anger or hostility, which are always interpreted by the person as abuse. They have a difficult time when someone is upset with them. Alienated children as adults have a very difficult time owning their part in a problem, taking responsibility, or making amends to others. They actually get panicked or triggered by any type of perceived disapproval. In order to have healthy relationships, a necessary level of tolerance for others’ negative feelings is essential.

• Conflict with authority figures: Because these individuals have learned how to go around an authority figure with a “campaign of denigration,” they will carry this habit into their adult lives. You can see this in the workplace if the alienated child has a boss he/she doesn’t like. He/she will create a crusade against this manager by rallying coworkers against the boss with a smear campaign.

• Unhealthy entitlement to a sense of rage: They have been rewarded for being hostile and angry towards one of their parents, and this rage stays there and can be triggered at any time.
Yes, the psychological damage to a child who is trained by one parent to reject another parent has serious and profound negative effects on that child’s ability to form any type of healthy intimate attachments in adulthood.

Obviously, it is important to interrupt the alienating process during childhood by removing the child from the alienating parent and rewarding the child for attachment-enhancing behaviors toward the rejected parent, before it is too late.

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California (www.lifelinecounselingservices.org). Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach – therecoveryexpert.com

17 Responses to Long term results of parental alienation to the alienated child

  • October 8th, 2020 at 12:18 am Zena Costanzo posted:

    One of the effects on adult survivors of PAS is that when you finally get over it, and it took me decades, is that you are afflicted with a very deep sense of regret and guilt.
    I have suffered and feel a belated mourning for my father who died many years ago. He was actively alienated from me when I was a child, and he was quite helpless to do anything about it.

    • June 13th, 2021 at 12:32 pm Sarah P.Felt posted:


      The grief for an alienated parent was also incredibly complicated in my experience. I tried to keep my mourning quiet after I belatedly found out about my parent’s death,, like I had no right to it, but it was so very intense, for so long.

      • March 11th, 2022 at 4:43 am Zena Costanzo posted:

        I fully get it.

    • December 21st, 2022 at 3:58 am Kay posted:

      Guilt is a waste of time… as an alienated Karen who lives and never sees their child … it is my dearest hope that if anything happens to me my child will not carry guilt when they finally understand. I love my child and this is not something I want from him nor I am sure your father wanted for you

  • December 5th, 2020 at 1:40 pm Jane Appell, Ph.D. posted:

    As a psychologist specializing in high conflict divorce cases, I have worked with a great many families in which parental alienation is part of the picture. When it occurs, it does indeed have a long-term negative impact on children.

    However, we all need to be careful not to buy into the concept of PA as a unitary fixed phenomenon. Divorcing/divorced families with resist/refuse dynamics are not all the same. It is incumbent on professionals to examine all the influences on any given child and family and to help the child and family members develop appropriate coping skills.

    Too often, psychotherapists and others in the family or the legal system perpetuate unidimensional views and polarize the family further. It is easy to label and counter label one parent or the other as an alienation or an abuser. In our professional roles, we can make things worse if we are not careful to understand the full family system. But, we also have the power to make things a lot better if we can help in productive ways and lessen the polarization in which children are caught.

    Even more importantly, we need to encourage divorce resolution processes that lead to earlier resolution of the conflicts inherent in the breakup of the family and thus prevent the family polarization that leads to parental alienation.

    • July 20th, 2021 at 4:05 pm Michael Ellis posted:

      Thank you! That was refreshing to finally hear someone courageously suggest that the family and legal system may not have all the answers. My frustration at routinely being ‘labelled’ and portrayed as the ‘alienator’ has only polarized our family further.. The family legal process is expensive. The pressure to apply academic ‘labels’ is routinely administered to expedite a plan of action, often without a complete understanding of a family’s history or dynamics. Assessment errors, professional biases, and/or incomplete information may cause further damage to an already fragile parent/child reunification process.

    • February 25th, 2022 at 3:02 pm Kris posted:

      It’s also common to dismiss the signs of PAS as a result of parental conflict. During these situations professional don’t stop to ask the question of how the child is being exposed to the conflict. There is also an issue where one parents word and presentation is taken for face value regardless of evidence. This does make the alienation worse and places the rejected parent in position that requires them to please the abusive parent in order to qualify for any time with their child.

      If there are signs of ailenation then they need to be looked into regardless of the presentation of either parent in order to avoid a potentially more damaging family dynamic.

      • April 18th, 2022 at 8:24 am Amy posted:

        EXACTLY! It seems to be made entirely too difficult to find that middle ground by looking into to find out if it’s PA, or not. More time and open mindedness need to be put on the legal professionals & the doctors doing evals. So much assuming & prejudging. Sometimes to find out exactly what is best for the child, may take more time, effort & clear mind for each individual case. Whether these kids end up completely alienated or if they’ve been through the fight of try to stop it, this creates more demons than you realize, when they become young adults. Ver sad. Hopefully things will change.

      • December 11th, 2022 at 4:11 pm Alison Francis posted:

        My ex divorced me 25 years ago and abducted my 8 year old from school. My son was kept from me all these years. The courts back then forced my son into counseling where they kept him from me with restraining orders. It was my ex who betrayed me but didn’t want me to have our son. 25 years later and I still have not been able to talk or see my son. I was told the therapist told my son I wanted nothing to do with him and it was for the best to stay away from me. I cry all the time and hope some day I will see my son again. I knew my son loved me but was forced into a situation where he would be punished if he ever made contact with me. What kind of therapists would do that to a child?? Both of us have been alienated and have paid the price of “medical quacks”.

    • April 22nd, 2022 at 10:19 am Peter James rogers posted:

      Perfectly said

  • March 19th, 2021 at 12:24 am Glenn Griffin posted:

    I am an alienated father. I am now a grandparent but was only informed of this by my present wife after her online sleuthing discovered my grandchild. My ex-wife and mother of my children has successfully eliminated me from the lives of our 4 children. Thank goodness for my present wife who welcomed me to her family and encouraged my relationship with her 2 daughters with whom I now have a great relationship. That helps to fill the hole in my heart left by the loss of my own 4 children. I have chosen to be happy in spite of my (and my children’s) loss.

  • August 22nd, 2021 at 12:01 am David posted:

    Excuse the brevity and the cut and paste, I have chronic fatigue and writing and reading in particular are draining. We need to hold the courts responsible for parental alienation, as it is structural violence, and demand they prosecute malicious parents and provide psychological support for the child and parent

    “Structural violence refers to a form of violence wherein social structures or social institutions harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Although less visible, it is by far the most lethal form of violence, through causing excess deaths—deaths that would not occur in more equal societies. Not only is it the deadliest violence, greater in scope and in implication than any other type of violence, it grows exponentially as unequal power differentials are used to create more unequal structures. Yet, because these limitations are embedded within social structures, people tend to overlook them as nothing more than the ordinary difficulties of life. Examples of structural violence include health, economic, gender, and racial disparities. Derivative forms include cultural, political, symbolic, and everyday violence. Structural violence is also the most potent stimulant of behavioral violence in the form of homicides, suicides, mass murders, and war. It is therefore one of the most critical areas of violence studies to examine in our time. Conceptualizing structural violence can help guide peace research through the consideration of conditions that might add positively to peace, rather than merely aid the cause of peace in the negative way of reducing violence and war.”

  • September 23rd, 2021 at 1:40 pm Margaret Sullivan posted:

    After over two years, I finally had the chance to see my 13 year old son. I recently learned that when his counselor asked him about the visit my son said, “I was happy to know my mother wasn’t dead.”

  • October 11th, 2021 at 9:34 am April Haze posted:

    These same characteristics could be said of children who are traumatised by being made to see their abuser and a lot of court psychologists are using this to insist a parent – usually the mother – is alienating, when in actual fact there are abuse issues with the other parent and where a parent is authoritarian. I am surprised the author of this piece has not offered any other reasons for why a child might demonstrate these same behaviours. Black and white thinking is also more likely the less mature a child is, and can be a sign of autism. A lot of people are diagnosed with personality disorders before it comes to light they are on the autistic spectrum. Therefore the above descriptions are not a diagnosis of a specific occurrence, but a possible indicator that further investigations may be necessary and all possibilities need to be examined without bias else there is a risk of cognitive dissonance and blinkered thinking. This has been shown as an issue in forensic science and criminal court cases. Psychology is not an exact science and therefore needs to be used with care.

    • October 6th, 2022 at 1:03 pm Moodie posted:

      The characteristic of “splitting” is only associated with PA. It has a 99% accuracy rate. abuse does not involve a child hating one parent’s entire side of the family/friends. This is only a characteristic of PA.

  • August 5th, 2022 at 8:35 pm Karen Gennuso posted:

    I am a grandmother being alienated from a grandchild. My son went through a divorce band was granted custody February 2020. I stepped up to the plate to provide care for the two children. I had the care of the two children Sunday evening at 7 pm until Thursday around 7:00 p.m. for almost two years. This year, they are both enrolled in school. My son is now alienating my grandson from me. I hope I can change this for the better.

  • January 18th, 2023 at 6:20 pm Tom posted:

    Does the psychological conditioning of the child always come from one parent, or could it as well be a boyfriend or fiancé or husband that could do this to draw the daughter away from her father?

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