Two new articles— “Parental Alienating Behaviors: An Unacknowledged Form of Family Violence” (Harman, Kruk, & Hines, 2018), appearing in Psychological Bulletin, and “Parental Alienation as a Form of Emotional Child Abuse: Current State of Knowledge and Future Directions for Research” (Kruk, 2018), appearing in the Family Science Review—have sought to shed light on the latest research pertaining to parental alienation as child abuse and family violence, and as a form of human emotional aggression.
For violence and abuse to occur, two conditions must be met: there must be a significant human injury; and it must be the result of human action. Parental alienation fits that definition in relation to both child and partner abuse. Two elements that are central to parental alienation as a form of emotional human aggression and abuse are the behaviors of the perpetrator and the effects of these behaviors on victims.
The articles describe the core elements of parental alienation as a form of child abuse and family violence, and a specific, complex form of hostile (thoughtless and unplanned) and instrumental (premeditated and intended to harm) human aggression. Parental alienation is manifested through a child’s reluctance or refusal to have a relationship with a parent for illogical, untrue or exaggerated reasons. It is the result of one parent engaging in the long-term use of a variety of aggressive behaviors that harm, damage and destroy the relationship between a child and the other parent. Here, target parent is demonized and undermined as a parent worthy of the child’s love and attention.
Parental alienating behaviors lie on a continuum from mild and subtle forms of badmouthing to more severe forms of aggression and coercive control that can result in the child’s complete rejection and refusal of contact with the target parent. They also span the range from isolated events to an ongoing pattern of abuse aimed at the target parent. There are no gender differences in regard to who is the perpetrator and who is the target of parental alienation. Custodial status, however, is a strong predictor of who is likely to alienate a child from a parent. Custody and legal possession of a child are fertile ground for abusive parents to act at will against the target parent, and witnessing such acts of violence by children constitute a serious form…
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