The end of a relationship is one of the hardest things we will ever experience. When children are involved that makes things even more complicated. We are hurting, often angry, scared and uncertain about the future. When that separation is messy or painful, it is common for one or both parties to fear that their former partner is going to turn the child or children against them.
In all the years that I have been practising couples counselling, I could count on one hand the number of couples who understand that their relationship is, and must be, separate from their individual relationships with the children. No matter how painful the separation, no matter how angry, using the children as leverage against the other parent – is not just mean, it has serious consequences for that child or children. Of course, this does not, and should not, apply if there is a risk of harm or exposure to violence, drugs, alcoholism or abuse.
Parental alienation is a situation where one parent uses strategies such as brainwashing, alienating or programming to distance a child or children from the other parent. It is important to understand that separating from your partner – does not make them a bad parent. The consequences of such actions have serious short and long term effects on children.
In the short term, the child may often feel trapped in the centre of the conflict. They can feel guilty for loving, or missing, the alienated parent. Feelings of anger, rejection and disconnection are not unusual. As such, that child can develop negative psychological effects such as depression and anxiety.
Some of the more common symptoms during childhood and adolescence of parental alienation include:
- Impulse Control Problems;
- Decreased academic performance;
- Low Self Confidence and Self-Esteem;
- Problems in personal and social relationships;
- Identity and image disorders;
- Personality disorders;
- Sexual promiscuity;
- Substance abuse;
- Suicidal ideation.
And that’s before we even reach adulthood! All of the above issues can continue into adulthood hindering the establishment and consolidation of partner relationships and so forth.
It is quite possible for children from a broken relationship to grow up psychologically, physically and emotionally stable IF, AND ONLY IF, the conflicting parents are prepared to work through their own issues and co-parent in a harmonious manner. I have seen the effects that dysfunctional, conflicting parents can have on children, adolescence and young adults and it can be horrific.
In closing, if you are responsible enough to bring a child into the world – please be responsible enough to recognise your issues, work through those issues and work in harmony with your child’s other parent. To not do so – in my mind – is one of the most selfish acts you could inflict on your child. I write this, as I read about yet another young adult who has taken his own life due to issues precisely set out in this document.