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The parent-child relationship is one of the strongest human bonds and it is totally heartbreaking when a parent and a child are no longer in contact. Two reasons for this can be parental alienation or estrangement. Two sides of the same coin. Both involve grief, regret, torment, and heartbreaking separation, but are also different as I shall try to explain below.
In the Journal of Forensic Science, the difference between parental alienation and realistic estrangement was defined this way: Parental alienation is the rejection of a parent without legitimate justification and realistic estrangement is the rejection of a parent for a good reason.
Parental alienation: When the relationship was previously loving, and in the absence of emotional or physical abuse, parental alienation is seldom initiated by the child. This pathological behaviour is born of a false or illogical belief fostered by the alienating parent, out of hatred, fear, envy, or disrespect, usually during and after a high conflict divorce, though alienation behaviours might have started while the parents were living together under the same roof. The alienating parent will use the child as a weapon by undermining their previously happy, loving relationship with the mentally healthy parent. With parental alienation, the child treats the parents as good and bad, right and wrong. They take on the alienating parent’s beliefs, justifications, fears, anger, language … they become loyal defenders of the ‘good’ parent because that parent has worked on them. Some liken it to a cult leader and their followers, or to brainwashing. The child aligns with the aggressor (please see my post on this).
Estrangement: Although this is also traumatic and heartbreaking, it is different to parental alienation. It doesn’t stem from the other parent doing all they can to destroy the parent/child loving relationship, but instead from the child’s independent-minded decision. The child puts up a boundary to prevent unwanted behaviour from his/her parent. This can include a great many things, including family conflict, disparaging behaviour, disagreements over life choices, violence, and abusive language .. … It is sadly fairly common for a parent who is estranged from his/her children to blame the other parent of parental alienation. It is easier to blame others than to take on any blame and responsibility themselves. The parent’s behaviour could be driving a child away, but their lawyer blames it on alienation. This is a travesty of justice, and courts must be more aware of these false accusations. It is important to evidence everything.
Whether you are going through estrangement or parental alienation, it is essential to get the emotional support you need. If you are reunited with your child, you can also try family counselling to help repair the relationship. I advocate Conscious Parenting. Whatever you choose, never hesitate to reach out for help. If the reconnection isn’t yet happening, or it’s been a long time since you’ve experienced separation, make sure you are looking after yourself, to get beyond grief and rage, and try to accept the situation, best you can. You deserve to be happy.