- This blog “the alienation experience” is to serve and promote interest in an off-putting pattern of relationships that happens in families and other close non-family groups of people.
- We want to engage you if you are put off this topic. Read more on Not sure about?.
- We want to support and broaden your range of thinking if you are already persuaded.
- We welcome world-wide interest which we hope will particularly benefit us in the UK as we try to get our act together better.
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Where the blog began
This blog started as a virtual version of the presentations and discussions at a conference held on 25th Oct 2014 in London on Parental Alienation. Presenters and audience there were multi-disciplinary and included those affected. Click ‘London 2014’ in the menu to retrieve all of the posts about it. Here’s a brief report of the whole day. The organisers were mainly systemic family therapists – AFT London (AFT is the Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice in the UK), working with the SSoPA group (Systemic Study or Parental Alienation). Systemic means that all relevant views and people are sought out or imagined.
What the blog is about
In the title of the blog, the word ‘alienation’ is chosen – even though it is itself rather off-putting – because it is widely used for this pattern and so it cannot be avoided. The use of ‘the’ means the pattern is real, difficult, and can be seriously harmful. And the word ‘experience’ opens up a wider range of contexts to apply and adapt our thinking to (e.g. family courts and high conflict separations, family life in general, society, other situations like cults, and to therapy). ‘Experience’ refers both to the experience of families affected, and to the experience of professionals who help. Peter Marsden-Allen came up with the idea of the more subjective phrase ‘alienation experience’ as some people struggle with the more concrete term: ‘Parental Alienation’.
Alienation has many common meanings. For all meanings, the implication is that alienation is not a good thing, that it is something to prevent or repair. This blog arose from the more specific pattern where: One person actively turns another person against a third person in a lasting way when there is no good reason for it – that is, where there had been and could be a good and safe relationship with that third person. Note that the alienation – the being turned away from – happens to the middle person, typically a child in a family. However upset the other parties are in their plight, the favoured and rejected parents, it is the child in the middle who should be everyone’s primary concern.
So the most severe and harmful form of the pattern is more accurately called Child Alienation. Another descriptive name for the to-be-further-diagnosed category of problems is: Children Who Resist Post-Separation Contact with a Parent. But the original name Parental Alienation has stuck and so we have to use it too – sometimes with ‘Syndrome’ added – if only to Google it. This form is typically found in high dispute family separations and family courts. The pure form is distinct and rarer than the stereotyped picture of both sides engaged in more equal conflict. It used to be said that of the 1 in 10 separations that came to family law and courts, 1 in 10 of those were Parental Alienation. Greater awareness if not greater actual numbers of cases means this is likely to be under-estimated.
Parental Alienation /Syndrome in a nutshell
In her overview, Amy Baker gives a standard evidence-based view of Parental Alienation: The Alienating Parent typically uses 17 strategies to turn their child against the Targeted Parent. These strategies fall into 5 groups: (1) poisonous messages; (2) limiting contact and communication; (3) reshaping the heart and mind of the child; (4) getting the child to betray trust; and (5) undermining the other parent’s authority.
Where a child is not able to resist this pressure, the 8 behavioural features of the PA Syndrome result: (1) a campaign of denigration of the other parent (2) weak, frivolous, or absurd reasons for their rejection; (3) lack of ambivalence towards both parents – one is viewed as all good and the other as all bad; (4) lack of remorse for this treatment of the other parent; (5) reflexive support for the favored parent; (6) use of borrowed scenarios and phrases; (7) the ‘independent thinker’ phenomenon; and (8) spread of animosity towards the friends and family of the targeted parent.
In this blog, we encourage the use of capital letters e.g. “Alienation” to refer to the more serious end of the spectrum. Non-capitalised “alienation” is for other less specific contexts. Read more here: Not sure about?.
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How to contribute
Thoughtful posts – comments and articles for “the alienation experience” – are welcome from anyone. But we will especially welcome thinking that is relevant to and helps us develop in a UK context. All first contributions will be moderated before being published.
The blog is managed and edited by: Nick Child with help from London conference colleagues and others. The guiding principles for this blog can be found in the Contact us page. But you can also contact us here or just leave a Reply anywhere: