I had never heard of the term “parental alienation” until several weeks ago, and now I’ve seen it referenced in the news twice over the last month. The latest AP article “Psychiatric experts assess parental alienation” discusses the debate over whether or not the mental disorder should be formally classified in the revised edition of the American Psychiatric Association‘s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I especially appreciate the definition given for this syndrome in the article:
Parental Alienation: a mental condition in which a child, usually one whose parents are engaged in a high conflict divorce, allies himself or herself strongly with one parent, and rejects a relationship with the other parent, without legitimate justification.
I’m certain of the existence of parental alienation as a defensive maneuver employed by those hurt in a bitter divorce, whether used with malicious intent or not. As an adult it’s easy to recognize, but as a scared and confused child it is nearly impossible to withstand the pressure to support one parent over the other in an atmosphere of turmoil and open hostility.
Whether parental alienation is recognized as a true mental disorder or not is insignificant in my opinion. Regardless, it is a serious condition that negatively affects children and adults alike as it destroys family relationships. Rather than definitively categorize it, I think it is much more important to be aware of this sinister force and focus on repairing the damage caused by it.