Saturday, February 6, 2010

Is Parental Alienation a Form of Trauma?

If you have gone through any type of trauma in your life you know it can leave you bewildered for an extended amount of time. The effect trauma has on an individual varies but most often the traumatic ramification will be apparent in everyday activities and relationships. International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies states "The impact of trauma has an effect on relationships and often the trauma extends past the individual and interferes with their important family, friends, or work relationships." Many individuals are still trapped within the trauma and it hinders their ability to live a healthy life. The question we ask here is Parental Alienation a form of trauma? What is "Parental Alienation" and what is "trauma"?

Parental Alienation- Is when a child expresses an intense unwarranted anger and hatred for one of their parents. Generally this happens as a result of a divorce or separation in which one parent influences a child with negative comments about the other parent, such as lack of warmth and love. The parent will have the child align with their emotion and anger towards the rejected parent. There are two fundamental structures describing alienating behaviors, direct and indirect. Direct alienating behaviors occur when one parent actively undermines the other parent, such as making derogatory remarks about the other parent or telling the child that the other parent is responsible for the separation or the cause of financial difficulties. Indirect alienation behaviors occur when one parent fails to support access or contact with the other parent, or tacitly accepts the child's negative behavior and comments towards the other parent.

Trauma- Is the Greek word for "wound" (and for "damage or defeat") Trauma has a definition for both a medical and psychiatric occurrences. Medically, the definition refers to any serious bodily injury or shock. In a psychiatric setting the definition has an alternative meaning. "Trauma" in this regard is an experience that is emotionally painful, distressful, or shocking and which may result in lasting mental and physical effects.

Psychiatric Trauma is a natural response to an agonizing event. It entails the creation of emotional memories about the extreme event that are stored in structures deep within the brain. In general, it is believed that the more direct the exposure to the traumatic event, the higher the risk for emotional harm.

Parental alienation has effects on both the children and rejected parents. As parental alienation progresses the bond becomes severed and the child becomes overburdened with negative emotions. The parent becomes traumatized by the actions of the child and the other parent. Some of the emotions are loss, grief, anger, guilt, rage, regret, confusion, fearfulness, shame and hopelessness just to name a few. Children are likely to feel these same emotions with an increased amount of confusion. A number of these children will lose their ability to form independent thinking skills. Frequently the rejected parent is in a state of shock because of the once warm bond they had with the children becomes shattered. The breakdown of compassionate communication turns into the child parroting words of hatred. The child's new extreme actions of rage make the wounds deep and painful.

Children that are conditioned to hate their other parent are more likely to have long lasting effects of emotional damage. With the belief that the more exposure to the traumatic events or lies the greater the risk for emotional harm. It is painful for a child's memory process to be robbed of the love of the other parent. Sometimes years go by before there is a correlation between the truth and the destructive fantasy realm that they were lead to believe. In cases where the child becomes aware of the truth and remembers the real memories they begin to live a new traumatic event. They now have to deal with what they have done and why this took place in their life. The new emotion of betrayal becomes apparent in their life and the focus on what has been done to them plays a vital role of who they have become.

The trauma that occurs in children may be suppressed because of their own behaviors or avoid the rejected parent altogether. Traumatized children often relive the painful emotions repeatedly in their lifetime when the trauma has occurred from a parent or caregiver. Furthermore this theory goes into further details about the parenting style they have learned from their dysfunctional parent. Children who later on become parents that have had trouble relationships or attachment issues with their own parents will be vulnerable to having complications raising their own children. Parents that have lived through the trauma of Parental Alienation as a child will avoid actuality of their own emotions which may become troublesome in acknowledging their own child's emotional state.

A website named included in the effects that individuals experience when dealing with traumatic events in their life. .

Symptoms of Emotional Trauma

Eating disturbances (more or less than usual)
Sleep disturbances (more or less than usual)
Sexual dysfunction
Low energy
Chronic, unexplained pain

Depression, spontaneous crying, despair and hopelessness
Panic attacks
Compulsive and obsessive behaviors
Feeling out of control
Irritability, angry and resentment
Emotional numbness
Withdrawal from normal routine and relationships

Memory lapses, especially about the trauma
Difficulty making decisions
Decreased ability to concentrate
Feeling distracted
ADHD symptoms

Possible Effects of Trauma.

Common personal and behavioral effects of emotional trauma:
substance abuse
compulsive behavior patterns
self-destructive and impulsive behavior
uncontrollable reactive thoughts
inability to make healthy professional or lifestyle choices
dissociative symptoms ("splitting off" parts of the self)
feelings of ineffectiveness, shame, despair, hopelessness
feeling permanently damaged
a loss of previously sustained beliefs

Common effects of emotional trauma on interpersonal relationships:
inability to maintain close relationships or choose appropriate friends and mates
sexual problems
arguments with family members, employers or co-workers
social withdrawal
feeling constantly threatened

In conclusion looking at the connections between the two terms and the emotional effects that occur in parental alienation there is a parallelism and should be studied further. There is enough evidence and similarities to justify the statement that parental alienation is a form of psychological trauma for the child. The definitions of trauma and parental alienation as well as their long-term effects, left untreated, can lead to other medical and physical apparitions in the course of the affected person's lifetime. While looking at the complex components of Parental Alienation, the concept of trauma should be introduced as an important element in similar treatment for health and recovery.


1. Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents

Alexandra Cook, Joseph Spinazzola, Julian Ford, Cheryl Lanktree, et al. Psychiatric Annals. Thorofare: May 2005. Vol.35, Iss. 5; pg. 390

2. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

3. Help Healing Emotional and Psychological Trauma

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