The Eight Symptoms of Parental Alienation

The Eight Symptoms of Parental Alienation

Written by J. Michael Bone, PhD.

The first symptom of Parental Alienation is the “Campaign of Denigration”. This refers to the child’s view of the “hated” parent. It is important to understand that this is composed of two components.

First, the campaign of denigration refers to the one being waged by the accusing parent in his or her indoctrination to the child. The other component is the child’s own contribution towards this denigration.

This second part is critical and is the actual symptom seen within the child. Without it, the child is not truly alienated, and with it the indoctrinating parent can “sit back” and let the child be the voice of criticism of the Target Parent.

This second component – its expression from the child – is what makes this process so baffling and intimidating to those trying to help.

Often the child is the primary voice of the criticism, and the indoctrinating parent often appears surprised at what the child is saying, obviously disavowing any contribution to it. But how is such a thing possible? How is it that a loving child could suddenly begin to accuse a once loved parent in such compelling and hated terms?

In order to answer this, one must consider what happens psychologically to a child when their parents separate and divorce. Assuming both parents had a loving relationship with the child, and assuming that neither parent was abusive, what happens when divorce occurs is that the child is forced into a situation where he or she is with one parent or the other, but no longer with both at the same time.

Consequently, when they are with parent A, they are in some way dealing with the loss of parent B. When each parent promotes and encourages the child’s relationship with the other parent, the parentally responsible position, then the grief over the loss of the absent parent is mitigated significantly. If however, when the child is with parent A, and when with this parent, expresses negative and critical things about the absent parent, the child is placed in a serious divided loyalty conflict wherein if he or she must choose. If the child openly expresses love for the absent and targeted parent, this child’s expression of that love flies in the face of what they are being told by the parent with whom they reside. In other words, if they express love for the absent parent they are betraying the parent with whom they live.

After this condition persists for a time, the child’s confusion and turmoil increases to the point where they “cross over” to the side of the Alienating Parent.

It is at this point that the child, in the absence of the Target Parent, tends to repress his or loving feelings for that absent parent in order to resolve the inner turmoil. This is what I refer to as the “threshold point “when the child begins to become alienated and begins to actually contribute to the campaign of denigration. The Alienating Parent then typically takes a more protective stance and points to the child’s fears as his or her only concern.

The campaign of denigration then refers to the child’s criticisms of the targeted parent. It is the result of the influence of the other parent’s coaching, and disapproval of the targeted parent.

We must recall than when alienation is not present, it is very difficult to get a child to be critical of either parent. In the normal course of divorce when parental alienation is not present, the child will do anything to stay out of the middle. Therefore, this campaign of denigration is fundamentally unnatural. With all of this in mind, I would be interested in comments about your experiences with this phenomenon.  Read more about each symptom in the Eight Symptoms of Parental Alienation blog series; 

Parental Alienation Education for Attorneys

Effective litigation can change the face of Parental Alienation. The National Association of Parental Alienation Specialists, of which I am Co-Founder, has launched a new online workshop – “Litigating Family Law Cases with Parental Alienation” – please help us to spread the word about this FL Bar approved workshop by sharing this link with your attorney, and others specializing in Family Law. 


.J. Michael Bone, PhD. is an experienced consultant for cases involving Parental Alienation and has spent over 25 years working with high conflict divorce as a therapist, expert witness, mediator, evaluator and consultant, both nationally and internationally. Additionally, he is co-founder of the National Association of Parental Alienation Specialists. His practice is located in Winter Park, Florida.

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