By Amy J.L. Baker, PhD, and Katherine Andre, PhD
Divorce affects one million new children every year. Of these children, approximately 20% of their parents remain in conflict, with little, if any, cooperation (Garrity & Baris, 1994; Kelly, 2005). When children get caught in the middle of parental conflict, they are at risk for many psychosocial problems, including alignment with one parent against the other (e.g., Amato, 1994; Johnston, 1994; Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakeslee, 2001; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1996). Especially problematic is when the alignment becomes so entrenched that children join forces with one parent to completely reject and denigrate the other, once-loved parent (Darnall, 1998; Wallerstein & Kelly 1980; Warshak, 2001).
Parents who encourage such alignments employ parental alienation (PA) strategies designed to turn a child against the other, targeted parent. The alienating parent is often filled with hatred, blame, anger, and shame and lacks awareness of the separate and independent needs of the children to have a relationship with the other parent (Ellis, 2005; Gardner, 1998; Rand, 1997). Through various strategies such as bad-mouthing, limiting contact, belittling, and withdrawing love, the alienating parent creates the impression that the targeted parent is dangerous, unloving, or unworthy, thus compelling the child to reject that parent (Baker, 2007a; Baker & Darnall, 2006). At its most extreme, when a child completely rejects the targeted parent, the result is referred to as severe alienation or parental alienation syndrome (PAS) (Gardner, 1998).