As an attempt to understand the motivation behind an alienating parent’s behavior, the alienating parent’s mental health issues are often advanced as an explanation (Barlow, 2010). Gardner (1998) categorized alienating parents into mild, moderate, and severe alienators. In the mild category, parents were described as psychologically healthy and invested in their children, but might try to program children when angry. In the moderate category, parents were described as having some psychopathology, and the motivation for alienation was viewed in terms of financial motivation. In the severe category, Gardner (1998) described parents as having severe psychopathology, and as being narrow minded and even violent in their alienation.
Alienating parents often report believing that what they are doing is in the best interests of their child, and the disconnect between this belief and the reality of the damage done to the child supports the idea that alienating parents may struggle in certain areas of mental functioning (e.g., cognitive distortions).