But, mere psychological distress is not the same as psychological damage, which comes later in the child’s life and can be exacerbated by the legal system.
In the area of development of realistic self-concept and self-esteem, alienated children can develop several kinds of problems. These children are often overvalued in ways that are detrimental and are undervalued in ways that would be helpful to them. Because their symptoms have strong emotional appeal and thus become a valuable part of the legal evidence, they become the object of intense, nurturing attention, often under the guise of empathizing with the child. Their symptoms are discussed repeatedly with the child, and are blamed on the behavior of the alienated parent. Psychological symptoms thus can sometimes become a perversely valued part of the child”s identity. Because other equally or more important aspects of the child”s experience are less valued and receive less empathic or sympathetic response, the child must use the acceptable symptoms to engage necessary and life-sustaining attention from others. Attempts to engage around interests or concerns that do not parallel the interests of the adults are unsuccessful. Sometimes, especially if the accusation used to justify alienation is child abuse, the alienating parent and allies that parent gathers will assert that the child has been permanently and irreversibly damaged. Such a prediction ensures that the child”s self-concept will be damaged and ignores both important conflicting research as well as information that can be gained directly from the child.