Berger and Wyse’s custardy-battle cartoon is an exception that proves the rule. There is no room for humour in the distress and tribal warfare of high conflict family separations
Parental separation is now shown to be worse for children than is parental death (Otowa, 2014) and parental alienation to be a real and epidemic pattern that affects society as a
whole, not just individuals, couples and families (Harman & Biringen 2016). No one woul
d choose this if they could avoid it. Nor is it fun for workers who ride the wild waters of family separation to help the families. Life jackets are essential.
This overview is an invitation to learn about a neglected but important field. The first half is an introduction with case examples. The second half summarises essential general points and issues, a life jacket to keep afloat. I start with the benefits of describing a spectrum over defining a syndrome, and end with how changing court practice might make the
biggest difference. The mismatch of our legal systems with our fast-changing society is as much a cause of high-conflict as the families are (Geldof, 2003).
Engaging with alienation
The word alienation by itself tends to alienate people. If we add capital letters,
plus the pointed word parental in front of it,and the static word syndrome after
it, it becomes Parental Alienation Syndrome (Gardner 1985). For sensitive Britis hprofessionals this foreign label may cause severe allergic reactions. I was only
Social psychologists have shown how socially engrained stereotypes help explain major mi
stakes like that (Harman & Biringen 2016 & TED talk https://youtu.be/v3YdldNXZnQ
). It also helps to realise that Parental Alienation is just one of many harmful coercive and controlling family and non-family relationship patterns, all of which use similar kinds of undue influence. Undue influence includes: cults, terrorism, confidence-trickery as
well as domestic abuse and child abuse (Child 2016; OpenMindsFoundation.org).
A fair reason to avoid an off-putting term like alienation’ is to cut down any more alienation. But that is to forget that labels have various purposes that we use in a discriminating way. And anyway off-put ting things often have off-putting
names. For example, apart from being quicker, note that child abduction by a parent may
be no different in outcome to child alienation, yet the negative term ‘abduction’ has no detractors. If we routinely bracketed the two terms together–Parental Child Abduction and Alienation–that would trigger the best framework for thinking about Alienation on its own
(Child, 2015; Faulkner, 1999). See footnotes for more on diagnosis and labels.