Parental Alienation is a detrimental behavior pattern that when perpetrated by one parent drives a child away from the other parent. According to J. Michael Bone and Michael R. Walsh there are four major indicators for recognizing parental alienation. They include blocking access, false abuse allegations, relationship deterioration, and child’s fear reaction. This article will focus on the final attribute, child’s intense fear reaction. Click the links above to read about the other conditions.
In Bone and Walsh’s article published in the Florida Bar Journal, intense fear reaction is the dread that a child feels when “displeasing or disagreeing with the potentially alienating parent in regard to the absent or potential target parent.” They go on to say that the alienating parent takes on a “My way or the highway” attitude. This would certainly be terrifying for a child. At its core, these behaviors are forcing a child to choose between parents.
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It may be difficult to understand how one parent can effect such a fear reaction in a child unless one remembers the essential human need for connection. The child begins to see the non-custodial parent as having abandoned him and surmises that if he disappoints the custodial parent, he or she will also leave. Under these circumstances one can imagine how a child learns to employ survival strategies to keep the peace and avoid paying the ultimate price, being alone.
In many cases, coping strategies of a child of parental alienation reach extreme levels as it becomes “easier if they begin to internalize the alienating parent’s perceptions of the absent parent . . .and [join] the alienating parent” in open attacks. The child feels this is the way to ensure the parent will stay with him. This change makes survival possible and much preferable to the perceived abandonment.
The tragedy of parental alienation can occur anywhere. Living in Delray or West Palm Beaches does not shield a family who endures its destructive forces. Recognizing any one of Bone and Walsh’s four behaviors, let alone all four, could lead to a professional evaluation. This could bring with it the help needed to change the long term outcome for hurting family members.