Parental Alienation

Southern England Psychological Services

Part III - Long Term Reaction As A Result of Parental Alienation

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services



There are very few recent studies that are concerned with the long term effects on adults which have been the victims of programming during childhood against one parent. The few studies that exist show the long term damage that occurs when children become the victims of parental alienation.

Part III - Long Term Reaction As A Result of Parental Alienation

There have been relatively few studies, considering the importance of the subject, on the long-term affects of parental alienation on adults. One study by Baker (2005a), indicates that there are at least seven areas where there are likely to be deficits as a result of parental alienation. This information results from a qualitative retrospective study was conducted on 38 adults who had experienced such alienation. The individuals participated in 1 hour semi-structured interviews during which auditory tapes transcribed verbatim. The results was then analysed for primary themes and patterns. Findings pertaining to the long term effects of parental alienation were analysed with results revealing the following: (1) low self esteem, (2) depression, (3) drug/alcohol abuse, (4) lack of trust, (5) alienation from own children, (6) divorce, and (7) other specific responses of a negative nature. These seven were discussed at length with adulot victims and provide a first glimpse into the lives of adult children of parental alienation.

The same author, Baker (2005b), also studied the cult of parenthood using a qualitative study of parental alienation. 40 adults who were alienated from a parent as a child participated in the study about their experiences. A content analysis was again used in the transcript and a comparison was undertaken to identify similarities between the alienating parents and cult leaders. Results revealed that adults whose parents alienated them from their own parent described the alienating parent in much the same way as former cult members described cult leaders. The alienating parents were described as narcissistic and requiring excessive loyalty and devotion especially at the expense of the targeted parent. The alienating parents were also found to utilise many of the same emotional manipulation and persuasion cult leaders used to heighten the dependency on them. Finally, the alienating parents seemed to benefit from the alienation much the way cult leaders benefited from the cult: they had excessive control power and adulation from their victims of adulation. Likewise the participants reported many of the same negative outcomes that former cult members experienced such as low self esteem, guilt, depression and lack of trust in themselves and others. These findings provided a useful framework for conceptualising the experience of parental alienation and were also useful for therapists who provided counselling and treatment to adults who experienced alienation as a children.

The same result was obtained by Gardner (2004). Although the parental alienation syndrome was considered by him to be primarily a disorder of childhood, the false memory syndrome was a disorder of young adults, primarily women. They shared in common a campaign of acrimony against the parent. It was the purpose of Gardner’s article to describe both the similarities and differences between these two disorders in the child and in the adult. Laughrea (2002) attempted to develop an objective self report instrument called the ‘Alienated Family Relationship Scale’ (AFRS) in order to identify the alienated dynamic within the family from a young adult’s perspective.

The AFRS comprised of three sections: Inter-parental conflict, alienating attitude of the father towards the mother and the mother towards the father, and the alienated attitude of the young adult towards both parents. The sample consisted of 493 undergraduate students of which 417 were from intact families and 76 were from divorced/separated families. The results suggested good reliability as well as convergent and constructive validity. The AFRS also discriminated between intact families and divorced and separated families.

It could be of some value to develop a similar test related to children who are undergoing the alienating process. At present the reliance is almost totally on interviews of the various individuals associated with the alienation process.

An earlier study concerned with the personality characteristic of children from intact and divorced and intact families studied retrospectively was that of Fox (2001). 105 college student aged students aged 18-34 years in either intact or single parented households completed questionnaires concerning feeling of well-being, social potency, achievement, social closeness, stress reaction, alienation, aggression, control, harm avoidance, and traditionalism. Results showed no significant differences between subjects in terms of personality characteristics. Female participants scored higher than males concerning social closeness, control, traditionalism, and harm avoidance.

The results of these few studies indicate that much more work needs to be done to assess post-alienation sufferers in adulthood. Only after this will it be possible to strengthen the case for treatment of individuals as children who have been programmed in this manner. It can be seen that not only does a child suffer from and is a victim of the alienation process at the time of the alienation but that this continues into later life and very often perpetuates itself.


  1. Baker, A. J. L. (2005a). The long-term effects of parental alienation on adult children: A qualitative research study. American Journal of Family Therapy, 33(4), 289-302.
  2. Baker, A. J. L. (2005b). The cult of parenthood: A qualitative study of parental alienation, Cultural Studies Review, 4(1), np
  3. Fox, D. (2001). Children of divorce: Is there a personality component? Journal of Divorce & Marriage, 35(3-4), 107-124.
  4. Gardner, R. A. (2004). The relationship between the parental alienation syndrome (PAS) and the false memory, American Journal of Family Therapy, 32(2), 79-99.
  5. Laughrea, K. (2002). Alienated family relationship scale: Validation with young adults. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 17(1), 37-48. 
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