Targeted Parents Surviving Parental Alienation: Consequences of the Alienation and Coping Strategies

Abstract

The aim of this study was to describe the consequences of being alienated from a child and to identify the coping strategies used by targeted parents to deal with the alienation. Using a qualitative descriptive design, 54 self-referred targeted parents alienated from their children participated in an in-depth interview. Narratives were analyzed through thematic analysis and commonalities in targeted parents’ consequences and coping strategies were identified. Six subthemes emerged describing different consequences experienced by targeted parents due to parental alienation: emotional, behavioral, finances-work, cognitive, physical, and social. Also, eight different types of coping strategies were identified and classified according to the activities reported by the targeted parents. Parental alienation has serious consequences for targeted parents affecting various aspects of their lives. Targeted parents need more understanding, support and orientation to cope with their experience.

Highlights

  • Twenty-three percent of targeted parents in this study reported that they have attempted suicide.

  • Practitioners should asses targeted parent’s suicide risk when working with them.

  • Targeted parents experience distress as a genuine response to their predicament, but this distress can be perpetuated by negative automatic thoughts.

  • Targeted parents may benefit from learning coping skills including cognitive restructuring techniques.

  • When targeted parents lose contact with their children, they suffer ambiguous loss, which can lead to disenfranchised grief.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to acknowledge the Eeny Meeny Miney Mo Foundation for their support of this research. We are also grateful to all targeted parents who participated voluntarily in this study and who were willing to contribute generously to research into parental alienation.

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Correspondence to Mandy L. Matthewson.

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Lee-Maturana, S., Matthewson, M.L. & Dwan, C. Targeted Parents Surviving Parental Alienation: Consequences of the Alienation and Coping Strategies. J Child Fam Stud 29, 2268–2280 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01725-1

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Keywords

  • Targeted parents
  • Alienated parents
  • Consequences of parental alienation
  • Qualitative description
  • Coping strategies