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Who is Most at Risk for Parental Alienation?

family law attorney peoria

Parental alienation is one of the most difficult situations for parents and attorneys to navigate in family court. Understanding alienation, and the underlying risks and causes, makes us all better equipped to address alienation and prevent the fallout for parents and children.
The parents and children most at risk of alienation depends most of the personality and dynamics between the parents.
Children with at least one parent suffering from a personality disorder, such as extreme narcissism, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder are most at risk for parental alienation.

Mentally healthy parents do not engage in parental alienation

Often, the alienating parent’s mental illness has not been diagnosed. Many times until a traumatic triggering event such as a divorce, breakup, or custody dispute, the alienating parent may have no noticeable signs of mental illness. Other times, symptoms of a personality disorder have been looming for years.
The most common personality disorders that lend themselves to parental alienation are narcissistic personality disorder, sociopaths, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial disorder. While children can still be alienated by parents without a personality disorder, the risk is high for those that have the traits associated with the personality disorders listed. Each presents with its own pattern, warning signs, and methodology of alienation and since we know personality disorders are along a spectrum, it benefits you to be aware of the disorders and their characteristics when determining if you or your child is at risk of parental alienation.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Children with a narcissist parent are likely to endure parental alienation because narcissists are self-absorbed, have a need for control, do not value differing opinions or viewpoints from those of the narcissist, and tent to use children as pawns when interacting with a former spouse.
The narcissist has been embarrassed and victimized in their divorce or separation and is desperate to regain their status in society and for vindication. One way they may seek to achieve that is by having children, and others, reject the other parent.


Sociopaths are also more likely to engage in parental alienation because they lack a moral conscience. Like the narcissist, the sociopath lacks empathy for others and has difficulty with understanding the concepts of the truth and lying in the way others do. These parents, like narcissists, truly believe they are right or justified in their indefensible behavior. They lack empathy and may make impulsive decisions without regard for the consequences to outcomes or feelings.
They may understand theoretically that trash talking the other parent is bad for the kids, but it feels so good in the moment that they don’t care. They do not have the desire or self-control to protect their children from alienating behavior.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder results in emotionally reactive parents. The parent is in a state of heightened emotional arousal and his or her feelings and emotions are extremely intense. Children are emotional creatures and cannot rationalize the feelings or behaviors of the parent and can easily be sucked into the parents’ world and view point.
The excessively intense emotions a parent with borderline personality disorder experiences are often expressed as anger.  A parent with borderline personality disorder will often find it difficult to self-sooth, resulting in the parent experiencing prolonged distress without the ability to emotionally recover after feelings of frustration or disappointment. Divorce and separation is fraught with disappointment and frustration, making this situation extremely difficult on the parent with borderline personality disorder, and increasing the chances a child will be alienated. Many parents with borderline personality disorder may develop a victim-like self-image causing the parent to blame others for whatever goes wrong.  This feeling of victimization allows the parent to justify victimizing of the other parent.
Some parents with borderline personality disorder refuse to separate from their children. They may follow a parent on vacation out of state. They may show up where you and your children are shopping in public. They may use a child’s location to observe where they are at all times, or text a child constantly during your parenting time. They are disruptive and will not allow you to form your own relationship with your children.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Parents who suffers from antisocial personality disorder are chronic and practiced liars. These alienating parents carry out actions against the children that are harmful without feeling guilt. They may be physically or psychologically abusive to their children and are without remorse. These parents lie, cheat, steal, and physically harm anyone in their way. They may have criminal records and a long history of disaster they have left behind them. Not all parents with antisocial disorder are violent. These parents may fabricate claims of abuse by the other parent. They may come up with elaborate stories and claims of violence and terror by the other parent. They may be absent as a parent or want to erase the existence of the other parent and have complete control over the children.
It is very hard for a child to grow up with a parent who is a sociopath or antisocial personality disorder. Your child may be in survival mode. They have to manage the unpredictable and harsh treatment they receive from their parents and may succumb to alienation as a survival tool.

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