Parental alienation syndrome refers to the situation that many children and parents find themselves in after a divorce or separation. It occurs when one parent manipulates the child and the other parent to prevent them from maintaining a positive relationship. In other words, one parent alienates the other, so that the child does not have the benefit of both parents and may grow to resent the alienated parent. Yet, this is not the end of the subject. Rather, there is a deeper problem with what is known as the bystander effect in parental alienation syndrome. The bystander effect refers to the lack of concern or intervention from those who ought to see, recognize, and respond when parental alienation occurs.
A Real Life Example of the Bystander Effect in Parental Alienation
One fairly recent real life example of the bystander effect in parental alienation involved a child that had grown into a troubled adult. The alienated parent, the father, contacted his local Family Maintenance Enforcement Program to discuss an ongoing problem that had been escalating for more than a decade. The parent had been estranged and alienated from his child from the time that the child was under the age of ten. The father tried to overcome this obstacle. He reached out repeatedly to address the situation, but was told that the agency could not help him. This father and his son are not the only victims of parental alienation, and the lack of response from those who could make a difference is not at all uncommon. It occurs frequently enough to have a name: the bystander effect.
Other Instances of the Bystander Effect that You May Encounter or Be Guilty Of
If you are an alienated parent, then you are likely to encounter many examples of the bystander effect. If you are not the alienated parent, then you may not realize it, but you are likely to become a part of the issue at some point in your relationship with the alienated parent. For example, the bystander effect includes more than simply ignoring and refusing to respond to the problem. It also includes minimizing the impact of parental alienation, mocking the feelings of grief and loss that are experienced by the alienated parent, and even blaming the parent for what he or she cannot control.
Many people mistakenly believe that if a parent loves their child enough and tries hard enough, then they will be able to have the positive relationship that their children deserve. When the alienated parent fails to overcome the various obstacles presented by the custodial parent, the alienated parent is often blamed or accused of not caring enough, not trying hard enough. Unfortunately, parental alienation can occur no matter how hard the parent tries to keep their relationship with the child or children. It is especially challenging to get past these hurdles when the attitude of bystanders is accusing or dismissive. While this happens with many of the people that the alienated parent is in contact with, the worst of it comes from the professionals who should intervene.
Parental Alienation is a Form of Psychological Child Abuse
While we’ve focused so far on the impact, the grief, and the challenges of an alienated parent, the fact is that this is a form of psychological child abuse. The alienated parent is a victim in these cases, but so are the children. The children are denied their right to a loving and supportive relationship with both parents. The children can grow up with their own tremendous and insurmountable grief at the loss of a parent. The children can also grow up thinking that they were abandoned and unloved by that parent. Beyond this, the children lose one of the most important role models in their lives. These issues are not easily corrected in adulthood. The child may not realize that parental alienation has occurred. The parent may not know how to reach out after so much time has gone by or how to repair the relationship. The child is likely to struggle with the effects of parental alienation for many years, especially if he or she is never able to reconnect, forgive, and seek treatment for the damage done.
In many of these cases, the child may not have been abused or harmed in any other way, so it may never occur to anyone that psychological abuse has happened. Many victims of parental alienation go their whole lives believing that they were unwanted, unloved, and abandoned by a parent who at one time was among their closest and most adored relationships.
Bystanders Who Do Not Intervene in Parental Alienation are as Guilty as the Abusive Parent
Many people don’t want to call parental alienation a form of psychological abuse. It sounds harsh to say such a thing about a single parent who was otherwise loving and supportive. The parent may not even know that what they did was abuse. They may think that they made the right decision for their children. They may have manipulated their children and themselves into believing that it was the choice of the alienated parent to walk away. This is part of why the bystander effect is such a serious problem. Those who witness parental alienation, especially in a professional capacity, have a responsibility to intervene. By failing to do so, bystanders foster an environment that is harmful to everyone involved. Whether a bystander points out the issue, responds to reports of the issue, or reports the issue themselves, this can go a long way towards healing fractured family relationships.
Parents Are Encouraged by the System to Foster Animosity in Greenville Families
Another important factor to be aware of is how the legal system is set up to encourage families to fight with each other in an adversarial environment. They are expected to fight for their children in court, yet they are fighting against another parent, when both parents should be trying to work together. Rather than focusing on the best interests of their children, the system puts parents in a position where they are expected and encouraged to focus on winning. Yet, when parental alienation occurs, nobody wins. After a heated custody battle, one parent is likely to be left feeling slighted and abused. The other parent may feel victorious over their enemy. If the system were set up to be more encouraging of positive relationships and compromise between divorced and separated families, then parental alienation might not be such a common situation. Further, the bystanders in these situations would be encouraged to foster healthy relationships between the children and both parents.
Do the Right Thing for Your Children in Greenville, SC, Family Law Disputes
The best thing you can do for your children in a Greenville, South Carolina, family law dispute is to be aware of the risk of parental alienation and work to prevent this issue. Rather than working with an attorney to fight your enemy, work with lawyers who will help you compromise with your co-parent. Call the Elliott Frazier Law Firm to speak with an experienced Greenville family law attorney today to find out how we can help.
Angela Elliot Frazier is a Family Law Attorney who practices in Greenville, SC. She graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 14 years now. Angela Frazier believes in helping you through one of the most stressful times of your life. Learn more about her experience by clicking here.