What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?
Parental Alienation Syndrome (also known as PAS) is a disorder in which a child, on an ongoing basis, disparages, vilifies and insults one parent without proper justification. This leads to the child becoming estranged from one or both parents. Often, accusations of abuse or blame on one parent or the other are involved in this estrangement.
Read more about estrangement.
However, there is a lot that is not understood about PAS - such as all the reasons why it develops. What is known is that divorce is a primary instigator for many cases of PAS.
It is not uncommon to have situations of Parental Alienation Syndrome initially after a divorce, as one parent may unconsciously insinuate that the child is not safe with the other parent. This can include asking the child to check-in, offering to pick the child up and take the child home. While this level of alienation often dissipates after a while, there are other situations in which this level of anxiety escalates rather than diminishing.
What Causes Parental Alienation Syndrome?
Parental Alienation Syndrome is caused by a number of factors working together.
Approximately 10% of divorces result in a messy custody battle. This can lead to changes in familial dynamics and behaviors from the child that resonate with PAS. For example, a child may develop issues with attachment or intimacy toward one or both parents. Further, one parent may continually disparage the other parent in order to develop a one-sided resentment.
Now, it should be noted that this is not a one-sided process. While one parent may be deliberately sabotaging the parent-child relationship with the other parent, the child also participates in vilifying that parent.
Research shows that the majority of PAS instigators are mothers, who typically have primary custody of the children in cases of divorce. Further, mothers typically have spent more time with the children, which leads to a stronger bond between parent and child.
Symptoms Of Parental Alienation:
The presentation of parental alienation syndrome varies greatly from situation to situation because PAS is almost certainly associated with a volatile family. However, there are a number of commonalities among stories of PAS. They include:
- Meshed opinions of the child and the alienating parent.
- Destroying mail or presents from the alienated parent.
- Attempting to stop all communication or interaction with the other parent.
- The child does not feel guilty for abusing the alienated parent, but fears rejection from the alienating parent.
- All references and connection to the alienated parent are said with venom and hatred.
How Does The Child Engage in Parental Alienation Syndrome?
According to Dr. R.A. Gardner, there are eight ways in which a child may participate in an estranged parental relationship. These ways include:
- Foul language and severe oppositional behavior.
- Weak, absurd, or frivolous reasons for the child's anger.
- A strong opinion of hate, rather than ambivalent feelings of love and hate.
- The child asserts that he or she was not told to behave in this fashion.
- The child needs to protect the other parent.
- The child does not express guilt over his or her cruelty.
- The child borrows or describes scenarios in detail, which he or she could not have experienced.
- Animosity spreads to family and friends toward the alienated parent.
How To Manage Parental Alienation Syndrome:
Managing PAS can be difficult, especially if it has been prevalent for a long period of time. In the same way that the child learned to hate and despise the alienated parent, the child must unlearn that way of thinking and behavior.
Often the most effective manner of treatment is a therapeutic plan with the legal backing of a court order or a parenting plan. The therapy allows for a change in behavior and a way of thinking, and the court order gives legal leverage to the alienated parent who has been "ganged up on" by the "team" of alienating parent and child.
The child must be dealt with in a firm manner, in that he or she must have continual reinforcement of the corrected attitude of thinking.
Again, suggestions of treatment include:
- Remind the child of happy times before the alienation began.
- Reinforce good points about the alienated parent.
- Firm and proactive approach to attitude toward the other parent.
- Appeal to the child's conscience.
- Warn the alienating parent of the harm to the child, and ask for his or her support in changing the child's behavior and attitude.
- Reinforce critical thinking and problem solving regarding unfairness and unreasonable expectations.
- Have the child spend as much time as possible with the alienated parent.
- Reinforce that the child is safe.
Complications of Parental Alienation Syndrome:
As if PAS was not complicated enough, there are other ways in which managing PAS can be complicated further.
For example, the alienated parent may be abusive to the child, unknown to the alienating parent.
Further, other individuals such as Child Services or the police may become involved. Treatment and repeated court dealings can be expensive and a financial burden.
Therapists, judges, and others involved must have a knowledge base in forensic psychology to most appropriately handle the situation. Many people do not have the adequate expertise.
The alienating parent may have other underlying health or mental health issues.
Other Resources About Parental Alienation Syndrome:
Parental-alienation.info - This website takes a comprehensive and legal look at the motivations behind PAS, and how to approach and treat the child who is alienating the parent.
The Leadership Council - This website is a page about child abuse and interpersonal violence. Within it is a definition of PAS.
Keeping Families Connected - This is a website dedicated to identify, battle, and recover from the affects of parental alienation and high conflict divorce.
Parental Alienation Awareness Organization - This website is dedicated to the education and activism around PAS.