Richard Gardner in 1998 coined the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).
What is Parental Alienation?
Separation or divorce often results in children not seeing one of their parents. As we would agree that this may disrupt the child’s need of spending time with both the parents, the reasons behind this would be interesting to explore.
Ideally, this includes the child being given a choice of opting for one of the parents over the other. In the later stages, it may be called estrangement or alienation.
Estrangement and Alienation
Estrangement refers to a child’s rejection of a parent that is justified as a consequence of the rejected parent’s history of family violence, abuse, and neglect (Johnston, 2005).
Alienation refers to a child rejecting one of the parents without a valid reason.
Symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome
A campaign of denigration This means that child constantly defames or criticizes the alienated parent unreasonably. It's the common parental alienation symptom.
Weak, absurd, or frivolous rationalizations for the deprecation The child typically gives superficial or frivolous reasons for not wanting to be in relation with the unfavored parent. attacks.
Lack of ambivalence In the child’s view, the unfavored parent has absolute negative qualities and lacks positive or any redeeming qualities.
The independent-thinker phenomenon When the child terms their resistance to seeing the unfavored parent is not the result of other the parent’s influence, but their independent thought.
Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental conflict This means during the parents’ conflict, the child is supportive of the alienating parent.
Absence of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the alienated parent
When the child throws hateful or belittling comments on the targeted parent, she or he experiences the absence of guilt in doing so.
The presence of borrowed scenarios When the child believes in stories where the targeted parent has been misrepresented. This is also a common parental alienation symptom.
Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent.
Different ways one parent is alienating the child from the other parent
- Telling the child, the other parent doesn’t care about them (quoting twisted scenarios)
- Parent moving out of the house or changing locations with the child
- Not letting the unfavored parent and the child keep any contact via phone or any other means
- Making the child fearful of the other parent
- Not keeping the other parent informed of the child’s developments
- Brainwashing the child so that he or she starts hating the other parent. It’s the common act during parental alienation
Watch out for the following signs in children that may need to be addressed immediately
- Requests from them not to attend activities they should be participating in.
- Requests from them not to contact people or stakeholders in their lives – like their friends, teachers, schoolmates and so on.
- They display argumentative behaviors most of the time, regardless of the situation
- They fail to identify positive qualities or actions by you
- Responding with defiance or oppositional behavior to anything you say or ask for
Impact of Parental Alienation
Exposure to toxic stress caused by this phenomenon has long-lasting effects on a child’s mind. It is damaging to the developing brain of children and the intensity of practiced parental alienation is closely regarded as abuse or violence as well. There is no scholarly consensus that severe alienation is abusive to children (Fidler and Bala, 2010), and is a largely overlooked form of child abuse (Bernet et al, 2010), as child welfare and divorce practitioners are often unaware of or minimize its extent.
Children if in case, stay with this alienating parent, they will be completely dependent on this parent who could be very controlling of what the children think or feel at all times.
Children actively experiencing parental alienation takes lots of efforts to even realize what is going wrong and coming out of it usually takes a very long time with regular therapy.
Is parental alienation based on gender?
No, this could be practiced by either males or females. Studies suggest that females express their aggression indirectly, thus engaging more in gossips, spreading rumors, undermining the reputation of people they dislike, while males express aggression both directly and indirectly.
The Impact of Parental Alienation on the Targeted Parent:
The targeted parent usually experiences depressive moods, trauma symptoms, or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and in extreme vulnerabilities even suicidal ideation. Divorce or separation is already a draining process and when it is topped with a child custody battle with an ex-partner it can be a life-stirring phenomenon.
Treatment and care will depend on the severity of parental alienation experienced by the child.
If parental alienation is of mild intensity, the child can benefit from parenting time and psychoeducation.
If the intensity of parental alienation is moderate the child will benefit from regular counseling and joint sessions by the parenting coordinator to minimize the exposure of parental conflicts and improving communication.
However, this is subject to the agreement of both the parents in owning the joint responsibility of their child’s mental health.
In severe cases, the child may display intense hatred for the unfavored parent and both the child as well as the alienating parent refuses to attend joint meetings or even address the concerns.
In a nutshell, Parental Alienation happens when two parents separate or divorce. In this phase, it is ideal to opt for shared parenting keeping in mind that love and responsibility of one’s child is greater than hatred for one’s ex-partner. If this default option is not voted for, it has the potential to cause irreparable damages to the unfavored parent and the child. Additionally, it is critical to identify and accept such happenings and proactively work to safeguard everyone’s mental health in the process.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to seek professional help when you require it.