Over the last 10 years, I have witnessed Parental Alienation Syndrome happen more than ever. Sadly, it has become an epidemic!

Many of my clients assume this will never happen to them, but too often this is not the case.

As a matter of fact, I was emotionally alienated from my father when I was a child.

Society has painted a picture of a “physical separation” as being the determining factor of this syndrome occurring. That couldn’t be further from the truth. When my parents divorced, my mother immediately took on the role of “victim” and painted a picture of my father that was untrue. In fact, for most of my childhood and teenage years, I was fearful, untrusting, and not emotionally connected to my father. Even so, he never missed one of his weekend visits, paid his child support and alimony on time, and always cooperated with my mother.

Regardless of that, I was still gravely affected by her campaign against him in order to keep my affections and continue being the favored parent.

What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Today, most people have heard of the term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and just how devastating the effects are— not just on the alienated parent, but also on the children.

When children become alienated, the emotional response can be traumatic and affect the child’s development. In fact, children who are victims of this can have lifelong effects carried over to their adulthood.

PAS is most prevalent in high-conflict divorce and custody cases and occurs most frequently with mothers as the alienator against the father. Of course, both mothers and fathers can be toxic and psychologically manipulate the children against the other parent. This syndrome does not discriminate, and it impacts families from all walks of life.

During the 1980s, psychiatrist Dr. Richard Gardner introduced the theory of PAS. He defined it as “a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programmed brainwashing of a parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.”

Many parents claim they never bad-mouth the other, but bad-mouthing is just one of many behaviors that constitute parental alienation.

Some claim they want the child to have a good relationship with the other parent and that they are not intentionally sabotaging it, but the intentionality of it is irrelevant; the behaviors a parent engages in and the attitudes they convey are what matters.

A parent (the alienator) will emotionally manipulate a child to reject the targeted parent which results in the alienated child becoming hostile and disrespectful to the rejected parent (the target) and may even express fear and hatred towards them. This rejection is without any justification. The child will continue this behavior and treatment to continue to win the affections of the favored parent. No matter how resilient, no child is fully immune to the harmful effects of PAS.

Effects Of PAS

Unfortunately, the longer a child is stuck in this psychological abuse, the harder it is to mend the relationship with the targeted parent and if the child or teenager does not receive therapy, the effects will carry over into their adulthood.

Poor physical health, higher rates of divorce, and taking part in alienation of a co-parent themselves, are just a few of the effects. It’s critical to identify PAS in the early stages when the conditions are mild and treatable.

Experts have compared PA to the unexpected death of a child for the rejected parent. And for the child, it is comparable to the sudden death of their parent, however, the child can also suffer from guilt related to colluding with their alienator parent to actively reject their alienated parent for no good reason. 

Prevention Is Key

Increasing awareness of PAS is the first step toward prevention. If you suspect your child is being exposed to PAS, I recommend consulting a therapist as soon as possible, for both you and your child. The sooner you both get help, the sooner you may be able to repair the damage.

I personally wish my father was aware of PAS and sought out therapy for me, however, in the mid-’80s there were very few—if any—resources available to parents.

Take my advice: from a woman who has taken years to come full circle regarding the damage that was done from this syndrome, I say get help immediately and don’t make the mistake of assuming it will end on its own.

Seeking help for your children will make a difference in the life-long decisions they make down the road.

So how do you know if your child is experiencing PAS?

If the following behavior is present, it is highly likely your family is being exposed to this syndrome:

  1. The child actively avoids, resists, or refuses a relationship with a parent.
  2. There was the presence of a prior positive relationship between the child and the targeted parent.
  3. Absence of abuse or neglect or seriously deficient parenting on the part of the rejected parent (meaning there is no reason for this to occur).
  4. Use of alienating behaviors favored by the favored parent.

The effects of PAS are devastating. Children and teenagers often suffer the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Lack of trust
  • Substance Abuse
  • Sexual Promiscuity
  • Eating Disorders
  • Feelings of Isolation
  • Lack of Friends
  • Conflicts in Peer Relationship
  • Poor academic performance

As I mentioned earlier, my decisions as an adult were affected by my loss of a relationship with my father.  Two divorces are proof enough for me. If you and your children are victims of Parental Alienation, please reach out to me, and get the help you need right away.

Hayley Lisa

The Divorce Coach For Men

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