During the past 12 years, I have witnessed Parental Alienation Syndrome occur more than ever lately.  Sadly, it has become an epidemic! Many of my clients assume this will never happen to them, however, too often this is not the case. I should know, as a child I was emotionally alienated from my father. Society has painted a picture of a “physical separation” as being the determining factor if this occurs.  Wrong! When my parents divorced, my mother immediately took on the role of “victim” and painted a false, inaccurate picture of my father. In fact, for most of my childhood and teenage years, I was fearful, untrusting, and not emotionally connected to my father.  With that said, he never missed one of his weekend visits, paid his child support and alimony on time, and always cooperated with my mother. Yet, seeing this, I was still gravely affected by her campaign against him to keep my affections and continue being the favored parent.

Today, most people have heard of the term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and just how devasting the effects are not just on the alienated parent, children suffer collateral damage. When children become alienated, the emotional response can be devastating to the child’s development.

Children who are the victims of this, most often have lifelong effects carried over throughout 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. It does not discriminate since 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 programmed brainwashing of a parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s contributions to the vilification of the target parent.”

Many parents claim they never bad-mouth the other, but bad-mouthing is only 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 intentionality is not relevant—the behaviors a parent engages in and the attitudes they convey are what matters, not their intentions.

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 affection of the favored parent. No matter how resilient, no child is immune to the harmful effects of PAS.

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 take part in alienation of a co-parent, are just to name a few.  Therefore, it’s critical to identify this in the early stages when the conditions are mild and treatable.

The tragedy is that PA occurs at all. Experts have compared PA to the unexpected death of a child by a rejected parent. And for the child, it is comparable to the sudden death of their parent. However, the child suffers from guilt for colluding with their parent to actively reject their alienated parent for no good reason. 

Increasing awareness of PA is the first step toward prevention. If you suspect your child is being exposed to PA, I recommend a consultation with a therapist immediately for both you and your child and hopefully, it’s not too late to repair the damage. I wish my father was aware 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 of the damage that was done by this syndrome, 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 PA? The identification or diagnosis is based on If the following is present, your family is likely to be 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 PA are devasting, as 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 Relationships
  • Poor academic performance

As I mentioned earlier, my decisions as an adult were affected by the loss of my emotional connection 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.

Hayley Lisa

The Divorce Coach for Men