Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of belittling against a parent, a campaign that has no justification.
It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the criticism of the targeted parent.” (Excerpted from: Gardner, R.A. (1998). The Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition, Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.)
What the above definition means, is that through verbal and non verbal thoughts, actions and mannerisms, a child is emotionally abused (brainwashed) into thinking the other parent is the enemy. This can occur from bad mouthing the other parent in front of the children, to withholding visits, to lying about where the children are when the other parent calls or comes to pick them up, to constantly interfering with visits while the child is visiting with the other parent.
So, what happens to children who become adults who were in the middle of parental alienation syndrome?
Obviously, if nothing is done to stop the alienation, the child will become estranged from the alienated parent. The relationship with this parent will eventually be cut off and the child will identify only with the maladaptive, dysfunctional parent.
According to Jayne A. Major, Ph.D “He or she will not have the benefit of growing up with the well-adjusted parent and all that this parent can contribute to enrich the child’s life. Many of these children come to experience serious psychiatric problems.”
When this child becomes an adult, it is highly likely they will not even be aware what happened to them and why they do not have a good relationship with the other parent. In their mind, that parent was “bad,” or “abusive.” Whatever misperceptions the other parent put into the child’s heads will be the same misperceptions they continue to have as they become adults.
One Scenario of parental alienation
John was close to his daughters Sydney and Beth, ages 8 and 11. They got along great. When he met Mary, she became part of the family right away and they all were able to blend together splendidly.
That was until his ex-wife Tasha decided to start calling every time it was his visits with the girls. She would call only hours after they left her home. She would belittle his new wife Mary over everything she did or said. Tasha would accuse him of doing things never done. This went on until one night the girls decided they wanted to live with mom.
Then the custody battle began. The girls got angry whenever they came over; they said mom didn’t like Mary. Mary didn’t cook right. Mary didn’t look right. She was too religious. Too fat, too skinny, too this, too that. Dad liked Mary more than they. He didn’t love them because he married Mary. He left them for Mary. Dad was mean and abusive. So was Mary.
And so, as time went on, the girls stopped calling dad. Then they stopped coming over for holidays, special meals, and finally at all. PAS had stepped into their lives.
The saddening part of this scenario is that as the girls got older, they continued to believe what their mother had put into their heads. With so much time passing, and not spending it with their father and his wife, they literally forgot the truth, believing all the lies their mother had told them.
Over time, even as adults, the rift between the girls and their father had become so wide, there was no bridge big enough to cross it.
What can be done to avoid alienation?
Below is a list of how the courts can do something about early detection of parental alienation in families by Douglas Parnall, Ph.D, 1998.
- Recognize early the symptoms of alienation, and help educate parents and attorneys of these symptoms.
- Identify high-risk cases.
- Intervene quickly.
- Don’t let attorneys use delay tactics like continuances, especially in cases with a high-risk for alienation.
- Order parents into therapy (family systems and cognitive behavioral therapy), hopefully before they come to an agreement on a Shared Parenting Plan.
- Order a Guardian Ad Litem to monitor compliance and report to the court.
- Don’t withhold visits unless there is a question about the child’s safety. There is always the risk that withholding visits will reinforce alienation and increase the risk that the child will believe there is something wrong with the targeted parent.
- Give the parents an opportunity to speak before the court.
- Order therapy for the child if their general level of functioning (school grades, socialization, interests, etc) deteriorates.
- If the child is already alienated, order therapy for the parents with a therapist who understands parental alienation and works with high conflict families.
Athough the above list is in regard to how the courts can help, individuals can also do similar tasks in order to reduce or avoid alienation. The victimized parent can do the following in order to reduce the ramifications of what parental alienation syndrome can do to their children:
- Remain even-tempered and keep your emotions under control at all times, especially when around the children or dealing with your ex. Do not prove the alienator’s point that you are unstable!
- Never give up! Continue to try to get the court to understand the seriousness of the issues and to change primary custody to your care.
- Seek assistance from an attorney who specializes in cases where parental alienation syndrome exists.
- Learn how the law works and how it applies to your particular case
- Understand the problem and focus on what to do about it.
- Do not live a victim’s life
- Be proactive
- Avoid adding to the problem by staying in the role of the peacekeeper
- Journal everything, describing who, what, where, how and documenting the alienation as it occurs.
- Always show up to pick up your children, even if you know they will not be there! This way you can document you tried.
- Never talk about the case to your children, bad mouth the other parent, or let the children hear inappropriate discussions over the phone.
- Do not violate the court orders and pay your child support on time.
Adapted from What can be done to reduce the implacable hostility leading to parental alienation in parents? ByLudwig F. Lowenstein Ph.D, 2008.
Where to go for help in Des Moines, Iowa
If you are a victim of parental alienation syndrome, or the parent who is a victim, contact a local therapist who has some expertise in that area. The following are some of the family therapist’s in the Des Moines area:
1. Broadlawns Medical Center, 1801 Hickman Road, Des Moines, IA (515) 282-5695
2. Advanced Therapy Solutions, 435 E. Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA (515) 243-3525
3. Mid-Iowa Family Therapy Clinic, 1201 63rd St., Des Moines, IA 50311
4. Central Iowa Psychological Services, 1200 Valley West Drive, Ste 707, West Des Moines, IA (515) 222-1999