Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
What a sad thing to think that a parent who proclaims to love their child(ren) and want’s what’s best for them to act in a way that can cause psychological pain and dysfunction that could have lifelong effects. But, this is happening way too often and professionals are recognizing the validity of a “syndrome” coined more than 20 years ago by Psychiatrist Richard Gardner. Dr. Gardner was attempting to identify what he was observing when one parent “brainwashed” a child against the other parent, which appears to result in the child engaging in their own abusive words toward the targeted parent.
Gardner was not the first one to write about this issue, however. In 1949, psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich addressed this very topic in his writing “revenge on the partner through robbing him or her of the pleasure in the child.” When in fact this topic goes way back to 1914 when Albert Einstein’s wife left him and took their children, leaving him in Berlin.
He pointed to being alienated from his son and wrote “My fine boy has been alienated from me for a few years already by my wife who has a vengeful disposition” and that “the boy’s soul is being systematically poisoned to make sure that he doesn’t trust me.”
In the beginning:
“Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child; it has to be taught.” Parents who teach their children to hate and/or fear the other parent are doing a great deal of damage to the child’s mental and emotional state. (Baker, 2010) Sadly, a study conducted in 1991 over a 12-year period showed that 86% out of 1000 cases involved parental alienation Those statistics are alarming for someone who works in the mental health field. I would dare to stay that numbers have even grown over the last two decades.
Effects on the child:
In an article published in Psychology Today, Edward Kruk, Ph.D., reported that parental alienation is more common than assumed and currently increasing in its judicial finding. Parental alienation is a serious mental condition for the child, resulting from the faulty belief that the other parent is dangerous and unworthy. As you can see in the attached site, parental alienation is closely related to psychological abuse. Such abuse is noted to be as harmful as sexual or physical abuse. Peer-reviewed study.
As a society we do not condone these forms of abuse so why do we tolerate or look the other way. The sad but true statement is that psychological abuse is difficult to prove, time-consuming and can be very costly. According to Baker, the effects of parental alienation can be lifelong based on a study she conducted of adult children who experienced alienation. One notable effect was the increased risk of the child growing up and being alienated from their own children.
WHY oh WHY:
There appears to be a correlation that parents who attempt to alienate the other parent, show signs of narcissistic and borderline tendency. The borderline individual will twist reality and project their personal feelings about themselves onto the other parent. Engaging in parental alienation may, in fact, be a form of a complex trauma from their own childhood. (Childress, 2013) The parent who is attempting to alienate the child from the other parent often will attempt to defend themselves to the therapist, others, and deflect attention onto the other targeted parent.
Unfortunately, our society and court system continue to cause harm to the “target parent” by having them to deal with and experience the false drama set forth by the other parent. This is done through repeatedly going into court, hiring lawyers, engaging with numerous therapists and custody evaluations. In addition, to the numerous false allegations that not only cause psychological harm but also additional time from bonding with their child. As a professional, I take a child’s safety as utmost importance and a priority; however, often we enable the “alienating parent” to use the system to manipulate and get what they desire.
Due to the severity of the impact of this form of abuse, it is important to protect the child(ren) from ongoing exposure to the toxic influence. Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Health (DSM 5) has 4 different codes that are relevant to parental alienation. You will not find the exact wording of parental alienation in the DSM 5. The authors do not want clinicians to overlook the possibility of real threats to a child(ren); however, there is evidence that parental alienation is a real issue faced by many children today.
If parental alienation is going on, it is suggested by some professionals, that in order to repair the child’s relationship with the target parent is to limit exposure of the alienation and more time with the targeted parent.
What to do if you think this may be the case:
First and foremost, make sure you speak with and retain an attorney who is competent in this area. The court system takes parental alienation very seriously and can potentially cause a change in custody, as well as, restrictions related to visitation. As a parent who is on the receiving end of being alienated there are things you can do to help prove parental alienation is occurring. Keep a journal, pay attention to warning signs, maintain open communication with the child and stick to and enforce all custody orders. You can never document enough as psychological abuse is often difficult to prove.
There are professionals who have been identified as Parental Alienation Syndrome Expert Witnesses and Consultants. When looking at Virginia, which is where I reside, there were two professionals that were identified one being Robert A. Evans, Ph.D. with over 25 years’ experience. Evans is 1 of 18 professionals in the US trained as a Reunification Specialist. He went through a 24-hour training provided by Richard Warshak’s Family Bridges Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships. He is a practicing clinician in Clearwater, Florida. The other being Jane K. McNaught, Ph.D. L.P with over 30 years’ experience and a practicing clinician in MN.
Example of a legal case involving parental alienation ruling:
A custody case between Miller vs. Todd in which the two were not legally married but had two children. The separation began in 2003, the mother made numerous false allegations that were proven to be unfounded. In 2006 a court-ordered psychological examination was conducted and it was determined that the father had not abused the children. Then in 2008, the family court heard the case and no change of custody was awarded. The father appealed the decision to the supreme court. The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled the one parent was “clearly trying to poison a child’s relationship with the other parent” and the family court decision was overturned.
In a perfect world, parents would always act in the true best interest of the child (ren). However, as anyone can tell this is not a perfect world. It does not excite me that this is becoming more publicized by the professional field; however, I am glad that it is being recognized as an issue we need to face.
From someone who has sat on the sidelines and observed this happen. It saddens me the turmoil this type of behavior has taken on the father and the child. I have observed a casebook enmeshment relationship in action and this will only continue to cause harm to the child as she moves into adulthood and must face the real world. I could write a thesis or dissertation on this topic and still not feel I have done it truly a good service at explaining just how harmful this is.
Charlotte Whitworth is the wife of William Whitworth and co-founder of Fighting Dad’s.com, mother of two adult children and four grandchildren, as well as, a stepmother. She is a 2007 graduate from Radford University School of Social Work. Charlotte is currently an MSW LSW in the Commonwealth of Virginia. She is currently working on her clinical credentials to be endorsed as an LCSW in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Baker, A. (2010). “Adult recall of parental alienation in a community sample: Prevalence and associations with psychological maltreatment”. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 51, 16-35.
Childress, C. A. (2013). Reconceptualizing parental alienation. Parental personality disorders and the transgenerational transmission of attachment trauma. Retrieved from http://www.drcachildress.org/asp/Site/ParentalAlienation/index.asp
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