PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME (PAS)

Note From RaymondThebrave:- The following article describes what has happened to my relationship with my two children who are now grown up and still not in a relationship with me. I did not know about PAS until about 2 years ago. I got divorced when my children where 3 and 5 and thus my ex-wife was very close to them. To add to the overall trauma for me my ex-wife moved the children 600 kilometres (+-450 miles) away. This was a 7 hour drive. I love my children with all my heart but that can’t change what they believe about me. I came to stand still one day over 7 years ago with what they first thought was depresses or burn-out. Over time became clear that all the emotional hurts and issues over 10 years, working hard to pay maintenance and other factors had brought my brain and body to a complete standstill. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and have not worked for over 6 years. I have improved slowly but still not able to handle any pressure and need to rest after going out.

PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME (PAS)

In certain cases, child visitation interference is a direct result of a custodial parent suffering from a Parental Alienation Syndrome (Gardner, 1987, 1989).

Here, the custodial parent engages in a variety of direct and indirect methods designed to alienate the child from his or her non-residential parent. The result is that the child becomes preoccupied with unjustified criticism and hatred of the non-residential parent.

Gardner (1989) has outlined four factors that he believes contributes to the development of Parental Alienation Syndrome.

These include: (1) brainwashing, (2) subtle and unconscious parental programming, (3) factors arising within the child, and (4) situational factors.

Gardner (1989) uses the term brainwashing to refer to “…conscious acts of programming the child against the other parent” (p. 233). Examples include accusing the father of being an “adulterer” and “abandoner.”

Typically, the father is unjustifiably accused of providing too little money, sometimes to the point that the mother misleads her children to believe that terrible things will happen to them. When the father leaves the home, the mother may make statements such as, “your father has abandoned us,” to teach the child that the rejection extends not only to the mother but to the offspring.

Minor negative attributes of the father are exaggerated greatly. For

example, the father who occasionally has an after-dinner drink is described as an alcoholic. Sarcastic comments are common, including statements to the child such as, “your wonderful generous father is finally going to spend a few dollars and take you to the movies!”

More subtle attempts to program the child against the non-residential parent include comments such as, “there are things I could say about your father that would make your hair stand on end, but I’m not the kind of person who criticizes a parent to his children” (Gardner, 1989, p. 239). Clearly, statements such as this create much negative emotion in the child. In regard to visitation, the child in such a home becomes astutely aware of the mother’s desire for the child to hate the father.

To gain her acceptance, the child makes statements suggesting uncertainty or lack of desire to visit with the non-residential parent. The mother suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome may act in a “neutral” manner by communicating to the child that it is the child’s decision whether or not to visit with the non-residential parent. This “neutrality manoeuvre” helps to further alienate the father from his offspring by passively discouraging visitation; the child knows not to express desire to visit the “hated” parent.

Engendering guilt in the offspring is another common manoeuvre. A child who desires visitation with the father might be told, “how can you leave your poor old mother!” (Gardner, 1989, p. 241).

In regard to factors arising within the child, Gardner notes that the child’s pre-divorce psychological bond with the residential parent is typically stronger than that with the non-residential parent. Fearing potential abandonment from the residential parent, the child is more prone to join the mother in the parental alienation attempt. Gardner also believes that psychodynamic factors such as reaction formation and oedipal attributes sometimes are contributing factors to the development of alienation.

Finally, a variety of situational factors contribute to the development of the syndrome as well. For example, a child who views a sibling being punished for having expressed positive feelings towards the father will learn quickly not to express such feelings openly. A child who observes the mother verbally abuse the father may declare emotional preference for the mother for self-protection purposes.

Gardner notes that the Parental Alienation Syndrome varies in degree from case to case. While the overwhelming majority of adult cases are female, he believes that 90% of all custody battles reveal some aspects of the Parental Alienation Syndrome.

 

CONCLUSION

Each year millions of children are denied visitation with their non-residential parent. Little is known about the nature of such interference, the causes of such interference, or how to treat such interference. Until this issue becomes the focus of scientific research, it would appear that psychologist input into the courtroom is significantly compromised. Given that millions of individuals are suffering, it behoves the profession to begin to address this important and perplexing problem.

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