Home > Professionals > NOW is The Time: Parental Alienation Known and Noted As Non-Phony. A Look At The Current DSM-IV-TR

NOW is The Time: Parental Alienation Known and Noted As Non-Phony. A Look At The Current DSM-IV-TR

NOW is The Time: Parental Alienation Known and Noted As Non-Phony. A Look At The Current DSM-IV-TR by: Monika Logan, LBSW

The essential feature of Parental Alienation (PA) is a delusion; a delusion that a child maintains, often for years on end. Sometimes the child carries the false belief into adulthood.  The child claims the delusion is their own.  It is taught by a disturbed parent. The parent is one that often did not desire the divorce. He or she may have an undiagnosed mental disorder. Then again, they may not. Perhaps they have traits, or  cannot accept their new founded solo status. What they refuse to do, is to set appropriate boundaries. Known by Wallerstein and Kelly (1976 & 1980) as unholy alliances. The boundaries are not healthy.  Some ex-spouses desire revenge while others lack intent. Ignoring  emotional abuse of children will not make the problem go away.  PA shares similar patterns with other DSM disorders. Disorders that currently are listed in the DSM-IV-TR.

For starters, PA is comparable to Shared Psychotic Disorder. PA has an “inducer” called an alienating parent, also known as the favored parent. Another commonality, is one person is dominant. The difference between the two disorders is prevalence. Unlike Shared Psychotic Disorder, PA has ample systematic information and is frequently reported is clinical settings, although some might debate the name. Both Shared Psychotic Disorder and PA require intervention because the course is chronic. Oddly enough, many demand more systemic research for PA but it is not required for shared delusions.

Differential Diagnosis should also be considered. Both PA and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) have parents reporting eerie similarities. Children diagnosed with ODD have parents claiming that their children  are hot-tempered, argues with adults, defies authority, deliberately annoys others, blames others for mistakes, will not follow rules and are angry and  resentful. They are also spiteful and vindictive. The difference between ODD and PA is that ODD manifests with adults that the kid knows well. In PA, the aforementioned behaviors are aimed only at one parent—a once loved parent.  The behaviors are reinforced. It is not necessarily that the parent outright says, atta boy! Rewards can be subtle, such as a new cell phone for cussing out mom.

Sadly, ODD can get worse. When it gets worse, it gets a new name, known as Conduct Disorder. When PA gets worse, we turn the other way or scoff at people who create helping centers because parents have nowhere to turn. Or, we might look at the target parent and wonder where he or she went wrong. If you are a good parent, you always have good outcomes, right? wrong. Not if you divorced an unstable person. The fact is, the parent did not have to do anything wrong. Conduct Disorder is when a child is physically cruel; they are deceitful and may violate serious societal rules. They may have truancy charges or run away. Severity may be mild, moderate, or severe (just as PA can be moderate, mild or severe.)  The kid may not have all the behaviors. Some kids placed in the middle have only a trait or two, such as hitting their parent once and violating rules.

We all have heard of resiliency. Regrettably, some kids have parents that make resilience difficult. Reality is that there are parents that will  ignore all court orders and continuously use the child as a confidant. The child is forced to hear of adult matters, care for the parent, and eventually feels sorry for the parent. This makes resiliency hard as the kid role reverses and spends time fretting over their “victim parent.”  Additionally, the child learns that he or she is above the law. Similar to Conduct Disorder, PA has  increased over the last decade. I have not found studies indicating if PA is more prevalent in urban or rural settings (DSM, p. 97). It is more common among high-conflict divorces. And, contrary to some TV shows, it does not always entail bickering back and forth.  Yes, PA even occurs with helping professionals; professionals such as psychologists, social workers and attorneys. They too may have  a hard time attempting to stop constant denigration and enforcing court orders.

Given the grim picture, how do children adjust? There are couples that co-parent amicably and the kids adjust well. We have read about such couples. They  have Thanksgiving together. Yes, adjusting may become a disorder. The DSM has Adjustment Disorder. It too shares similar features with PA. Kids may have depressed moods, anxiety, or disturbed conduct. If you are a fortunate parent and your ex-spouse co-parents, the symptoms might be acute. However, for many parents the duration may be chronic. Both PA and Adjustment Disorders will persist if the stressors persists. The stressors in Adjustment Disorder may entail misfortune life events. The stressor in PA, is an alienating parent compounded by groups that turn their head to the emotional abuse of children. NOW is the time to realize that PA is not  related to gender nor is it the target parent’s fault. The tender years presumption has long gone.

Lastly, Parental Alienation is not a tactic—it is the emotional abuse of children. It is the loss of vitality and life. It is the loss of one parent that does not deserve the rejection. For reminders, if physical or sexual abuse is present, PA is not included in the definition. Recognizing PA as a form of emotional abuse is not a green light to dismiss battering. Frequently overlooked, but worth noting: both PA and DV have elements of power and control. The distinction is that PA  places the child in the middle to hurt the other parent. The alienating parent may achieve power and control by threats of leaving the country, threatening expensive court battles, or other coercive tactics.  Domestic Violence encompasses power, control and assault.  Parental Alienation includes power, control and your children. Now is the time; stand up for the future of your children and your children’s children so that the cycle of alienation will end.

Categories: Professionals
  1. Kay A. Sell
    September 3, 2010 at 2:14 AM

    Thank you Logan. This is the best site I have found on PAS. The articles and links are easy to read and rich with simple logic and reason. Now, how do we reach the rest of society to educate and advocate prevention and early intervention. For my son, it may be too late.

  2. September 3, 2010 at 2:36 AM

    Hi Kay, thank you. Education can start with obtaining brochures from the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization, sending Dr. Warshak’s video Pluto to attorneys,parents, and helping professionals. I obtained his book, Divorce Poison and it is now in my local library. There are many other helpful books, papers, and videos that may be used for advocacy. Arrange for presentations at schools. Dr. Amy Baker has an excellent program for middle school children. I agree that early intervention is the key in preventing PA. But, some are past prevention. We are in the midst of a storm. Past the prevention level, is the intervention level. A place many do not want to be. I also think parenting classes are good, but they must cover parental alienation–not all of them do. Do not give up; it is never too late. I have no other reason to give you other than, he is your son. You cannot let this defeat you, your faith, your family and any hope you have left. Sincerely, Monika

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