THE SPECTRUM OF PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME (PART II)
(First of 3 HTML files)
Forensic Psychologist, Deirdre Conway, Rand, PhD
This three-part article reviews the literature on the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) as formulated by Dr. Richard Gardner and seeks to integrate his work with research on high conflict divorce and the work of other professionals in this arena. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a distinctive form of high conflict divorce in which the child becomes aligned with one parent and preoccupied with unjustified and/or exaggerated denigration of the other, target parent. In severe cases, the child’s once love-bonded relationship with the target/rejected parent is destroyed. Part II begins with sections on the child in PAS, the target/alienated parent and the third parties who become involved, including family, friends, lawyers, mental health professionals, and sometimes cults. The material presented on PAS in the legal arena is devoted to what attorneys and judges have to say about PAS, which can be a key issue in certain depend ency and criminal proceedings, as well as in family law court. The discussion of forensic evaluations and PAS includes contributions by custody evaluators and others who recommend considering PAS as a possible explanation when child sex abuse is alleged in certain contexts. Case vignettes in Part II illustrate psychological maltreatment of the child in severe PAS, a case in which Child Protective Services was mobilized to bring pressure on the alienating parent to reverse the PAS, and the use of PAS testimony in criminal proceedings against a falsely accused parent. Part III will be devoted to interventions in PAS, including some difficult but effective interventions implemented by the author, her husband, Randy Rand, Ed.D., and a team of interveners, including the judge and guardian ad litem.
The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) as formulated by Gardner involves a cluster of child symptoms in divorce. Gardner views these as a syndrome because of the number of cases in which these symptoms share a common underlying etiology. This is a combination of the alienating parent’s influence and the child’s active contributions to the campaign of denigration against the alienated/target parent. The term PAS does not applywhen children of divorce become alienated from a parent for reasons such as a parent’s lack of interest in or rejection of the child; significant deficits in a rejected parent’s functioning which may not rise to the level of abuse; or the child being subjected to bona fide parental abuse or neglect. These situations should be given the generic label of parent-child alienation. The Parental Alienation Syndrome as conceived of by Gardner is a type of parent-child alienation but warrants a special descriptive term. The benefit of using Gardner’s terminology is that, where the facts of a given case support a diagnosis of PAS, there is a body of knowledge regarding which legal and therapeutic interventions are likely to be effective.
Part I of this article, published in a previous issue of the American Journal of Forensic Psychology (Volume 15, issue 3, 1997), outlined Gardner’s formulation of PAS, discussed the contemporary social context in which his ideas arose, and described the features of PAS which, especially in more serious cases, make it a distinctive form of high conflict divorce. The studies reviewed in Part I included a large scale research project by Clawar and Rivlin, which was commissioned by the American Bar Association Section on Family Law (1). Clinical studies of PAS by Dunne and Hedrick (2), Lund (3) and Cartwright (4) were also discussed. Two case vignettes were presented, one in which the mother was the alienating parent and the other with the father in that role. Part I concluded with a section on parents who induce alienation, utilizing divorce research and the work of mental health professionals who deal with divorce families in the forensic arena. Part II begins with the child.
THE CHILD IN PAS
Children of Divorce
Most children and adolescents of divorce are eager to have an ongoing relationship with both parents. In a nonclinical sample of 131 children from 60 divorce families, the majority of children were eager to visit their noncustodial fathers and often wanted more time than the usual every other-weekend allowed (5). This finding held at follow-ups 18 months and 5 years later. For children whose fathers did not take much of an interest in them, their longing for both parents was very painful. Where the father did take an interest, 20 percent of children were in considerable conflict about visiting and 11 percent were genuinely reluctant to visit, most notably those who were between 9 and 12 years of age. Nineteen percent of the children who were reluctant or refusing to visit were aligned with one parent in actively doing battle against the other parent. Children in these alignments came to share the views and outrage of the parent with whom the child identified, often the parent who felt abandoned and rejected in the divorce. These children rejected the parent who was perceived as deserting the family, despite a previously close, loving relationship with that parent. Children in alignments were found to be less psychologically healthy than those whose divorce adjustment allowed them to maintain their affection for both parents.
Children’s Alignments in High Conflict Families
Johnston and Campbell’s research on divorce families in high conflict for three years or more found a measurable degree of alignment between children and one parent in 35 percent to 40 percent of children from-7 to 14 years of age (6). Similar ratios were obtained by Lampel, who studied latency-age children participating in custody evaluations ( 7). Comparing aligned children with non-aligned children, Lampel found that the aligned children tested as angrier, less well adjusted, and less able to conceptualize complex situations. They expressed greater self confidence, however, possibly reflecting the relief obtained by opting for a simplified, relatively black-and-white solution, as opposed to feeling “caught in the middle” of parental conflicts. Published in 1996, this article of Lampel refers to Gardner’s work on PAS.
Children Who Reject One Parent
Ten years earlier, Lampel reported on 18 consecutively referred high conflict divorce families, including a group of children who actively rejected one parent (8). In these seven cases, the rejected parent was the father. Lampel found the child’s lack of normal ambivalence noteworthy in these seven cases and further observed intense collusion between mother and child. Lampel implemented a family intervention strategy which treated these children’s reactions as a phobia with hysterical features. One child who was placed with the rejected parent for six to eight weeks while Lampel worked intensively with all family members reported a marked reduction in symptomatology. Of the remaining cases treated with phobia reduction techniques, results ranged from minor improvement to deterioration. In the three cases where intervention clearly failed, Lampel concluded it was because the mother’s collusive involvement with the child was too strong.
Children Who Refuse Visitation
According to Johnston in 1993, “It is surprising that such a perplexing and serious problem as children’s refusal to visit has received so little systematic attention by researchers” (9; p. 110). In a study focused specifically on this problem, Johnston recognized Gardner’s work on PAS. Results of research by Johnston and her colleagues led to the conclusion that children’s resistance or refusal to visit a nonresidential parent after separation and divorce is an overt behavioral symptom that can have its roots in multiple and often interlocking psychological, developmental and family systemic processes. Clawar and Rivlin articulated similar findings in their study published two years earlier (1).
Developmental Issues of Children Who Refuse Visitation
Analysis of data from 70 high conflict divorce families enabled Johnston and her colleagues to identify specific developmental issues for each age group which can impact children’s reluctance and refusal to visit. Emotional disturbance of the primary parent, usually the mother, was found to exacerbate developmental effects. For 2- to 3-year-olds, age appropriate separation anxiety from the mother was found to be a factor in resistance to visitation. In normal development, children this age have not yet developed an internalized image of the primary parent figure.
Their sense of time is not yet sufficiently developed for them to understand that they will be getting back to the primary parent within a comfortable time frame. Parents may blame each other when children this age display resistance to visitation, even though such problems may be due in part to developmental factors.
Johnston found that 3 to 6 year-old children in high conflict divorce tended to shift their allegiances depending on which parent they were with. This may contribute to children’s difficulty in transitioning from one home to another. Normally, children in this age group have not yet learned to entertain two conflicting points of view. As a result, when the child is told in mother’s home that father does not provide enough money, the child will temporarily align with mother. The child will shift allegiance to father when told in his home that mother just wastes the money. Children from 3-6 years of age become easily confused and can readily excite concern and chaos by telling different stories to each parent. In addition, the normal course of development is for children’s preferences to shift back and forth from one parent to the other as they grow older and sort out their gender identity. Children in the 3-6 age range experience a strong drive to align with the opposite sex parent and to compete with and to exclude the same sex parent. In divorce, the young child’s developmentally normal fantasies about eliminating the same sex parent may be fulfilled. This creates intense guilt and anxiety for the child, which can contribute to resistance to visitation.
Children of divorce in the 6- to 7-year age range are more likely to suffer from loyalty conflicts, and to be concerned about hurting their parents. Such conflicts reflect the normal child’s growing sense of morality and capacity to see things from the viewpoint of another. Children 7 to 9 years of age have begun to develop the capacity to imagine how their parents view them and to experience the cognitive dissonance of their parents’ conflicting views. There may be a growing need to resolve such conflicts because children in this age range experience the loyalty conflicts of divorce more acutely.
High conflict divorce children in the 9- to 12-year-old group are particularly vulnerable to forming strong, PAS type alignments with one parent, as they try to “resolve” their earlier loyalty conflicts. Johnston noted that adults also tended to expect more of children this age, viewing them as “old enough to take a stand” in parental disputes. Forty-three percent of these children were in strong alignments and 29 percent in mild alignments. According to Johnston, these figures approach Gardner’s estimate that 90 percent of the children he has assessed in custody evaluations exhibit varying degrees of PAS. Johnston found that in some cases, parent-child alignments often continue for several years into mid-adolescence. As teenagers, some aligned youngsters develop the capacity to take a more objective, independent stance. However, a significant proportion of high conflict divorce children are unable to withdraw from the parental fights and maintain their stance of rejection and denigration toward the target parent throughout adolescence.
Johnston found that 28 to 43 percent of the 9- to 12-year-olds were in what she termed “strong alignments,” characterized by consistent rejection and denigration of the other parent (9). Children tended to make stronger alliances with the more emotionally dysfunctional parent, who was more likely to be the mother. In Impasses of Divorce, Johnston described children in strong alignments as forfeiting their childhood by merging psychologically with a parent who was raging, paranoid, or sullenly depressed (6). Factors within the child which contributed to the formation of strong alignments were found to be: 1) need to protect a parent who was decompensating, depressed, panicky or needy; 2) need to avoid the wrath or rejection of a powerful, dominant parent (often the custodial parent on whom the child was dependent; and 3) need to hold onto the parent the child was most afraid of losing, for example, a parent who was too self-absorbed or who was only casually involved with the child.
Among children who were refusing visitation, Johnston identified a particularly troubled group of children whom she described as being in “extreme alignments”(9). In her most recent book, she and Roseby reserved Gardner’s label “parent alienation syndrome” for these cases (10). Children in extreme alignments were more likely to be viewed as disturbed by parents, teachers and clinicians (9). These children exhibited bizarre and sometimes destructive behavior. They were more likely to display unintegrated, chaotic attitudes with few workable defenses. Often the child’s negative interpretation and distortions of the target parent’s character and behavior were found to have a bizarre quality (6, 9). The case vignette of Mr. and Mrs. C in Part (I) I described how the behavior of their daughter, V, became increasingly bizarre and self-destructive especially after her father gained sole custody in dependency court based on false allegations of sexual abuse against Mrs. C’s new husband.
Once separated from her mother, V’s stories of abuse by her stepfather became more numerous and improbable, including charges of repeated rape although the gynecological exam was normal. Bernet suggested that. the century-old conceptof pseudologia fantastica is one explanation for elaborate, implausible, untruthful reports of abuse (11). Children who exhibit pseudologia fantastica, represent certain fantasies as if they were actual occurrences, although there is little or no reality basis for these stories. Ditrich posited that children who engage in pseudologia fantastica do so in order to defend against the pain of an unbearable, present reality (12). V engaged in pseudologia fantastica in part to cope with the unbearable loss of her mother, who had been the primary parent. Her father, Mr. C was so driven by his need for revenge against V’s mother that he encouraged and reinforced V’s use of pseudologia fantastica instead of providing reality testing.
In a recent book chapter entitled “Parental Alignments and Alienation Among Children of High Conflict Divorce,” Johnston and Roseby opined, “Rather than seeing this syndrome as being induced in the child by an alienating parent, as Gardner does, we propose that these ‘unholy alliances’ are a later manifestation of the failed separation-individuation process in especially vulnerable children who have been exposed to disturbed family relationships during their early years” (10; p. 202). These disturbed family relationships are viewed as the byproduct of interparental conflict and narcissistic disturbance of one or both parents. These authors hypothesize that the more extreme forms of parent alienation in early adolescence have their roots in failed separation-individuation from the alienating parent during the earliest years of the child’s life. This developmental failure adversely affects the young person’s life and developing sense of self. The most important ingredient in certain severe parental alienation cases, according to Johnson and Roseby, is the child’s vulnerability and receptivity to the alienating parent, rather than “conscious, pernicious brainwashing” by an embittered parent.
In contrast to this view, mental health professionals practicing in the forensic arena often find evidence of substantial volitional activity on the part of the alienating parent in severe PAS. For example, in the case of Mr. and Mrs. L in Part I, the custody evaluator and others observed that the mother timed her suspected abuse report to authorities in such a way as to prevent father’s visitation from going forward. Mrs. L was also observed to make denigrating remarks about Mr. L in front of the child. Whether or not these behaviors were “conscious”or “unconscious,” Mrs. L was the person responsible for them and they did impact the child’s relationship with the father.
Important Deviations From Usual Developmental Trends
When children who are resistant to visitation deviate from usual developmental trends, it is important to evaluate and understand the reason. Children who form consistent alignments with an alienating parent may never have separated psychologically from that parent (9, 10). Examples of this are described by Dunne and Hedrick in their study of 16 severe PAS families (2), which was reviewed in Part I. There are a variety of contributing factors to children forming strong parent-child alignments before the highest risk period of 9 to 12 years of age. These factors include: 1) a failed separation-individuation process between parent and child; 2) intense parental pressure; 3) a child with precocious cognitive development who is more sensitive and vulnerable to parental conflict. Children can become aligned with one parent even though there is relatively little overt conflict and estrangement between the parents (9). Seemingly mild and subtle forms of parental influence can have significant effects, according to Clawar and Rivlin (1).
Child’s Active Contributions in PAS
The fact that Gardner identifies the child as an active participant in the PAS is sometimes overlooked. Active contributions by the child can be part of an effort to take care of an angry, disturbed, or otherwise troubled parent with whom the child is aligned.
Some PAS children manipulate conflicts between the parents for the feeling of power it gives them in the divorce family situation which is otherwise beyond their control. Young adolescents in search of greater freedom may amplify their complaints about a stricter parent to the more per missive one, capitalizing on the permissive parent’s eagerness for validation of his or her fixed negative view of the other parent. This reinforces the permissive parent’s inability to contain the child and exacerbates acting out behavior. Regardless of the relative contributions to the PAS by the alienating parent or the aligned child, a mutually reinforcing feedback loop may develop which is resistant to outside influence and to reality testing. A self generating “brainwashing “process results.
In Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) involving older children, it is the parent who originally initiated the child’s factitious illness or victimization. In the context of a continued symbiotic parent/child relation ship, older children may then learn to set up this situation themselves, producing factitious symptoms which induce a complicitous response from the MSP parent (13). Similarly, in moderate to severe PAS, children may learn to get their needs met by fabrication and manipulation. Where there is a particularly enmeshed relationship between the aligned parent and child, the child’s legitimate strivings for autonomy are continually under mined.
The Overburdened Child
Divorce almost inevitably burdens children with greater responsibilities and makes them feel less cared for. Children of chronically troubled parents bear a greater burden. They are more likely to find themselves alone and isolated in caring for a disorganized, alcoholic, intensely dependent, physically ill, or chronically enraged parent. The needs of the troubled parent override the developmental needs of the child, with the result that the child becomes psychologically depleted and their own emotional and social progress is crippled. Wallerstein and Blakeslee used the term “overburdened child”to describe this problem (14). Wallerstein has encountered PAS [personal communication to the author, 1991], but she prefers to conceptualize it from the “overburdened child”framework.
The Psychologically Battered Child
According to Garbarino, et al., psychological maltreatment of children is more likely to occur in families where the atmosphere is one of stress, tension and aggression (15), an apt description of high conflict divorce. The Psychologically Battered Child, published in 1988, does not mention divorce directly but uses such terms as “marital discord”and “family breakdown.” The special problems of children of divorce are more fully recognized in a subsequent book by Garbarino and Stott, in which Gardner’s work is cited numerous times, including his work on PAS (16).
According to Garbarino et al., psychological maltreatment can be viewed as a pattern of adult behavior which is psychologically destructive to the child, sabotaging the child’s normal development of self and social competence (15). Five types of psychological maltreatment identified by Garbarino et al. are adapted for PAS and described below:
1) Rejecting – The child’s legitimate need for a relationship with both parents is rejected. The child has reason to fear rejection and abandonment by the alienating parent if positive feelings are expressed about the other parent and the people and activi ties associated with that parent.
2) Terrorizing – The child is bullied or verbally assaulted into being terrified of the target parent. The child is psychologically brutalized into fearing contact with the target parent and retribution by the alienating parent for any positive feelings the child might have for the other parent. Psychological abuse of this type may be accompanied by physical abuse.
3) Ignoring – The parent is emotionally unavailable to the child, leading to feelings of neglect and abandonment. Divorced parents may selectively withhold love and attention from the child, a subtler form of rejecting which shapes the child’s behavior.
4) Isolating- The parent isolates the child from normal opportuni ties for social relations. In PAS, the child is prevented from participating in normal social interactions with the target parent and relatives and friends on that side of the family. In severe PAS, social isolation of the child sometimes extends beyond the target parent to any social contacts which might foster autonomy and independence.
5) Corrupting-The child is missocialized and reinforced by the alienating parent for lying, manipulation, aggression toward others or behavior which is self destructive. In PAS with false allegations of abuse, the child is also corrupted by repeated in volvement in discussions of deviant sexuality regarding the target parent or other family and friends associated with that parent. In some cases of severe PAS, the alienating parent trains the child to be an agent of aggression against the target parent, with the child actively participating in deceits and manipulations for the purpose of harassing and persecuting the target parent. This is particularly likely to occur in what Turkat called Divorce Related Malicious Parent Syndrome (17, 18).
Psychological maltreatment can be mild, moderate or severe. Effects on the child may vary according to the child’s age, temperament and ability to access social support.
Children who have been psychologically maltreated by the primary caretaker on whom they depend are more likely to exhibit a variety of psychological and social handicaps. These make them vulnerable to detrimental outside influences. A case of psychological mal treatment by the alienating parent is illustrated below.
Case Vignette of Psychological Maltreatment in Severe PAS
At 13, S was a socially isolated girl who believed she was stupid. She spent recesses alone because the other kids did not accept her. She got “D “grades in school. For as long as she could remember, her mother told S she was incompetent and unlivable. S’s mother would tell her, “Even your baby half sister is smarter than you are “. S hadn’t seen her father in 10 years. Her parents separated when she was only a few months old. Her father quickly found a new partner and remarried. Although S’s mother tried to stop father’s contact with the girl, father and his new wife visited with S regularly until she was three. At that time, mother was successful in persuading child protective services to stop the visitation based on allegations of sexual abuse.
Father turned to the family court for help. A custody evaluation was conducted which exonerated the father of abuse charges and indicated that the mother was using the abuse allegations to prevent the child from having a relationship with her father. After several years of family law litigation, the judge ordered reunification and appointed a reunification therapist. For the next three years, the efforts of the reunification therapist and family court mediator were thwarted by the mother. Father became depressed and entered individual therapy.
A break in the case came when S’s father was referred to a PAS expert for consultation. The family mediator, reunification therapist and the court were interested in the expert’s input. The judge ordered mother and daughter to meet with father’s PAS expert to facilitate the father/daughter reunification. The court also threatened mother with sanctions when she refused to cooperate with the reunification plan. The reunification team, which now in cluded a guardian ad litem for the child, planned to gradually reacquaint S with her father. The more gradual approach proved unsuccessful. The child remained hostile and staunchly aligned with her mother.
The team agreed that a different approach was needed. The PAS expert held a meeting with S and the reunification therapist. The expert established rapport with S, who was guarded but responsive. He asked S questions and gave her information which made her curious about her father. S indicated that she was interested in exploring the contradiction between her belief that father molested her and her lack of any actual memories of molestation. This opened the door for the expert to provide age appropriate education about the concepts of thought reform and “brainwashing”, as well as the problem of “false positives” when abuse is alleged. S was surprised and pleased that the expert thought her smart enough to learn about these adult concepts. For the first time, she indicated she was willing to participate in a meeting with her father.
Despite mother’s continued efforts to interfere, a one day visit between S and her father went forward when S was 13. The team agreed that the PAS expert should be present at father’s house. The girl was thrilled by the interest shown in her by her father and step mother, whose desire to please her contrasted sharply with how her mother treated her. The expert had to intervene once when father and stepmother set reasonable limits and S exploded. When the reunification plan called for overnight visits to begin, S’s court ordered individual therapist gave the girl her pager number, with instructions to call day or night if problems arose. S called to say that she didn’t want to go back to her mother’s. The therapist then had to set limits with S, reminding her that everyone, including S, had to adhere to the parameters of the reunification plan.
S encountered intense anger from her mother each time she returned home. One day, S took the risk of telling her mother that she wanted a relationship with her father. Mother slapped S and told the girl that she hated her and that the rest of mother’s family hated S, too. In spite of mother’s efforts to punish and intimidate S, the girl’s relationship with her father and stepmother grew and the girl began to blossom. For the first time, S began receiving above average marks in school. She made friends and became involved with a boyfriend. Mother tried to persuade S to get pregnant so that mother could have the baby. When S was at her father’s, mother maintained secret contact with her, encouraging S’s impulsive, angry outbursts and telling her daughter to run away, which S did several times. As time went by, the reunification team and the court recognized that mother’s treatment of S amounted to serious psychological abuse, interspersed with episodes of physical abuse.
Mother refused to participate in treatment or otherwise modify her behavior and the court eventually gave custody to the father. In defiance of court orders, mother continued her secret undermining of S’s placement with the father until S had a mental breakdown and had to be hospitalized. Father and stepmother became so discouraged that they considered allowing S to resume living with her mother. The reunification team, backed by the judge, took the position that this was not an option. The team continued to provide coordinated services in support of S’s placement with the father, and to offer outreach to the mother. By age 16, S was doing well on a consistent basis. S remained troubled by her mother’s rejection and unwillingness to change but continued to hope that someday her mother would get help.
THE TARGET/ALIENATED PARENT IN PAS
Children are about twice as likely to form PAS type alignments with their mothers as they are with their fathers (3, 5, 6, 9). Similarly, fathers are more likely than mothers to become target parents, especially when abuse is falsely alleged (19–23). These and other gender differences were also discussed in Part I. Some fathers who become target or rejected parents in PAS give up and withdraw, contributing to the significant dropout rate of fathers after divorce. Others persist in their efforts to establish and maintain a meaningful post-divorce relationship with their children despite daunting obstacles. What motivates these men to persist in their efforts to father, despite rejection, calumny and protracted litigation ?
Struggle for Paternal Identity
Huntington studied fathers in a nonclinical sample of 184 couples who were cooperatively involved in divorce-specific activities at the Californa-based Center for Families in Transition (24). As fathers struggled with the issue of paternal identity after divorce, many found themselves closer to their children as part-time fathers than they were during the marriage when they were living with their children full-time. The emotional rewards of fathering gave some men new meaning to their lives after the loss, loneliness and feelings of failure engendered by the divorce. When fathers experienced a positive response from their children, they were more likely to pursue the relationship. Huntington also observed that fathers could be driven off by the child’s rejection and refusal to visit. She referenced Gardner’s 1985 article in which he introduced the term PAS.
Involuntary Child Absence Syndrome
According to Jacobs, a psychiatrist who edited a book on divorce and fatherhood, the stress reaction of some fathers to divorce is due to involuntary separation from their children (25). Such stress reactions in mothers are often given a positive connotation and attributed to “maternal instincts”. Jacobs contends there is not nearly as much social support for fathers in a similar situation. He brought attention to the fact that fathers may have an equally strong need to nurture and parent, experiencing profound feelings of loss and frustration when reduced to a post-divorce relationship with their children which is minimal, diminished, or nonexistent. Working with fathers in a clinical setting, Jacobs found that the ability of these men to adjust to divorce was deeply impacted by their relationship with their children. Some fathers reported that they had been the primary parent during the marriage and that their children needed them in order to cope with a mother who was chaotic and disturbed.
The fathers Jacobs saw were convinced their children would suffer if the father-child bond was ruptured. They felt frustrated and sabotaged in their efforts to maintain the bond but refused to accept the idea that their children could develop well if the father-child relationship was severed. This was true for S’s father in the case vignette above. Jacobs reported that the idea of being a “visitor “in their children’s lives seemed second-rate and unacceptable to the fathers with whom he worked. Common adjustment reactions included anxiety, depression, hypervigilance and outrage, especially in response to denigration and expressions of hatred by their ex-wives.
Even if it was the father’s decision to leave, he was often unprepared for the emotional and practical consequences where his children were concerned. Fathers of young children who were not guaranteed continued close contact felt particularly outraged and betrayed by the system, which was seen as unfair and biased toward mothers. Fantasies of self destruction, murder, and/or kidnapping were common, although usually not acted upon.
Circumstances of the Separation Which Increase Risk of Becoming a Target Parent
The likelihood that a mother or a father will become the target parent in an alienation scenario increases according to who is seen as responsible for the marital break-up (1, 5, 6, 9, 14). The risk increases when the parent seen as responsible for the break-up is discovered to have actually been unfaithful or becomes involved with a new partner immediately after the separation (1). Leaving the marriage precipitously may also incur in creased risk of becoming a target parent. The mother became the target parent in this example:
Mrs. E was a good mother but she was also guilt ridden and conflict avoidant. She tried to leave her husband several times but each time he persuaded her to return. When she left for the last time, she allowed the children, who were 3 and 5 years of age, tostay with their father on what mother believed to be a temporary basis. She was shocked at how the children treated her when she came to get them. They rejected her using profanity. Father filed for custody, accusing his wife of drug abuse, neglect and abandoning the children. He tricked Mrs. E. into not attending the custody hearing, telling her it had been put off. When mother failed to appear, the court granted father’s motion for custody. It took several months for Mrs. E. to get the court to order a custody evaluation. By the time an evaluator was selected and the evaluation got underway, the children had been living with their father for a year. The evaluator observed that they were distant and somewhat fearful of their mother and recommended that the children remain with the father.
Contributions by the Target Parent to PAS
The relative contribution of the target parent to the PAS scenario varies widely, depending on the severity of the PAS, psychological issues of one or both parents, the target parent’s capacity to parent, and other factors.
For intervention to be effective in PAS, it is important to carefully assess the relative contributions of each parent and to consider their relative capacities for a healthy parent/child relationship. Where the target/rejected parent is seriously disturbed, has abused the child or is seriously inadequate as a parent, the problem may be one of generic parent alienation and is not properly called Parental Alienation Syndrome.
In mild to moderate PAS, behavior of the target parent may contribute significantly, as in the case heard by Judge Tolbert which is further described below (26). The nine-year-old girl was refusing to visit her father and he claimed PAS by the mother. Based on the totality of the evidence, however, the court concluded that father’s behavior contributed significantly to the child’s refusal to visit. In particular, father was found to be excessively rigid and insensitive to his daughter’s needs, seemingly an example of Johnston’s observation that rejected parents are often inept and unempathic with their children (6, 10).
In severe PAS, the target parent may be relatively healthy and contribute minimally to the PAS, compared to the alienating parent. This is particularly likely to be the case with Divorce Related Malicious Parent Syndrome, where the alienating parent’s anger, aggression, manipulation and deception tend to be driven by internal forces which far exceed external realities and contributions of the target parent (17, 18). The case vignette of Mr. and Mrs. C. in Part ( I ) demonstrated how a determined, unscrupulous father succeeded in wresting custody from a fit, custodial mother, who was the target parent.
According to Johnston’s work with high conflict families, unresolved anger and continued narcissistic injury of either parent may contribute significantly to the child’s rejection of one parent (6). Huntington found that in a nonclinical divorce sample, fathers sometimes engaged in controlling, provocative behavior in their efforts to reestablish a lost sense of control, especially if the divorce was not of their own choosing (24). Nicholas suggested that target parents may reinforce the PAS by assuming an ambivalent or inconsistent stance toward custody after years of litigation (27). Lund cited her experience with moderate PAS families in which the hated parent, usually the father, often exhibited a distant, rigid style which was seen by the child as authoritarian, especially in comparison to the preferred parent, who was overly indulgent and permissive (3). It is important not to overgeneralize, however, and to keep in mind that behavior of the aligned parent and child may influence and concretize the ambivalence reserve or indignation of the rejected parent.
Target Parents Who Are Falsely Accused
An accusation of child abuse, especially molestation, can quickly cut off an accused parent’s access to his child, pending an investigation (28). Because sex abuse is often difficult if not impossible to disprove, the accused parent may spend months and even years trying without success to refute the charge. Clear resolution of such allegations may be impossible as a result of the accusing parent’s actions, poor training and technique of the investigators, involvement of multiple agencies and lack of coordination between agencies and different branches of the judicial system (6).
Even if the charge is successfully refuted and the accused parent’s rights are reinstated, the parent has lost valuable time with the child, damaging the parent-child relationship.
According to Patterson, additional repercussions for the falsely accused parent include damage to personal dignity, reputation in the community, and depletion of financial and other resources needed to defend the charge and to preempt the possibility of criminal action (29). An unproved accusation alone is sometimes enough to have an accused parent arrested and held in jail until a preliminary hearing and beyond. A parent who is criminally tried runs a significant risk of false conviction in the current legal climate. When sex abuse is alleged today, the presumption of innocence is often set aside with the justification that it is better to convict an innocent person than to allow a real child abuser to go free. Patterson’s article references Gardner’s book, The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse. Patterson concludes, “We can never serve a child’s best interest by denying him or her the love and affection of a parent who has himself been victimized by a lie” (29; p. 941).
You Might Be An Alienated Parent If… (by Monika)
You might be an alienated parent if your seven-year old reports, “ I know the law; just wait till I am of age; I will tell the judge where I want to live. We are asking for full custody.”
You might be an alienated parent if your child removes household items such as DVDs, electronics, etc. Then, when confronting the child, he / she reports “I feel sorry for dad (or mom) they live alone and cannot make ends meet.” “We pawned the items (mom/dad) get over it.”
You might be an alienated parent if your five-year old reports they no longer have to obey your rules because “dad ( or mom) says so.” And “we think your rules are dumb.”
You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if your ex-partner refuses to co-parent and constantly belittles you to your child.
You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if your child complains about the meals you cook. But they don’t stop at complaining. Instead, they trash dinner. They call the other parent and report that “there is no decent food in the home.”
You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if you kindly ask your ex-spouse to please cease badmouthing. You point out that constant badmouthing is not in the child’s best interest. But, you discover they refuse to stop.
You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if your ex-spouse and his (or her) family do not understand the concept of boundaries. They share adult matters with adolescents and actually seek your adolescents advice. This is evidenced by your adolescent reporting, “yeah dad (or mom) and I have a good time; we talked about the reason his third girlfriend moved out.” And, “geez, mom (or dad) I sure feel so very sorry for her (or him).” And, as a consequence, your child is in constant distress. You understand this, but your ex-spouse and family do not; they have the same mentality as your adolescent. You wonder if insurance companies are the only ones that catch on, as full brain development does not stop at age 16. Insurance rates drop about age 25.
You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if you tell your eight year old they cannot watch the exorcist movie, rated R. Your eight year old informs you, “fine, I will watch the movie with (dad or mom) they will let me”…and the parent actually will.
You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if your eight-year old child develops nightmares after watching movies. You explain to your child that they should not watch such movies while at the other parent’s home. The child insists that “they are more mature than you understand.” Being the good co-parent you are, you call up your ex-spouse and discuss (or your try to discuss) that it is not a good idea to let the child view R rated movies. You are told, “ I am with them, what’s the harm; you are too strict.” Besides, “it’s my home when the child is with me.” And… you are not going to tell me how to raise my (son or daughter).
You might be a distressed and an alienated parent if you report these events but are informed, “ emotional abuse is hard to prove.” The next question, “is your child physically abused?” No you reply. Well, says the helper, “go read a good parenting book.” That day you read an advocacy group’s stance that your issue–the emotional abuse of your child, is not a “real” problem because children would not reject a parent without a good reason. Coercive control only works with grown adults, not susceptible children, right?
You might be distressed, disgruntled, and an alienated parent if you attempt to seek help for your child. Some say parental alienation is not a “real problem” that it is nothing more than a “normal reaction to a divorce.” Your advice is to “ take the high-road, most children will outgrow alienation.”
You might be a distressed, disgruntled, and an alienated parent if you end back up in court to enforce orders that are not followed. Your co-parent refuses to adhere to any parenting plan or other mandates—he or she is above the law. They refuse to return the children on time or assist with paying for school lunches. You are informed, “you just need to get along with your co-parent.” You try to explain that you have bent over backwards in trying to work with your ex-spouse. You may start to think that they have “Heard one case, so they have heard them all.”
You might be a distressed, disgruntled, down-trodden and an alienated parent if the experience of parental alienation has occurred for over 15 years. In fact, it went on for so long, one or more of your children no longer will speak with you. You scratch your head wondering if the brand new car (dad or mom) said they could have if they tore up your property and moved in with them, had anything to do with your child’s change of heart.
You might be a distressed, disgruntled, down-trodden and an alienated parent if you attempt to explain the situation but others scratch their head, suspiciously question you, and reply “well… some kids are resilient to badmouthing and brainwashing—wonder why your child is not?”
You might be a distressed, disgruntled, down-trodden and an alienated parent if you did the best you could. No you were not perfect. But, you were at least an average parent. You know your day-to-day routine would be okay if you were still married. But once the campaign of denigration started, you had to become almost a perfect parent. You grew a little weary.
This article is posted with permission from Dr. Richard Warshak
The many parents I have helped, women and men, express astonishment that some people demonize me, attempt to tarnish my reputation, and spread misleading and false information about my work and me. Although my supporters far outweigh my detractors, the people seeking to quiet my voice yell loudly and work hard to circulate their misinformation.
Until now I have allowed the personal attacks and gross misrepresentations to go without answer. I understand the mentality of a true believer and realize that clarification of reality and objective evidence will hit the brick wall of a closed mind. For various reasons, these people want to hold on to their beliefs. They cling to misguided ideas rather than acknowledge the widespread mistreatment of children described in Divorce Poison and my other works. In some respects, they resemble people from earlier generations who refused to acknowledge the evidence of their senses that children were being physically and sexually abused with alarming frequency. Just as the professionals who first pointed an accusing finger at a society that tolerated such abuse were attacked, I suppose it is my fate to be the target of similar attacks.
Defending myself against such attacks feels a bit undignified. It seems an unnecessary waste of time, and gives currency to a few fanatics who attempt to alienate my audience from me using the same tactics that some parents use to alienate their children from the other parent. Some of these extremists have lost custody of their children in a ruling that seeks to protect the children from severe doses of divorce poison. Rather than recognize the rationale for the court’s decision, these people believe that the judge either was biased or was foolishly taken in by the other parent’s allegations. Some of these people would have you believe that there is an epidemic of judges who take joy in placing children with parents who beat or sexually molest them. In fact, one website claims a conspiracy of Masonic judges who, in every family court across North America (I am not exaggerating), automatically give custody to pedophiliac fathers who in turn pimp their children to pedophiliac members of the Illuminati (the group profiled in Dan Brown’s novel Angels & Demons). I am not kidding. . . . Nor are they.
As I say in the Afterword to the revised edition of my book, when my wife reads these vicious and absurd accounts, she shakes her head in disbelief at the raw animosity that greets the work I do on behalf of suffering families. She asks, “Don’t they know that you’ve devoted your career to the welfare of children?” The many women I have helped through my writing, consultations, and courtroom testimony cannot understand what motivates the detractors, who claim to be advocates for women.
So why am I writing this article? It occurred to me that those who find value in my work might be confused by the drumbeat of misinformation. The downside of responding to critics is that it fuels their zeal and brings more attention to their smears. They live for the battle and are gratified when anyone takes them seriously. I would rather spend my time providing guidance on how to understand, prevent, and repair damaged parent-child relationships. But, for the sake of those who really want to know, here is some clarification.
One smear that has been making the rounds involves a case where I helped a mother whose children were irrationally alienated. Some important details I cannot divulge because they are not a matter of public record and I wish to protect the family’s privacy. Were these details known, domestic violence activists who criticize my involvement in this case would surely regret their words. They would think twice about circulating the innuendos and arguments raised by the father’s lawyer in his attempt to defeat the mother.
Several mental health professionals concluded that the children’s estrangement from their mother was unreasonable. Even the father’s own expert witness recommended that the one child under the age of 18 be removed from the father’s home (but, for reasons unclear, not placed with his mother).
The case was heard before an arbitrator. The arbitrator found that “the mother was the intentional victim of irrational alienation by her sons, designed and orchestrated by the father.” The decision awarded sole custody to the mother and gave her the authority to make decisions on behalf of her son including, at her discretion, enrolling him in my educational workshop. The Arbitrator’s decision was appealed to the Family Court. The Court did not dispute the findings of irrational alienation. But the judge did rule that the Arbitrator should have ordered another evaluation. In the decision the judge pointed out that I gave no recommendations because, as I made clear to the Arbitrator, I had not conducted a custody evaluation. The judge set aside the Arbitrator’s award and allowed the case to go to a new trial.
Here is where the smears begin. The purpose of my testimony was to educate the court about general issues and the state of knowledge regarding parent-child conflicts and children’s rejection of a parent, and to describe various interventions for families in which the court finds that the children’s rejection of a parent is unjustified, irrational, disproportionate to the child’s experience of the parent, and not in the children’s best interests. An expert witness who testifies in this capacity is obliged to explain the limitations of his work in the case. As is my duty, I clarified the purpose of my testimony and volunteered the information that I had not conducted an evaluation and was not there to make a specific recommendation for this family.
Rather than point out that I had testified in a professionally ethical and objective manner and properly apprised the court of the scope of my work in the case, including limitations, some bloggers imply that the Family Court Judge “discovered” the limitations and that I then had to “admit” that I had not seen the children. This is not what happened. I never testified before the Family Court Judge. The Judge simply noted what I had volunteered in my testimony in the Arbitration. My professional colleagues understand that what I did was precisely in accord with professional ethics.
Now it gets interesting, and this is the part critics conceal from their blogs. This was not the conclusion of the case. A new custody assessment was conducted. The assessment results strongly supported the mother’s position, recommended giving her the authority to enroll her son in Family Bridges, and concluded that the workshop was the best option for this family.
The case did go to trial. But, on the eve of the trial, the father’s lawyer, in what appeared to me to be a desperate last-ditch attempt to try his case in the media when it was clear that the evidence favored the mother, submitted an article to Canada’s Law Times that attacked my workshop as unscientific. Fortunately, the editor recognized distortions in the lawyer’s submission and asked me to submit commentary to set the record straight. My article was published. It effectively refutes the lawyer’s arguments. You do not learn about my article by reading the advocate’s blog posts. (See The Slanted Truth for the use of such tactics by alienating parents.) It is as if it did not exist. You can read my article by clicking here.
What you also never learn from reading the blogger’s accounts of this case is the ultimate outcome. Notwithstanding the father’s lawyer’s maneuvers, again, the mother prevailed on all counts. After hearing all the evidence, the judge concluded that “Mother should have sole legal and residential custody of [the child]. Mother shall have complete authority to make decisions regarding [the child’s] welfare. She is not required to consult with anyone before doing so; Mother is specifically authorized to obtain any treatment and/or intervention for [the child] as she, in her sole discretion, deems necessary and appropriate for [the child’s] best interests; Mother’s authority described above includes, but is not limited to ‘Family Bridges: A Workshop for Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships,’ to enable and assist [the child] in adjusting to living with her.”
By selectively citing the earlier Family Court decision, and concealing the trial outcome, the bloggers leave the impression that the court was critical of Family Bridges and blocked the family from participating in the workshop. In the end, the truth is the exact opposite. (Selective attention is another tactic of alienating parents that critics adopt to try to alienate audiences from my work.)
Here is what the judge wrote in her opinion: “This leaves the Workshop, coupled with a change in custody, as the only potential remedy with any chance of success in this difficult case. . . . The court is faced with compelling evidence that a change in custody, coupled with the Workshop is best for [the child]. . . . The Workshop is a last resort. Obviously it would have been better had these problems been identified and corrected early on. . . . Unfortunately, they were not. This leaves the Workshop as [the child’s] best last hope.” [Emphasis added.]
I fully expect detractors to post other information attempting to cast doubt on the wisdom of the judge’s decision in this case (which was essentially identical to the arbitrator’s decision; that is, two different triers of fact, after hearing all the evidence, concluded that the mother should have custody and have the right to enroll her child in Family Bridges). I do not intend to respond to such posts.
As rebuttal to any future innuendoes and misrepresentations, I can state the following. The mother has authorized me to state that she is very pleased with the ultimate outcome of her case. Her formerly alienated son, estranged for six years, participated in, and greatly benefitted from, the four day Family Bridges workshop. He rapidly restored his loving relationship with his mother and they now live happily together.
Parental Alienation: Scams, Scapegoats & Schmucks?
Children believe in Santa Clause and the tooth fairy until they discover the truth. The reality of the characters may be found on their own; other times, a parent informs his or her child. Then there is fear. Some children are afraid of the boogie man, the dark, or the neighbor’s dog. Obviously, there are situations when fear is reality based. If the child was bitten, he or she may fear the dog next door. Then again, some fear the dog next door because mom (or dad) said all dogs will bite. As the child gets older, he or she may believe other falsehoods. They will also stumble upon unpleasant life events. As they approach adulthood, they may even buy into a scam.
The five foot six adolescent weighing ninety pounds may think she is fat. Not only does she believe she is fat, she acts like she is fat. Frantic exercise and limited calories become the norm. Parents and other loved ones tell her otherwise, but her vision becomes reality. She recalls the time her so-called best friend said she was fat. She believed the lie as she identified with her friend. She loved her friend. They spent time together. Consequently, she deprives herself of nutrients. She cuts out of her life a portion of the food pyramid. Ties are severed not only with fruits, but she vows to never eat a cookie again. She was scammed.
What does any of the aforementioned have to do with parental alienation? Scams. There are numerous mislead groups that see emotional abuse as a fallacy. They have been scammed. In their reality, a parent cannot cause alienation (alienate defined as: a loss of affection or interest). They certainly do not think that words alone, by a vindictive ex-spouse, could lead to estrangement (defined as: the development of indifference or hostility with consequent separation or divorcement). They reason if a child is hostile, the parent must have done something to deserve the treatment. Sometimes this is true. No one doubts that some parents are cruel. But, sometimes, it is not true.
Some do not consider that a disturbed parent can belittle the other, on purpose, in front of the child. They certainly do not believe that words alone could be the basis for a child to reject a parent. Words work very well for the ninety pound adolescent. Words are clearly very destructive to bullied children. Yet, some cannot comprehend, as they have been “bitten”, that a spiteful ex-spouse could plant seeds of doubt. They forget that an ex-spouse may rant for years that all dogs bite. Then, they are surprised, when the child kicks the dog, starves herself, destroys property, or claims you are no longer loved.
When seeds of doubt are chronically watered; the child will drown. The child will not only grow to reject you but will grow up and claim to hate you. The child may also hate your dog, your family and anything else related to you. Thus, is parental alienation really a scam? It appears alienated children got scammed. A scam is defined as: a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation. By this definition, most would agree that alienating parents are deceptive. Some parents may have divorced a vindictive person. They found out the hard way– that they had been deceived. They may discover that they had married a schmuck. Not only were they deceived but they find out his or her child has been deceived.
Ironically, words alone scam a lot of women (men too) into marrying someone who is simply not a nice person. No one disputes that it is unjust when PAS is used in court as a fraudulent act. Said another way, it is appalling to realize that in some cases an ex-spouse claimed PAS and custody was awarded to a physically abusive parent. On the other hand, they fail to consider that sometimes abuse is “only” verbal. Please do not fall for the scam that verbal abuse is not damaging. Parental alienation is emotional abuse. Lastly, do not buy into the warning from advocacy groups that emotional abuse is a tactic. Review the literature.
“To a good mother who grieves the loss of her children’s love and respect, alienation is not “theoretical” and there is nothing in sounding the alarm about this form of emotional abuse that conflicts with advocating on behalf of victims of domestic violence.” Dr. Warshak, 2010
Parental Alienation: Refined, Reformulated & Rationalized: You Might Be An Average, Okay Normal Parent.
Parental Alienation: Refined, Reformulated & Rationalized: You Might Be An Average, Okay Normal Parent.
It is an unfortunate time we are in when mental abuse of children remains disregarded. Parental Alienation has been described in the literature for at least 60 years (Bernet, 2008). I hope that for the sake of children all over the world, another 60 years will not pass. The media has distorted Parental Alienation; extremist groups have made attempts to divide the issue into gender wars. I agree with Fidler & Bala (2010), “…the feminist advocates who, in the name of helping women, deny that alienation exists, do a disservice to not only the many mothers who are unjustifiably alienated from their children, and often by abusive men, but more importantly do a disservice to the children.”Probably the nastiest misrepresentations are those that relate Parental Alienation solely to the person who coined the term, Dr. Gardner.
It is regrettable that many cannot read past Gardner’s finding during the tender year’s presumption and his studies of high-conflict custody cases. It is also fateful that there is not a consensus among professionals; nevertheless, I concur with Bernet (2008) that the proposal should not be rejected due to a lack of consensus. He notes that, “the history of psychology and psychiatry is full of disagreements over causation.” Luckily, there is an agreement that parent-child alienation is a common and serious problem for some [italics added] separating parents (Jaffe, Ashbourne, & Mamo, 2010). This group designated as “some”, is the group I would clearly identify as high conflict. According the Center for Divorce Education, this group of divorcing parents consists of 10%. These authors also point out, that the current debate is centered on extreme cases. Commons sense tells us these extreme cases merit attention. It seems reasonable that Parental Alienation is considered “high-conflict.” I am not aware personally, or in literature reviews, of divorced couples that co-parent affectionately while simultaneously slandering each other in the presence of their children.
Out of a response to criticism, Parental Alienation has been refined, reformulated, and at times, rationalized. I am appreciative that professionals in the field are working on this dreadful issue. Nevertheless, in light of all the connotations, an extensive review of the literature reveals that Parental Alienation has been conceptualized similarly by different researchers. Although, as a caveat, most do not openly acknowledge their findings are analogous to Gardner’s. Parental Alienation, as described by Wallerstein & Kelly (1976), is when a child living with one parent who irrationally rejects the other parent and refuses to visit or have contact with that other parent .Explanations come back to Gardner’s original definition of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Gardner in 1985 discussed this high-conflict group and noted, “It is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming parent’s indoctrination and the child’s own contribution to the vilification of the target parent.” And here is where the problem begins. All of these conceptualizations’ entail what many consider as black and white thinking.
Is irrational alienation possible? Is it probable for one parent to trigger a campaign against an ex-spouse and align his or her child? According to Fidler and Bala (2010)”this is not an either/or proposition; there are abused children and there are alienated children.” The authors additionally note that to portray rejected parents as victims is to resist “scrutiny of the conduct of these parents.” Clearly, I agree there are alienated children and abused children. And, I suggest, that both issues should be taken very seriously. These issues however are separate considerations. True abuse and neglect should be ruled out before giving a diagnosis of parental alienation disorder. Gardner and other researches include criteria for differentiating between Parental Alienation and Bona Fide abuse-neglect. It seems likely that experts can differentiate between abuse and Parental Alienation. “Gardner’s definition is clear enough for psychologists to reliably diagnose PAS from case examples” (Rueda, 2004). It also is possible that one parent can develop animosity because of the input from one parent. Without a doubt, …”[sic] it is common for each parent to express negative sentiments about the other parent…” (Fidler & Bala, 2010). However, I think it is possible that one parent can vent to a friend, counselor, or another adult while the alienating parent “expresses negative sentiments about the other parent to the child.” Who do you vent to?
Clearly, educational efforts are needed as some parents do not know that voicing frustrations to their child may not be in their best interests. On the other hand, there are actually parents who appreciate that disparaging remarks about an ex-spouse is not a good idea. But, we ponder, let us get the bottom of our ex-spouses pain, “The real issue which needs to be addressed is the conflict between the parents that prevents the children from enjoying a meaningful relationship with each of their parents post separation” (Jaffe, Ashbourne, & Mamo, 2010). I do not know about the reader, but to get to the bottom of my ex-spouses anger, I would have had to stay married. Some parents cannot move on past the pain of a divorce, “It is the embattled parent, often the one who opposes the divorce in the first place, who initiates and fuels the alignment (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). What about you, do you as a rejected parent have serious parenting deficits? No worries, you may be average with regular parenting faults, similar to the married population that regularly making parenting mistakes.
Is it not possible that the parent who opposes the divorce could start a campaign of denigration? I know when I initiated my divorce, I was told, “if you leave I will make your life a living hell.” It is also an immense error to assume that all rejected parents cannot be victims. To think that all rejected parents must have played a role, renders that rejected parents get what they deserve. (Warshak, 2003). Intent or no intent, some parents spew venomous words and poison the mind of his or her child. I agree that some parents could benefit from parenting educational programs that teaches about children’s developmental stages, birth order, gender identification and the adverse outcome of badmouthing. As a caveat; one has to care. Kelly (2010) points out, favored parents often are noncompliant with court orders. What about your ex-spouse, does he or she comply with court orders? Should valuable workshops that offer services to severely alienated children offer programs for the favored parent? According to Warshak & Otis (2010), favored parents often deny they have a problem [sic] and are unmotivated to change. Years ago after my divorce, I suggested joint counseling, but the suggestion was ridiculed. What about your ex-spouse? Do they want [italics added] to change?
Do not be surprised if you ex-spouse does not change nor desire to change. A shrewd college professor recently reminded me, of the old adage; leopards do not change their spots. Findings indicate this may be true. As noted by Jaffe et al. (2010), “a minority of parents who suffer from personality and mental disorders may ignore the court and spend their waking hours finding ways to exhaust the other parent emotionally and financially.” If you are a target parent hope remains. Some research indicates that being an adequate loving parent might be good enough. It may be that rejected parents simply have a difficult ex-spouse. And do not worry; you may also be psychologically healthy (although, getting a little mad at this point is understandable). Contrary to what might easily be assumed by professionals, findings by Hedrick & Dunne, (1994) suggest that PAS does not necessarily signify dysfunction in the rejected parent. Gordon, Stoffey & Bottinelli (2008) also had comparable findings. They noted that target parents were similar in dynamics to an “average parent”. Target parents, if you find yourself distressed by your children refusing visitation, sudden hatred, or reporting ideas and notions beyond their years; you may be normal.
There is power in hope; and in knowing you are not alone. “We consider Parental Alienation Syndrome as a childhood disorder caused by an alienating parent…” (Gordon et. al). Lastly, the magnification of this problem is realized, “if a child begins to develop racial hatred, many reasonable people would consider this a problem worthy of attention. When children suffer from irrational anxieties that interfere with functioning we do not ignore the suffering with the hope that eventually the fears will be overcome” (Warshak, 2003). Once I was reminded that hatred by a child towards one parent is similar to prejudice, and that parental alienation is a social problem. Divorce is a social problem; creating and instilling fear in the hearts and minds of innocent children and turning them against a once-loved parent is pathological. Which lens do you wear? As I recall, not all social problems resolve without intervention. And please, do not think silence is always golden. Nor is it helpful to count on your case of Parental Alienation resolving by the time your child turns 18; this may not be the case. The fact is, some social problems are internalized [italics added] and subsequently develop into disorders. Without recognition and intervention, Parental Alienation will adversely affect generations to come.