Parental Alienation Syndrome

By: Dani Langevin – June, 2013

When parents are denied the right to have contact with their children you have what is called Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS. This is not simply a burden that an alienated parent must bear, but their children too, must deal with being forced to live without one of the strongest bonds in their life: the bond between a child and his or her parent. Although calculated, the abusive damage being done to the child is often unknowingly committed.

Last month I introduced you to Derek, a father who is victim to a vindictive ex-wife and a corrupt Massachusetts divorce court system. Derek introduced me to PAS, a term and affliction I had never heard of before. According to Dr. Reena Sommer, Parental Alienation Syndrome is defined as:

“The deliberate attempt by one parent (and/or guardian/significant other) to distance his/her children from the other parent and in doing so, the parent engages the children in the process of destroying the affectional ties and familial bonds that once existed…”

Derek’s ex-wife systematically denied his right as a parent to see and even speak with his children to the extent that they believed he had abandoned them. Derek, as devastating as it was, did his best to respect the confines of the bogus restraining order placed on him by a corrupt court system so that he would not end up in jail, only to have his children after two long years, tell a court ordered psychiatrist that they were no longer interested in seeking a relationship with their father.

As a parent, my heart sank when Derek shared this with me. I felt my blood drain, then boil, and I felt sick to my stomach thinking what it would be like to hear this from my own children. It is unconscionable that any parent would do this to another and, in essence, their own children.

Anyone who seeks to exact revenge or the destruction of their ex-partner’s relationship with their own children is only seeing the pain it will inflict on the adult in this situation. They are so blinded by their own hate and anger that they cannot see the incredible and long-lasting damage they are causing their own children. “In these cases, children become the victims. They cannot win or defend themselves. It robs children of security and embeds in their minds falsehoods about the targeted parent that are injurious to their own psyche and their sense of self”(Sommer).

Ultimately, the only way to please the alienating parent is for their child to turn against the parent being targeted. The alienating parent forces their children to choose between two of the most important people in their lives. “The guilt they experience when their parents first separate is exacerbated by the added stress of being made to feel that their love for one parent is contingent on their abandoning the other.”

How does a parent do this without seeing the damage it is doing to their own flesh and blood? It is calculated brainwashing of oneself and one’s children. They use their own children as “spokespersons for their hatred”, soldiers in their battle to destroy their imagined enemy and pawns in a war where there will be no winners.

What is most frightening is neither the parent nor the children are aware of what is happening. It is difficult for children to protect themselves against one parent’s campaign against the other, and it is often so damaging that the effects are difficult to reverse.

According to my research, there are three types of ‘alienators’. Type one is known as the Naïve Alienator. Almost every divorcing parent, at one time or another, exhibits this behavior. It is expressed when their anger gets the better of them and they lash out verbally in front of their child or children.

“I can’t afford that. Your father makes more money than me. Tell him to buy it for you.” These parents are very much aware and respect the relationship their ex has with their children, but some times lose ‘their cool’. Because they can separate their own feelings from their children’s, they encourage and support the relationship the children have with the other parent. They are secure in knowing that their children are capable of needing and loving both parents equally. As a result, communication between both parents is frequent, respectful and healthy for all involved.

The type two alienator is the Active Alienator. This is the parent who often feels like they are losing control due to being angry and hurt over the loss of their relationship with their partner. They may return to court to have the legal system hash out problems between them rather than working them out together. They will point out their ex’s imperfections and/or inconsistencies to their children,

“She’s late again. She was late when we were dating, late when we were married and she’s still late. You’re probably going to miss your practice and it will be all her fault.”

In reality, these parents are doing their best and want their children to have a good relationship with the other parent, but their own feelings get in the way and frustration sets in. They apologize and try to mend the damage that has been done.

The type three alienator is the Obsessed Alienator. They are unable to separate their own feelings for the ex-partner from their children’s. They see protecting their children from the ex the number one priority and materialize abuse that has not occurred. “The obsessed alienator enmeshes the children’s personalities and beliefs in their own. This is a process that takes time but one that the children, especially the young, are completely helpless to see and combat.” The obsessed alienator is able to convince their family and friends that their ex is dangerous and abusive emotionally and, therefore, potentially physically abusive.

Their, “supporters are often seen at the court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.” Court hearings are frequent because the obsessed alienator’s main objective is to seek exacting revenge on the ex and completely alienate them from their children through false accusations. “They have a desire for the court to punish the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted parent from seeing their children. This confirms in the obsessed alienator’s mind that he or she was right all the time.”

The long term effects of PAS on the children, the innocent victims in these cases, are extensive and often irreversible. Children who have been forced to reject one parent over another can suffer from anger, depression, suicidal ideation, sleeping, eating and educational disorders, bedwetting, drug abuse or destructive behavior, anxiety and panic attacks, and damaged sexual identity. Boys often turn to delinquent or destructive behavior when the most important male figure has been villainized by their mother. Many children subjected to PAS have a fear of being abandoned or rejected because they have been brainwashed to believe that one of their parents are less desirable therefore they may be undesirable. As they get older, many of these children will try to fill the void of the missing parent with everything from bad behavior, to drugs, alcohol and sex.

The intention of the alienating parent is not to destroy their children’s psyche, but it is a horrendous side effect of the destructive war they wage against their ex-partner due to being blinded by anger, hate and revenge. Much can be done to prevent these effects. The first step is to recognize the signs of Parental Alienation (PA) in children.

It begins by recognizing that the focus is on the parent being alienated rather than the child or children. If visitation is court ordered, do NOT give the child the option not to visit a parent during designated times. This sets them up for conflict. Your children are not your confidants. Discussing every ‘little’ thing about your marital relationship is destructive and painful.

Claiming that you just want to be honest is a cloak for giving your children information that they cannot process or only turn into resentment against one of their parents. Refusing to allow children to bring their own property to and from both parent’s houses sets a dividing line between the two homes. Denying contact with a parent, refusing an ex-partner access to medical records, school or sports functions, placing blame on the other parent and using a child as a spy are just a few of many more signs that a child is being exposed to, and damaged by PA.

There is a great deal of research and literature about PA and PAS. It is the responsibility of every parent and family member of the children involved in a divorce to keep the children safe from having to choose between one parent or the other, or used as a pawn. I would hope that no parent would want any harm to come to their own child, especially at their own hands or actions.

Next month I will speak specifically about Derek’s case. His fight to see his children is ongoing. He still has no driver’s license, no rights as a father and has been completely alienated from his children for two years as of June 11th. He has no way of knowing how this is affecting his children. Unfortunately, this column sheds some light on just what that may be.