In recent years, recognition of PAS has increased.
PAS is systematic denigration of one parent by the other with the intent of alienating a child against the other parent.
In some instances, all of the family members play a role for PAS to take hold. There is an easy temptation to place all of the responsibility for the process on the alienating parent, whose manoeuvring is the most obvious.
Motives will vary from family to family. In some, revenge for felt injustice or for feelings of rejection will dominate, but in others, the fear of loss of or abandonment by the children will be the driving force.
The targeted parent may be insensitive to the child, and usually has limited insight into his or her own contributions and role in the PAS, ie failing to counter the alienation theme, focusing on the alienating parent rather than the needs of the child.
Children most vulnerable to PAS, due to several converging developmental issues, are in the 8- to 15-year-old range. While some children seem completely drawn into the themes of the alienation, seemingly believing every word they say others are very aware of the exaggerations and lies.
In families with multiple children, roles in a PAS drama often are divided up, with the children representing the range of alienation - usually one child completely alienated, one ambivalent, and one still attached to the targeted parent.
A once loving and close relationship with a parent is suddenly ended by the children with little warning. The child aligns with the alienating parent and rejects the targeted parent.
Richard A. Gardner. M.D. defines 3 types of PAS:
"The mild type - The alienation is relatively superficial, the children basically cooperate with visitation, but are intermittently critical and disgruntled with the victimized parent.
The moderate type - The alienation is more formidable, the children are more disruptive and disrespectful, and the campaign of denigration may be almost continual.
The severe type - Visitation may be impossible so hostile are the children, hostile even to the point of being physically violent toward the allegedly hated parent. Other forms of acting-out may be present, acting-out that is designed to inflict ongoing grief upon the parent who is being visited".
If parental alienation influences the child, the targeted parent may well be faced with the alienating parent -
* Condemning them for not having enough money, changes in their lifestyle, or other issues in front of the children.
* Supporting the child's refusal to visit the other parent without reason.
* Giving children in depth inappropriate and unnecessary information (ie why the marriage failed,discussing the divorce settlement).
* Questioning children about the targeted parents personal life.
* Giving children reasons why they should feel angry and reminding the children they have good reason to feel angry towards the targeted parent - Brainwashing: Through a process of rewriting the child's experiences in a way to create reality confusion, the alienating parent incorporates the child into a false view of reality. This can include outright lies ("Your father never enjoyed spending time with you. He complained about that all the time, but not in front of you because he didn't want to hurt your feelings. I wonder why he wants to see you now"), subtly implied rewrites of the child's feelings ("You were scared of her even when you were a baby. You wouldn't even let her hold you"), or implanted memories ("Remember when your father used to hit me, or have you blocked this out of your mind?").
The child resolves the confusion by adopting the alienating parents view of reality.
To the targeted parent the child may show -
* Refusal to visit or spend time with them.
* Displays of anger and hatred for them.
* Nastiness extending to their extended family without remorse.
* Having delusional or irrational beliefs, due to what they have been told.
* A one-sided alliance with the alienating parent.
The PAS is a family system defence mechanism. The function of the defence is not always obvious, often there is a subtle underlying complicity on the part of the family members in the drama -
* To protect the alienating parents self-esteem (ie, when PAS escalates as the target parent becomes more "successful" after the separation, including getting on with life and remarriage).
* To help the alienating parent cope with his or her difficulty "letting go" of the marriage (ie, when the alienating parent can't stop thinking about or talking about the other parent; or when PAS escalates around birthdays, holidays, etc.).
* To maintain the alienating parent's symbiotic dependence on the child (for example, when the AP calls the child every day when the child is with the targeted parent).
* To deal with anger and revenge (ie, when the alienating parent expresses moral outrage at the exposure of the child to a new romantic partner, when the real issue is anger for an affair, or simply at being so easily replaced).
* To help the family cope with the alienating parent's tendency to turn on the child or anyone else who disagrees, or to abandon the child if there is a change (the child fears having feelings independent of and in opposition to the alienating parent and becoming a target of the rage and rejection he or she has seen the alienating parent direct at others who disagree).
EFFECTS OF PAS ON THE CHILD
The effect of PAS on the child is never benign; it is malevolent and intense. The degree of severity will depend on the extent of the brainwashing, the amount of time the child spends enmeshed with the alienating parent, the age of the child, the number of healthy support people in the child's life, and the degree to which the child "believes" the delusion. In many cases of PAS, the child will exhibit all of the signs of absolute rejection of the targeted parent, but in private will disclose that the rejection is just an act.
The child's internal psychological and emotional organisation becomes centred around the rejection of the targeted parent.
The child develops identity and self-concept through a process of identification with both parents, a process that begins very early in the child's life. The rejection of the hated parent becomes an internalised rejection and leads, over time, to self-loathing fears of rejection and depression.
These developments often are a surprise to the alienating parent and others, since at the time of the alienation, the child will often look mature, assertive, and confident.
These are façades, however, often reflecting the feelings of power granted the child in cases of PAS, who is given reign to lie, be manipulative, and be as hostile as he or she wishes without reprimand. The child is also internalising the rage of the alienating parent as part of the self-concept, which often combines with intense guilt over the harm done to the targeted parent to become chronic feeling states. Sadness and longing often accompany these other feelings.
Children who maintain continuing relationships with both parents have higher satisfaction with their families, better overall adjustment (including higher self-esteem, better sex-role identification, higher IQ scores and academic performance, better adjustment to the divorce, and better adjustment to adolescence), substantially lower levels of fear and anxiety (again, especially of abandonment), and an increased quality of relationship with both parents.