Aug 6, 2020
Parental Alienation Syndrome – Part 2: The Damage Done to Children
Good Cop, Bad Cop Gone Rogue
As parents, we know the game of “Good Cop, Bad Cop”, right? This strategy works at times for families managing children of all ages. However, parental alienation syndrome is basically a form of this game gone bad. It is where one parent uses as many tactics as humanly possible to get their children to turn on the other parent.
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) was first named by a child psychologist, Richard Gardner, in 1985. It is not recognized as a mental health condition, nor is it officially recognized by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization, but the mental health effects are real (Heitler, 2018). Parental alienation occurs in many ways. In part 1 of this series, I referenced three kinds of alienation: subtle, passive-aggressive, and overt.
Targeted Parent Faces Uphill Battle
If the children fall prey to these nasty tactics, the alienated parent could lose their children. They could lose them emotionally and also in court by losing physical custody of them. As a practicing family law attorney, I have witnessed this firsthand, many times. Remember that some of these tactics can be subtle, or passive-aggressive, which are the toughest ones to overcome, especially if the children are younger. They are especially hard to prove in court.
The alienating parent will badmouth the other parent, they will lie to the children about the divorce, saying things like, “Mommy took me to court”, which sounds bad, but then does not tell the truth about WHY Mommy took him to court. The alienating parent might not allow the children to visit extended family members on the other side. They might go so far as to call school officials and doctors and make false allegations turning them against the alienated parent. Sadly, there are some parents who will go so far as to have the child make allegations of sexual or child abuse, thus involving Children in Youth services, which are devastating to the alienated parent and are extremely time consuming.
Damage Extends into Adulthood
But what about the children during all of this? Richard Gardner, who coined this syndrome described eight behaviors that were identified in a survey of 68 targeted parents with severely alienated children. (Baker and Darnell, 2007). Some children become consumed with hatred for the targeted parent. Some children pick on the smallest things about the other parent. They lack ambivalence and see the alienating parent as perfect, and the targeted one flawed. Though completely brainwashed by the alienating parent, the children still believe their ideas are their own and are not those of the alienating parent. These children will turn on the extended family of the targeted parent. Even if the alienating parent treats the children poorly, they will still side with that parent, regardless if their basis is irrational.
Adult children of this abuse believed that their experience had many negative effects. Some admitted to having depression, to abusing drugs and alcohol to help them hide from their true pain. Others ended up having failed relationships and marriages as well. The worst long-term effect of this was them alienating their own children. The children interviewed in this study revealed that the alienating parent, “had emotionally, physically, or sexually abused them”, yet these children stayed aligned with that parent. (Baker, 2008).
This can be life-changing for the targeted parent. It is painful, it is unfair, and it is very difficult to overcome. There are ways, however to get the children to move from alienation to realization. Join me for part 3 of this series.
For more information on this topic, click on this link How does PAS Damage Children
Christine Lombardo-Zaun, Esq. is an attorney-mediator at the Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation. She can be reached at 800-310-9085 or CLZaun@alpha-divorce.com.
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