Over the past few years since starting my private practice, I have seen and worked with numerous families where a divorce was either in progress or had already occurred and child-custody disputes were in progress. Sometimes, one parent will alienate a child from the other parent out of anger, desire for revenge, jealousy, feelings of betrayal, rejection, etc. The child becomes enmeshed with the alienating parent and believes he or she must align with the alienating parent. The child may also actively participate in the process of alienating the other parent. This phenomenon is known as parental alienation syndrome (PAS).
When I observe families struggling with this type of dynamic, it brings to my awareness the victimizing nature of parental alienation syndrome for the child and the parent being alienated. The child wants to be loyal to both parents, and when he or she feels an “invisible loyalty” to one, it creates a high level of anxiety for him or her. This is a war the child cannot win.
Often, the parent affected by PAS will say negative things about the other parent to the child, with the objective of alienating the other parent from the child. The child can become virtually brainwashed into believing that the other parent deserves to be alienated, and may actively participate in denigrating the parent being alienated. The parent being alienated often feels protective, but is unable to stop the negative impact of PAS on the child and the relationship with the child. The biggest victim in this scenario is the child, as he or she will suffer the most from the fallout.
Parental alienation syndrome steals the bond and security that the child once experienced with the parent being alienated. In addition, PAS typically involves destructive behaviors such as manipulation, lying, and deprivation. Parental alienation syndrome robs a child of the ability to trust others as well as his or her own perceptions about life. In other words, he or she begins to distrust himself/herself as well as carry guilt. Parental alienation syndrome puts a child in a position of believing that the love and bond he or she has with a parent is contingent upon sacrificing the other parent, and they actively participate in protecting the parent responsible for alienating the other.
If PAS is successful, the long-term emotional impact on a child may severely limit his or her ability to form healthy relationships and to develop emotional attachment to others. In addition, PAS may have a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem and confidence, which affects a child’s general attitude about life.
Parents must recognize that when they decide to divorce and children are involved, their relationship is not ending; it’s changing. Despite the charged emotions that often surface between parents who are divorcing, they must still collaborate about what is in the best interest of their child. The “tug of war” that PAS creates for a child with one or both parents should be avoided at all costs.
The following are some things parents can do to successfully challenge the alienating parent in the phenomenon of PAS:
- A home-study course called Breakthrough Parenting has been known to help parents being alienated to successfully challenge the parent doing the alienating.
- Remain objective and nonreactive to the alienating parent. If the parent being alienated becomes reactive, it gives the alienating parent power to prove that the parent being alienated is unstable.
- Be willing to stay persistent in the process of challenging the parent doing the alienating in front of a judge. This process can take a significant amount of time.
- Be willing to take on the financial expense of legally challenging the parent doing the alienating.
- Seek help from a family attorney who has experience dealing with PAS.
- Get educated about how the court system works and become familiar with the law as it applies to the case at hand. Some parents have been known to represent themselves (after educating themselves on how the courts work and how the law applies to their case).
- Devise a parenting plan showing how the child will be cared for and then present it to the court.
- Always remain focused on the objective of having the child’s best interest at heart.
- Avoid taking a “victim” stance.
- Document, document, document.
- Make a conscious effort to avoid causing friction with the alienating parent.
- Focus on the present and enjoy spending time with the child without saying anything negative to the child about the alienating parent.
- Follow through on picking up the child, and/or follow through with all obligations to the child.
- Avoid violating court orders.
- Have a strong sense of character and show integrity toward the alienating parent.
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.