A 12-year study by the American Bar Association found Parental Alienation in 60% of custody cases. That’s just one of the many remarkable aspects of this article on PAS (Psych Central, 9/2011). The article, by Richard Zwolinski, is excellent for a number of reasons. First, he understands his topic and conveys his information in a way that’s neither too technical and advanced nor too elementary. Second, it’s got a number of good links. The linked-to video toward the end of the article should definitely be seen, particularly by PAS deniers.
The woman in it describes her childhood in detail; it was a childhood in which her father relentlessly turned her against her mother. His campaign led her to totally reject her mother, even to the extent of assaulting her and saying “the cruelest things a child can say” to a parent. It was only when the woman grew up and had children of her own that she was able to understand what had happened and build bridges back to her mother. But her story is remarkable for other reasons apart from its raw immediacy. For example, her father started his campaign of alienation during the marriage. Her mother was often away from the house due to her work, so there was ample opportunity for her father to pursue his alienation of his daughter. I’ve always thought of PAS as occurring during and after divorce, but that’s not the case as the article and the video make clear. The woman’s story draws a disturbing picture of the alienating parent. In her case, it became clear that her father was deeply disturbed, apparently narcissistic and believed that divorce would utterly destroy him. His recruitment of his daughter was his attempt to secure another person as his ally and security blanket against the possibility of divorce which of course his alienating behavior helped to bring about. His campaign required his daughter to take sides against her mother and to suppress all feelings of love for her, need of her and desire to be with her. And that’s one of the important things the article emphasizes – the needy alienating parent forces the child to abandon his/her own needs in order to meet those of the alienating parent. In so doing, the child becomes, in very real emotional ways, the parent of the parent. That, plus the loss of the target parent have profound effects on the child. The article rightly refers to that as PAS abuse, because it does long-term damage to the well-being of the child.
In any case, the victims are first and foremost children who don”t usually realize what”s happening to them (if they are older, and have a longer-term history with both parents, they may understand at some level what”s going on). These children live with the loss of a parent that”s as painful and stressful as a death, but are not allowed to grieve. They are taught to stuff those feelings of grief and to turn that pain and their natural love for their parent into hatred…
Children end up feeling so loyal to the alienating parent (often feeling that they have to protect him or her), that they subsume their own emotional needs in many cases. Even if the alienating parent emotionally or physically abuses them, the children will defend their actions. Because they perceive the target parent as having abandoned them, they want to avoid being abandoned again (by the alienating parent) at all costs. They”ll do anything to show their loyalty. They might curse, hit, not speak to, and exhibit other angry behaviors to the target parent.
The child of course is the primary victim of parental alienation. It’s the child who must “stuff” his/her feelings; it’s the child who loses a parent; it’s the child who ends up feeling responsible for the well-being of the alienator. But the target parent is a victim too. That parent loses contact with his/her child and is placed in the very difficult position of, on one hand not wanting to cause the child the stress that contact with the target parent brings, and on the other hand knowing that the child needs to know the truth about the target parent. Interesting too is the article’s connection of visitation interference with PAS.
The parent who has custody is obligated by law to avoid any disruptions in the children”s relationship with the other parent. However, a shocking number of custodial parents break the law by doing everything in their power to destroy their children”s relationship with their other parent by “forgetting’ visitations, disrupting visitations in numerous ways, or simply moving, sometimes far away, and leaving no forwarding address.
Of course it’s not just the target parent who’s removed from the child’s life; it’s his/her extended family as well. So the child’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. are all placed beyond the pale. In short, PAS begins to look a lot like parental abduction which is itself a form of PAS. There are still people who are desperate to marginalize PAS as “junk science” invented solely to deprive mothers of their children. That point of view isn’t junk science, it’s just junk. Read the articles, click on the links, listen to the videos and what you’ll find is a huge body of scientific literature on PAS and the deeply compelling personal stories of men and women who have been scarred for life by their alienation by one parent or the other. I’d love to hear one of the PAS deniers explain to those people that their experience wasn’t real. Understanding PAS, its use by narcissistic parents, it’s terrible effects on children and how to deal with it legally and psychologically are all coming to the fore. Gradually we’re coming to grips with the parental behavior and its effects on children. Those who deny the existence of PAS or who misrepresent what it is stand in the way of history. Soon enough, they’ll be shoved aside. That will happen for many reasons, one of which is that parental alienation seeks to remove one parent from a child’s life forever. To that the woman in the video gives the one and only final answer – “Children need both parents.”