Doing Life Together

upset girlJerry has no relationship with his children now that he and his wife are divorced. Prior to the divorce, Jerry was very involved in their lives. But the relationships took dramatic turns due to something called Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

In the 1980s, a forensic psychiatrist coined the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS) to describe the efforts of one parent to turn their children against the other parent. The syndrome involves deliberate mental and emotional abuse that can occur among highly conflicted couples who fight over custody. The result is a child who harbors tremendous negativity toward a parent that is not based on actual experience with that parent. PAS destroys family bonds that once existed between children and a parent and is based on lies. There are no legitimate reasons why children are taught to harbor animosity toward the targeted parent.

It usually takes the form of one parent blocking another from seeing the children due to a belief that children will be harmed by visitations. False allegations of child abuse and sexual abuse often are in play.

A less severe form of this is when a parent blocks a child from visitation due to the inconvenience of visits. Visitations are seen as a chore or an errand, not a means of promoting the parent-child bond. Over time, one parent is seen as superior over the other.

The motivation behind PAS is usually rooted in poor coping from the failed marriage. Instead of a spouse engaging in healthy grieving for the loss of the marriage, they engage the children in the ongoing battle. They feel so damaged from the breakup that enlisting the children in the anger and blame serves as a way to further the blame. Sometimes the spouse who vilifies feels so rejected and alone that they turn to the children for nurturing and support, even companionship. What emerges is a “we against the world” position.

If you see signs of alienation, continue to reach out to the children involved and don’t give up on the fight. Your children are too important.

Except and adapted by We Need to Talk by Dr. Linda Mintle (Baker Books, 2015)

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