Is there any possibility that you are the victim of Parental Alienation

Syndrome or could you be the Alienator?

Parental Alienation Syndrome develops out of High Conflict Divorces where there is a protracted

period of conflict and hostility between the parents. Characteristics of Parental Alienation are as


1. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) - takes a while to develop and must be

differentiated from Alignment and Estrangement.

2. Alignment- Alignment is when one child or more than one child expresses a

preference for one parent. This can be due to age, gender-identification, and

possibly after divorce it could be a reaction to the circumstances of the divorce.

The child could be angry or hurt at the other parent’s decision to divorce, or the

child could feel enormous loyalty to the parent left behind. However, in cases of

Alignment, they tend to be time-limited if they are handled appropriately by a

warm non- defensive parent or can be resolved by brief counseling.

3. Estrangement- On the other hand is typically the result of the “estranged”

parent’s behavior. Whether it is domestic violence, physical abuse towards the

children, or emotional abuse towards the children or other parent, the children

in the family become estranged as a result of the estranged parent having severe

parental deficiencies (particularly problems with anger, control, emotional or

physical abuse, adultery that the children know of, or alcohol or other addictions

that are untreated). I find in many cases of estrangement, the parent that is

estranged tries to claim Alienation, and blames it on the other parent. A good

custody evaluator or a therapist familiar with these issues can usually call the

situation as it is, and focus on the reasons for Estrangement.

4. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was first identified and named by Dr.

Richard Gardner in 1985. He initially likened it to “The Stockholm Syndrome”.

The Stockholm Syndrome is when someone who has been kidnapped or

abducted and held for a long period of time begins to identify with his/her

abductors. A perfect example of this was the case of Patty Hearst, the famous

heiress to the Hearst Newspaper Fortune who was kidnapped by the Symbionese

Liberation Army (SLA) in 1974. After many months of living with her captors,

Patty Hearst began to identify with her abductors and then joined their cause.

She did not want to be rescued, but once caught, it was years of psychotherapy

and de-programing before she could return to her own life and family.

5. Although the child as victim of PAS may not be abducted, the similarities to

Patty Hearst’s experience are not that different.

6. PAS typically develops in children ages 7-15 years of age. (Gardner, 2001). We

may certainly see the signs of alienation earlier, but it is not until a child is at

least seven years of age that they really can begin to show the signs of PAS.

Children older than 15, usually have enough of their own identity and their own

lives, that they will not be indoctrinated by a parent beginning at that age.

7. PAS can be provoked by conflicts other than custody matters. For example,

child support issues, the alienated parent having a new relationship, or even

more trivial matters such as differences between the parents about schools or

camps for the children.

8. Alienating is a gradual and consistent process that is directly related to the

time that the alienating parent spends working on alienating the child or

children. For some parents this becomes a full-time job. All of their time is

devoted to thinking up tactics and planning ways to alienate their child or

children from the other partner.

9. Slow judgments by the courts exacerbate the problem. So often, alienation

can be hidden or justified by the alienator that it often takes the courts a long

time to catch on. A custody evaluation by an evaluator familiar with PAS helps

considerably, but this often can be put off for years.

10. Children subjected to excessive alienation may develop a severe mental

illness. If not a severe mental illness, children subjected to PAS certainly develop

personality disorders and gross distortions regarding relationships with others.

11. Successful Parental Alienation has profound long term consequences for the

child and other family members which are only to be appreciated once the

alienation has been going on for a significant period of time.

Tactics of Alienation:

According to Garbarino and Stott (1998), using Gardner’s work on PAS,

cite five tactics of alienation, that this author finds correct and to the point:

1. Rejection- the Alienating Parent rejects the child’s need for both parents. The child

feels abandoned and rejected by the alienating parent whenever she or he expresses

positive feelings about the other parent.

2. Terrorizing- The alienating parent bullies the child into being terrified of the other

parent and punished the child if the child expresses any questions or disagreements

about this.

3. Ignoring- The Alienating Parent withholds love and affection from the child to create

such desperate feelings of abandonment that the child begins the campaign of

rejection against the other parent.

4. Corrupting- The Alienating Parent encourages the child to lie about and be

aggressive to the other parent. In very serious cases, The Alienating Parent will

actually recruit the child to assist in deceits and manipulative behavior intended to

harm the other parent.

One of the most important factors as to why these tactics work so well in some children

is that they are starting off with certain vulnerabilities in the areas of attachment, object

constancy, fears of abandonment, being victims of emotional abuse (or physical abuse),

and living in a chaotic family where they do not feel safe or protected. Certainly the age

that the alienation begins is another major factor. The alienated parent’s personality is

also a factor, if that parent is perceived as weak, distant, unavailable, or fragile, or

extremely rageful next to the alienator, the alienator is going to literally become the

child’s salvation in their mind. As Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) refer to the bond between

the child and the alienator and as an “Unholy Alliance”. This was prior to Gardner’s

(1985, 1987) work, where he actually coined the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome.”


Kelly and Johnston (2001) delineated characteristics of Alienated Children. They built on

the work of Richard Gardner (1985, 1987), and further attempted to categorize the

features most seen in children suffering from PAS. The following features are the most

relevant in this author’s experience.

1. Alienated Children are openly “hateful” or “contemptuous” towards the

“rejected” parent and his/ her deficits.”

2. They demonize and vilify the rejected or alienated parent and often present

trivial and irrational reasons for their hatred. For Example, Mommy can’t cook;

daddy doesn’t read well.

3. When the alienated parent’s shortcomings are considered, the child’s angry

rejection still seems excessive. Daddy doesn’t come to my dance recitals- but

with such rage, self –righteousness and completely indignant.

4. The child expresses as “absolute refusal to see the alienated parent in any

setting, including a therapeutic one”.

5. The child will only talk to professional- like minor’s counselors or their own

therapists that completely support their positions.

6. The child rejects not only the alienated parent, but the grandparents and

other family members on that parent’s side that at one time the child was very

close to.

7. The child idealizes the parent that s/he aligns with (the alienator). The child

sees that parent as absolutely perfect. The child excuses major personality

problems or parenting flaws that the aligned parent may make.

8 .There is absolutely no guilt or ambivalence towards the parents whom the

child viciously denigrates. In making claims against that parent, the child seems

to be enjoying himself.

9.The child appears to feel entitled to have free reign over all decision making

regarding the rejected parent, as well as their inappropriate behavior, animosity

and disrespect towards that parent.

10. The alienated child demonstrates an obsessive hatred toward the rejected

parent. The child is distraught and fixated on their hatred in the evaluator’s or

reunification therapist’s office. However, in school and in other areas of life, the

child appears to function fine.

11. The child’s school work stays intact. However, given the rigidity with which

they approach their hatred for the rejected parent, eventually this begins to spill

over to friends and other authority figures.


12. If the court orders visitations, it is the rejected parent’s home that is

problematic. The alienated child will often destroy furniture, break things, act in

bizarre ways and the child may even physically abuse the alienated parent.

13. When the alienated child refuses contact with the rejected parent, all

efforts of the rejected parent to communicate are rebuffed. The child demands

that the alienated parent never contact them again, and the child will not pick up

phone calls, open cards or gifts.

The only real possibility of changing this pattern is a court order that changes custody,

giving the rejected parent sole physical and legal custody. There would be absolutely no

contact between the alienated child(ren) and the alienating parent for at least 90 days. After

that first 90 days, gradual monitored visitation with a professional monitor would begin

with the alienating parent and the alienated child. It is the Professional Monitor’s duty to

watch the alienator and the child closely, not allowing any private conversations or plans to

be made for outside monitored visits. Alienators and Alienated Children can be very sneaky

to find ways to meet at school, to have a mutual friend provide the child with a cell phone

from that parent so they can talk at all hours. All parties must be in counseling and if the

child genuinely becomes different at home with the parent that had been the victim of

alienation, more time can be given to the alienator and the child with a monitor; however, if

the child continues to act out, visitation must remain very limited and always monitored.

Along with the change in custody, the child and the alienated parent must be in reunification

therapy with a therapist who specializes in dealing with PAS. Often the siblings are brought

into the sessions as well, in attempt to regulate the family system and to bring some reality

to the alienated child’s view of both parents.

The possibility for programs for the entire family, similar to the Wilderness Programs, that

parents send their acting out teenagers to would be a wonderful idea to help break the cycle

of PAS. I have not heard of any such program to date, but it would be a wonderful and

difficult program to develop and maintain. In addition to be able to get both parents and all

of the children to a remote camp for at least 4-6 weeks is also hard to do, as well as the cost

of such a program. It would, however, be another way to deal with breaking the brainwashing

and working with the entire family on establishing healthier ways to interact.

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1985; 29-2:3-7.

2. Gardner, R. The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated

and Genuine Child Sex Abuse. Cresskill, N.J. Creative Therapeutics, 1987.

3. Gardner, R., Sauber, S., Lorandos, D. The International Handbook of Parental

Alienation Syndrome. Springfield, Illinois, Charles C. Thomas, 2006.

4. Gardner, R. (1992) The Parental Alienation Syndrome. Creskill, N.J. Creative

Therapeutics, Second Edition, 1998.

5. Johnston, J. (2003). Parental alignments and rejection: an empirical study of

alienation in children in divorce. Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry

and the Law, 31, 158-170.

6. Johnston, J. (1992) High conflict and violent parents in family court. Findings on

children’s adjustment and proposed guidelines for the resolution of custody and

visitation disputes. Final Report to the Judicial Council of the State of California, San


7.Johnston, J. & Roseby,V. In the Name of the Child. New York, N.Y.,

The Free Press, 1997.

8. Kelly, J.B. & Johnston, J.R. The alienated child: A reformulation

of parental alienation syndrome. Family Court Review, 39, 249-266.

9. Rand, D. (1997a) The spectrum of parental alienation syndrome, Part I. American

Journal of Forensic Psychology, 15(3) 23-52.

10. Rand, D. (1997b). The Spectrum of parental alienation syndrome, Part II. American

Journal of Forensic Psychology, 15 (4) 39-92.

11. Rand, D. Rand, R., & Kopetsky, L (2005). The spectrum of parental alienation

syndrome, Part III: The Kopetski follow-up study. The American Journal of Forensic

Psychology, 23 (1), 15-43.

12. Warashak, R. (2001). Divorce Poison. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

5. Gabarino, J. Stott, F.M. (1992). What Children Can Tell Us: Eliciting, Interpreting,

and Evaluating Critical Information from Children. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass