About Parental Alienation Syndrome
In the foreword to A Kidnapped Mind, Dr. Reena Sommer, an expert in divorce and custody issues, talks about alienators as a new and emerging class of dysfunctional parents that “do not fit the stereotype of the deficient and ill-equipment parent. Instead, these parents are generally articulate, resourceful, and competent in all other aspects of their lives – except in the realm of parenting. In fact, these individuals might easily be mistaken for ideal parents, except to the properly informed, because they profess love and concern for their children. What sets these individuals apart from other dysfunctional parents is their overwhelming commitment to meeting their own needs first. In doing so, they destroy the relationship their children have with the other parent – at whatever cost.”
Parental Alienation Syndrome is produced by a dysfunctional parent, but it is a disorder in the child. If the child can withstand the alienating parent’s lies and manipulations, then bad parenting is certainly taking place, but Parental Alienation Syndrome is not. It becomes Parental Alienation Syndrome when the child capitulates and begins to participate in the campaign against the targeted parent. This is where the real damage occurs to a child’s developing personality and young mind and heart.
Dr. Richard A. Gardner did pioneering work identifying Parental Alienation Syndrome in the mid-eighties. He characterized the disorder as a cluster of symptoms:
- A campaign of denigration waged against the target parent
- Weak, absurd or frivolous rationalizations given for the deprecation
- The child’s lack of natural ambivalence for both parents
- The child displays “independent thinker” phenomenon
- The child reflexively supports the alienating parent throughout the parental conflict
- The child displays no guilt about cruelty to and exploitation of the target parent
- The child employs scenarios borrowed from the alienating parent
- The animosity includes the friends and family of the target parent
As this page can only, by its very nature, be brief and non-technical, if you know a child whom you believe is being alienated against one of his or her parents I urge you in the strongest terms to get expert advice from the child mental health community.
Excerpt from A Kidnapped Mind:
Finding out about Parental Alienation Syndrome felt like a lightning bolt. For years I had been fighting blind for Dash. During one of my regular meetings with the child psychologist I had been seeing from the early days, Norman Goodwell, he said, almost by-the-by, “You know, in family law circles, what has happened to Dash is called Parental Alienation Syndrome.” This has a name? I thought, hope soaring.
I rushed to Vancouver’s downtown Chapters store but couldn’t find anything on Parental Alienation Syndrome. I wheedled my way into a parking spot on harried West Fourth Avenue and tried Duthies Books. Nothing. Nothing even on file. Stumped, I called Norman for a reference and found out that the only book that existed on Parental Alienation Syndrome was a self-published, dense, cold text written for clinicians and legal professionals, by an American child psychiatrist named Dr. Richard Gardner. I immediately called the phone number of the distributor listed on the copyright page. The book took weeks to arrive, but when it did I slogged through it from cover to cover. Peter fit the profile of an alienator to a T. Dash fit the profile of an alienated child to a T. Custody of the child was a precondition for inducing Parental Alienation Syndrome, and Peter had it. I was the stereotypical targeted parent: a passive, pleaser personality, a peacemaker – ripe for exploitation.
Now I could name what had happened and not sound like an obsessive paranoiac psychobabbler. I didn’t have to speak in euphemisms any more – “I don’t see Dash. It’s because of his father’s anger” – and I was no longer forced to make loose and clumsy comparisons (Peter to a cult leader, Dash to a programmed child). I could use real words: indoctrination; campaign of denigration; alienation. My son has been indoctrinated. I had always had bits and pieces, gleaned from instinct and desperate reading (like Peter Hare’s Without Conscience, a foundational work on psychopathy, and various books on attachment theory, Dr. Goodwell’s specialty and an emergent field of child psychology), but suddenly the whole picture added up: Peter’s continuous need to control me, his inability to let go of his anger (ostensibly about the trial, but probably far more generalized than that. This man hated me and everything I represented in Dash’s life), the unmistakable contribution made by his abuse of alcohol and drugs, the relentlessly negative messages about me and my family with which Dash had been bombarded since he was five years old, the critical role of Peter’s family and associates – those who encouraged and never questioned the exclusive way he parented Dash. All that, coupled with Dash’s fierce loyalty to his father and his sharp psychological decline, confirmed the thesis. My family was living with Parental Alienation Syndrome.
With the alienation left to run as rampant as it had been in Dash’s case, my disappearance from his life was utterly predictable, because my banishment was the point of all that Dash had gone through. It was the point of Peter’s sole custody petition and the subsequent trial. It was the point of getting and keeping Dr. Elterman onside and involved. It was the point of my being kept away from the school, the neighbourhood, the doctor, the dentist, and the point of all the missed access and screened and deleted phone messages. Peter was sick, but he wasn’t unique. Parents all over the world have done this to children. Some do it because of their personality disorders (psychopathy and clinical hysteria are often actors in these larger-than-life dramas), but others consciously, deliberately, seek to destroy their ex-spouse and know that alienation is as good a way as any to do it. Some are so mired in their anger and hurt from a breakup that they actually think they are doing the right thing – a delusional and irrational version of a parental kidnapping.
The one constant in the case studies that Dr. Richard Gardner’s book presented was that the parent who has been made to disappear has not done anything to deserve it. It is often allowed to happen because of the personality types involved, but the parent has not done anything – been annoying, been cloying, been abusive, overprotective, or un-nurturing. As I had protested all the way along: I’m a good mom, and Dash’s reasons aren’t reasons at all, they’re excuses, and they come from Peter. Dash’s excuses had always been trivial – that Dave gave Dash the smaller piece of pie; that my house was “over-regimented” or “no fun.”
So this was what it was about, I thought as I read. Peter hates me so much he will use our child to ensure my destruction. He wants my marriage to fail; he wants me ruined. I realized the full force that day of what it is to be hated by someone you once loved. My pain was a source of satisfaction to Peter, and my child had become a weapon in my destruction. I felt so preyed upon that I picked up the phone and called Dave, just to hear his reassuring words of love and acceptance.
Dr. Gardner’s book also told me something that I hoped would change the course of Dash’s life: that the only solution to severe, entrenched alienation is court. Parents that alienate are, if not bona fide pathological, at least convinced in an absolute and paranoid way that they are right. In other words: they won’t stop. I finally had the information I had been sliding inexorably towards for six years. Court. I had thought that Dash would be able to see me if I dropped the custody proceedings a year and a half earlier, but he wasn’t. I had thought that if I stopped going to his soccer games, which I did for a whole season, it would help our relationship, but it didn’t. It couldn’t have, because Dash wasn’t in charge of whether he had me in his life or not.
What I didn’t know, although somehow my poor, frustrated husband instinctively did, was that hardball was the only way to make a difference. I had to go and get the legal standing to say “No” to Peter’s power plays and to re-establish my relationship with Dash. Only then would the syndrome begin to turn around. My passive legal strategy had been wrong. I had made the wrong choice, believing that I had no choice, and I knew now that I had to go back. I felt panicked. The “system” might still be the biggest gamble around, but I needed it. I had to go to court and not stop till I got Dash.