Parental Alienation is the undeserved rejection of a parent by a child caused by the influence of the other parent, or sometimes by the influence of a step-parent, grandparent or other caregiver(s).
The terms “parental alienation” and “parental alienation syndrome” came into popular use beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, but parental alienation has no doubt existed as long as there have been couples in conflict who have children. In contrast to legitimate estrangement, parental alienation typically happens to good, even unusually good parents, where the child-parent relationship was previously close and loving. Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS, is the name given to the pattern of behaviours and attitudes seen in children who have been alienated. There is argument among experts about “official” definitions, but there is widespread agreement that the following 8 criteria are hallmark signs of PAS. The “target parent” is the alienated parent; the target of the alienation.
1. A campaign of denigration of the target parent, including the expression of intense hostility in words and actions. In PAS the negativity is extreme. Not just irritation, but hatred and disgust. Not just aloofness, but refusal of contact and communication. PAS children will behave with normal civility toward others but treat the rejected parent with dramatic disrespect and even cruelty.
2. Weak, frivolous or absurd reasons given for the rejection of the target parent. Given the intensity of the hostility and rejection, you would expect that the target parent had done truly horrible things, but when PAS is at play this is not the case.
3. Lack of ambivalence. In healthy child-parent relationships there is some ambivalence, at least some of the time. It is normal to have mixed feelings for parents. Children afflicted by PAS show a striking lack of ambivalence. Alienated children see the target parent as all bad, and the alienating parent as all good.
4. The claim that the rejection is all the child’s own idea. PAS children vehemently assert that they made the decision to reject the target parent themselves, and were not influenced by the alienator.
5. Absence of guilt for bad behavior toward the target parent. With friends, teachers and neighbours PAS children generally behave according to normal social standards, with everyday politeness and consideration. However with target parents they often act with extreme rudeness, selfishness and cruelty, and show no evidence of guilt or embarrassment for it.
6. Reflexive support for the alienating parent. Automatic and consistent agreement with the alienator’s views.
7. Language and ideas that are obviously not the child’s own. PAS children often justify their rejection of the target parent based on things that were not their own experience. They may refer to events that happened when they were too young to have understood them the way they recount them, or that happened when they were too young to remember them at all. They may refer to legal or financial matters that they could not have known about without being so informed by the alienator. They describe situations in ways that reflect the alienator’s perception, often using language not natural to a child.
8. Extension of rejection to others connected with the target parent. In PAS, rejection often spreads to include other relatives and friends of the target parent. Loss of connection with grandparents is very common. Alienated children have even been willing to give up relationships with beloved pets because the pets were connected with the target parent.