(Updated January 29, 2022)
Divorce is one of the most destructive events that can occur in a family. The negative ramifications often associated with households fractured by divorce has far reaching and disastrous effects on children that many carry throughout their lives.
In this series of observations on divorce, my goal is to focus on a relatively new body of research that focuses on what happens to children who become victims of what is called “high conflict divorces.” Out of this type of divorce is a form of child abuse called “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)” or its sister pathology, “Parental Alienation (PA)” which is characterized by one or more of the children turning against a parent they once loved and cherished.
If you are unfamiliar with PAS/PA, what you are about to discover is both astonishing and disturbing. My hope is that my brief writings on this subject will be an introduction concerning a topic that you will choose to explore in depth as you research more on your own.
Briefly, as an introduction to PAS/PA, if a divorce has occurred in a family and can be accurately identified as “high conflict,” and if one or more of the children who once had a close, loving, and “normal”* relationship with one of their parents, find they now reject and carry intense feelings of hatred and animosity toward that parent, these children have been emotionally and psychologically manipulated and abused by the other parent in an attempt to sever the familial bond between them and the other parent.
This severing of what was one time a close and loving bond with the other parent is child abuse, a crime, perpetrated by the other emotionally unstable parent who often has a clinical personality disorder. For children who have been victimized by PAS/PA, my hope is that I may be a small conduit of information that will help direct you in the right direction where, by doing your own research, you may arrive at a place of understanding, eventual healing, and a reconciliation with that parent you once loved.
Children must realize that being alienated or separated from a parent and carrying intense feelings of hatred and malice toward him or her is abnormal; it is not rational nor healthy but destructive, with life-long, negative, and unhealthy consequences.
PA is a form of family violence. Parental alienating behaviors are a form of family violence that have serious consequences for children and families.
Jennifer Harman, et. al. Parental Alienating Behaviors: An Unacknowledged Form of Family Violence, Psychological Bulletin, 2018, Vol. 144, No. 12, 1275-1229.
Children affected by PAS/PA have been victimized, brainwashed and abused by the very parent they thought loved them without reservations or conditions. When they discover this “love” comes with conditions and is used to manipulate and use them as chess pieces in the war of divorce, this understanding can have devastating consequences.
PAS/PA is not without its detractors; in other words, not all health professionals dealing with psychological and child specific disorders family law professionals (attorneys and judges, for example) accept it as being a true “syndrome”—yet. Though PAS/PA is debated and may not be, at this point, considered “settled science” in some camps, both my personal experience and research on PAS/PA proves that it is a genuine problem in high-conflict divorces and I accept the findings dealing with this catastrophic form of child abuse. My readers are urged to do their own investigating and research and come to their own conclusions.
* By “normal,” I mean a typical family that is not perfect but where the children are raised in a loving and caring environment where physical, emotional, and sexual abuse is absent. In those divorce cases where true abuse has occurred toward a child (physical, mental, emotional or sexual, for example), a child or children can—and has every right to—feel alienated or estranged from that abusive parent with the accompanying and legitimate desire to separate from that parent.
If true abuse toward a child has occurred in the home, then a finding of PAS cannot be advanced or suggested as a possible reason for the physical or emotional alienation of the child toward the offending parent.