PAS/PA and Cults

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and Parental Alienation (PA) bear striking similarities to various religious cults.

I have been studying religious cults since my early twenties, first becoming interested in this subject because of one of my older sisters who has been involved in a cult—Jehovah’s Witnesses—for approximately 40 years.

In the early 1980’s when I was attending a Southern Baptist mega-church here in Tucson, AZ (then called “Casas Adobes Baptist Church”), I took a class the church offered that focused on cults in general and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular. This class ignited a life long interest in religious cults that continues to this day.

Interestingly, as a side note, I believe I was also involved in a cult as well for most of my life—at least 40 years—an evangelical cult where my involvement spanned decades and saw me attending many different evangelical churches during that time. Though this particular post is neither the time nor the place to delve into this, it would be a fascinating read that I hope one day to address.

During my decades long desire to reach university students with the message of Christianity, I encountered many different cults and quasi cults and had close interactions with various members of these diverse groups. One of the more recent ones that I have written about on this blog and also made several Youtube videos on is the “World Mission Society Church of God (WMSCOG),” a south Korean cult that, among many other bizarre beliefs, believes a south Korean woman living today is the living and breathing embodiment of the “mother god.”

“Mother Mary” worship seems to be common in many cultures and especially the Hispanic culture.

In fact, so important have cults been in my life that I have three separate categories dedicated to them here on my blog site: “Cults,” “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” and “World Mission Society Church of God.” You can easily find them by looking for them on my header and/or clicking on the highlighted links.

Imagine my surprise when, several weeks ago, I was reading an article about PAS/PA by a well known expert in this field, Dr. Amy J.L. Baker. She wrote this:

Cult Parallels
Cults offer a useful heuristic for understanding parental alienation syndrome. Alienating parents appear to use many emotional manipulation and thought reform strategies that cult leaders use. Awareness of this analogy can help individuals who experienced parental alienation syndrome (and their therapists) understand how they came to ally with a parent who was ultimately abusive and damaging. The analogy is also helpful for understanding the recovery and healing process.”

I’m not certain if in my approximate 20 year journey in educating myself on PAS and PA I had seen this connection with cults before this article by Dr. Baker, but it hit home in a startling way and my eyes were further opened to the seriousness of these two pathologies.

Another excellent and informative article, titled “Parental Alienation and Its Repair,” mentions the same connection with cults:

“PAS occurs in much the same way that a leader of religious cult manipulates their followers, by undermining their sense of basic trust…”

Children who have been adversely affected by PAS and/or PA, as I have repeatedly mentioned in the “Divorce and PAS” section of my blog, have been brainwashed by an emotionally disturbed parent to reject their other parent. This brainwashing process is eerily similar to tactics I have personally witnessed over and over again with people brainwashed by various religious cults. Equally disturbing is my own brainwashing I received in my decades long involvement in the religious cult I was involved in for most of my life.

I continually struggle, even to this day, to come to terms with the stranglehold false beliefs can have on people—myself included. It is uncanny how each of us can be so deceived in our thinking and fail to realize our minds have been hijacked by those in our lives we loved and trusted.

“PAS occurs in much the same way that a leader of religious cult manipulates their followers, by undermining their sense of basic trust…”

Parental Alienation and Its Repair

It was not until my late 50’s and perhaps in my 60’s that I finally came to the realization that I may have been deceived in significant areas in my walk of faith. Before this astonishing moment of self realization, I was completely in the dark that I was wrong—deceived and brainwashed— in several key aspects in my thinking and outlook on life. It is a sobering revelation whose ramifications I am still working out today.

For years I have prayed, “Lord, show me where I might be deceived in my thinking.” I believe this prayer was a bit naive; I should have been praying, “Lord, show me where I am deceived.” It was not that I might be deceived but rather where I was deceived.

For me, the initial step for my own “enlightenment” of realizing my own self-deception and brainwashed state was the simple acknowledgement that I could be deceived. This is remarkable in itself because I have never been the kind of person that believed my religious beliefs, creeds, and convictions could ever be erroneous. Though I realized that my thinking on various other subjects could possibly be incorrect or flawed in some respect, this partial humility and self-awareness did not necessarily extend to the Bible and the fundamental religious dogmas I had been taught by religious leaders since I was indoctrinated as a small child beginning in Catholic school.

For parents like myself who have little to no contact with our own children adversely affected by the twin pathologies of PAS and PA, coming to grips with exactly what happened to them is a constant enigma that tears our souls apart.

One of the reasons for this pain is because our children want nothing to do with us; they have cut us completely out of their lives. Whether we live or die is of no concern to them except that the knowledge of our deaths might bring them a perverse sense of joy and closure. Our health means nothing to them, and if we were stricken with terminal cancer and had only a year or two to live, this would not cause them a moments reflection to consider that maybe they should seek to make amends before such a chance would forever be foreclosed.

This is exactly what happens to children deeply involved in religious cults: they have no concern for either their parents or other family members well-being. Their minds, emotions and critical thinking skills are so manipulated, seared and tweaked they cease to act, think or feel like normal human beings.

This closeness I have had with my long years of dealing with people in cults has actually helped me in dealing with my own estranged children who have been victimized by PAS/PA. When the connection between the two suddenly came upon me, understanding flooded over me in a manner I had not seen before.

One way this has helped is the understanding of the power that brainwashing can have on people’s minds. Since I have seen, up close and personal, how incredibly intelligent students can be sucked up into the most absurd religious doctrines and beliefs (like there is a living, breathing “mother god” or “god the mother” in South Korea), I’m better able to understand how my own flesh and blood can be fooled by the nonsense and lies told to them about me by their mother and her allies—which includes their own family members.

The fact is this: people can be brainwashed to believe anything you tell them, no matter how absurd, non-sensical, outrageous, ludicrous, insane, or whatever adjective comes to your mind. Anything and everything. There is no piece of nonsense people will not fall for if their minds are properly prepared to receive it. Nothing is out of bounds or too far fetched.

And if adults can be unduly influenced to believe utter baloney, what does this say about innocent children? That’s right—they can be unduly influenced to believe even greater and more harmful bits of fiction and insanities.

My children exhibit many, if not most, of the signs of people involved in a cult: suspension of their critical thinking skills, complete and slavish devotion to their cult leader (their mom), total refusal to spend one nano second in hearing or listening to the other side of the story or subject matter (mine), exhibiting a total disregard for the thoughts and feelings of those who have been severely traumatized by their complete rejection of the parent that loves and raised them (me, for one), treating me as if I was a mass murderer/torturer of infants and puppies, treating and thinking of their cult leader (their mom) as if she is a goddess or perfect celestial being bathed in a heavenly aura with zero faults who can commit no mistakes, etc.

In many Latin American cultures, the worship of “Mother Mary” is particularly pronounced. My ex is Hispanic, born and raised in Mexico. She and I and our firstborn daughter lived in San Carlos, Mexico, a sea-side resort community, for about seven months. At one time I frequently traveled in Mexico for many years, becoming familiar with the culture.

My personal observations from having front row seats to the Hispanic culture is disturbing in several aspects, one being the idolization they have for “Mother Mary” or the “Virgin of Guadalupe.” By extension, this worship/veneration extends to mothers in general, who are also idolized by the population.

In Mexico, it is the moms who wear the pants in the family—not fathers. Unfortunately, you would be hard pressed to find your typical “machismo” father in Mexico willing to admit this fact.

I’ve been to a Catholic church in Hermosillo, Mexico where I saw larger than life statutes of various saints being worshipped by the local population; it was quite disturbing. Small shrines to the Virgin are a common sight along the highways of Mexico. This idolization of the “Mother of God” naturally leads to the same veneration of the Mexican people to their own mothers.

Think for a moment the connotation the term “Mother of God” invokes in one’s mind: a being who is above God and even superior to God. After all, if God has a mother, she, by definition and default, has come into being—existed—before Him which makes her superior to Him. The perversity and natural consequences of this type of warped and twisted thinking is stunning.

This way of thinking is fertile breeding ground for a psychologically damaged individual like my ex wife to use this “mother” obsession in her favor to exercise undue influence over her own children. Fascinatingly, this psychological and perverse dependency that exists between a mother and a PAS/PA influenced child occurs subtly, behind the scenes, and is not recognized by the child or children that fall prey to the brainwashing. In fact, they will vehemently denounce such a thing could even happen to them which is precisely why the psychosis that develops between them and the narcissistic mother is so incredibly effective and hard to root out.

Young people worshipping their moms on stage (out of frame) on Mother's Day
Young people worshipping their moms on stage (out of frame) on Mother’s Day.

I posted the picture above in jest to make a point. It’s a real picture, of course, but the context is not a group of young people worshipping their mother’s (out of frame on a stage in front of them) on Mother’s Day. I believe, though, in certain contexts with certain cultures and religions, it is accurate: mom’s are indeed worshipped, to the detriment of the children, society and the proper functioning of the country. And in PAS/PA, this is taken to the extreme.

I’m not demeaning the role a mother has in society. In fact, I have always been a strong supporter of the biblical commandment to “honor your father and your mother.” A child’s reverence for their parents is, I believe, a key to a well functioning family and society. What I’m against is when this reverence turns into worship and a blind, irrational allegiance to mothers that brainwash a child into believing their mothers can “do not wrong.”

Mothers and fathers can be wrong and occasionally do wrong. After all, they are only people, and people are prone to error. All of us make mistakes on a continual basis—including our parents.

I believe most mature people understand their parents are not perfect beings, but in the case where children are victimized by PA which then morphs into the pathology of PAS, this is not present: victimized, abused, and brainwashed children are bred and psychologically groomed to believe the alienating parent is all good while the alienated parent is all bad which only leads to these children making disastrous choices and embracing far fetched beliefs on countless different levels.

Finally, the process of “waking up” and breaking free from the psychological bonds cults have over the minds of their followers is not easy. In fact, countless numbers of cult followers never wake up and remain fervent, lifetime members, remaining slaves to the leader or leadership of the organization.

Tragically, entire generations, one following the other in slavish obedience, can be lost to these cults, with each successive generation never questioning the oftentimes nonsensical claims so many cults make. (I’m thinking of the absurd and patently ridiculous claims made by the World Mission Society Church of God who, as mentioned above, believe that a tiny South Korean woman is literally “God the Mother.” This claim is also believed by Catholics who believe the “Virgin Mary” to be the “Mother of God.”)

For children affected by PAS/PA, many never step out from underneath the dark cloud of undue influence cast by their pathologically damaged alienating parent and “see the light” of how abused they are. This is perhaps the saddest aspect of this pathology because these children will never receive the healing they desperately need in order to lead productive and fulfilling lives unless and until they step out from their darkened prison cell and understand how expertly they have been brainwashed and deceived.