Alienation
PAS, Parental Alienation,
Alienated Child
Parent Alienation Syndrome
 Pathological Alignment (Wallerstein and Kelly,
1980)
 Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS), Richard
Gardner
– Reaction on child’s part to one parent
– Preoccupation with depreciation and criticism of target
parent
– Denigration is not supported by history of the
relationship, or is highly exaggerated response to minor
weaknesses
 PAS (cont.)
– Created in part by systematic, conscious
programming
– Created in part by subconcious factors of the
alienating parent
– Contributions from the child’s personality,
temperament, maturity
– Situational factors contribute
 Manifestations of PAS
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Campaign of denigration
Weak, frivolous rationalizations
Lack of Ambivalence
Independent thinking (child generated)
Reflective support of aligned parent
Absence of guilt
Borrowed scenarios
Generalization beyond the parent
Re-writing of history
Alienated Child
 Johnston and Kelly Reformulation
– Parental preferences of the child exist on a continuum
 1. No preference- equal, full attachment to each parent, with
concurrent expressions of love. Preference may shift
temporarily secondary to situational factors
 2. Affinity- no difference in preference, but better “fit” to one
parent due to a variety of factors, including age, gender,
personality, interests.
 3. Alignment- definitely expressed preference, but lacks rigidity
of alienation. Generally form secondary to separation. Causes
different reactions in each parent, either pleasure or anger and
confusion. Alignments subside in absence of alienation
 4. Estrangement- The rejection of a parent based on
credible, rational reasons, i.e. abuse towards child,
domestic violence in the home, insensitive parenting
(poor parenting), neglect, drug and/or alcohol abuse,
anger management issues, personality disorders,
etc.
 5. Alienation- basically the same behaviors as
observed by Gardner. Always a pathological
response and always caused, in part, by one parent.
Pre-separation relationship not predictive of postseparation alienation.
Children’s Relationships with Parents After
Separation and Divorce
Child’s Relationship
Child
prefers
contact
with One
Parent
Child
prefers
contact
with both
parents
Positive
relationsh
ip with
both
Affinity
With one
parent
Child
rejects one
parent
(No Ambivalence)
(ambivalence evident)
Alliance
with one
parent
Estrange
ment
from one
parent
Estrangem
ent from
one parent
Realistic
estrangement
Alienated
from one
parent
Realistic
estrangement
Pathological
alienation
 Techniques of alienating parents
– Deny existence of other parent
– Passive-aggressive, indirect attacks on other
parent
– Use the child as middle man by talking
negatively about other parent when an incident
occurs
– Blame other parent with little evidence
– Ask the child “moral questions” that negatively
reflect on parent
 Child Vulnerabilities
– Child in black/white stage of moral development
– Dependent child
– Low self-esteem
– Age related
– Prior psychological problems
– Insecure attachments
– Enmeshed
 Normal reactions to divorce that include temporary
alienation or preferences (Warshak, 2002)
– Temporary adjustment reactions
– Separation Anxiety
– Temperamental issues related to the child, i.e. shyness,
anxious, oppositional
– Conflict avoidance
– Role reversal and emotional support
– Situation-specific reactions, i.e. new paramour, affinities
– Parent-child partnerships, i.e. alignments
Parent Alienation and Attachment
Theory
 Benjamin Garber, 2004, Journal of Child Custody
– Alienation presupposes a bond between parent and
child
– Attachment is dynamic and adaptive relationship
specific to each care-giver and child
– Child uses relationship to establish security
– Attachments are not same, and offer different levels of
security
– The quality of attachment security is flexible, adaptive
and caregiver specific
– Early attachment does not predict later behavior
when there have been intervening changes in
parenting quality
– Changes in parenting quality causes less
adaptive behavior, changes to more sensitive
parenting may increase infant attachment
security
– Internal Working Models accommodate new
information from more varied sources as a child
matures
– New information about an individual is either consistent
or inconsistent with the IWM of the child
– If information is inconsistent it is either assimilated
(disregarded, does not change the IWM) or
accommodated (reshapes the IMW)
– If accommodated information makes the child feel more
secure, it is “Aligning”
– If accommodated information makes the child feel less
secure, it is “Alienating.”
– In normal, healthy family, such information and
accommodation help with safety and identification
– New Information coming from the caregiver is
accommodated by the child through self-reflection and
may be aligning or alienating. Thus a given caregiver
can affect the attachment relationship with their child by
actions and words.
– Information from outside parties can affect the IWM of
the child, either to create greater security (alignment) or
lesser security (alienation)
– Coparent alignment is the healthy, mutually supportive
dynamic of parents reinforcing the security of the
attachments of their child with each parent
– Coparent alienation occurs when a parent’s words or
actions decrease the security of attachment of a child
and the other parent.
– Impact of accuracy of the message
 If the message is accurate, the change in the IWM and
subsequent relationship is appropriate, i.e. if a parent reassures
a child about a sensitive parent, their security (and alignment) is
enhanced. Similarly, if a parent discusses safety issues about
an abusive parent, the child’s “estrangement” (decreased
security) is accurate.
 Inaccurate messages create multiple problems. An inaccurate
endorsement of an insensitive, abusive parent creates a
misalignment. Inaccurate denigration of a sensitive, appropriate
parent causes “alienation.”
Alienation: Related Issues
 Impact on Children
– Feelings of loss; of targeted parent, possibility
of both parents, extended family, community
– Shame as adults at their behavior and rejection
– Guilt over behavior, and over consequences of
courtroom testimony
– Omnipotence and Empowering because of
recognition of power and manipulation
– Lowered self-esteem secondary to internal
conflict and awareness
 Protective Factors for Children (Warshak,
2002)
– On-going physical and psychological contact
between the child and Target parent
– A positive, prior relationship between Target
parent and child
– An independent, assertive, resilient, nonanxious child
– A target parent who is sensitive, non-defensive
and supportive
 Treatment of resistant children
– Controversial
– Depends on attitude about the dynamic
– Use of coercive court orders for treatment
– Ordering contact between children and
estranged parents
– Reversing custody of alienated children
– “Deprogramming”
– Letting nature take its course
 Option 1, Reunification/Reintegration
– Allow custody to remain with the favored parent,
but Court ordered parent-child therapy with the
target parent.
 Overt resistance to treatment from child
 Lack of motivation to support from favored parent
 Financially expensive
 Therapy makes matters worse
 Option 1.
– Better for less severe cases
– Less acutely stressful for the children than
options 2 and 3
– Implies favored parent is better suited to meets
needs of the child
 Option 2, Environmental Modification
– Custody is given to the target parent and
therapy is ordered for the child-parent, but
contact is allowed with the favored parent
 Child needs protection
 Alienation is clearly secondary to favored parent
 Favored parent would sabotage Option 1
 Child needs concentrated time with target parent to
insure relationship
 Option 2.
– Use takes the responsibility of the custody
decision off the child
– May create greater motivation to get over
negative attitudes and beliefs
– Direct contact confronts irrational, unrealistic
beliefs
– Creates a foundation of positive, shared
experiences to build upon
 Option 2.
– Removed child may be vulnerable to, and suffer
significant emotional trauma secondary to
change
– Child may act-out and attempt to defy Order
– If quickly reversed, child may learn to disrespect
the law and be empowered
– Rather than overcome alienation, child may
simply feel helpless and acquiesce
– Long-term adjustment must be considered
 Option 3, Outside Placement
– Child is placed away from both parents at a
boarding school, distant relative, foster facility
 Child not caught between two negative forces
 Issues of Option 2 exist, but either target parent not
ready for custody, or neither parent offers a safe
option
 Good option for adolescents
 May create financial burdens that cannot be
overcome
 Option 4, Parentectomy
– The child is allowed to terminate their
relationship with the target parent
 Reduces long-standing stress on child
 Follows multiple failures by other options
 Parent can no longer “afford” the fight, emotionally,
financially, socially, family
 Option 4
– May lead to feelings for child of parental
abandonment
– Child may learn to avoid conflict rather than find
solutions
– Child’s irrational beliefs are reinforced
– Child given inappropriate sense of entitlement
 Questions:
– Should parents and children be coerced into
treatment, processes or schedules which they
oppose?
– Should rights and responsibilities of parents be
challenged?
– Should children have a right to selfdetermination?
– How do we define emotional abuse
– At what level is alienation equal to “abuse?”