“To turn a child against a parent is to turn a child against himself"
“Psychiatrist Richard Gardner developed the concept of "parental alienation syndrome" 20 years ago, defining it as, "a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child's campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification.
Parental alienation involves the “programming” of a child by one parent to denigrate the other “targeted” parent, in an effort to undermine and interfere with the child's relationship with that parent, and is often a sign of a parent’s inability to separate from the couple conflict and focus on the needs of the child. Such denigration results in the child’s emotional rejection of the targeted parent, and the loss of a capable and loving parent from the life of the child.”
The severe effects of parental alienation on children are well-documented; low self esteem and self-hatred, lack of trust, depression, and substance abuse and other forms of addiction are widespread, as children lose the capacity to give and accept love from a parent. Self-hatred is particularly disturbing among affected children, as children internalize the hatred targeted toward the alienated parent, are led to believe that the alienated parent did not love or want them, and experience severe guilt related to betraying the alienated parent. Their depression is rooted is feelings of being unloved by one of their parents, and from separation from that parent, while being denied the opportunity to mourn the loss of the parent, or to even talk about the parent. Alienated children typically have conflicted or distant relationships with the alienating parent also, and are at high risk of becoming alienated from their own children; Baker reports that fully half of the respondents in her study of adult children who had experienced alienation as children were alienated from their own children.
Eight Manifestations of Parental Alienation Syndrome
1. A Campaign of Denigration
Alienated children are consumed with hatred of the targeted parent. They deny any positive past experiences and reject all contact and communication. Parents who were once loved and valued seemingly overnight become hated and feared.
2. Weak, Frivolous, and Absurd Rationalizations
When alienated children are questioned about the reasons for their intense hostility toward the targeted parent, the explanations offered are not of the magnitude that typically would lead a child to reject a parent. These children may complain about the parent’s eating habits, food preparation, or appearance. They may also make wild accusations that could not possibly be true.
3. Lack of Ambivalence About the Alienating Parent
Alienated children exhibit a lack of ambivalence about the alienating parent, demonstrating an automatic, reflexive, idealized support. That parent is perceived as perfect, while the other is perceived as wholly flawed.
4. The “Independent Thinker” Phenomenon
Even though alienated children appear to be unduly influenced by the alienating parent, they will adamantly insist that the decision to reject the targeted parent is theirs alone.
5. Absence of Guilt About the Treatment of the Targeted Parent
Alienated children typically appear rude, ungrateful, spiteful, and cold toward the targeted parent, and they appear to be impervious to feelings of guilt about their harsh treatment. Gratitude for gifts, favors, or child support provided by the targeted parent is nonexistent. Children with parental alienation syndrome will try to get whatever they can from that parent, declaring that it is owed to them.
6. Reflexive Support for the Alienating Parent in Parental Conflict
In all cases, the alienated child will side with the alienating parent, regardless of how absurd or baseless that parent’s position may be. There is no willingness or attempt to be impartial when faced with interparental conflicts. Children with parental alienation syndrome have no interest in hearing the targeted parent’s point of view. Nothing the targeted parent could do or say makes any difference to these children.
7. Presence of Borrowed Scenarios
Alienated children often make accusations toward the targeted parent that utilize phrases and ideas adopted from the alienating parent. Indications that a scenario is borrowed include the use of words or ideas that the child does not appear to understand, speaking in a scripted or robotic fashion, as well as making accusations that cannot be supported with detail.
8. Rejection of Extended Family
Finally, the hatred of the targeted parent spreads to his or her extended family. Not only is the targeted parent denigrated, despised, and avoided but so are his or her extended family. Formerly beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are suddenly and completely avoided and rejected.