Earlier this week, we began a discussion about parental alienation syndrome (PAS), sometimes referred to as just parental alienation. It is an increasingly recognized problem associated with acrimonious divorces and child custody disputes. It should be noted, however, that divorce and custody disputes are not the only scenarios that can lead to PAS, nor are all acrimonious family law disputes considered PAS.
Quite simply put, parental alienation syndrome is a campaign perpetrated by one parent to brainwash the children into hating/fearing/distrusting the other parent. Not only is PAS devastating to the targeted parent, it is also devastating to the child or children involved. Many scholars have officially recognized PAS as a form of child abuse.
Both in childhood and into adulthood, children who are victims of parental alienation syndrome can experience serious mental and behavioral health issues, including:
- Low self-esteem
- Severe self-hatred
- Inability to trust
- Deep-seated guilt
- Substance abuse problems
- High risk of becoming alienated from both parents
- Significant risk of becoming alienated from their own children
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
A 2013 article in “Psychology Today” included an important insight into why PAS is damaging and why it should be considered child abuse.
The passage says: “Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child; it has to be taught. A parent who would teach a child to hate or fear the other parent represents a grave and persistent danger to the mental and emotional health of that child.”
For the targeted parent, the mental health and emotional issues are obvious. They are denied a relationship with and access to the person or people they love the most.
The hopeful news is that “reunification therapy” to reverse the effects of parental alienation syndrome can be effective. But such therapy should not be undertaken lightly or inconsistently. It should be done under the guidance of a mental health professional with significant experience in this area.
If you have gone through (or are currently going through) a divorce and child custody battle and worry that you may be a victim of PAS, please discuss the matter with your family law attorney right away.