Friday, October 17, 2008

Parental Alienation Syndrome

Actor Alec Baldwin has written an interesting book on a controversial subject called Parental Alienation Syndrome. I thought it was a very balanced take on what can happen when issues of child custody go very wrong.

The reason PAS is so controversial stems from the fact that it is recognized in our legal system as a form of child abuse, but not, as yet, listed as a formal diagnosis in the clinical world. PAS is a psychological dynamic brought about by one parent in a divorced family whose aim is to alienate the other parent from his or her child.

I have seen Parental Alienation Syndrome in my work. Sometimes the alienation is not an intentional set of behaviors. While other times, it is conscious and intentional. And, don't get me wrong, there are many divorced families where this alienation does not come into play at all!

The most important thing with PAS is to help everyone see that divorce of a marriage does not mean that the child must divorce one's parents. Psychotherapy with a specialist can help the parent who is unconsciously or consciously alienating. Divorce is hard on everyone, especially children. Trying to help your child have a healthy connection with his or her "other" parent can be a lifelong gift.


Jedi Master Daryl said...

That is really good info for me. My girlfriend has two daughters and an ex-husband in a different state. As much as I want to be "daddy" to her girls, we can't deny them from seeing their real dad. Never thought of that as child abuse! I guess it is.

What was an ACTOR doing writing on such an important and self-less (in my mind medical professionals = self-less) topic? It's nice to see a caring actor who has broken the chains of Narcissism that Hollywood tends to bind successful (successful = somebody who brings in lots of dollars) people with!

phd in yogurtry said...

Excellent points, Deb. One that can't be emphasized often enough. There is plenty of inadvertent alienation going on, with families I have seen. Where the parent is lashing out at the ex-spouse but the child is the one who suffers.

OHN said...

I have seen both ends of this syndrome. My mother who had all the reasons in the world to speak negatively about my father, never did. Yet when I was with him it was a never ending stream of reasons why my mom was not a good mother (things like not letting me have candy on a daily basis, making me go to bed at a normal time on school nights, horrid things like that ;)

At one point he said if I lived with him, he would not give me any bed times, no food restrictions, and I could stay home from school whenever I wanted. To me as a 7 year old all those things sounded pretty terrific.

When I told my mom about this and was complaining that she was "mean" she offered to help me pack my bag. She later told me that it nearly killed her to even say that but she knew that she had to not allow me to play one parent against the other. Little did I know at the time that my father truly wanted very little to do with me, it was more about hurting my mom. When a parent uses a child as a pawn I think it is one of the lowest things an adult can do.

IntelligentLayPerson said...

My parents never divorced yet I can still say with assurance that my mother did this very thing with all of us.

She was very insecure about us having close relationships with anyone but her.

Teresa Lynne said...

When I divorced my first husband (Three kids with him), I swore that I would never bash their father or keep them from seeing him.

My situation was different. My EX was and still is an alcoholic, out of work, abusive, and has no common sense for a 50 year old man.

I moved out of state with my three kids (he agreed) and he expected ME to fly them to New York, to drive them to New York, to pick them up and so on.

I refused to enable his irresponsibility ways, and told him it is his JOB to fly them to him, it is his JOB to pick them up in this new state of mine - Gosh we weren't that far.

Did he do it? NO! Its been 11 years since the girls have seen their father - not because of me as a mother, but because of HIM not acting like a responsible adult.

I've learned not to feel guilty and it took me to realize that it wasn't my job to keep their relationship going but HIS job.

Sometimes, people need to step up to the plate and face their wrongdoing and stop blaming others for their mistakes.

Big Brother said...

As a teacher I've seen the result of divorce squabbling and bickering and what it does to the kids. Parents badmouthing the other parent to their children, literally tears the poor kids apart inside... I sometimes wonder who is the more mature the kids or the parents...

Kahless said...

As an aside, Baldwin looks like he has had face surgery.

Jen said...

My parents divorced when I was four, and my mother never said a bad word about my father to me...despite the years that I spent weekends sitting on the porch waiting for him to pick me up for his custody visits, despite the years of non-payment of child support...she never, ever said one bad word about him to me, even when I would get the occasional (5 year letter) from him telling me that he'd LOVE to be in contact with me even if my mother didn't give me his letters (complete BS on his part).

It was only when I was an adult and had a chance to talk to other people about him that I realized just how bad he had been, not only to her, but to us, his children.

It doesn't matter how I feel about my children's father, or how he feels about me. We work extremely hard to make sure that neither of us badmouth the other, and that we are basically in tune with how we treat the children.

Parents never need to realize their grudge against their ex-spouses through their children, and I'm very glad that my mother showed me that at a young age. She showed extraordinary restraint, especially since I was an especially bitchy, angsty teenager who was more than willing to blame everything on my life on the fact that my "dad" wasn't there. I feel very sorry for the kids who don't have a parent like I did.

Merelyme said...

i think no matter how bitter a spouse feels about their ex...they do have to be careful when talking about this around their kids. it truly can have a detrimental effect.

traci said...

My ex husband may or may not do this consciously however he does do it. It's very sad to me considering how far out of my way I go to make sure my daughters know that it's ok to love their father and have a relationship with him. I think it's so important. I will tell you, however, that my two youngest are now at a point where they want nothing to do with their father while the oldest is currently trying to build an adult relationship with him. I do feel angry towards him at times however most of the time it simply makes me sad beyond belief at the damage he has caused.

Awake In Rochester said...

I think that there are two many syndromes. It reminds me of shaken baby syndrome. I think it's just a way to let an abusive person off the hook. I mean you can contribute a psychological reason for every negative behavior. What's next? Slap your wife in the face syndrome.

Deb said...

Keeping attachments can be a great thing if all in the mix are in agreement. Baldwin actually went through a rough divorce and ongoing child custody issue - he wrote this book in light of those things.

phd in yogurtry,
It is hard when one witnesses such alienation, but I do have to point out that there are many divided families where this does not occur at all.

Wow, you mother was a strong and wise person.

You make a good point that this can happen without custody issues or divorce being front and center.

Teresa Lynne,
You are right that all parties have to be involved in keeping healthy attachments. So great that you did not fall into an enabling pattern with your ex. You gave your kids a gift in being strong and standing on the side of what's right.

Big Brother,
Divorce is so hard on so many. You must see so much of the fall out at times where you work.

He does look refreshed. I agree. Could be photoshopping on the book cover?

Oh, how painful. You mother gave you a very important experience and approach to life with how she handled things. Wow.

YEs, true. Sometimes, though, the negative feelings can leak out in an unconscious way, while other times it is very intentional. To curb either one would be a good thing.

THAT is so sad.

Awake In Rochester,
A label doesn't give wiggle room, in my opinion. It gives something that occurs time and again a name. Then we can figure out how to address it. No "off the hook" stuff here. Accountability is what it's all about.

Barbara K. said...

My parents should have divorced when they were in their 50's. Now they're in their 80's and it's too late. My mother has always tried to alienate me from my father. Many years ago I had to set a rule -- that if she began bad-mouthing my father to me, I would end the conversation.

Deb said...

Dear Barb,
I know what it feels like to be in your situation. I do the same thing.

Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D. said...

I just wanted to point out that the syndrome label is applied to the child as a way to understand and explain why a child would reject a parent who is not abusive. And the label is only applied when the child exhibits most if not all of the 8 behavioral manifestations of the syndrome. No one in this field is trying to justify away the abusive behavior of a parent who manipulates a child to reject the other parent. I also wanted to add that in my research with adults who had this experience as children, I found that this is a form of child abuse which has long-term negative consequences.

Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D. author, Adult children of parental alienation syndrome: Breaking the ties that bind.

Jade said...

Interesting topic and very valid for this day and age where divorce is all over the place and where children are often seemingly used as pons in a wild game that their parents are playing with each other.
As always you've stimulated my brain great info Deb.

S'onnie said...

I have a two friends whose parents are divorced and the differences in how their parents worked out their divorce and the impact it had on the children is visable even today.

one friends parents sat down and carefully explained that they still loved her but didnt want to live together any more they bought new houses close to each other and spoke civily to and about each other.

the other friends parents had public slinging matches and told my friend all the bad things about the other parents. she is still messed up because of it all

Anonymous said...

It's sad that some parents play these games. Divorce isn't easy for a kid and then to have this happen on top of it make things so much harder for them.

When my parents divorced, my father played games such as this. My little sister was the only one still in the home and it definitely affected her relationship with our mother. Years later, my sister is still blaming my mom for a lot of things - that blame is entirely off-base and not realistic. Because she believes that our father was such a hero, me, my other sister, and my mom really can't stand to put up with her anymore, and we don't have much contact with her. Interestingly enough, she's involved in a long-term relationship with a guy that behaves just as our father did!


jumpinginpuddles said...

this is one reason as much as we struggle with our ex we work together for the common good of our five kids.
We often say we liked him long enough to produce five children. Its not he kids fault their dad and I are no longer together and our job as adults is to make sure our feelings toward each other doesnt ever alienate our kids, so far thats worked.

Kikolani | Poetry, Photography, Blogging Tips said...

It's kinda sad that it usually takes a celebrity coming out with something to get any attention drawn to it. But I am glad that it works.

I know someone who was affected by this, and it is so sad that the parents can't realize the ultimate damage they are doing to their children.

Maybe now that it will be better known, other adults/teachers in the lives of these children will see what is going on and be able to take action.

~ Kristi

Ian Lidster said...

I suffered from this with my stepdaughter. Even though she wasn't my blood child, I loved her as if she was. It hurt more than the actual marriage demise. It has been partially resolved, but never completely.

Deb said...

Dear Dr. Baker,
Thanks for your comments. BTW, I am going to by your book to read!

There is a fierce community that does not believe in this psychological dynamic. I wonder why it is so hard for people to see how this can and does play out. Hope you are doing well, my friend.

Amazing to see the difference in the styles, right?

It is so hard on everyone. But if a family can see how conscious or unconcious hatred hurts their child, maybe it can lessen the damage. Then again, some don't believe it occurs at all, so they think it's psychobabble.

You are an amazing mom to be able to give them all that.

I like when high profile people write about mental health issues. It's true that on some level it takes a celeb to get the news out there, but I'll take it!

Oh, how sad. What loss. I have known many a non-blood parent love like its their own child. It's magic and a gift when that happens. I wish this could;ve happened for you in the way you wished.

east village idiot said...

thank you for bringing this issue up Deb. I've seen it go on in our own extended family and I know how painful it can be.

Alienated mom said...

Many will argue that parental alienation does not exist. I disagree with that. Whether or not the term parental alienation is the correct term, this should not be the issue. The issue is that there are thousands of children affected by divorce and in some contested cases, one parent can not and will not place the interests of their child first. They seem to have some vendetta against the other parent and they will stop at nothing to “win” the case. What they fail to realize is that there are no winners in custody cases and that both parents must work in concert to ensure that the child or children grow up feeling love from both parents. In cases where severe alienation exists the child is on a constant emotional roller coaster and has to show their allegiance to the alienating parent, thus losing the target parent. Target parents have to take the high road and silently grieve the loss of a loving relationship they once had with their child. Until courts impose severe penalties for interference of parenting time, nothing will change. Parental alienation is abuse!

Deb said...

Dear EVI,
It can be so hard to witness this dynamic. Sorry to hear that you've seen it iny our family.

Dear ALienated,
Sometimes people can't believe what they cannot "see". But once you've been int he midst of this psychological dynamic, you believe. Thanks for your comment.

Barb said...

At Keeping Families Connected we deal with the aftermath of Parental Alienation all the time. Thousands of families around the globe are suffering silently from this form of child abuse.

What bothers us the most is that the family court system does very little to protect the kids and in most cases that we have seen they are a big part of the problem. They encourage those behaviors by not holding parents in contempt for violating visitation order. They often take one side and run with it without ever really looking at the facts. They do not pursue perjury charges in family court "because everyone lies". So when you have someone constantly lying to make themselves look good and the other parent look bad there are no checks and balances to hold someone accountable.