Fathers’ Rights

A Chicago Blog

Parental Alienation Syndrome

Posted by madcap on August 7, 2008

When divorce turns nasty and one parent tries to turn the kids against the other. Dr. Jayne Major, police officer Catherine MacWillie, and film director Shelli Ryan discuss parental alienation syndrome.This has happened to my two daughters. This is a crushing situation. I will be posting more on this issue in the future. My faith sustains me through this. After eight years of visitation, with allegations of sexual abuse to physical abuse, mom finally achieved her goal: the children say that they HATE me, and the eldest says she never wants to see me again. My youngest daughter says she wants to “take a break.”

These are the same words spoken by their mother on the stand some eight years ago. I was only seeking visitation, and the judge issued a warning to the mother that she was lucky I was not going for custody. The judge told her that one of the things he takes into consideration in deciding custody was the parent’s willingness to allow the other parent to have contact with the children. The judge told her, “you have fallen woefully short on this point,” and “let this be a wake up call to you Miss. J.”

Mom never flinched, and persisted in her “campaign” of alienation, and “recruited” her local police department, (the chief of police would often have diner at her mother’s home!) teachers, friends of her family, and her other family members, to assist in her “cause.” This makes it hard for children to keep their heads above water while drowning in an ocean of hate. The saddest thing of all, is that this goes on with no repercussions on the alienator. The non-custodial parent is powerless to do anything, except watch his children drift further and further out to sea.

This is a word form my current wife (who is a licensed counselor) to my children:

M and H,
This is A.  I am writing on a thread from dad’s e-mail account, cause I wasn’t sure what address to e-mail you at, and I figured this e-mail account must be active.
I’m very sad to hear about everything that has been going on between you kids and your dad.  I imagine this must be very hard to make sense of, and extremely stressful.  I wish there was something I could do or say to make this easier for you, and to help heal this rift.
I hope you will find it reassuring to know, that from everything I have seen and heard over the years, I have absolutely no doubt that your dad loves you very much.  He has always tried his best to be a caring guide, a watchful protector, a fun companion, an inspiring teacher, and a responsible parent.  he has always tried to consider and do what is in your best interest, even when it required sacrifice on his part, or when it was unpleasant (like setting boundaries and enforcing rules).  He has cherished the many joyful, loving and funny moments you have shared, and he has often wished that your family could have stayed intact, so he could be present in your normal day-to-day life.
As it is, he got pushed to the margins of your life… the odd man out.  Your mom really did try to push him out of the picture altogether, but his love for you helped him hang on when most people would have given up.
All in all, he has put a lot of thought into being the best possible father he could be, taking special care to do this in a way that God intended.  I know he is not perfect, and that he has at times fallen short of his own expectations for himself.  We all do… we are all a work in progress.  But he is also very loving, intelligent, insightful, experienced, well-read, passionate, open-minded, fun and compassionate.  He is honest and direct, so you don’t have to play any guessing games about what he is thinking.  And he wants you to be a happy, healthy and successful person.
I hope you will not forget these things in your anger (or that you may someday remember them again).  I know it is easy to lose sight of anything you like about a person when you are mad at them, and when others around you don’t like them.  That’s why it’s important to remind yourself of the good things, and the good times.  When I look at the big picture, I see that your dad is a wonderful person.  I hope that someday you will be able to see this too.
I love you and wish you peace.

P.S. Please remember that he did not abandon you.  We would still be having regular visitation if you had not said that you didn’t want to visit.  I hope that your decision to walk away is a temporary one.  I hope that someday you will understand and accept your dad’s efforts to teach you.  I will miss you while you are gone… however long that may be.

Also see:

Missuse of Order of Protection: Mom the Terminator

Three Types of Parental Alienators

Copyright 1997 by Douglas Darnall, Ph.D.

Alienation and the degree of severity

Parental alienation varies in the degree of severity, as seen in the behaviors and attitudes of both the parents and the children. The severity can be of such little consequence as a parent occasionally calling the other parent a derogatory name; or it could be as overwhelming as the parent’s campaign of consciously destroying the children’s relationship with the other parent. Most children are able to brush off a parent’s offhand comment about the other parent that is made in frustration. On the other hand, children may not be able to resist a parent’s persistent campaign of hatred and alienation.

Parents must be cautioned not to conclude that all parent-child relationship problems are caused by alienating behavior. When there is true abuse, it is natural that a parent will feel protective towards the children. This is not alienation. On the other hand, the parent is expected to cooperate with investigators and consider alternative explanations that would explain the allegation. Alternative explanations explaining a serious parent-child problem can include a failure to bond, punitive punishment, insensitivity to the child’s needs or a failure to understand development issues. Sometime a competent evaluation is needed to determine how alienation may contribute to the problems between the targeted parent and the children. This is a complex process that requires a court order and the participation of both parents and the children.

Who Uses Alienation?

We are frequently asked the question if someone other than a parent can alienate the child? The answer is an emphatic yes. Grandparents, stepparents, family friends and even attorneys and therapists can alienate or contribute to the alienation.

Frequently an alienated parent will surround themselves with people that support alienation, believing that the child needs to be protected or saved from the targeted parent.

Learning to Recognize Types of Alienation

Preventing or stopping alienation must begin with learning how to recognize the three types of alienation because the symptoms and strategies for combating each are different. The three types should not be considered a “diagnosis,” but instead are a heuristic (i.e. considering possibilities) way of understanding alienation.

Three Types of Alienation

Naïve alienators are parents who are passive about the children’s relationship with the other parent but will occasionally do or say something that can alienate. All parents will occasionally be naïve alienators.

Active alienators also know better than to alienate, but their intense hurt or anger causes them to impulsively lose control over their behavior or what they say. Later, they may feel very guilty about how they behaved.

Obsessed alienators have a fervent cause to destroy the targeted parent. Frequently a parent can be a blend between two types of alienators, usually a combination between the naïve and active alienator. Rarely does the obsessed alienator have enough self-control or insight to blend with the other types. These three patterns of alienating behaviors are not intended to be used as a diagnosis. The types have not been validated sufficient for litigation.

Keep in mind that the source of alienating behavior can come from mothers, fathers, stepparents, relatives, and even babysitters, “best friends” of the parent, the parent’s attorney, or a therapist.



This what I am dealing with:

Type Three: Obsessed Alienator (what I call “the terminator”)
I love my children. If the court can’t protect them from their abusive father, I will. Even though he’s never abused the children, I know it’s a matter of time. The children are frightened of their father. If they don’t want to see him, I’m not going to force them. They are old enough to make up their own minds.”

The obsessed alienator is a parent, or sometimes a grandparent, with a cause: to align the children to his or her side and together, with the children, campaign to destroy their relationship with the targeted parent. For the campaign to work, the obsessed alienator enmeshes the children’s personalities and beliefs into their own. This is a process that takes time but one that the children, especially the young, are completely helpless to see and combat. It usually begins well before the divorce is final. The obsessed parent is angry, bitter or feels betrayed by the other parent. The initial reasons for the bitterness may actually be justified. They could have been verbally and physical abused, raped, betrayed by an affair, or financially cheated. The problem occurs when the feelings won’t heal but instead become more intense because of being forced to continue the relationship with a person they despise because of their common parenthood. Just having to see or talk to the other parent is a reminder of the past and triggers the hate. They are trapped with nowhere to go and heal.

The characteristics of an obsessed alienator are:

  • They are obsessed with destroying the children’s relationship with the targeted parent.
  • They having succeeded in enmeshing the children’s personalities and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
  • The children will parrot the obsessed alienator rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other parent.
  • The targeted parent and often the children cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings.
  • Their beliefs sometimes becoming delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries is the enemy.
  • They will often seek support from family members, quasi-political groups or friends that will share in their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent and the system. The battle becomes “us against them.” The obsessed alienator’s supporters are often seen at the court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
  • They have an unquenchable anger because they believe that the targeted parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the children is justified.
  • They have a desire for the court to punish the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted parent from seeing the children. This confirms in the obsessed alienator’s mind that he or she was right all the time.
  • The court’s authority does not intimidate them.
  • The obsessed alienator believes in a higher cause, protecting the children at all cost.
  • The obsessed alienator will probably not want to read what is on these pages because the content just makes them angrier.

There are no effective treatment protocols that have been validated for either the obsessed alienator or the PAS children. The courts and mental health professionals are sincere in wanting to help these families but their efforts frequently fail.

The best hope for children affected by an obsessed alienator is early identification of the symptoms and prevention. After the alienation is entrenched and the children become “true believers” in the parent’s cause, the children may be lost to the other parent for years to come. I realize this is a sad statement, but I have yet to find an effective intervention, by anyone, including the courts that can rehabilitate the alienating parent and child. There can still be hope in that spontaneous reunification can occur, usually in response to a crisis that causes the alienated child to reach out to the rejected parent.

In the past year, however, I am seeing examples of successful reversal of parental alienation syndrome.  This may not be true, though, for the obsessed alienator.

If you have a success story about how you were able to overcome the alienation caused by the obsessed alienator and are now reunited with your children, I would love to hear your story. Please send me e-mail so I can learn from your experience. Perhaps you have something important from your story.

2 Responses to “Parental Alienation Syndrome”

  1. […] Parental Alienation Syndrome […]

  2. This article fails to mention another tactic of an angry spouse: how about a mother who constantly berates her daughter, “You’re JUST like your father!!!!” She took out all her (justified) wrath against my father on *ME*. (Beat me viciously thru 9th grade.) I had to listen to that litany for 26 years, until I finally told her, “I don’t want to hear that s### anymore!” She knew I meant business at that point, bec. I don’t normally use 4 letter-words, but in this case, that constant cant was nothing less than verbal excrement. (Needless to say, for decades, my father was the only parent I truly loved. She didn’t alienate me from him; quite the opposite.)

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