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Parental Alienation Syndrome

by Dore Frances, MA, founder of Horizon Family Solutions, LLC
Parental alienation syndrome is not new.

As a divorced parent, you worry when the other parent makes derogatory remarks and tries to give your child a negative image of you. But when do mere derogatory remarks turn into a harmful psychological phenomenon that psychologists have labeled the "parental alienation syndrome"?

Parental alienation syndrome occurs when one parent's efforts to consciously or unconsciously brainwash a child combine with the child's own bad-mouthing of the other parent. In severe cases, the child will not want to see or talk to the alienated parent.

Once the alienation reaches such a point, it is difficult to reverse, and permanent damage is done to the child and to the relationship between the child and the alienated parent.

What Causes Parental Alienation?
What causes a parent to want to damage the relationship of their own child with the other parent, at their own child's expense?

Intentions differ from one parent to the next, but psychologists have suggested the following as potential motivators:

  • An alienating parent may be so insecure as to his or her own parenting skills that he or she projects those concerns onto the other parent, regardless of reality.
  • Sometimes new spouses or grandparents push the alienating parent into inappropriate behavior for their own inappropriate reasons, and the alienating parent isn't strong enough to resist them.
  • An alienating parent may be so wrapped up in their child's life that he or she has no separate identity, and sees the child's relationship with the other parent as a threat.
  • An alienating parent may have a personality disorder, such as narcissism or paranoia, which makes him or her unable to empathize with the child's feelings or see the way their behavior is harming the child. Such personality disorders may also make the alienating parent more likely to be jealous of the other parent's adjustment to the breakup, and cause the alienating parent to have extreme rage toward the other parent.
  • An alienating parent may have unresolved anger toward the other parent for perceived wrongs during the relationship, and may be unable to separate those issues from parenting issues.
  • An alienating parent may have unresolved issues from their childhood, particularly in how they related to their own parents, which he or she projects onto the other parent (whether or not it is factually accurate).

What causes a child to buy into the alienating parent's brainwashing? The child may:

  • Feel the need to protect a parent who is depressed, panicky or needy
  • Want to avoid the anger or rejection of a dominant parent, who is also often the custodial parent
  • Want to hold onto the parent the child is most afraid of losing, such as a parent who is self-absorbed or not very involved with the child.

In choosing to go along with the viewpoint of the alienating parent, the child can avoid conflict and remove him or herself from the constant tug-of-war. When you are a victim of PAS be sure to develop a good support network of family and friends who can help you get through what may be a very long and rocky road. Seek legal and professional help. Above all else, be sure to educate yourself. There are many credible websites that provide information and help on parental alienation syndrome.

Dore Frances, IEC, MA, is an educcational consultant, childs right advocate, parent coach, specializing in working with troubled teens and their families in the United States, Canda, and abroad. See her site at: or contact her by phone at:(541) 312-4422, or email
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Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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