Divorce has a tendency of breeding bad blood between parents. Unfortunately, sometimes this hostility can cause one parent to use their child or children against the other. Coined by child psychologist Robert Gardner in 1985, parental alienation is a harmful form of manipulation that one parent uses to distance the child away from the other.
If you have concerns that your ex may be pitting your child against you, it’s essential to know how to recognize the signs. Here are the eight symptoms identified as the criteria for a child suffering from parental alienation syndrome (PAS):
1. A campaign of denigration
In a denigration campaign, the relationship between the alienated parent and the child will shift seemingly overnight. While there was once a positive relationship, the child now shows constant hostility or unfairly criticizes the targeted parent.
2. Weak, frivolous and absurd rationalizations
When confronted about why the child feels negatively towards the alienated parent, they cannot justify their feelings with specific examples or their reasons are wildly untrue. Sometimes, the child rejects the parent for reasons that wouldn’t usually rationalize rejection, such as their parent’s appearance or food preparation skills.
3. A lack of ambivalence
A child suffering from PAS will see no redeeming qualities in the alienated parent. In their eyes, the parent who is doing the alienating can do no wrong, but their feelings towards the alienated parent are wholly negative and critical.
4. The “independent thinker” phenomenon
Even though the alienating parent has brainwashed the child to hate or fear the alienated parent, the child will insist that their reasons for this hatred are their own. The child will deny that any ideas came from the alienating parent.
5. An absence of guilt
Children with PAS typically don’t experience feelings of guilt for their harsh treatment of the alienated parent. In most cases, they will act ungrateful, spiteful or cold toward the alienated parent and appear unimpressed by any gifts or favors offered by the targeted parent.
6. Support for the alienating parent
No matter the alienating parent’s position, the child will always take their side over the targeted parent. The child is unwilling to be impartial or hear out the alienated parent when there are parental disagreements or conflict.
7. Borrowed phrases and scenarios
Alienated children will often borrow adult language or ideas from their alienator that they do not appear to understand. The child may also make accusations about events that never happened or that they cannot support with evidence.
8. Rejection of extended family
Unfortunately, the resentment an alienated child feels towards the targeted parent can also extend to their relatives. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents that were once loved may suddenly be despised and avoided.
The first step to putting a stop to parental alienation is learning how to read the signs. If you fear your child has become the victim of parental alienation, working with a family counselor or family law attorney can help you determine your next steps.