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Recognizing Parental Alienation Syndrome

Recognizing Parental Alienation Syndrome

If you were around in 2007, you probably heard actor Alec Baldwin’s vitriolic voicemail message to his 11-year-old daughter in which he tells her "I'm a good father and you’re a pig," and then tells her to tell mother to... well, do something unpleasant to herself.

Is Parental Alienation Syndrome Real?

When you’re in the midst of custody battle, like Baldwin was, it’s normal for your child is to feel torn and ambivalent about her relationship with each parent. But when your child begins shunning you, seems to hate you for no reason, or begins repeating lies about you, she may be experiencing what Dr. Richard Gardner describes as Parental Alienation Syndrome.

That’s the syndrome Baldwin attributed his behavior to. His statement ("I have been driven to the edge by parental alienation for many years now. You have to go through this to understand.") started a flurry of debate about whether Parental Alienation Syndrome is a real disorder, or as Carol S. Bruch, a distinguished researcher in the field of family law, called it, "junk science."

Junk science or not, Circle of Moms members say the feelings of alienation can be very real. Many have experienced it themselves, and urge others in custody battles or even just messy separations to recognize the signs that mean it's time to get some help for your child.

What is Parental Alienation?

Though the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t recognize it as a mental disorder, their reasoning for this helps to further explain what Parental Alienation actually is. According to Dr. Darrel Reiger, PAS can’t be defined as a mental disorder because it’s a parent-child relationship dysfunction, not a mental health issue contained within one individual.


Circle of Moms members Traci Z. and Erin C. know all about PAS and parent-child issues. Traci's step kids have disowned her and their biological father because of the things their mother has told them. She says the courts won't acknowledge PAS and that they have no recourse. But Erin thinks that there is hope; she suggests continued documentation of changes in child behavior. When there's a dramatic negative change in a child's behavior and no evident signs of abuse, she feels the courts are likely to take notice.

Signs of Parental Alienation Syndrome

Even if the courts don’t take notice, you can. A Circle of Moms member named Katherine explains what the signs looks and feel like:

"I feel as if my daughter has to actively and constantly find things to say about me that are negative and invented in order to justify her rage at me. We were so close and I know she wants to be able to love her mother still. It becomes worse every single day."

Other signs of Parental Alienation (as defined by Dr. Gardner) include:

  • Your child aligns with their other parent to attack your reputation. 
  • Your child’s reasons for denigrating you are weak, silly or just absurd.
  • Your child’s hostility toward you is complete, without the ambivalence found in typical human relations. 
  • Your child says it’s her own idea to be hostile to you, not anyone else's. 
  • Your child automatically defends her other parent, no matter what. 
  • Your child doesn’t seem to feel guilty about how this is affecting you. 
  • Your child’s claims are "borrowed scenarios," or basically, words are being put in her mouth. 
  • Your child’s inexplicable hatred isn’t just toward you, but also toward other members of your family.


What Can You Do?

It's definitely important to document what your child is saying for custody purposes, but it’s also important to remember that this is a deliberate attempt to sabotage your relationship with your child, which many moms liken to brainwashing.

You may not be able to convince your child that her other parent is wrong, but you can do what Katherine did: find her a good therapist. After all, as Erin points out, "It’s very psychologically damaging to [children] and sets up a pattern of mistrust and anger toward others in personal relationships."


Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: Getting It Wrong in Child Custody Cases (Carol S. Bruch)
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS): Sixteen Years Later (Richard A. Gardner, M.D.)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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