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Getting Out From Under Parental Alienation Syndrome

upset boy with picture of parentsParental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) develops in a child when one parent poisons the child’s attitude toward the other parent, usually during or after the dissolution of the parents’ relationship.

Children develop PAS when used as pawns in a war between their parents. Symptoms  include anger, behavior problems and rejection of the alienated parent.

The biggest loser in this scenario is the child, according to Kathy Hardie-Williams in her article on the topic (see below for the link).

If you were encouraged as a child by one of your parents to reject the other, I’d like to hear from you.

Is it possible to re-establish a connection to the rejected parent as an adult?

If so, what did you (or they) do to break the ice?

Please either post in the Comments section or email me directly.

My Gmail address is TinaGilbertson.

Here’s Kathie’s informative article, complete with a list of to-do’s for alienated parents:

When One Parent Alienates a Child from the Other Parent

Photo courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "Getting Out From Under Parental Alienation Syndrome"

  • Sue
    September 20, 2014 - 9:28 am

    Read the article, and while all of those suggestions are good ones, the author failed to point out that in the overwhelming majority of cases they simply don’t work, especially if the alienating parent is narcissistic and/or passive-aggressive (and aren’t they all?). Also, the author seems to think that the courts are helpful in these matters. I can tell you from experience that they are not. Their sole concerns, besides getting the files moved and closed as quickly as possible, are matters of law — property division, custody determination, etc. While it all looks good on paper, that is NOT what happens with parental alienation. At best, all you will get is referral to a family therapist, with whom the alienating parent continues with the same narcissistic, passive-aggressive games that he has already been using so successfully on the children.

    Once the damage has been done, neither the courts nor the kids are interested in seeking the truth. And if you push the issue, even with documentation, YOU become the problem. It just drives the kids further away, who are fully convinced that the alienating parent is a saint who is victimized by the evil other parent, and intensifies the resolve of the alienating parent.

    My ex was never a father to our children — until the divorce. His “love” lasted only as long as the divorce did, yet even as adults the children continue to be blinded by his lies and manipulations. They continue to blame me for any of his flaws. I haven’t seen any of them in 21 years, except for one brief but disastrous reunion with my daughter about 4 years ago, during which she used me for every financial and emotional thing she could think of before re-enacting the original departure in all its dramatic detail.

    I know because I’ve been through it. I’m willing to bet your friend Kathie hasn’t.

  • starfish6193
    September 25, 2014 - 2:13 pm

    While I see Sue’s point of view in the first paragraph, and a very valid one in my opinion, it sounds to me like she might be feeling like every one else’s experiences with this has been, and is going to be, the same. As Kathy H. pointed out, it is good to know how the court system works. (I wish I had known that was not a shameful thing to be aware of when I was going through my divorce) The last two paragraphs, though, spell my experience to a “T”.

    I think I’ve heard of “Breakthrough Parenting” before, but as I remember, it was not relevant when I heard about it, and didn’t know anything about it other than it was a book about parenting. I’m certainly going to take a look at it now.

    I don’t think I’ve come across this particular article as a happenstance in my life. Right now in my therapy, I am facing head on the very subject of being rejected from my entire family. And I think this is squarely connecting the source.

    When I was growing up, my parents divorced right when I was between jr. high and high school. Which was bad enough in itself, but it still went downhill from there. All of a sudden my invisible dad was actually gone. And he was the one I was most closely connected with. Somehow, my mother convinced my older brother and sister that my father was the “evil” one, and far be it from me, I disagreed. So I grew up being rejected by all three of them.

    However, the way I delt with that was no better, because then I wound up demonizing my mother. Which my brother and sister now see my POV, and I truly believe my mother fit that description. However, labeling her that way and avoiding a connection with her did not help matters any.

    One thing that has helped me greatly to find my balance in how to process this dilemma in a real way, was to realize that both my mother and father each had their own good points and their own bad points. When I first heard that, I thought to myself, “yeah, but you don’t know my family.” But little by little I was able to accept that my mother had her good side, but still felt that she was actually “the one” who destroyed our family.
    As I continued along my life journey which as an adult quickly turned into one of finding healing and forgiveness, I found out more details about my mother and more about my father that helped me be able to look at them both as humans with their own problems. After all, there is a reason why they were attracted to each other in the first place.

    Then I got married myself when I was still 18 and my (now X-) husband was 8 years older than me. Funny thing, my mother also married young and my dad was also 8 years older than her. Which indicates a whole ‘nother topic of discussion. As well, she had four children (I also have a younger brother).

    Fast-forward to now, I have been single and divorced for 35 years. (Wow, really??) And I am still living the life as Sue is. What I need now, is to find out how to break through that “wall of denial” (the title of a very good book which is actually called, Within the Wall of Denial) at the stage I am in now, where the children are no longer directly in the middle of the mess, but my two living sons (my oldest was lost to suicide, which undoubtedly was greatly influenced by this very dynamic) will no longer talk with me, and as Sue has experienced, my daughter allows me to babysit her son but has virtually no social contact with me. I am very grateful for being able to see him, however. I am now able to form a healthy and very happy and connected bond with him. Which, I believe, is one factor that is helping to now turn the tide.

    • waynecountylandofstupid
      September 26, 2014 - 4:43 am

      If your experience is different, then you are one of the lucky few. A cursory Internet search of “estrangement” will verify that the overwhelming majority of parental alienation victims are not.

      The tactics these parents use result in nothing less than brainwashing — subtle, seemingly “harmless” but constant manipulations of reality that affect the children deeply. Couple this with the distress caused by their overt anger, and there is little chance that the children, even as adults, will ever question the alienating parent. They will simply join him-or-her in a lifetime of hating the other parent.

      I wish you luck, but I don’t think it will make any difference.

      • starfish6193
        October 7, 2014 - 12:31 pm

        if you will re-read the third and fourth paragraphs from the bottom of my comment, you will see how to get free (or at least working on it will help) from the angel-demon view of your parents’ parenting. The idea behind working this angle, not only helps you see that both parents have their faults, strengths, personalities, etc., but also how you may or may not fit into their picture with your own faults, strengths, personality, etc. It also helped me examine my own parenting skills, mostly the lack of them, and why I had those lackings. I also realized some of the reasons why I married the kind of man I married, who was a controlling, demeaning, abusive SOB. Yes, he was that bad. And our children showed several signs of being molested. On the flip side, I had to also realize that there is an equal and opposite dysfunctional reason why I married him in the first place. Yes, I was also in that bad of a weakened, victimized condition or I would not have fallen pray to, or gone anywhere near such a person.

        And the reason why I did not do much to fight him, is that the more I tried to do something about it, the more I was overreacting, accusing (even though I told him several times I was not accusing him but trying to find out what was going on with them). Even he agreed that “something” had happened to them, but digging into what it was only made me more to blame. He was trying to deflect whatever that “something” was, not solve the mystery. Since both sides of the family are deeply and violently steeped in generations of denial, I had absolutely no one to reach out to for help. Long story short, the only thing I could do to survive was to focus on the healing and forgiveness, and do my best to survive. Children’s services got involved when I finally snapped, and guess who was also to blame by them?

        The one thing I learned in my clinicals of nursing school is that the women’s shelter I worked at was the place for me to go. If I had known that then, when I became on my own with the children, I would have run, not walked to the nearest one. I had no idea that anyone at all was safe enough to go to for help. And I have proved that to myself the hard way. That is one big reason why so many women stay in abusive relationships.

        It takes very hard work and a long time to recover from parents who cause such a division in your own thinking. I hate the term “baby steps” because it implies to me that I am somehow weak for having to go through therapy for whatever is overwhelming me. The process is very slow because it is tedious and that slowness is part of it. Even if you never do fully recover from whatever setback you have experienced, working at it still helps in the long run.

        • waynecountylandofstupid
          October 7, 2014 - 3:06 pm

          I know nothing of your parents or their parenting. They may very well have had some good traits mixed in with their bad traits. But that is not the point here. The point is what happens to the alienated parent and the children who are victimized by an alienating parent.

          There is no doubt that one can recover from such victimization. But you will have to do it without your children, because in the majority of these cases they remain brainwashed, and they don’t “come back,” whatever that means. The courts cannot legislate their return. Psychotherapy cannot convince them to return. Once they are manipulated into believing the other parent is “bad,” it remains entrenched in their brains.

          I believe forgiveness is a precious gift, to be bestowed on those who *want* to be forgiven, and is wasted on the selfish, narcissistic, passive-aggressive “parent” who doesn’t believe (s)he did anything wrong. But forgiving the alienating parent works for you that’s great. Feel free to forgive mine, because I never will.

          • Eve Browne
            October 9, 2014 - 2:27 pm

            Wayne, I don’t want to argue the point. The point I am making is, there is hope. There is hope for at least some amount of recovery, even if it isn’t very much. But even recovering a little bit will make some kind of difference. And even though painful, once you see and feel that dealing with those issues is making you stronger instead of weaker, and that repeated problems in your life are slowly no longer causing the same old roadblocks, you might then see that if you keep working through those hinderences from the past will continue to strengthen you and set you free. What it takes is, finding the right person to help you with that, (by that I mean therapist) and complete dedication to do whatever it takes to get there.

            My parents are both gone now. I could have just locked them out of my mind and life, but I didn’t completely. I created the distance from them and my older two siblings that I needed to in order to preserve my sanity. Which unfortunately was a long ways away. Now I can look at my relationship I’ve had with my parents from a different perspective. Instead of still feeling victimized, I can now see them for who they were and how I was treated as a fact in my life that may always hinder me in some way.

            One of my blessings is, when my mother passed. As I was leaving the hospital room, she said to me, “I love you, Eve.” and I replied, “I love you too, mom”. Even though for the previous two decades, we didn’t talk much at all. In the end, deep down, we both knew we loved each other. When my dad passed, I had not talked to him for a week or so. He had called me and he was in an irritable mood. My association emotionally with that is sad, however, I can also understand it because he was both diabetic and had bipolar disorder. Either one of those conditions can cause someone to become irritable. So over time that pain and sadness has waned. Not because of time in and of itself, but because I’ve been able to see things between us from a different angle.

            The commonality I see with both you and Sue is, the negative points of view that are all-inclusive. Such as, “the courts” (are not helpful), “at best all that is helpful” (is that you will get a referral), “neither the courts nor the kids” (will seek the truth), etc. and in your comments, “the overwhelming majority” (of…victims), “nothing less than brainwashing” (parental tactics), “there is little chance” (that the adult children will ever question…), etc. I am not meaning this to be pointing out something that is inherently wrong, but just that the way it is being said seems to me like you both have given up hope. And THAT is what will keep you from gaining any kind of recovery.

            It is important in the process to look back and identify where your issues have originated from. Most often it is the parents, and/or someone else very close to you with regular contact. A lot of people I’ve talked with and listened to get stuck right there by saying “you can’t blame your parents”. Which is true long term. However, if those same people haven’t looked at and worked through their issues with their parents, then that statement may become one that is used to justify not going to “that place”. In passing through the examination of the damage that has been done, it is very common and probably expected that the person working out their issues will blame their parents. But that can be a good thing, because without going through that phase, there might be no emotional connection and the issues remain. Not everyone will go through making those connections and blaming their parents along the way, but many do. The important difference is that it is a phase, and not where a person gets stuck.

            I may be blessed because of the hard work I have done to attain my blessings, and sometimes I get them serendipituously , but I can guarantee you, I am NOT lucky!! 😉