Most said that they wanted to settle the case, but none of them would settle by giving up some of the things they didn't really need, which seemed to be the only other alternative open to them. It is disturbing to see that in many of cases, the child (children) was behaving outrageously, to the point of cursing one of their parents, and kicking, spitting, and calling them stupid, mean and horrible.
What can you do when one parent is intractable and vitriolic? What can you do when the child becomes caught up in the fight and starts taking sides? I have come to realize that this level of conflict in custody disputes was a fallout from sweeping societal changes of the 70's, 80's, and 90's and of the control factors exhibited by the parent the child is living with.
"that of programming or brainwashing of a child by one parent to denigrate the other parent"
However, the disorder wasn't just brainwashing or programming by a parent. It was confounded by what Dr. Gardner calls self-created contributions by the child in support of the alienating parent's campaign of denigration against the targeted parent. He called this disorder Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), a new term that includes the contribution to the problem made by both the parent and the child.
What is PAS?
Gardner's definition of PAS is:
1. The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. 2. Its primary manifestation is the child's campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. 3. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) of a parent's indoctrinations and the child's own contributions to the vilification of the targeted parent.
Excerpted from: Gardner, R.A. (1998). The Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition, Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
What is the child's part in PAS?
Gardner notes that the PAS is more than brainwashing or programming, because the child has to actually participate in the denigrating of the alienated parent. This is done in primarily the following eight ways:
- The child denigrates the alienated parent with foul language and severe oppositional behavior.
- The child offers weak, absurd, or frivolous reasons for his or her anger.
- The child is sure of himself or herself and doesn't demonstrate ambivalence, i.e. love and hate for the alienated parent, only hate.
- The child exhorts that he or she alone came up with ideas of denigration. The "independent-thinker" phenomenon is where the child asserts that no one told her to do this.
- The child supports and feels a need to protect the alienating parent.
- The child does not demonstrate guilt over cruelty towards the alienated parent.
- The child uses borrowed scenarios, or vividly describes situations that he or she could not have experienced.
- Animosity is spread to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent.
PAS is an escalation of Parental Alienation (PA)
Dr. Douglas Darnall in his book Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation, describes three categories of PA:
The mild category he calls the naïve alienators. They are ignorant of what they are doing and are willing to be educated and change.
The moderate category is the active alienators. When they are triggered, they lose control of appropriate boundaries. They go ballistic. When they calm down, they don't want to admit that they were out of control.
In the severe category are the obsessed alienators or those who are involved in PAS. They operate from a delusional system where every cell of their body is committed to destroying the other parent's relationship with the child.
In the latter case, he notes that we don't have an effective protocol for treating an obsessed alienator other than removing the child from their influence.
An important point is that in PAS there is no true parental abuse and/or neglect on the part of the alienated parent. If this were the case, the child's animosity would be justified. Also, it is not PAS if the child still has a positive relationship with the parent, even though one parent is attempting to alienate the child from him or her.
Which gender is most likely to initiate PAS?
Gardner's statistics showed that the majority of PAS occurrences were initiated by mothers. Mothers have traditionally had primary custody of children (although before the 20th century it normally belonged to the father), and the mothers usually spend more time with the children.
In order for a campaign of alienation to occur, one parent needs to have considerable time with the child.
Anyone who is divorced knows there’s nothing that creates such passion as when your ex twists the story and casts you as the villain. They are telling the history. But to you it is a history built of lies.
ex : “I can’t believe she’s feeding him this poison. She’s so insecure, she takes every chance to put me down. The truth is/was exactly the opposite. She was impossible. She was the one who had these constant tantrums. I can’t let my son and daughter have this totally distorted view of what went on. I have to set the record straight.”
Why do we care so much? Because it’s intolerable that our kids would think badly of us, especially in comparison to this other person – our ex-partner – with whom we split because, at best, we hated them.
ex : “Mom and Dad got a divorce because Dad was an immature ___*?*___.”
How can anyone not worry that your son or daughter is judging you? It is your nightmare. “They are taking sides – her side. And it was not the way she says at all. I can’t just let it stand this way. It is so unfair. I must try to set the record straight.”
This reaction is 100 per cent normal, but if you act on this very powerful urge and explain your version of events, it will only cause more hurt. Teenagers and young adult children caught in the middle of this blame game always lose. Telling them your side of the divorce is simply an extension of the fight between you and your ex-spouse. It is never about your child’s best interest. All they really want is the freedom to choose to like and love both parents.
As hard as it may be, don’t try to defend yourself. Don’t get into get into the particulars of the marriage. Don’t counterattack. The best strategy? Stay neutral. This is where any parent reading my advice who has been in this situation will go berserk: “But you have to say something. You can’t let them go forward with this totally wrong opinion.” Actually, your child will be happy that you’re not getting into it. It will be a relief. The truth is they don’t want to hear anybody’s side. It will upset them more and will just make them more sad and depressed and anxious about whole ordeal.
There is a distinct advantage to staying above the fray, but this benefit will only become apparent over time. The thing is, as kids get older, they get more distance and perspective from what went on. They come to see the world through more sophisticated eyes. What transpired when they were kids often looks very different in hindsight.
For example, if we were to ask Duane six years from now whether he thought that it was important that he knew the true story of his parents’ divorce we might well get the following response:
“Not really. I didn’t care whose fault it was. And I don’t care now. What I wanted was not to hear about it. What I wanted was to have as good a relationship with each of them as I could. I certainly didn’t want to have to take sides about whose fault the divorce was. Mom always said how Dad would lose his temper about everything and that he was impossible to live with. But when I would say anything to him about it, he really didn’t say anything or defend himself. I always felt that with Mom it was always that she wanted something from me. Thinking back, I definitely liked Dad’s approach better. He was way more mature about it. I still love Mom and all. But I do think that her telling me all that stuff was more about her needs, rather than anything that was best for me. Because it wasn’t. It just messed with my head.” This is how the great majority of children of divorce think.
Don’t get into it. Don’t set the record straight.
But I recognize that this is really, really hard advice to follow.