According to Psychology Today, parental alienation syndrome — the term for which psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner first coined in 1980 — occurs when one parent attempts to turn the couple’s child against the target parent. The alienating parent may use tactics that include but are not limited to badmouthing the other parent in front of the child, telling the child that the other parent does not love them, painting the other parent as evil or otherwise distorting the child’s perception of the other parent. Parental alienation can have severe and life-long adverse consequences on the child’s mental well-being.
It is important to note that the American Psychiatric Association does not recognize PAS as a mental health condition, and nor do three other major health associations, according to Healthline. That said, the DSM-5 does have a code for it, referring to it as a “child affected by parental relationship distress.”
Classification or not, Psychology Today does point out that 98% of respondents of an Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ survey agree on the basic principle of parental alienation: That parents can manipulate their children to reject an otherwise loving and supportive parent.
The alienated parent is not the only party affected by the manipulative parent’s actions. For the child, the emotional impact can be devastating. In fact, experts often refer to the removal and denial of contact of an otherwise healthy and doting parent as “cruel and unusual treatment,” with many going so far as to call it a “serious maltreatment of the child.” Parental alienation undermines the basic right for children, which is to know and receive the care of both parents.
Children who are victims of PAS often exhibit telltale behaviors. A child who is subject to manipulation may unfairly and constantly criticize the target parent. When asked about his or her feelings, the child cannot provide any justification. Moreover, the child’s feelings regarding the alienated parent are all one-sided — they are all negative, and the child cannot come up with any redeeming qualities about the parent.
The child may also demonstrate unwavering support for the manipulative parent while showing a lack of empathy or guilt for his or her mistreatment of the other parent. Sadly, a child’s feelings of ambivalence or outright hatred often eventually expand to all of the alienated parent’s family, such as to grandparents, cousins and aunts and uncles.