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What is PAS?
Among family counselors and family law professionals, Parental Alienation Syndrome is a familiar term, but outside of these disciplines it has rarely been heard of. This is changing however, as the term PAS becomes more commonplace and people are more aware of what it is.
There does however still seem to be some confusion as to exactly what PAS is. Adding to the confusion is the fact that legal and mental health professionals cannot seem to agree on the particulars themselves. Though the concept of one parent turning their child against the other, usually in child custody disputes, is not hard to grasp, the definitions and terms of the syndrome are vague and court cases are filled with arguments and counter-arguments which usually devolve into little more than hearsay.
Richard A Gardner originated the term and defines PAS as:
... a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent. When true parental abuse and/or neglect is present the child’s animosity may be justified, and so the parental alienation syndrome explanation for the child’s hostility is not applicable.
Basically, PAS is the systematic denigration of one parent by the other with the intent of alienating the child against the other parent. The purpose of the alienation is usually to gain or retain custody without the involvement of the other parent. The alienation usually extends to that parent's family and friends as well. In most cases the syndrome is directed upon the father, but mothers are victims of it as well. Some figures put it at roughly 75% of mothers practice some form of PAS and 25% of fathers. The reason for this seems to be the prevalence for the mother to be the center of family life, leaving the mother feeling she has greater input and responsibility in caring for the child than the father does, therefore justifying the means in which she maintains that situation as being in the best interest of the child. This is far from the truth of the matter as it has been shown time and again that in order for a child to develop emotionally, both parents play a tremendous role in the child’s growth and well being.
PAS occurs as a result of a relationship in conflict. The condition of the alienator plays a major role as well. He or she suffers from the desire to control the upbringing of the children after the separation. Depriving a parent of contact with their child is a powerful weapon and some alienators accuse the former spouse of abuse or neglect and even of sexually abusing the child in order to get the outcome they desire. Often this behavior results in official involvement with the alienated parent humiliated and degraded and most often unjustly. In many cases the alienated parent simply gives up the fight, often when they witness the affect it is having on their children. In effect, sacrificing contact with their children in order to protect them from what is essentially emotional abuse in itself. Due to the closeness of the mothers and children, the children will often believe the worse of the other parent.
Such actions by the mother result in the neglect of the true needs of the child in order to maintain control of the child and eliminate contact with the other parent. When the issue is brought to litigation, the mother will often hold that up to the child as evidence that the father is the instigator in their problems. This turns the child further against the father as the mother becomes more of a "victim". The end result is that the child is brought into the custody struggle as a "co-victim" with the mother. The child's behavior becomes increasingly more hostile to the father and the child may even refuse to see the father as a result. Often the mother will combine this with overindulgence of the child in order to gain favor and appear to have the child's interests at heart.