suffered by Children due to the effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Justice of the
Peace, Vol. 166 No. 24, 2002, p 464-466
I have been involved with and heard a great deal about, the effects
of parental alienation on the adult partners in a damaged relationship.
What follows will be the impact that relationship break ups and
adverse alienation procedures have on the child or children.
General aspects of children suffering from the effects of PAS
The effect of PAS has been investigated by relatively few individuals
so far but I should like to acknowledge my own gratitude to one
researcher, Professor Richard A. Gardner for the work he has done
in this area. (Gardner 1992, 1998, 2001.) In what follows we will
be concentrating on the effect both short term and long term of
parental alienation on children. Whatever one may think children
associated with parental alienation are victims but not of their
own making. Parents are responsible for the child becoming a victim
and most especially the parent who is carrying out the alienation
process. However we will not consider the role of the parent extensively
although it must be remembered that they have an important role
to play producing the product of alienation.
We will instead concentrate on the child and what his victimisation
produces. We hear a great deal about child abuse increasingly so
especially sexual abuse. We hear somewhat less about emotional abuse.
Parental alienation is a form of child abuse since children are
being used for the purpose of parents showing their animosity towards
the other half of a relationship. The animosity displayed towards
the other parent who is being alienated can have a terrible affect
on the child in question. Later my own research in this area will
be presented indicating the effect upon the child of the alienation
process. I will further consider how I feel the problem could best
Children who are suffering within the alienation process are often
unaware of it’s impact. They merely feel the consequences
such as developing views propagated by the alienating parent that
the other parent is “evil,” “wicked,” “stupid”
or “dangerous” or all of these. Children therefore are
frequently used by the alienating parent against the other parent
to act as spies or saboteurs generally being used for unethical
purposes in relation to the alienated parent.
Additionally they are often encouraged to treat the alienated
parent with a lack of respect with the purpose of humiliating that
parent. The children are even encouraged to behave in a deceitful
manner with that parent such as already mentioned, spying on that
parent and any relationship they may have developed with another
person, stealing from that person or lying to that person. This
of course will be denied by the alienating parent.
Encouraging a child to betray one of the most important members
of his family be it the father or the mother produces within that
child a tendency towards psychopathic behaviour. Once the alienating
parent has denigrated the other parent to the child, the child due
to the pressure upon him and the “power” wielded by
the alienator needs to carry on the process of denigration.
Children who suffer from the PAS syndrome develop a concept that
one parent is the loving parent and hence to be loved back while
the other is the hated parent who has done evil or wickedness, etc.,
not only towards the alienating parent but towards the child. This
has been consciously as well as unconsciously indoctrinated in to
the child. This has also resulted in fear as well as hatred for
the alienated parent. Virtually all indoctrination of a negative
type is carried out by the mother who usually retains the child
in residence. Occasionally it is the father or one of the relations
to the child who may have taken over the role of parenting.
Gardner (1998) considers that there are eight cardinal symptoms
of PAS in it’s effect on the child:
- The campaign of denigration.
- Weak, frivolous and absurd rationalisations for the denigration.
- Lack of ambivalence.
- The “independent thinker phenomenon.”
- Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental
- Actions of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the
- The presence of borrowed scenarios.
- The spread of animosity to the extended family and alienated
The result of alienation as I have found it is that the child
develops a hatred for the other person that is the non-resident
other parent and seeks to denigrate and vilify that parent much
as has been done by the alienating parent. The destruction of one
parent can have serious consequences not only immediately but in
the long term. One might say the child has been robbed of the possibility
of having a supportive and caring parent. Very often that parent
is a father who has become a poisonous object. All memories of a
good relationship have been destroyed.
Additionally there has been brainwashing in order to make the
child fearful of the alienated parent very often the father. The
animosity created through being programmed or brain washed frequently
leads not merely to antagonism towards the alienated parent but
also towards his or her whole family. This means the child will
not merely lose one of it’s parents for support but also the
grandparents of that alienated parent.
Another common reaction of children who have been programmed is
to pretend to the programming parent that they have strong hatred
or dislike for the alienated parent when in fact they do not at
all feel this way and do not demonstrate this in the presence of
the alienated parent. Hence they have practised deception and a
form of lying in order to placate the programming parent while at
the same time seeking to form some kind of warm relationship with
the absent parent. Such deception is unlikely to lead to an individual
who will be truthful and honest in other dealings now and in the
Sometimes the alienating parent seeks to exploit the parent who
has been defiled. This is done in various ways including seeking
to get money or clothes or other material objects for the children
who are then used in this scheme or manipulation. The manipulator
will often clothe the children in the filthiest clothes hoping the
alienated parent will be forced to buy new clothes for the child.
This teaches children a strategy which is unlikely to endear them
to others in the future. Such practices of deception and exploitation
then may well become a repertoire of how the way the children will
behave in later life. Other forms of deception are when the child
is called by the alienated parent on the telephone and that parent
is told in front of the child that the child is not in or the child
refuses to speak to him or her when in fact this is not the case
at all. Again children are taught that lying is acceptable. This
runs counter to what many parents do to instil truthfulness in their
children for the purposes of being accepted by others now and in
In order to endear themselves to the strong programming parent
who is dominant over all the children’s behaviour, the children
will tell that parent that they have been starved or deprived or
punished at the alienated parent’s home merely to endear themselves
to that parent. Here again lying and deception becomes the way which
can have detrimental effects in later life. In non-PAS syndrome
homes the parent who has been separated does not maintain control
over the children but the custodial parent will do all that they
can to promote a healthy feeling towards the other parent and to
be truthful and to encourage the child or children to enjoy the
company of the other parent. This does not occur but rather the
reverse in the alienation type environment. Needless to say children
benefit from such an attitude by non-PAS type behaviour. It is also
of great importance that parents who have been divorced or separated
do all they can to enhance the feelings of the child for the parent
with whom they are not in residence, and vice-versa.
As children grow older they realise they are in a position of
strength wherein they may be able to decide to which parent to go
by manipulating situations in order to get their way. This in turn
reduces the capacity of the alienating parent to utilise discipline
to create the right type of ethical behaviour. This is because the
alienating parent is dependent on the child to do that which antagonises
or damages the targeted parent. Such children frequently become
undisciplined knowing they have the power to manipulate the programming
parent through fulfilling or not fulfilling the wishes of that parent
towards the alienated parent.
In severe cases of PAS children are placed in seriously unhappy
situations and will frequently develop panic reactions when they
are asked to visit the alienated parent. This in turn can lead to
repercussions in their attitude to school and their capacity to
concentrate on their education. In some cases there can be psychotic
delusions in the child due to the pressure on that child to passively
submit to the alienating parent. In order to overcome such serious
disturbances intensive psychological reatment is required and this
will be covered in another article entitled: “Dealing with
Children who have been involved in Parental Alienation through Therapy.”
In some cases children have been indoctrinated with the view that
the alienated parent will seriously damage them in some way. Such
delusions need urgently to be dealt with through therapy. Following
such therapy such unfortunate children may learn to be able to be
more rational and realistic in the way they view the alienated parent
despite the efforts of the programming parent. This of course is
a different matter to resolve in the case of very young children.
In the case of older children the habit of hatred towards the target
parent may make it extremely difficult but not impossible to alter
the attitude of such older children towards the alienated parent.
Perhaps the most interesting scenario that occurs is when the
child realises what the alienating or programming parent has been
doing and eventually turns against that parent. They often seek
the target parent feeling a great sense of guilt in having been
a party, albeit an unwilling party, to the humiliation and harm
done to the target parent who has done nothing wrong to them to
deserve such treatment.
Specific Problems of Children suffering from the Effects
Now follows a series of symptoms found in children, when they
are presented over a period of time, with brain washing or programming
against another parent. The effects are both short and long term.
It must be stated from the beginning that not all the symptoms about
to be mentioned occur in all children who are involved in the parental
alienation syndrome scenario. There will also be some difference
between the very young child and the older child who have more experience
of the PAS process. Not all the symptoms mentioned occur in all
children. However some symptoms undoubtedly will occur and effect
the child unless some form of treatment is carried out which eliminates
the impact of the alienating process:
Anger is a common reaction of many children to the process
of alienation. The anger however will be expressed towards the
target parent as one sides with one of the parents in the relationship
against the other. The fact the children are forced into this
kind of situation causes considerable distress and frustration
and the response often is to show aggressive behaviour towards
the targeted parent in order to accommodate the programmer.
Loss or a lack of impulse control in conduct. Children
who suffer from PAS are not merely suffering from aggression
but also often turn to delinquent behaviour. There is considerable
evidence that fathers and their presence and influence can do
much to prevent and alleviate the possibility of delinquency
most especially in boys.
Loss of self confidence and self esteem. Losing one
of the parents through the programming procedure can produce
a lack of self confidence and self esteem. In the case of boys
identification with a male figure has been curtailed, especially
if the alienated parent is the father.
Clinging and separation anxiety. Children especially
very young children who have been programmed to hate or disdain
one of the parents will tend to cling to that parent who has
carried out the programming. There is considerable anxiety induced
by the programming parent against the target parent including
threats that such a parent would carry out a great number of
different negative actions against the child as well as the
Developing fears and phobias. Many children fear being
abandoned or rejected now that they have been induced to feel
that one of the partners in a relationship usually the father
is less than desirable. Sometimes this results in school phobia
that is fear of attending school mainly due to fear of leaving
the parent who claims to be the sole beneficial partner in the
formal relationship. Some children suffer from hyperchondriacal
disorders and tend to develop psychological symptoms and physical
illnesses. Such children also fear what will happen in the future
and most especially there is a fear that the programming parent
or only parent who is allegedly the “good parent”
may die and leave the child bereft of any support.
Depression and suicidal ideation. Some children who
are so unhappy at the tragic break up of the relationship are
further faced with animosity between the programming parent
and the targeted parent. This leads to ambivalence and uncertainty
and sometimes suicidal attempts occur due to the unhappiness
which the child feels brought about by the two main adults in
his or her life.
Sleep disorders is another symptom which follows the parental
alienation situation. Children frequently dream and often
find it difficult to sleep due to their worries about the danger
of the alienated parent and the guilt they may feel as a result
of participating in the process of alienation.
Eating disorders. A variety of eating disorders have
been noted in children who are surrounded by parental alienation.
This includes anorexia nervosa, obesity and bulimia.
Educational problems. Children who are surrounded by
the pressure of having to reject one parent having been less
brain washed frequently suffer from school dysfunctions. They
may become disruptive as well as aggressive within that system.
Enuresis and Encopresis. A number of very young children
due to the pressure and frustrations around them suffer from
bed wetting and soiling. This is a response to the psychological
disturbance of losing one parent and finding one parent inimical
to the rejected parent.
Drug abuse and self destructive behaviour frequently
are present in children who have suffered from parental alienation.
This tendency is due to a need to escape one’s feelings
of the abuse they have suffered through the experience and the
desire to escape from it. In the extreme such self destructive
behaviour can lead to suicidal tendencies.
Obsessive compulsive behaviour. This psychological reaction
is frequently present in PAS children. Such children will seek
to find security in their environment by adopting a variety
of obsessive compulsive behaviour patterns.
Anxiety and panic attacks are also frequently present
in children who have been involved in PAS processes. This may
be reflected through psycho-somatic disorders such as nightmares.
Damaged sexual identity problems. As a result of the
PAS syndrome children often develop identity problems especially
as they may have failed to identify with one member of the originally
Poor peer relationships may follow the PAS situation
due to the fact that such children often are either very withdrawn
in their behaviour or are aggressive.
Excessive feelings of guilt. This may be due to the
knowledge deep down that the ostracised parent who has been
vilified has done nothing wrong to deserve the kind of treatment
received by the child or children. When this view occurs the
child especially when older begins to suffer from guilt feelings.
Children who are exposed to PAS suffer in a variety of general
as well as specific ways from this experience. It will often have
both temporary and lasting effects on their lives. This is obviously
not the intention of the alienator but it is the result of such
alienation procedures and programming which causes the child to
show a negative attitude and behaviour towards one of the parents.
To deal with this problem a variety of therapeutic techniques are
required and these will be covered in another article.