Parental Alienation Syndrome: Recognizing Manipulative Behaviors and Protecting Children


  • Author Carla Corelli
  • Published March 10, 2024
  • Word count 1,539

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a complex issue that can have profound and lasting effects on children. At its core, Parental Alienation involves one parent, consciously or unconsciously, influencing their child against the other parent, creating a rift in the parent-child relationship. This manipulation not only strains the bond between the child and the alienated parent but can also have significant psychological repercussions for the child.

Introduction to Parental Alienation Syndrome

The term Parental Alienation Syndrome was coined by psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner in the 1980s to describe the distress and disorder he observed in children who were subjected to divorce or custody battles.

These children, caught in the crossfire of their parents' conflicts, were influenced by one parent (the alienating parent) to unjustly reject and show hostility toward the other parent (the alienated parent).

The impact on children can be profound, leading to long-term psychological issues, including difficulties in forming trust and relationships, low self-esteem, and identity confusion.

How Parental Alienation Develops

The process of parental alienation doesn't occur spontaneously or overnight; it's a pattern of behaviors that can escalate over time. These behaviors might include:

Badmouthing the Other Parent: The alienating parent consistently speaks negatively about the other parent in front of the child, criticizing their actions, decisions, and even personal character. This behavior can subtly influence the child’s perception, leading them to view the alienated parent in a negative light.

Limiting Contact and Communication: The alienating parent may attempt to reduce the child’s contact with the alienated parent. This can include limiting phone calls, texts, emails, or even physical visits, creating a barrier that prevents the child from maintaining a healthy relationship with the alienated parent.

Interference with Visitation: Beyond limiting communication, the alienating parent might interfere with scheduled visitations, making excuses for cancellations or scheduling other activities that conflict with the alienated parent’s time. This behavior serves to diminish the child’s time and bond with the alienated parent.

Creating the Impression of Being the Better Parent: The alienating parent might attempt to portray themselves as the superior parent by indulging the child’s desires with gifts, lenient rules, or permission to engage in activities the other parent would not allow. This tactic can create a misguided loyalty towards the alienating parent.

Erasing or Diminishing Memories: The alienating parent may remove photos, gifts, or any mentions of the alienated parent from the child’s environment, making it harder for the child to remember or feel connected to the alienated parent.

Forcing the Child to Choose Sides: In more overt cases of parental alienation, the child may be forced to choose sides by the alienating parent. This could involve making the child feel guilty for showing affection towards the alienated parent or insisting that the child declare who they prefer or love more.

Undermining Authority and Respect: The alienating parent might undermine the authority of the alienated parent by contradicting their rules, dismissing their punishments, or belittling their opinions in front of the child. This behavior can lead to a loss of respect for the alienated parent.

Fabricating Stories of Abuse or Neglect: In extreme situations, the alienating parent might fabricate stories about the alienated parent being abusive or neglectful. These lies can create fear or hostility in the child towards the alienated parent and can significantly damage or even sever the child-parent relationship.

Understanding these behaviors is crucial for identifying cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome and taking appropriate actions to address the issue and protect the well-being of the child.

The Profound Impact of Parental Alienation on Children

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) isn't just a temporary issue that fades away with time; its effects on children can be deeply ingrained, leading to a wide range of psychological and emotional challenges. Below are several critical impacts of PAS on children:

Delayed Emotional Development: Children exposed to parental alienation often experience stunted emotional growth. This can manifest as difficulty in expressing or managing emotions, leading to problems in social interactions and personal relationships.

Loss of a Parental Figure: The alienated parent, often painted as the antagonist, may become a figure of fear or disdain in the child's eyes. This loss goes beyond physical absence, creating a void in the child's emotional and psychological support system.

Struggles with Self-Esteem and Identity: Children caught in the crossfire of parental alienation often wrestle with feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt. The conflicting messages received from parents can lead to a confused sense of self and a persistent search for identity.

Trust Issues: Exposure to manipulative behaviors and witnessing the denigration of one parent by the other can lead to deep-seated trust issues. This skepticism can extend beyond family, affecting the child’s ability to form trusting relationships with others.

Anxiety and Depression: The stress and tension of being pulled between two parents can lead to anxiety and depression. Children may feel a constant sense of guilt and torn loyalty, contributing to their overall mental health struggles.

Difficulty Forming Relationships: With a foundational relationship destabilized through PAS, children may find it challenging to build and maintain healthy relationships. The fear of betrayal or abandonment learned from their parental relationships can hinder their ability to connect with others on a deeper level.

Educational and Behavioral Problems: The turmoil at home can reflect in a child's behavior and performance in school. Distress from parental alienation often leads to difficulties in concentration, drops in academic performance, and behavioral issues.

Risk of Substance Abuse: To cope with the emotional pain and stress, some children may turn to drugs or alcohol as an escape. Substance abuse serves as a risky attempt to mitigate the feelings of sadness, anger, or confusion stemming from their family dynamics.

Fear of Commitment: Witnessing the breakdown of their parents' relationship, coupled with the intense manipulation involved in PAS, can make children fearful of commitment. They may avoid long-term relationships, fearing the pain and turmoil they have associated with intimacy and trust.

Carrying Trauma into Adulthood: Unfortunately, the impacts of PAS are not confined to childhood. The trauma can extend into adulthood, influencing the individual's mental health, relationships, and parenting styles.

Understanding the profound impacts of parental alienation on children underscores the importance of addressing this issue. Awareness, early intervention, and support for the affected children and parents can mitigate these effects, paving the way for healing and healthier family dynamics.

Protecting Children from PAS

Protecting a child from the damaging effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is crucial for their emotional and psychological well-being. The following are some strategies that can help a parent safeguard their child against the negative impact of alienation by the other parent:

Engage in Open Communication

Create a safe and open environment for your child to express their feelings and thoughts without fear of judgment or retribution. Encourage honest and open communication, ensuring they know they can come to you with any concerns or questions they might have.

Reinforce Unconditional Love

Consistently remind your child of your unconditional love for them. Make sure they understand that this love is not contingent on any conditions, including their feelings or behaviors towards you.

Seek Professional Support

Consider involving child psychologists or family therapists who specialize in PAS. Professional guidance can offer both you and your child the tools and strategies needed to cope with the alienation and work towards healing.

Focus on Positive Interactions

Maximize the quality of time spent with your child, engaging in activities and discussions that strengthen your bond. Focus on creating positive and memorable experiences that can counteract any negative narratives they are exposed to.

Educate Yourself on PAS

Educate yourself about Parental Alienation Syndrome, its signs, and effects. This knowledge can empower you to recognize early signs of alienation and take appropriate steps to address them.

Legal Intervention When Necessary

If the alienation escalates or if your child's well-being is at risk, it may be necessary to seek legal advice or intervention. A court can order family counseling, revise custody arrangements, or take other steps to protect the child.

Promoting Emotional Intelligence and Resilience

Help your child develop emotional intelligence by teaching them how to identify, understand, and manage their emotions. Building resilience can enable them to better cope with adversities and challenges, including those stemming from PAS.

Through these approaches, a parent can play an essential role in shielding their child from the potentially debilitating effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome. While challenging, it's fundamental to focus on the child's long-term health and happiness, providing them with the support and love they need to thrive notwithstanding the circumstances.


Parental Alienation Syndrome is a complex and emotionally draining situation that has far-reaching implications for children and families. By recognizing the signs and understanding the manipulative behaviors associated with PAS, parents can take proactive steps to protect their children and prevent long-term psychological damage.

It's crucial to understand that Parental Alienation Syndrome is not a custody strategy—it's a form of child abuse. The best interests of the child should always be the top priority, and it's a parent's responsibility to ensure their well-being is not compromised.

Through early intervention, open communication, and professional support, parents can work towards minimizing the effects of PAS and promoting healthy family dynamics for their children.

Carla Corelli is a writer, advocate, and survivor of narcissistic abuse. More articles by Carla on this topic -

Parent Alienation Syndrome: How to Recognize it and Fight Back

Top 10 Warning Signs: Parental Alienation Syndrome Checklist

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