Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is the unhealthy coalition between a narcissistic parent and his or her children against the targeted, non-narcissistic, non-abusive parent. The innocent or targeted parent receives hostility and rejection from his or her children in this system. The psychological health of the children is used as arsenal in the narcissist’s twisted world.
Parental Alienation Syndrome is a family systems pathology involving the triangulation of children into the abusive, narcissistic parental relationship. In the case of PAS the cross-generational coalition exists between the narcissist and the child or children, and is a covert type of narcissistic abuse. In typical family systems therapy there would most likely be cooperation with the offending parent to break the coalition with the child and stand united with the other parent. With a narcissist this will not happen. Narcissists have limited insight so they will be unwilling or unable to see their unhealthy union, believing it to be occurring because he or she happens to be the superior parent, deserving of loyalty, deeming the innocent parent as “bad.” In addition to this, narcissists are unwilling to collaborate on anything; even in therapy. Going to therapy with a narcissistic partner will usually backfire on the targeted partner.
The symptoms of PAS are: (1) The children sit in judgment of the targeted parent’s adequacy and competency as a parent. (2) The narcissistic parent covertly encourages, empowers, and rewards the children for this behavior. (3) The narcissistic parent feigns innocence in this process. (4) The children believe they are acting independently (that is, they believe they are not being influenced by the alienating parent.)
The system is created as the alienating parent rewards the children when they say hostile or angry things about the targeted parent by encouraging and displaying “understanding” for the children’s negative feelings, when what should really be occurring is the children should be taught to respect the other parent. In essence, the children are gaining acceptance from the narcissistic parent as they complain about the target parent.
For instance, suppose the targeted parent tells the child to do a chore and the child resists as is so often the case with children being told to do something they don’t want to do. Now, suppose the child goes to the narcissist and complains about the “mean” other parent. The narcissist will then sympathize with the child, encouraging him or her to feel victimized by the “outrageous” expectations of the targeted parent, and will excuse the child from having to do the chore. Thus, the child is getting sucked into the web of PAS. The targeted parent is outraged, bewildered, hurt, and betrayed. The child has been covertly empowered to disrespect the one parent who is actually trying to develop a decent human being. The narcissist sits back, effortlessly creating the destructive coalition with his or her child.
In essence, the children are empowered to disobey, disrespect, and disregard the non-narcissistic parent. On the surface, the children feel and believe they are benefiting and winning, but in reality they are playing a sordid part in the narcissist’s perverse mind games. There are some detrimental effects to the children because of this:
- Children’s sense of value is diminished because they believe the targeted parent is unworthy of being identified with. If the children have any interests or traits similar to the rejected parent then the children will be forced to reject those aspects of themselves as well.
- A child’s character is damaged as he or she is covertly rewarded to be disrespectful, entitled, rude, judgmental, condescending, ungrateful, parentified, and hateful.
- The children develop a toxic-bond to the alienating parent, as he or she manipulates them into fearing a lack of acceptance from him or her.
Treatment for this type of dysfunctional family coalition will not occur with a direct approach involving all members of the family. A different approach is needed. This will most likely require “out of the box” thinking, and may be very difficult to pull-off. Here is what is needed to end PAS:
- A break in the coalition between the narcissistic parent and the children; this requires separation.
- Restoration of the bond between the non-narcissistic parent and the children.
- Restructuring of the improper power balance between the children and the non-abusive parent back to wholeness.
The innocent parent may have no idea why his or her children have turned against him/her, and may have no idea what to do about this disheartening problem. It also may be impossible to remove the children from the narcissist’s life because, after all, the narcissist isn’t doing anything illegal. Because of these constraints, the non-abuser needs to be creative and figure out how to accomplish the above three objectives.
If you are a victim of PAS, here are some suggestions for you to try to help turn things around:
- Be proactive; do not believe this problem will just go away on its own. It will most likely get worse.
- Realize that there is not much you can do about the alienating parent. You can only change yourself. Take a good look at your own behaviors and modify where necessary.
- Be a strong parent. Do not roll over easily no matter how angry your children may be with you.
- Find ways to attach with your children every day. Even if they don’t want you to. Call them, text them, talk to them, touch them; do whatever you can to connect to your children.
- Be solid. Be direct. Be firm. Be consistent. Be stable. Even if you don’t feel those things, act as if you do.
- If at all possible, find a good therapist who understands PAS and bring yourself and your children to see him/her.
- Use strategies akin to those used when people leave a cult; in essence, PAS is a form of brainwashing.
- Take very good care of yourself. Do things that are good for you and bring you joy.
- Do not grovel, beg, or allow your children to see that you are threatened by their behavior. Stand strong.
- If the narcissist encourages your children to disobey you, hold your ground and make sure your children do what you request; starting with “no disrespectful behavior in the home.” Period.
- Develop some catch phrases to use with your children that you can say in moments when things are particularly difficult for you to handle.
- Use humor. Be enjoyable to be around.
- Be smarter than the narcissist.
- Be determined and refuse to let the abuser destroy the relationship between you and your children.
- Educate yourself. Never stop reading and arming yourself with knowledge. In addition to this, educate your children.
- Join a support group so you can get help as you deal with this battle for your children.
Realize that you are dealing with a form of psychological manipulation of your children in which they have been brainwashed to respond toward you in hateful ways because they are being psychologically rewarded by having a pseudo-interpersonal relationship with the other parent, whom the children perceive as more powerful.
Parental Alienation Syndrome is a form of brainwashing. Think of this – members of cults become brainwashed to the point where they will give up everyone they love, all for allegiance to a charismatic and manipulative leader. Some even give up their lives. Here is an interesting website on cults to help you educate yourself on the process of brainwashing and recovery: http://www.icsahome.com/
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