Parental Alienation #2: What is Parental Alienation?

“When a parent turns a child against the other parent, they’re really turning a child against themselves.” – Dr. Amy JL Baker

“Parental alienation is an emotional act of violence that is aimed at an adult, but critically wounds a child.” – Steve Maraboli. 

Parental Alienation. The words have a negative connotation. “The alienated parent must have done something?” After all, a child’s naturally gravitation is toward the parent even in the harshest of circumstances. This is a valid concern; there are, however, exceptions. So much so that the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology lists Parental Alienation as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) a phrase first coined in 1985 by child psychiatrist Dr. Richard A Gardner. (Heitler, 2018).

Dr. Gardner’s description of Parental Alienation Syndrome as listed in the APA Dictionary of Psychology is as follows:

A child’s experience of being manipulated by one parent to turn against the other (targeted) parent and resist contact with him or her. This alignment with one parent and rejection of the other most often arises during child custody disputes following divorce or separation proceedings, particularly when the litigation is prolonged or involves significant antagonism between the parties. 

Gardner relates eight symptoms of PAS that distinguish an affected child from one who is experiencing a typical adverse reaction to an estranged parent during separation or divorce (APA Dictionary of Psychology).

  1. Relentless denigration of the targeted parent 
  2. A frivolous, weak, or absurd rationale for the denigration 
  3. A lack of guilt or embarrassment about the denigration 
  4. A lack of ambivalence such that the child considers one parent to be entirely “good” and the other parent to be entirely “bad” 
  5. Automatic support for the alienating parent in any conflict 
  6. Hostility toward and refusal of contact with the extended family of the targeted parent;
  7. The presence of “borrowed scenarios,” in which the child’s speech when describing aversion to the targeted parent often includes the same phrases used by the alienating parent
  8. The child’s insistence that he or she is expressing his or her own opinions in denigrating the targeted parent.

Wikipedia sums it up more concisely,

“Parental alienation describes a process through which a child becomes estranged from a parent as the result of the psychological manipulation of another parent. The child’s estrangement may manifest itself as fear, disrespect or hostility toward the distant parent, and may extend to additional relatives or parties.” 

It’s cold. It’s technical. It’s academia attempting to box in an immoral act, to research it, to understand it, to convey a phenomenon that therapists have seen in children for decades. It’s needed and harsh and unfortunately for many of us it is reality. Somewhere, the human heart is skirted in these definitions and scientific summaries and recently there is a consensus that has risen up stating what, in fact, Parental Alienation is: Child abuse.

With masses of children experiencing this kind of abuse, how can alienated caregivers live and thrive under these circumstances? And how can society, friends and family help in this endeavor? It is not easy but there is hope.

To read about my personal story with Parental Alienation visit Post #1: This is My Story, Is it Yours? And, Post #3: How to Grieve the Living. 

For more information about movements to stop this abuse visit


(a)  Hietler, J. (2018, February 1). Resolution, not conflict. Retrieved from, 


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