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video summarizes what you'll tread here:
The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this Web site. I've reduced
that to seven.
This is one of a series of Lesson-6 articles
on effective parenting. The article focuses on understanding and reducing
minor kids being harmed by major hostility between cohabiting or separated
This dynamic is called "Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS)," "Malicious Mother
Syndrome (MMS)," and Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAP) syndrome.
Many well-meaning programs focus on trying to reduce this
toxic family dynamic.
suspect few or no passionate activists understand what
you'll read in this article and Web site.
of "parental alienation syndrome" (PAS)
surface causes of PAS
causes of PAS
family adults and supporters to reduce PAS, and
allegations of parental child abuse.
This term refers to a complex family-system dynamic where one parent
intentionally and maliciously "brainwashes" one or more of their minor
biological children to disrespect and reject the other parent. Because PAS
is associated with bitter divorces, child custody and visitation disputes,
and sometimes alleged
child abuse, this term causes strong reactions in family members,
supporters, and human-service professionals. Psychiatrists are now (2010)
debating whether to formally accept PAS as a "mental disorder" or a
between "alleged" (disputed) and observable. It is specially provocative in legal
fights over child custody, visitation, and parenting agreements. Chronic
conflict between parents, and the "malicious" and/or "abusive" behavior of
the "alienating parent" (or grandparent) are commonly seen as "the problem."
Here's more detail:
Surface Causes of
Ex-mate Hostility and PAS
Escalating disrespect, blaming, scorn,
discounting, and distrust;
Endless rehashing of past offenses, lies, and failures
Using minor kids and teens as
messengers, victims, witnesses, allies, and hostages
Significantly different perceptions of conflicts and events (reality distortion)
Using child visitations, vacations,
holidays, custody, and school events as weapons and punishments
Vehemently-denied accusations of parental "mental
Invoking the legal system to
force the other ex mate to comply
minor child trying to rescue and protect a rejected parent
Hotly contested claims of child neglect, abuse, and abandonment
webs of conflict over parenting, sex, money, affairs, religion,
loyalties, and possessions
Voluntary or court-ordered mediation and counseling that "don't work."
both ex mates denying responsibility for their half of these problems
Typically, these surface problems occur in clusters
which amplify each other and stress all family members. They are compounded in typical
stepfamilies by a mix of
surface (secondary) issues are
significant family stressors - and
they each are symptoms of
deeper issues. They are likely to persist until the primary issues
causing them are
admitted and resolved.
Four Primary Causes of
Ex-mate Hostility and PAS
As a family-systems therapist
since 1979, I've worked with hundreds of conflicted
divorcing parents. I conclude that four
interactive factors cause excessive anger,
aggression, and hostility between
such tormented couples. These factors are often amplified by biased, unaware relatives, loyal new
partners, lawyers, mediators, judges, and counselors.
Once each primary factor is
understood and accepted,
it can be significantly reduced.
I propose that the roots of divorce and PAS are…
1) Psychological wounds -
One or both parents are
wounded and don't want to know that or to admit that they are
early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma). Common wound symptom
are blaming each other,
defending, counter-blaming, and denying personal responsibility for causing
half the family problems. See
Lesson 1 in this Web site
for practical options on wound assessment and healing.
a related root cause is...
2) Unawareness - One or both parents don't know they don't know how to...
divorcing parents and any new partners are usually unaware of...
how to co-create and maintain a high-nurturance
stepfamily (Lesson 7).
Wounds and unawareness are
combine to cause typical
barriers between ex mates and others.
more primary causes of Parent Alienation Syndrome are...
3)Minor kids have
been raised in a
low-nurturance environment, and may have begun showing symptoms of their own psychological
wounds ("rebelling" and/or "acting out"). This often fuels parental blame,
counterblame, and divisive family
loyalty conflicts; and
relationship triangles; and...
lawyers, mediators, social workers, and therapists who try to help resolve the
surface issues above don't understand or validate these three root problems.
They focus fruitlessly on trying to fix the symptoms, which inevitably causes
problem is parental and social
the [wounds + unawareness]
cycle and its
antagonistic ex mates and their advocates understand and accept these four root factors and
decide to refocus on them instead of the surface problems above, they’ll
experience increasing frustration and weariness and
continue to wound their
Pause, breathe, and reflect: Does the concept of surface problems and
underlying primary problems make sense to you? Do these four proposed root
causes of family dysfunction and PAS conflict seem realistic? Can you think
of any other root causes? Have you ever read or heard these ideas any- where
If you are in a PAS-conflicted (low-nurturance,
"dysfunctional") family, what can you do?
Summary: Steps to Reduce PAS
divorcing parents I've worked with have broken free of their toxic
hostility cycle. In
every case, they chose to do many or most of the steps below. With your
minor kids' faces in mind, reflect on what it would take for your family
adults to work on these steps.
What follows assumes that at least
you ex mates have begun studying and applying Lessons 1 thru 6 or 7 here.
What follows is a skeletal outline of overlapping action-options to
reduce PAS. Inability or reluctance to do any of these steps is a sure sign of
inherited psychological wounds.
_ 1) All family
adults study and discuss the [wounds + unawareness]
is surely causing your family problems and threatening your
descendents. Implication: your adults' best shared goal should be to
break this lethal cycle, not just to end ex-mate hostility and PAS.
_ 2) Use
here to assess all your family adults for psychological wounds and to
reduce them over time. If
your ex is wounded, see this. Ignoring this step ensures that the
following steps won't work, and your kids will suffer for many years.
_ 3) Accept
that each ex mate is half the problem, and stop blaming each
_ 4) Adopt a
patient multi-year outlook. There are no quick fixes for your complex
situation. Seek "progress, not perfection."
your attitudes and your language.
Change ex-mate labels like stupid, insensitive, dishonest, pathetic, pathological, liar, ignorant, abusive, selfish, malicious,
evil, egotistical, wimpy, clueless, bastard, bitch, retarded, sick,
tyrant, control freak, ridiculous, psycho, etc. to "(psychologically) wounded and unaware."
_ 6) if
either ex-mate is
addicted (self-medicating), (a) confront that and avoid
enabling, and (b) make maintaining sobriety a key part of your
wound-reduction plan. Addictions,
denials, and enabling are proof of psychological wounds, unawareness, and
major family dysfunction.
either ex mate disrespects the other, commit to patiently regaining respect. Otherwise, you can't hope to problem-solve effectively. You'll each need your true
guiding you to do this.
this is a summary of options your family adults have to reduce "Parent
Alienation Syndrome" (PAS) and protect your descendents. Do you need a
_ 8) if
either of youdoesn't trustthe other to
tell the truth and/or to do what
s/he says s/he will, commit to rebuilding trust over time. You'll each need your true Self guiding you
to do this.
If either of you is stressed by excessive
shame over prior
actions or decisions, follow the links.
_ 11) Help each
other learn to distinguish anger from
frustration, and upgrade your personal and family
''anger policies.'' Don't expect "anger management" classes
alone to cause lasting reduction in angry/violent outbursts. They
are caused by false-self dominance.
_ 12) If you
feel an ex mate or other family member is abusing someone, learn the
how to distinguish abuse from aggression, and discuss the options that follow this summary.
STOP or avoid all
unless someone's safety clearly depends on it. If you must use legal force,
educate any legal professionals on what you're reading here. Otherwise,
expect increased conflict.
_ 14) Choose to stop
rehashing past hurts, betrayals, and offenses, and focus on
forgiveness and problem-solving
in the present, for your kids' sakes. Difficulty doing this indicates
that a false self dominates you.
_ I5) Identify
each minor child's family-adjustment
needs, and assess their status with
each need. Evolve a
parenting plan to fill these needs. Consider using experienced professional help to do this.
_ 16) If
disparage your ex mate to your child/ren and other family members, you are forcing them into major values and loyalty
conflicts which will promote serious psychological damage
and fuel family stress. If you say "I can't help it," or "S/He
deserves it," a false
self surely dominates you. See
option #2 above.
_ 17) if
relatives - specially grandparents - are actively promoting hostility
between ex mates, assert respectful
boundaries with them. Show them these
options and ask them to help you act on them for
all your sakes.
If any involved kinfolk are psychologically wounded, see
this for relationship options.
_ 19) If
you're in a psychological or legal
stepfamily, accept that you have
addition to "parental alienation." Implication: study
Lesson 7(stepfamily basics), and identify and prioritize your
Then help each other stay focused on resolving a few problems at a time,
and celebrate your progress. Lessons
1 thru 7 and the steps above will help you evolve a stable,
high-nurturance family over time if each adult
frees their true Self to
_ 20) When conflicted, confused,
or overwhelmed, heed these
ageless wisdoms. Learn to change the things you can, and accept (grieve and forgive)
the things you can't. Teach these wisdoms to your kids and others you care
+ + +
overlapping steps are complex, alien, and challenging, consider investing in
informed professional help along the way.
understanding and accepting the [wounds + unawareness]
review Q&A about
counseling and therapy here.
Pause, breathe and reflect: what are you aware of now? Do these steps seem
practical? Applicable to your situation? Are you motivated to ask your
other family adults to learn them and work on them with you now? If not - why
Alleged Child Abuse and Neglect
Accusations of parental "child abuse" are common in PAS conflicts. They
evoke strong feelings in typical family members and others, like blame,
outrage, scorn, disgust, reality distortions, defensiveness,
vehement denials, arguing, threats, and aggression. When allegations of
abuse are part of legal battles between ex mates, they amplify conflicts and
antagonisms and among all people involved.
True child abuse ranges between subtle (like silent parental looks of
annoyance, disapproval, and disgust) to blatant (like beating, burning, or starving).
Opinions vary about whether parental neglect or smothering
codependence) is "abusive."
Implication - adults in PAS families and
their supporters should be very clear on (a) each child's
special needs, and (b) what "child abuse" is; and be
very cautious about
alleging "child abuse."
A loose definition is: "Any one-time or repeated, self-gratifying
behavior by an adult that clearly harms a defenseless dependent
child physically, psychologically, and/or spiritually is "child
abuse." "Clearly" is a subjective judgment. This definition implies
that parental neglect is abuse, because it damages a young
child's self-image, security, and self esteem.
From this perspective, a family member who deprives their
child of regular contact with their other (healthy) parent,
is "abusive." So is a parent who requires their
child to scorn, fear, dislike, ignore, avoid, and/or reject their other
Because "abuse" can be difficult to verify and is highly inflammatory,
family adults and legal authorities do well to get an objective
family-system assessment before alleging it. When child abuse is suspected or confirmed,
it must be reported to authorities like the police and state Child
Protective Services (CPS) or the Department of Child and Family Services
(DCFS). It is a symptom of the
real problem: parents'
psychological wounds and
Avoid relying on lay or professional consultants who believe the
abusive, hostile, and/or neglectful parent is the problem.
The child's dysfunctional family system is the problem!
"Parental Alienation Syndrome" (PAS) occurs in a significant number of troubled
biological, divorcing, and step families. It refers to
one parent intentionally manipulating the child to side with them in adult
disputes, and to revile, blame, and reject their other parent.
36 years' experience as a family therapist with over 500 typical
conflicted families, thisarticle proposes a group of common surface PAS problems, and four
primary problems. It summarizes 20 practical options that
informed family adults can use to reduce these primary problems over time
and protect their descendents from
inheriting lethal [psychological wounds + unawareness].