Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation is not an extra terrestrial parent or an alien but a psychological syndrome where a child starts rejecting one of the parents. This primarily happens at the time of divorce / separation. The prime instigator of Parental Alienation is the parent who has custody of the young children. Constant programming and brainwashing of the child by the custodian parent, causes irretrievable damage to the child’s relationship with the other parent. As per Clawar & Rivlin, 1991[i], “In most divorce cases where there is animosity and conflict between the parents, there is some degree of brainwashing and programming {of children.}”

As per Clawar and Rivlin (1991):

  • The programming may be willful (conscious) or unintentional (unconscious).
  • The goal is to control the child’s thoughts and/or behavior.
  • The program usually contains themes intended to “damage the child’s image of the target parent in terms of his or her moral, physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and educational qualities (as well as his or her parenting abilities).

Brainwashing is a process which occurs for a continuous period of time involving a repetition of programme (content which the custodian parent wants the child to repeat) until the child responds affirmatively and complies.

The brainwashing and programming are primarily conducted using the following techniques / tactics:

  1. Carrot and stick approach: In other words reward and punishment approach, by which the alienating parent will reward the child with toys, more TV time, extra pocket-money etc… to misbehave / hate the other parent. The stick approach works in just the opposite way wherein the parent would punish the child, frown etc… if they talk well about the other parent.
  2. Repetition: It is said that repeating a lie thousand times makes the other person believe in it. A similar approach is applied here where the same message is repeated endlessly to the child till he/she starts parroting what the alienating parent is teaching.
  3. Inferior Status: The alienating parent may cut the status of the child within the family by giving extra privileges to the siblings, ridiculing the child in front of relatives, holding back loving gestures etc… “Children are keenly aware of being less favored by a parent. Lowering of status within the family can be done by exclusion, rejection, or denial of affectionate contact; it is extremely painful, and, in and of itself, may be powerful enough to bring the child in line with the parental programme” (Clawar & Rivlin, 1991)
  4. Isolation of the Child: Here the child is kept away from the friends / relatives who speak well of the other parent. The child is brought more in contact with the relatives/ friends who talk ill for the other parent. At a tender age, the child is unable to process all the information and understand the ground realities, hence this technique helps in getting the desired results by the alienating parent.
  5. Making the child feel that the other parent has left them for say another spouse, different city etc… leaving the custodian parent to fend for themselves and take care for the child. This technique causes closeness for the custodian parent and in turn promotes hatred for the alienated parent.

If we see above in all the cases the child is lied to and kept in the dark. They are just parroting what is being programmed to them by the alienating parent. If you discuss with them the reason for their feelings, they would be unable to substantiate them.

As per Gardner[ii] (1992) there are typically 8 traits of parental alienation in the child –

S. No. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) Trait Description of Behavior
1 A campaign of denigration The child is obsessed with “hatred” of a parent. This denigration by the child often has the quality of a litany
2 Weak, frivolous, or absurd rationalizations for the deprecation The child provides irrational and often ludicrous justifications for not wanting to be near the hated parent
3 Lack of ambivalence All human relationships, including parent-child relationships, are ambivalent. In PAS. the children have no mixed feelings. The hated parent is all bad and the loved parent is all good.
4 The “independent thinker” phenomenon Many children proudly state that their decision to reject the other parent is completely their own; they deny any contribution by the custodial parent.
5 Reflexive support of the loved parent in parental conflict Commonly the children will accept as 100 percent valid the allegations of the loved parent against the hated one, even after seeing evidence that the loved parent was lying.
6 Absence of guilt The child shows total disregard for the hated parent’s feelings.
7 The presence of borrowed scenarios There is a rehearsed quality to the scenarios and they often use language or phrases that are not commonly used by the child.
8 Spread of the animosity to the extended family of the hated parent The child rejects the network of relatives that previously provided numerous and important psychological gratifications.

If traces of PAS are suspected in the child, ideally a mental health professional trained in PAS should be consulted to counsel the child.

Resources and extracts used from below articles:



[i] Clawar, S.S. & Rivlin, B.V. (1991).Children held hostage: Dealing with programmed and brainwashed children. Chicago: American Bar Association.

[ii] Gardner, R.A. (1992). The parental alienation syndrome. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics. And

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5 Responses to Parental Alienation

  1. Very good Blog and a must read for all fathers (caring).
    Great effort, well presented and detailed study.

  2. Excellent article. Well thought out and nicely represented. I liked the way you presented the content. Not too long, easy to read and understand. This is what we want. More such blogs welcome.

  3. Dr.Nick says:

    A much-required & well-presented write-up.
    We need more & more Law-Makers / Enforcers ( esp. in Family Courts ) to know about this.

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