As noted in a previous article, parental alienation (PA) is distinguished from parental alienation syndrome (PAS). The former speaks to the behaviour of a parent towards a child where that parent is engaging in behaviour that could effectively undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent. The latter speaks to the effects of PA on the child such that the child then internalizes the behaviour of the alienating parent and takes on the behaviour as their own. PAS undermines the child’s relationship with the other parent to varying degrees.
The impact of PA and PAS on a child can be very different depending on the child. Some children are more or less resistant to alienating behaviour, and so the impact in terms of undermining the relationship with the other parent is not always the same.
When a child seeks to enjoy a relationship with both parents, yet a parent seeks to undermine their relationship with the other parent, this child is placed in an emotional bind. Children typically seek approval and good relationships with both parents, but in a bind, a child may feel conflicted having a relationship with one guardian against the unstated wishes of the other. Children in this predicament can appear depressed, anxious, angry or even confused. This can show itself behaviourally through school refusal, poorer concentration, fidgety behaviour, aggressive or combative behaviour, withdrawal and even self-harming behaviour to name but a few often-observed behavioural outcomes.
When a child internalizes the denigration of the other parent and takes on the role of denigrator as if self-initiated, these children can appear remarkably opinionated, self-centered, aligned and protective of the apparently non-offending parent, as well as appear depressed and/or anxious. Behaviourally, children with PAS can look the same as children subject to PA.
Either way, whether it is PA or PAS, the effect on the child is often emotional harm. These children live within an emotional war zone, pulled between their parents, forced to take sides and align with one parent over the other. The stress of such predicaments takes its toll.
To whatever degree possible, and assuming no actual abuse or harm is otherwise occurring, children are best served with ongoing meaningful relationships with both parents. The challenge for some parents is to recognize their anger at the other parent, and acknowledge that the child still has a need and a right to have a reasonable relationship with both parents.