What is Parental Alienation Syndrome or P.A.S. ?
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a term introduced by child psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985 to describe a distinctive suite of behaviors in children that includes showing extreme but unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent.
Parental alienation is the intentional targeting of a parent by the other parent, but it also can be done by another non-parent adult in the child’s life.
In its severe form it is referred to as”obsessed alienation”.
Parental Alienation Syndrome has been described as the brainwashing of the child’s mind much like a cult leader would brainwash the cult members.
It is an intentional act with the goal being the interference with the relationship and affections between a child and the targeted parent. The longer the alienation is allowed to continue the more damaging the long term effects will be.
If the alienation is allowed to continue uninterrupted for too long, the relationship can become so damaged it is irreparable. Without strict intervention the parent/child bond will be unfixable. The bond will be forever severed.
In my case, the alienation began when my son turned 8 in 2004.
I became the targeted parent in an unnatural campaign of hate by my own mother. She was bitterly angry at me for reasons that had nothing to do with my son, so she teamed up with my ex-husband (despite knowledge that he was under investigation for multiple sex crimes against children). The two of them ABDUCTED my son from church on mother’s day.
When court ordered by the judge to return my son to me, they voluntarily placed my son in foster care to keep him from coming home. He was abused in foster care.
As a defense, my mother and ex made false allegations of horrific acts of child abuse against me. The claims of abuse were brutal. Those allegations of abuse against me were never substantiated.
Had they been true, I would have been a monster to ever do anything to my child. I didn’t even believe in spanking my children. If anything, I was overprotective.
In retrospect, my (fatal) mistake was a belief that if i was truly innocent (which I was), then the system would not wrongly convict me.
I believed that without concrete proof of abuse, they would not take away my parental rights. I was a good, loving, attentive parent.
In other words, I believed in the system.
I believed in the United States Constitution and the rights of families to raise our children free of government interference.
I believed the government protected those rights.
I believed in the law.
I believed that cases were judged by their merit and on the weight of the evidence presented.
I had been foolishly NAIVE.
I learned the hard way that merit had nothing to do with it.
Until I saw for myself, first hand, I would have never known how crooked and corrupt the system can be. I had no idea how flawed the sudden really is.
By the time I figured all that out, it was too late.
Nevertheless the entire process of losing my son, and the campaign of alienation was so strong (see obsessed alienation) it extended into my entire family.
My family, two brothers who are attorneys, another brother and a sister and all of their spouses, ALL failed to intervene or attempt to stop the tactics my mother and ex employed.
All of the members of my family knew the allegations against me were false and that my ex was under investigation for sex crimes.
It was over ten years before I saw or talked to my son again. I still have no contact whatever with any of my family. They are all in my son’s life though and I am not.
By the time I saw my son again- it was at my father’s wake. My father passed away in May of 2010- 5 years later – my son was not my little boy anymore but the shell of a damaged young man.
He has been on a self destructive path ever since.
What Is An Ambiguous Loss?
The grief associated with the loss of a child to P.A.S. is an experience so painful and deep. The loss is called ambiguous or unresolved.
This type of loss is often described as an “ambiguous loss,” which is a term used to describe the nature of trauma, grief or mourning people endure when they have experienced a loss that is open-ended. (Boss, 1990).
Targeted Parents encountering alienation from their children are experiencing an open-ended loss. This type of loss is often times more difficult to come to terms with than the grief of morning a death.
When someone we love passes, the absence of the person is final and the mourner recognizes this finality.
In dealing with my grief, I have said many times that if my son had died, I could have layed him to rest, and grieved. I could have moved on, with a place to visit him, at his grave.
Of course I have heard the argument that as long as he is still alive, he is somewhere out there in the world. There is hope of a future in that. But is there?
At first, i believed that one day it would happen.
I visualized it.
We would embrace.
We would talk through the night, tell each other our stories and life experiences while we had been apart.
We would compare notes and both understand what happened to us.
We would hug and cry and get to know each other again. Then, one day, it happened.
I did reunite with my son. It was, to me, glorious, but not at all as I imagined.
He refused to talk about what happened, so I never have been able to tell him my side of things.
Instead he spoke of tall tales. Experiences that he has had that I can’t imagine could have been real.
He didn’t engage me, but talked over me and through me. He told me things almost to see if he could shock me.
He was a stranger.
It was only after that first reunification, that I saw how the years of brainwashing he endured (and STILL endures) have damaged him. Our bond that was once so close, was gone.
In fact, the harm done was so incredibly deep that I am struggling to accept that my years of hope had been nothing more than an illusion.
Is this really what my mother wanted to do to us? Did my family really think we deserve this pain?
Finding my son again only led to me losing him again.
It has been almost 17 years since our loss and I am grieving today, as deep, if not deeper than the day he went to church and never came home.
I lost him.
To learn more about ambiguous loss and ambiguous reunification, click here.
The physical effects of Grief
A range of studies reveal the powerful effects grief can have on the body.
Grief increases inflammation, which can worsen health problems you may already have- and cause new problems. It also batters the immune system, leaving you depleted and vulnerable to infection.
The following two pictures are of me before I lost my son, and during the initial months after he had been taken. In the moment of the most stressful times. (Warning, that picture is graphic, but an honest representation of the whole body response to stress and grief).
I was so affected by the loss of my son, my friends described me as “disconnected” when they talked to me. I spent the first few months writing over 1500 letters to anyone I could think of desperately begging for help. I would not allow myself even a moment to rest. I felt like I didn’t deserve to rest while my son was locked away in foster care.
The stress from the grief quickly landed me in a hospital having emergency surgery. The doctors had to drain an antibiotic-resistant infection from my eye socket and nasal cavities. The doctors said if it had reached my brain, it would have killed me. They said I was hours away from deaths door by the time I got to the emergency room.
It took almost a year before the scars on my face faded and I could bear to look in the mirror again.
I never was the same again. You can see it in the after picture below, I was dead inside.
I became someone new.
I became a mother, murdered.
I became “she”.
Broken heart syndrome
The heartbreak of grief can increase blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. Intense grief can alter the heart muscle so much that it causes “broken heart syndrome,” a form of heart disease with the same symptoms as a heart attack.
Stress: What is it, exactly?
Stress links the emotional and physical aspects of grief.
The systems in the body that process physical and emotional stress overlap, and emotional stress can activate the nervous system as easily as physical threats can.
When stress becomes chronic, increased adrenaline and blood pressure can contribute to chronic medical conditions.
Research shows that emotional pain activates the same regions of the brain as physical pain. This may be why painkilling drugs ranging from opioids to Tylenol have been shown to ease emotional pain.
Depression is a mood disorder, not a normal part of grief
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.
Depression is not a normal part of grief, but a complication of grief.
Depression also raises the risk of health complications and often, requires treatment to resolve. Therefore, it is important to know how to recognize its symptoms.
Sidney Zisook, MD, a grief researcher and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, says people can distinguish normal grief from depression by looking for specific emotional patterns.
“In normal grief, the sad thoughts and feelings typically occur in waves or bursts followed by periods of respite, as opposed to the more persistent low mood and agony of major depressive disorder,” Zisook says.
He says people usually retain “self-esteem, a sense of humor, and the capacity to be consoled or distracted from the pain” in normal grief, while people who are depressed struggle with feelings of guilt and feeling worthless.
They also feel a limited ability “to experience or anticipate any pleasure or joy.”
Complicated grief differs from both depression and normal grief. M. Katherine Shear, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and director of its Center for Complicated Grief, defines complicated grief as
“a form of persistent, pervasive grief” that does not get better naturally.
It happens when “some of the natural thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that occur during acute grief gain a foothold and interfere with the ability to accept the reality of the loss.”
What are the Symptoms of Complicated Grief?
Symptoms of complicated grief include persistent efforts to ignore the grief and deny or “rewrite” what happened.
Complicated grief increases the risk of physical and mental health problems like depression, anxiety, sleep issues, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and physical illness.
Margaret Stroebe, PhD, a bereavement researcher and professor of clinical psychology at Utrecht University, says that recent research has shed light on many of “the cognitive and emotional processes underlying complications in grieving, particularly rumination.”
Research shows that rumination, or a repetitive, negative, self-focused thought, is actually a way to avoid problems.
People who ruminate shift attention away from painful truths by focusing on negative material that is less threatening than the truths they want to avoid.
This pattern of thinking is strongly associated with depression.
Rumination and other forms of avoidance demand energy and block the natural abilities of the body and mind to integrate new realities and heal.
Enduring the experience of parental alienation is also a profound psychological trauma experienced by the targeted parents. It is both acute and chronic, and externally inflicted. It is thus a type of domestic violence directed at the target parent. The fact that children witness such abuse of a parent also makes alienation a form of child abuse. The events that plunge a parent into the role of an alienated, targeted parent is especially damaging to those who are closely attached to their children and were actively involved in their lives.
Research by Stroebe, and others show that avoidance behavior makes depression, complicated grief, and the physical health problems that go with them more likely. Efforts to avoid the reality of loss can cause fatigue, weaken your immune system, increase inflammation, and prolong other ailments.
A Vicious Cycle of Passing on Childhood Traumas
Parental alienation is also a form of complex trauma. It is no coincidence that the pathology of the parent who engages in alienation is often born in complex trauma from the childhood of that parent, and that the current processes of attachment-based parental alienation are transferring onto the targeted parent a form of complex trauma. From a psychodynamic perspective, the processes of parental alienation represent a reenactment of the childhood attachment trauma of the alienating parent into the current family relationships.
When my mother was, herself, a child, she endured the loss of both parents. As an infant, her father passed away from a plane crash which decapitated him at the young age of 30.
My grandfather was the pilot of the plane that went down, killing him and leaving three young children without a father. The time period was the early 1930’s. It was a difficult time with WWI ending and with third Reich and Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Regime rising power in Germany.
The youngest of three children, my mother didn’t remember losing her father, but was only told about his death by her paternal grandmother. She had taken the three children following her son’s death, and kept them hidden away from their widowed mother who eventually died of cancer at age 39. In effect, my mother never knew either one of her parents, and developed psychiatric malformaties from the attachment traumas resulting from the loss of both parents in her own childhood.
Understanding that, I can understand where her own twisted justifications came from for taking my child. My mother is an extremely damaged woman as the direct result of being orphaned as a child. Still, knowing doesn’t make it less painful, heal it or make it any easier to come to terms with.
In fact, it’s the opposite. It is exactly her sad history of own traumatic childhood experiences that make it obvious to anyone looking in who knows her (such as my three older brothers and my older adopted sister) . They all know that what she’s done to me is wrong and she should have been forced to get help for her own issues rather than to be allowed to transfer them onto me via alienating my son from me. They know her family history. There is no excuse that any of them did nothing to stop her.
in my opinion, they are even more guilty of the P.A.S. abuse, as she is obviously sick and so sick, as a matter of fact, that she doesn’t even see it. A true indication it’s mental illness. My siblings, though, can all see it. They all know all too well how broken and mentally disturbed she is.
My father took care of her until his death, even though they were divorced, because, as he’d say, “I take care of her because I can remember her before she was so crazy”.
If any of them had stopped her, I might still have a relationship with my son. If any one of them had stopped her my son might have been able to grow up without being abused and traumatized by her.
I have heard from people who knew our family say that ‘if it weren’t for your mother, you might have actually had a good life.” and “She ruined your life, and you had such potential.” and “How sad it is what she did to you and your children”
I can’t count the times I’ve heard people say things like that.
People THAT KNEW HER.
Truth is, she murdered me with the full assistance of my brothers and sister.
Particularly me oldest brother, who actively funded and facilitated her murdering me. I may still be breathing but what she did, with my brother’s help, absolutely killed me.
If I could, I wouldd have them charged with the crime of murder.
It is vital for targeted parents to find ways of coping with the attachment-based complex trauma of parental alienation.
They must strive to achieve the triumph of light over the darkness of trauma, and find their way out of the trauma experience being inflicted upon them. They must free themselves from the imposed trauma experience, restoring their psychological health within the immense emotional trauma of their grief and loss.
As much as targeted parents desperately want to save their children, they cannot rescue their children from the quicksand by jumping into the quicksand with them. If they do, they will both perish.
Who Am I now?
When i first lost my son, I was obsessively dedicated to fighting the system that allowed for him to be taken.
I spent thousands of dollars and worked tirelessly to file pleadings, write letters, join causes and support groups. You name it, I tried it.
In my obsession, I would say, “my son, [his name], repeatedly emphasising that he was MY SON, MY son. MY SON.
After some time, when the realizations began that said he wouldn’t be coming home .. he became my son (less his name), to my boy, the boy, the child.
I began to de-sensitive myself from being a mother of a child would never be coming home.
When [you lose] someone close to you – or someone close to you dies, your social role changes, too. This can affect your sense of meaning and sense of self.
Caregivers face especially complicated role adjustments. The physical and emotional demands of caregiving can leave them feeling depleted even before a loved one dies, and losing the person they took care of can leave them with a lost sense of purpose.
“Research shows that during intense caregiving periods, caregivers not only experience high levels of stress, they also cannot find the time and energy to look after their own health,” says Kathrin Boerner, PhD, a bereavement researcher and professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
This can result in the emergence of new or the reemergence of existing ‘dormant’ health problems after the death of the care recipient. These health issues may or may not be directly related to the caregiver’s grief experience, but they are likely related to the life situation that was created through the demands of caregiving,” Boerner says.
It can be hard to make life work again after a close family member dies. Losing a partner can mean having to move out of a shared home or having to reach out to other loved ones for help, which can further increase emotional stress and worry.
Strobe says the stress of adjusting to changes in life and health during and after a loss can “increase vulnerability and reduce adaptive reserves for coping with bereavement.”
Emotional and physical self-care are essential ways to ease complications of grief and boost recovery.
Exercising, spending time in nature, getting enough sleep, and talking to loved ones can help with physical and mental health.
“Most often, normal grief does not require professional intervention,” says Zisook.
“Grief is a natural, instinctive response to loss, adaptation occurs naturally, and healing is the natural outcome,” especially with “time and the support of loved ones and friends.”
Grief researchers emphasize that social support, self-acceptance, and good self-care usually help people get through normal grief. Shear encourages people to “plan small rewarding activities and try to enjoy them as much as possible.”
But the researchers say people need professional help to heal from complicated grief and depression.
“The thing about grief and depression and sorrow and being suicidal is that you can’t reach out.
For many people going through a hard time, reaching out is impossible. If your friend is in grief, reach out to them. Do the legwork. They’re too exhausted!”
Speechless… I don’t know how you survived all of this ❤
Hoping one day I would be able to get to know my son again. That was my hope. Writing has been my outlet.
Over time, I have lost allot of hope. Especially recently.
I share my story because I know I’m not alone.
So heartbreaking…I hope you have found a support system to help you stay strong. Thank you for sharing, it takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable.
You are my support system, my readers, those I can help or maybe be a ripple in their life somehow. I also have a wonderful new husband (just got married in may) and his beautiful daughter and children that have been a lovely part of our life… They are most wonderful support system I could ever ask for. Also, the memory of my best friend/chosen sister And Godmother, both of whom passed recently That’s my support From the heavens above. I Haven hope to heal with my son one day… He and I are in touch though he is 2000 miles away from me, but just knowing he’s there and being available if he needs to reach out to me is amazing. Thank You for your comment and for visiting my blog. It’s not an easy topic I write about but it’s a very real reality for many abc I just hope my story touches another life and makes a positive difference somewhere. Please share and come back. Godspeed
You are welcome…and thank you for sharing your story.