Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Justice of the Peace,
Vol. 163 No. 3, 16 January 1999, p 47-50
PAS has been practised for as long as marital or relationship conflicts
have occurred. It is the conscious action of one parent turning
against another to oust the other parent from the affection, love
and respect or regard of their children. It works more effectively
when used against younger, passive children and less so with older,
more assertive children. It is unlikely to occur in a stable, harmonious
relationship between parents who encourage the children to regard
the other parent similarly, and work together to bring up their
children appropriately with socialized standards of behaviour. Where
marital disharmony does occur PAS is not necessarily a consequence,
as many parents consider their parental role as of the greatest
importance. They will encourage the former partner to participate
in guiding and caring for their children, and afford them equal
importance in the upbringing. Such parents engender the important
principle that whilst parents may not be able to love one another
it does not mean that their love for their children is any the less.
Sometimes the parted couples can even establish a friendly relationship
towards one another which is desirable for their children. To achieve
this some parents need guidance from an outside professional. In
this way, despite the marital split, parenting patterns persist.
Why Does PAS Occur?
PAS occurs as a result of a relationship in conflict, to which
must be added the pathological condition of the alienator. He/she
suffers from the need to control totally the process of rearing
the children after an acrimonious separation. It is known to be
most common in females. Sometimes this results from the need to
retaliate against the former partner who may have been the rejector
of the relationship. Depths of early childhood experiences and alienation
from his/her own parents also play a part.
Depriving a former partner of positive contact with his children
is a powerful weapon. Some alienators go so far as to accuse the
former partner, often unjustly, of physically, emotionally and even
sexually abusing the child or children merely to get their own way.
This results in the involvement of social workers, the police and
leads to the humiliation of the alienated parent, often unjustly.
Under these circumstances, most alienated partners often give up
the fight to seek contact with their child. The alienating parent
will often use this against him by informing the child: "You
see how little he cares for you"; "Wasn't I right about
him?" The child will more often than not fail to understand
the lack of logic of what takes place and support the mother's position
since she is present most of the time and has usually been the main
carer. Sometimes a new partnership has emerged. It is then the object
of the alienator to promote the affection and closeness of the children
with the new partner and to forget the role of the alienated parent,
usually the father.
In the very rare instances there occurs poor parenting by one partner
or even criminal activities such as paedophilia. Such parents should
be removed from the parenting role at least until they have been
treated for their problems.
Who is Most Likely to Practise PAS?
More then 75 per cent of mothers practise PAS, as against 25 per
cent of men who alienate. Partly this is due to the view, despite
the changes in social and cultural norms, that the mother is the
centre of family life. Hence an alienating mother feels she has
the greater input and responsibility in caring for the child than
the father. Mothers who are on their own feel it is only right that
they should have the main or only right to make decisions concerning
their children. They will, therefore, use any weapon, fair or foul,
to make certain that they have the ultimate power over their children.
Among the weapons used are accusations by the mother that the father
is unfit to care for or even spend any time with the child. This
may be due to allegations of sexual misconduct, alcohol or drug
misuse, immorality or poor mental state or lifestyle or possibly
criminal involvement. Due to the closeness of the mothers and children,
the children will often believe the worse of the other parent.
Such mothers alienate themselves from the real needs of the child
in order to maintain their total contact and to eliminate the contact
and relationship with the other parent. When litigation is threatened,
the alienating parent becomes even keener in her determination to
have complete control. She will say to the child: "See what
your father is doing now? He is trying to have me imprisoned".
This turns the child against the father even more as he sees the
mother as the "victim". Hence, she has involved and continues
to involve the child in her battle with the father and the process
of programming and brainwashing the child until the child sees matters
as the programmer sees them and turns against the father. The child's
behaviour, therefore, becomes increasingly more difficult when the
father is present and the child may even refuse to go with him.
Sometimes in-laws, allied to one or the other, may influence matters
further. Hence the child uses the same hostility and acts accordingly.
The mother in turn is deeply gratified to have achieved her objective
and may even disclaim that she is doing anything to influence the
child and may state that she is actively encouraging the child to
cooperate. The result is that the child will behave in an inimical,
unfriendly and hostile way towards the alienated person, usually
the father. In this situation, the mother may well believe her own
lies. Some mothers overindulge their children in order to provide
their children with the view that "mother offers them most".
This is combined with persistent denigration of the other parent.
It is of interest to note that many parents who seek to programme
their children in the above way have often been subjected to the
same treatment themselves. They are, therefore, very familiar with
the techniques that can be used effectively. They are perpetuating
a vicious and destructive pattern to the next generation.
The Likely Consequences to the Alienated Person and the Children
Children hate to see their parents in acrimony because it reduces
their sense of security and they feel in jeopardy. The successful
indoctrination, programming and brain-washing of a child leads to
bitterness, sadness and anger in the unjustly accused parent and
prevention of the parent in exercising his/her rights, obligations
and love for the child. He/she will either give up the right, or
there will be an acrimonious conflict wherein the child suffers
confusion and ultimately alienation towards one of the parents.
This may go on for many years.
Fear is sometimes induced in the child towards the alienated parent.
This is ultimately often translated into attacking and humiliating
them. Fear induction is especially likely to be successful with
younger children. Eventually such children consider the alienated
parent to be "bad", "inadequate" and of little
value to them. Such parents eventually are forced to play a peripheral
role or no role at all, except as financial providers. When mother's
economic position is greater than father's, for instance, there
is a desire to eliminate father even from the role of provider.
Some fathers become so desperate as to contemplate suicide or use
alcohol or drugs as a means of escape. This merely verifies the
picture which mothers frequently inculcate in their children - that
their father is an alcoholic or drug addict. Some children, seeing
the once stable parents embroiled in this kind of warfare, turn
against both parents and become depressed, underachieve at school
or turn to delinquency.
Only later in life do children sometimes become aware of the wrong
which has been done and the way they have been used as "pawns"
and programmed against all the opposing "reality". Then
the antagonism of the maturing adult turns against the alienating
parent, as they grow up and become aware through maturity and learning
to think for themselves that the alienated parent has suffered a
great injustice at the hands of the alienator and themselves. As
a consequence they feel a sense of desperate guilt, which can become
a helpless kind of regret this has no way of being assuaged if the
parent has died or has vanished.
How is PAS Carried Out?
Parents who use PAS often see themselves as "victims"
and like to think their children see them as "victims".
They tend to seek revenge and will encourage the children to believe
chat the other parent is at fault, by claiming that "she",
the victim and programmer, has been cruelly and unjustly treated.
They will also assuage and engender the view that their former partner
suffers from a number of moral and personal problems. Slanderous
or exaggerated statements are made constantly to the child about
the alienated parent. Alienating parents will over-state or even
create vices such as: "He's an alcoholic, drug taker, womaniser,
has no sense of responsibility, drives dangerously, etc." All
such statements and many more, are repeated to the child continually.
Of all such statements the most damaging to the alienated parent
is that of sexual or physical abuse, when there are no justifiable
reasons for such allegations being made. The repercussions can be
that the alienated parent can be judged guilty by allegations alone,
and often has to undergo a painful investigation and suspicion to
disprove such allegations. However, where this is substantiated
by a court there should be no question of removal of access to the
child in question until treatment has been undergone and it is felt
safe by all involved for contact to continue.
Intervention in the form of therapy is usually necessary in order
to counteract false allegations. Such help will be met with a mixture
of hope by the alienated parent and often resentment, and lack of
co-operation by the alienator and often by the alienated child.
The alienator will use or promote anything which will achieve their
objective of hurting, denigrating and if possible eliminating the
alienated parent's control or contact with the child.
Other ways of carrying out the process of alienation via programming
and thereby brainwashing children can be seen by:
- Observing the behaviour and listening to the statements of
children towards the alienated party.
- By noting the control the alienating parent seeks and obtains
in order to eliminate the alienated parent.
- By noting the marital disharmony as well as the acrimony when
the parents separated subsequently.
- By noting the contradictory statements and behaviour demonstrated
by the programmed child when interviewed.
- By taking note of the character assaults which the alienating
parent makes which are often not verifiable: eg, that the former
partner is immoral, lacks parenting skills, drinks heavily, uses
drugs, is emotionally unstable or unreliable or is dishonest,
- By noting the unchildlike statements made which have been programmed
by the alienating parent.
Another manifestation of PAS is the child being totally under the
influence of the alienating parent, by believing and repeating what
the alienating parent says, in attacking and humiliating the other
party, and refusing to have contact or very limited contact with
the alienated person.
There are many other direct as well as subtle ways in which the
process of programming and brainwashing is carried out. Here are
some of them:
- Encouraging the child to disobey and show a lack of respect
for the alienated parent.
- By promoting an alliance between the child and alienator against
the other parent.
- Showing opposition to the other parent's child-rearing methods
and communicating this to the child.
- Bribing and overindulging the child to create comparative poverty
of enjoyment with the other parent, when they are with that parent.
- Suggesting and actually changing the surname of the child to
reduce the influence and memory of the other birth parent.
- The programmer playing the part of a "martyr" claiming
how badly they were treated by the alienated parent.
- Making the child afraid of the alienated parent.
- Encouraging the child to hate being with the other parent.
- Showing the other parent to be bad.
- Instilling in the child the view that the other parent wants
to take the child away from the programmer and even to kidnap
- Making the child feel anxious, rejected and insecure if the
child does not comply with the programmer.
- The programmer encourages the child to keep secrets while spying
and reporting on the alienated parent.
- Moving away or living some distance from the alienated parent.
- Sowing the seeds of not obeying the alienated parent.
- Showing negative non-verbal communication such as turning the
body away when speaking of the alienated parent or making derogatory
faces about the alienated parent, when speaking on the telephone.
It is vital that a professional such as a clinical psychologist
or psychiatrist be involved as soon as possible to deal with PAS.
This is to prevent the damage caused by PAS from becoming impervious
to improvement. The professional must be aware of PAS, and also
Both parents and the child must be evaluated individually with
the professional being aware of the presence and effect of PAS on
all concerned. Sometimes unannounced home visits are indicated.
Having established that none of the parents are a danger to the
child, efforts must be made to develop a voluntary "modus vivendi"
on who should have the children and when, thus avoiding PAS by either
parent. One must term this a "two-step plan". If the initial
process of voluntary help being provided with both parents and the
child is effective (sic), a more firm approach must be adopted,
including the involvement of the legal system.
Interviews with all members of the warring factions should be insisted
upon by the court. Frequently there is much opposition to this by
one party or the other. Only the court can insist on all being done
as the professional (expert witness) requests. Failure to co-operate
with the expert witness indicates to the court what the next step
needs to be. It is preferable for one expert witness to deal with
both parties, rather than each have their own who will side with
their particular position rather than considering the overall complexity
of the problems and the concern over the child's needs. This is
not always possible however in an "adversarial" atmosphere.
Interviews and tests used must be carried out sensitively and impartially.
Videotaping may be used when allowed by the participants. When this
is not allowed, who objects and why should be noted! The videotapes
can be studied by all involved in seeking to make the best possible
Where PAS continues by one or both parties, legal sanctions need
finally to be found with the alienating parent being given psychological
treatment and, failing this, being forced to discontinue such behaviour
When this fails in the extreme, such parents should lose custody
of the child, and the child placed with co-operating in-laws who
permit full contact of the child with the previous alienated parent.
It is also possible that the alienating parent could be fined or
imprisoned with the alienated parent being given regular contact
and even custody of the child.
This would need to be done with the greatest of care since the
children have often been programmed so fully against the alienated
parent. What is required is a period of deprogramming, with the
help of a clinical psychologist. In this way the child may be allowed
to understand the following:
- Why the programming occurred.
- What can be done to gradually improve and cement the child's
relationship with the alienated parent.
Therapists involved in helping such children should seek to develop
a greater insight into such children concerning PAS.
What is the Judicial Recourse?
There is an increase in the alienated parent turning to the legal
profession and the courts if all other methods have failed. They
feel justice must surely prevail when an independent Judge is made
aware of PAS. This is now common in the United States, but less
so in the UK. Judges are naturally influenced by a number of traditions
and are unaware in many cases, of the effects of PAS. These traditions
- Mothers on the whole, are thought more suitable than fathers
of having custody of the children.
- The older children should have the final say about whom to
be with. This does not, however, consider the programming which
the alienated parent has carried out beforehand.
- In the case of a younger child, many Judges again favour the
mother as main custodian or sole custodian, all things being equal.
If they favour the other parent they may well be viewed as unfair.
- Sometimes Judges will recommend family therapy or some involvement
of psychiatrists, paediatricians or clinical psychologists to
assess and treat the conflict between opposing parents. These
professionals also often fail to respond to the PAS which has
eliminated or reduced the role being played by the alienated parent.
They, too, may put too much emphasis on what children say they
want, being unaware of PAS.
It is vital that decisions are made which are fair and just for
all concerned. PAS cannot be allowed to prevent one capable but
hostile parent from depriving another stable and capable parent
of their parenting role. Any parent who practises PAS must ultimately
be dealt with severely by the court. PAS is a kind of brainwashing
which leads to suffering for all concerned, either in the short
or long-term. Both parents must be viewed as having the right and
the obligation to play a vital role on the care, guidance and love
provided for their children.
The judiciary must realize that many potential litigious parents
who have been the victims of adverse brainwashing of their children
give up the fight. They do this for a variety of practical reasons
- The feeling that they are doing more harm to their children
than good by fighting over them.
- Lack of financial resources.
- The view that they simply do not think they can win against
a determined, alienating former parent.
- It takes much determination and is extremely time consuming,
when one is already fully stretched in earning a living in order
to provide for the children.
It is unfortunate that many children view the fact that a parent
does not fight for them in the courts, as a rejection of them by
that parent. It is time to redress the balance.