Children most vulnerable to PAS, due to several converging developmental issues, are in the 8- to 15-year-old range. Typically, the child adopts the content theme (for example, accusing the TP of being abusive); refuses to confront the AP even in the presence of contradictory evidence; employs the AP’s techniques (such as spying); has various levels of insight and “real” cooperation with the AP; and fears the AP. While some children seem completely drawn into the themes of the alienation, seemingly believing every word they say others are very aware of the exaggerations and lies. One of the authors had a case in which two children in their early teens actively participated in the PAS, alleging sexual abuse on the part of their father. Their stories were consistent and believable, and while the father was found not guilty in a criminal trial, due largely to factual inaccuracies in the children’s stories, he was nevertheless eliminated from contact with the children. The children refused even supervised contact. The vehemence of the rejection by alienated children is often telling. These children threatened to run away, or worse, “if you make us” even have dinner with their father. Two years later, one of the children surfaced the “lie,” which the other child soon admitted. There had been no molestation and no real cause for the rejection. Even then the children had no good explanation as to why they had gone along with the instructions of their mother other than that they were “scared.”
In families with multiple children, roles in a PAS drama often are divided up, with the children representing the range of alienation–usually one child completely alienated, one ambivalent, and one still attached to the TP.
example, when the AP can’t stop thinking about or talking about the other parent; or when PAS escalates around birthdays, holidays, vacations, etc.);
to maintain the AP’s symbiotic dependence on the child (for example, when the AP calls the child every day when he or she is with the TP–one of the authors had a case in which the AP would tell the child that she “couldn’t stand to go into your room while you were away, it makes me so sad”);
to deal with anger and revenge (for example, when the AP expresses moral outrage at the exposure of the child to a new romantic partner, when the real issue is anger for an affair, or simply at being so easily replaced);
to help the AP through what he or she perceives to be a “grown up” version of a childhood experience; and
to help the family cope with the AP’s tendency to turn on the child or anyone else who disagrees, or to abandon the child if there is a change (the child fears having feelings independent of and in opposition to the AP and becoming a target of the rage and rejection he or she has seen the AP direct at others who disagree).
One of the authors has seen other “life and death” causes, such as where the PAS protected a psychologically fragile AP or where the AP was the agent of the AP’s family of origin, eliminating the TP from the extended family network. When encountering PAS in a particular family and trying to determine its cause, a good question to ask is what the family would be dealing with if everyone wasn’t so preoccupied with the PAS process.
The programming one sees in situations of PAS is often a longstanding part of the family dynamic that simply escalates after a separation. Although all of the family members play roles, the AP is in charge of the programming of the child, a process that usually follows stages.
Content Theme Identification
The content theme of the alienation is identified early, sometimes by the AP, sometimes by the TP and sometimes accidentally. One of the authors had a case in which there were two dominant themes: abandonment, which had been introduced by the TP through an actual abandonment that lasted about seven months; and, paradoxically, an intense fear of kidnapping by the TP, introduced by the AP. The TP was in a difficult situation where any lack of effort to see the children was viewed as abandonment (that is, proof that she did not care), and any effort to see the children was obstructed and set off a panic that it was an effort to kidnap them. In cases of PAS, the belief in the themes becomes delusional. Though there may be some foundation for the themes in an incident or two, the themes essentially are very unrealistic. In the above case, though the mother had abandoned the children for seven months, she had been consistent in her involvements and interest for the five years prior to the separation and six years since the abandonment. The real threat of a kidnapping of the 12- and 8-year-old children was minimal, especially since the children were so schooled in the threat.