Parent Alienation Syndrome occurs when individuals who have certain psychological characteristics manage internal conflict or pain by transforming psychological pain into interpersonal conflict. Divorcing parents often experience humiliation, loss of self-esteem, guilt, ambivalence, fear, abandonment anxiety, jealousy, or intense anger. These normal but very painful emotions must be managed. Usually people in crisis rely on characteristic relationship styles and pain management techniques. The Team has found alienating parents to have the following characteristics:
- A narcissistic or paranoid orientation to interactions and relationships with others, usually as the result of a personality disorder.(2) Both narcissistic and paranoid relationships are maintained by identification, rather than mutual appreciation and enjoyment of differences as well as similarities. Perfectionism and intolerance of personal flaws in self or others have deleterious effects on relationships. When others disagree, narcissistic and paranoid people feel abandoned, betrayed, and often rageful.
Reliance on defenses against psychological pain that result in externalizing unwanted or unacceptable feelings, ideas, attitudes, and responsibility for misfortunes so that more painful internal conflict is transformed into less painful interpersonal conflict. Examples of such defenses are phobias, projection, “splitting,” or obsessive preoccupation with the shortcomings of others in order to obscure from self and others the individual’s own shortcomings. “Splitting” results when feelings, judgments, or characteristics are polarized into opposite, exhaustive, and mutually exclusive categories (such as all good or all bad, right or wrong, love or hate, victim or perpetrator), then are assigned or directed separately to self and other. (I am good, you are bad.) The need for such defenses arises because alienating parents have little or no tolerance for internal conflict or even normal ambivalence. The interpersonal result of such defenses is intense interpersonal conflict.(3)
Evidence of an abnormal grieving process such that there is a preponderance of anger and an absence of sadness in reaction to the loss of the marital partner
A family history in which there is an absence of awareness of normal ambivalence and conflict about parents, enmeshment, or failure to differentiate and emancipate from parents; or a family culture in which “splitting” or externalizing is a prominent feature. Some alienating parents were raised in families in which there is unresolved or unacknowledged grief as the result of traumatic losses or of severe but unacknowledged emotional deprivation, usually in the form of absence of empathy. More frequently, alienating parents were favorite children or were overly indulged or idealized as children.