Source: Brainwashing – Part 2
I agree with Gardner’s (1987) assessment that most mothers in custody disputes do some form of brainwashing. I have found that mothers’ attempts to turn their children against their fathers in custody disputes are common. I have also found that this is by far the most destructive aspect of divorce on children. I now consider Parental Alienation of children as a form of child abuse, since it leads to enduring psychopathology.
Kelly’s (1993) longitudinal research of child’s post-divorce adjustment found that the majority of children adjust to divorce, and older children express relief. Most symptoms last 6 months to 2 years post separation, and usually only involve adjustment disorders. (I discuss this further in chapter 11 Children of Divorce.)
Only about 10% of divorcing couples with children fight over custody. Of this group, at least one parent often has hostile, egocentric and paranoid features. In a study of MMPIs given to parents in custody evaluations, the MMPI’s of the parents who lost the custody dispute had significantly higher scores in Psychopathic Deviant (hostility), Paranoia, and Mania (narcissistic and impulsive tendencies), than parents who won the custody dispute (Otto and Collins, 1995).
Most children do adjust to divorce, except if a disturbed parent uses them as a pawn to punish the other parent. This traumatizes the child, and its effects may be life long, and is often passed on generation after generation.
Gardner (1987) stated, “Although the mothers in these situations may have a variety of motivations for programming their children against their fathers, the most common one relates to the old saying, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ … Because these mothers are separated, and cannot retaliate directly at their husbands, they wreak vengeance by attempting to deprive their former spouses of their most treasured possessions, the children. And the brainwashing program is an attempt to achieve this goal” (p.87).
Gardner also feels that these mothers are aggressing against their own children by brainwashing them against their fathers. “These mothers exhibit the mechanism of reaction formation, in that their obsessive love of their children is often a cover-up for their underlying hostility” (p.87)…”And when these mothers “win”, they not only win custody, but they win total alienation of their children from the hated spouse. The victory here results in psychological destruction of the children which, I believe, is what they basically want anyway” (p.88).
Brainwashing is a conscious act of programming the child against the other parent. However, Gardner went on to describe what he refers to as “Parental Alienation Syndrome”. The concept of the Parental Alienation Syndrome includes the brainwashing component, but is more inclusive. It includes not only conscious but also unconscious factors within the programming parent that contribute to the child’s alienation from the other parent.
Furthermore, it includes factors that arise within the child- independent of the parental contributions. The child may justify the alienation with memories of minor altercations experienced in the relationship with the hated parent. These are usually trivial and are experiences that most children quickly forget.
These children may even refuse to accept evidence that is obvious proof of the hated parent’s position. Commonly these children will accept as 100 percent valid the allegations of the loved parent against the hated one. All human relationships are ambivalent… the concept of ‘Mixed feelings’ has no place in these children’s scheme of things. The hated parent is ‘all bad’ and the loved parent is ‘all good’ (Gardner,1987 p.73).
Dunne and Hedrick (1994) in their research found that Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) “appeared to be primarily a function of the pathology of the alienating parent and that parent’s relationship with the children. PAS did not signify dysfunction in the alienated parent or in the relationship between that parent and child.” This study supports Gardner’s definition of Parental Alienation Syndrome as a pathological reaction to a parent, and not a conflict arising out the real relationship with real abuse.
Gardner also refers to factors arising within the child who contributes to Parental Alienation Syndrome, such as the fear of losing the love of the alienating mother, since “the loved parent is feared much more than loved.” p.90.
Additionally, Oedipal factors are sometimes operative in the Parental Alienation Syndrome. A daughter may resent the father’s new female partner, and may identify with her mother’s jealousy and rage, and the daughter may revenge by rejecting him.