In 1985 Dr. Richard Gardner (M.D.) coined the phrase “parental alienation syndrome (PAS)”. Dr. Gardner defines PAS as “a childhood disorder that arises almost exclusively in the context of child-custody disputes.” Primarily it is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent without justification. What is unique from Dr. Gardner’s perspective it that it results from the combination of parental programming or brainwashing and the child’s vilification of the target parent.
There is no PAS when true parental abuse, neglect or the witnessing of abuse, verbal or physical, is present. The child’s animosity may be justified, therefore, explaining the child’s hostile behavior as a consequence of PAS is not applicable.
PAS is only applicable when the target parent is innocent and has not exhibited abusive or neglectful behavior; or any behavior that might warrant the child’s vilification. Rather, in typical PAS cases the victimized parent is considered to have provided normal and loving parenting. At worst they exhibited minimal impairments in parental skills. PAS situations typically demonstrate exaggerated weaknesses and deficiencies. When genuine abuse does exist, then the child’s rejecting behavior is warranted and PAS is not applicable.
Parental Alienation (PA), however, refers to a variety of behaviors that may be associated with a child’s alienation from a parent. Children may become alienated because of physical abuse, sexual abuse or both. Emotional abuse by a parent may result in a child’s alienation. Children may also become alienated as because of parental abandonment. Ongoing parental disharmony, especially in the presence of physical violence, may lead children to become alienated. Gardner indicates that children may become alienated because of behavior exhibited by a parent that would be alienating to most people, e.g., narcissism, alcoholism, and antisocial behavior. Impaired or dysfunctional parenting can also cause children’s alienation. A child may be angry at the parent who initiated the divorce, believing they are solely to blame for the divorce situation. There are many other parental behaviors that can produce a child’s alienation, but none of them can be considered PAS.