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  Parental Alienation is Child Abuse

by Joan T. Kloth-Zanard

Where Did I Go Wrong? How Did I Miss The Signs?
Dealing with Hostile Aggressive Parenting and Parental Alienation

From the book by Joan T. Kloth-Zanard


Abuse is one of the most gut wrenching issues in our times. Whether it is the abuse of a child, a women, an elder or a man, it is heinous. Abuse comes in three main forms: physical, sexual and psychological (also known as emotional abuse.). It is the mental and emotional abuse caused by a spouse’s deliberate attempt to destroy the Targeted Parent in the eyes of the children that will be the focus of this chapter. Parental Alienation, also classified as Hostile Aggressive Parenting, Enmeshed Relationships, Cross-Generational Coalitions, Relationship Triangles and Alienation, is a growing epidemic in divorce proceedings. It is time to change this and make a difference for the children and Targeted Parent of these psychological abuses.

During a high conflict divorce involving visitation or custody, there are more false cases of domestic violence and abuse filed according to the various departments of protection and the courts. (DHHS, 2001 Statistics) This issue is one of international alarm because false reporting takes massive amounts of resources away from true victims. In addition, the psychological ramifications and loss of reputation for the accused can ruin their lives forever, which is usually the intention with the false allegations. Unfortunately, these types of abusers drag their innocent children into their bogus stories, which force the children to lie and go through horrendous tests and interviews, which emotionally scar them for life. Even if the accused parent has not committed the crime, the accusations cost the accused thousands of dollars and years to prove their innocence, while the abuser commits defamation and slander. By all documented accounts, (see Fiebert’s Reference) it is apparent that the gender of the abuser does not matter. Both genders are equally aggressive using both physical and psychological abuse.

It is the mental end of this abuse that Bill Kuhl speaks about in his article “Violence Knows no Gender”. Abusers are devious and use covert physical attacks to catch their prey off guard. Kuhl refers to this as the “element of surprise”. (Kuhl, Violence Knows No Gender) This is not only devious but also psychologically stressful. The targeted parent never knows if and when it is coming or how; much like a soldier during a sniper attack. They must live their lives as if they are constantly at war, on edge and in fear. Psychologically they become worn out with nowhere to turn to for help.

This psychological abuse and the toll that these victims pay come at a great price. If they stay, they chance being seriously injured if not killed. If they leave, they are faced with the humiliation of ‘allowing’ someone to abuse them. In the course of this, they will lose everything, including their children. Most victims stay in their abusive marriages for the same reason; that is they have nowhere to go, are being threatened with losing everything, scared for their children and have been beaten down emotionally and they can no longer stand on their own anymore. For men this is a double indemnity, because it is the humiliation and ridicule that a woman has abused them, which prevents most men from reporting the abuse they encounter and prohibits them from leaving home. For women, it is not so much the humiliation as the fear of further attacks as well as fear of not being able to make it on their own. The one fear that stigmatizes both genders is the loss of their children and that relationship.

When a parent is denied a relationship, it is the same as isolating the children from the parent. It can be legally termed as an alienation of affection, criminally referred to as domestic violence and psychologically referred to as Parental Alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome (soon to be in the DSM V), Hostile Aggressive Parenting, an Enmeshed Relationship, Triangles in Relationships, Cross-Generational Coalitions or

Alienation and Denigration. No matter what it is named, it is not only abusive to the Targeted Parent (TP), but also abusive to the children. The Alienating Parent (AP) sees the children and/or their relationship with the other parent as a possession that they have power over, which in turn controls the TP. By refusing to allow a healthy relationship to exist between the children and the TP, the AP maintains a sense of control and what they feel is a bargaining chip to possess the other parent. Whether it is returning the TP to the AP’s life or revenge ‘for not loving them anymore’, the AP has absolutely no regard for any of the other victims. Their only goal is to destroy the TP anyway they can.

This abuse is so subtle and slow, that when the parent realizes what is occurring, it is often too late and the children are refusing to have a relationship with the TP, especially in the case of high conflict divorce with custody/visitation issues. The once naturally healthy relationship and bonds of a parent with their offspring have been destroyed; their children’s lives are filled with treachery and uncharted waters. The psychological community is just now beginning to understand the ramifications of this type of abuse, while examining a definition to be included in the DSM. Alienation is an insidious type of abuse because proving its existence is a nightmare that is still on going. The psychological community is baffled as to how to stop it and correct the damages to the children.


Dr. Richard Gardner, of Creskill, NJ, a child psychologist, was one of the leading authorities on children of dysfunctional families. What he found in his research is that no matter the financial or cultural background, alienation of one parent from the other could occur. (

According to Dr. Richard Gardner, PAS is described as “a disturbance in which children are obsessively preoccupied with depreciation and/or criticism of a parent. In other words, denigration that is unjustified and or exaggerated.” ( In effect, these children are taught to hate the other parent to the point of wanting to eliminate them from their lives. Dr. Gardner considers this psychological abuse and it is the only form of psychological abuse that has clear-cut unmistakable signs and symptoms and therefore the only psychological abuse that can be easily diagnosed.

PAS can be further described as a form of psychological kidnapping ( where the child’s mind has been forced to prejudicially believe and discriminate against the other parent. This is perpetrated by creating fear, not only of the TP/outsider parent, but of the parent whom the child must reside with, or as Gardner calls it, the “hostage taker” parent. It is also called the Stockholm Syndrome and best compared to the Patti Hearst kidnapping.

In these cases, the hostages are so isolated from the outside world that they begin to associate with their hostage takers. Actually refusing to accept any overt actions from the outside that contradict their captor’s motives. This has been documented in cult situations where the followers are literally brainwashed to believe that the cults objectives are the only way to think, act or believe.

This also applies in PAS where the children learn to side with the aggressor and avoid being victims of the same abuse. As Roland Summit (Kemp, P. 16) and John Briere (Kemp, P. 239-240) call it, Abuse-Related Accommodation. Abuse-related accommodation occurs when a person’s natural survival instincts have enabled them to “adapt” to the abuse. This adaptation includes distortions of thought, altered emotions (such as depression and anxiety), and dissociation by disconnecting from the trauma. It is these adaptive techniques that will determine whether a child will develop personality disorders such as multiple personalities, anti-social behaviors or psychotic tendencies. (Kemp P. 239). Briere further breaks it down into 3 stages of adaptation. First is the initial reaction stage of fear, anxiety, hurt, betrayal or abandonment, because they are so isolated they have nowhere to turn. In the second stage, accommodation to on-going abuse, they try to pacify and soothe the abuser. With children of PAS this might be avoiding issues that trigger anger, such as positive comments about the other parent. Finally in the 3rd stage called Long-Term Elaboration and Secondary accommodation, the victims life centers around avoiding and living with the abuse, which now affects every mechanism for coping and behavior. The abuse actually becomes so internalized that their entire world changes to accommodate it. A PAS victimized child might denigrate and spew hatred about the targeted parent with no valid and justifiable reasons.

No matter how we describe it or compare it, the ultimate truth is that PAS destroys the children and the parents it is directed at. Despite our courts supposed protection of children from this kind of abuse, it is happening even more. This type of abuse is directly correlated with marital issues involving parental separation, divorce, custody and visitation. It became even more prevalent in the 60’s with the introduction of No-Fault Divorce. Despite the high incidence of this type of abuse, it is barely recognized in the courts until recently when it passed the Frye Test, to determine admissibility of scientific evidence, validating its existence (, which now permits it’s open testimony and use in court. With the passage of the Frye test, the State of Connecticut mandated Court Support Family Services to get training in Parental Alienation Syndrome. Unfortunately, at present this training is very inadequate and riddled with missing data. If only we can finally get the courts to put aside their prejudices against men and non-custodial parents.


The following is a list of behaviors exhibited by children of PAS according to Richard Gardner:

1) A campaign of denigration

2) Weak, absurd, or frivolous rationalizations for the deprecation.

3) Lack of Ambivalence

4) The “independent thinker” phenomenon

5) Reflexive support of the AP in the parental conflict

6) Absence of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the Alienated Parent

7) The presence of borrowed scenarios

8) Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the Alienated Parent.

See link:

In effect, PAS is a form of prejudice and discrimination that isolates the children from the TP, and extended family and friends. Through a series of actions, the alienating parent is able to influence the children to hate the targeted parent and extended family. In particular, the AP instills such loathing and anger toward the TP that it could easily be classified as a hate crime.


According to Kemp in his book Abuse in the Family, domestic violence is defined as “A form of Maltreatment perpetrated by a person with whom the victim has or had a close personal relationship.” (Kemp, P.36) Furthermore, the clinical and textbook definitions and categories of Child Psychological Maltreatment found in Table 3-1 of Alan Kemp’s book, Abuse in the Family, on pages 72-77, can easily be applied to PAS showing it as a form of Domestic Violence via Psychological Maltreatment. This book is a technical training book for Students studying for their Masters in Counseling and Social Work. It is just one of many textbooks used to teach the students and professionals about Psychological Maltreatment and the categories that make it up.

Those categories are:

• Rejecting (spurning)

• Terrorizing

• Corrupting

• Denying essential stimulation, emotional responsiveness, or availability

• Unreliable and inconsistent parenting

• Mental health, medical, or educational neglect

• Degrading/devaluing (spurning)

• Isolating

• Exploiting

As we correlate the above definition, we will see how it fits in classifying PAS as Psychological Maltreatment and thus Domestic Violence. For example, by deliberately alienating the victims from other family members and social supports, isolation is occurring. The whole premise of PAS is to isolate and alienate the children from the Targeted Parent or any other individual who supports the Targeted Parent. If the alienator uses threats or denigrating tactics, to force the victims to comply, this can be seen as terrorizing. (Kemp, P. 225-228) As well, verbal denigration, harassment and exploitation of the Targeted Parent is very prominent and a key indicator of PAS. In addition, DV includes the exploitation and use of the children for personal gain. Thus in PAS when the children are used to destroy the Targeted Parent by denying visitation or a relationship between TP and the children or is used for monetary gains such as excessive expenses beyond child support, they are in affect committing Domestic Violence. It is for these reasons that PAS or alienating the children from the Targeted Parent can be considered as a form of domestic violence.

Let’s take this a bit further in it’s application. When a parent REJECTS a child because the children show any love or affection for the Targeted Parent that is a form of abuse. This is not only a form of rejection, but TERRORIZATION. In fact, a child’s refusal to come to the Targeted Parents home for fear of losing the Alienating Parent’s conditional love is fear and fear is terror.

Next, there is CORRUPTING. When an Alienating parent refuses to comply with court orders and tells the children they do not have to either, this is corrupting. It is teaching the children that they are above the law and therefore immune to the courts authority. When a parent files false allegations of abuse and convinces the children to do the same, this is corruption. When an Alienating parent tells the children lies about the Targeted Parent, and that anything having to do with the Targeted Parent is illegal, immoral and disgusting, this is corrupting. In fact, this is a form of discrimination and prejudice, which corrupts the children’s minds.

Next, let’s look at DENYING ESSENTIAL STIMULATION, EMOTIONAL RESPONSIVENESS, OR AVAILABILITY. By refusing to allow the children to have a relationship with the Targeted Parent, for no reason other than their own need to control the ex-spouse, the Alienating Parents are denying them the basic elements of stimulation, emotions and availability with the Targeted Parent. In fact, the Targeted Parent has little to no opportunity to defend themselves against the false allegations. Though they will have you believe that they or the children feared for their lives and that the Targeted Parent was abusive, this is usually unsubstantiated or proven by the courts to be a fabrication. With no basis for this denial, the Alienator refuses their children a warm and loving relationship with the Targeted Parents. Thus it causes UNRELIABLE AND INCONSISTENT PARENTING. Since the children have been denied a relationship with the Targeted Parent, they have also been denied a reliable and consistent parenting situation and the Alienating Parent has proven that they cannot parent consistently and reliably in the supporting of a two-parent relationship with the children.

This brings us to the MENTAL, MEDICAL AND EDUCATION NEGLECT. When an Alienating Parent refuses to comply with numerous separate court orders for counseling, they are denying their children's mental health. Thus mental neglect has occurred as defined in the DSM IV as Malingering. (V65.2) and by Neglect of Child (V61.21).

If despite numerous court orders or request and recommendations, the alienator continues to insult, verbally abuse and denigrate the child’s Targeted Parent in front of them, this behavior DEGRADES AND DEVALUES someone the children once respected and loved and in most cases, secretly want a relationship with. This disdain and disrespect for the Targeted Parent in front of the child(ren) is another form of Psychological Maltreatment as it permanently affects their view of that Targeted Parent, which transfers to their view of themselves. This creates a distorted sense of reality, of themselves and their ability to trust and accurately judge others.

When a parent deliberately sabotages a relationship with the Targeted Parent by refusing to allow visits, calls, or any form of healthy communication, with no evidence of abuse, this is called ISOLATION. Furthermore, when a parent has initially allowed continuous contact with the children during the separation and divorce period, but reneges on this refusing them visitation, especially when they find out their ex-spouse has a new partner, this is isolation and abuse. This is also called Remarriage as a Trigger for Parental Alienation Syndrome and can be further reviewed in an article by Dr. Richard Warshak, There is no doubt this is isolation and thus psychological abuse. (

And finally, EXPLOITATION. When a parent uses the children as pawns to get back at their ex spouse for not loving them anymore or to control them further, this is exploitation. When an Alienating Parent uses the children and makes false allegations of abuse, terrorizing the children to state they hate the Targeted Parent, this is EXPLOITATION. When a parent uses the children for monetary gains, but yet does not allow the children a relationship with the targeted parent, this is EXPLOITATION.

When you add all these factors up, it is easy to see how Cross-Generational Coalitions, Parental Alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome, Enmeshed Relationships, Triangles and Borderless Boundaries can be classified as Child Psychological Maltreatment in a divorce situation. When you put it all together, the DSM sums up the Alienator quite nicely under Cluster B Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, (301.7). The Alienating Parent willfully and without regard to the child(ren) or the targeted parent’s welfare, or the innocent extended families welfare, continually violated their rights and disregarded their needs for a relationship. The Alienating Parent uses and exploits the children. The Alienating Parent isolates the children from a nurturing parent and family. The Alienating Parent denies the children their basic needs of love and belonging from the Targeted Parent. The Alienating Parent thus neglects the children’s mental welfare. They rejected the children’s and Targeted Parent’s testimony of love and need for each other. The Alienating Parent terrorizes and corrupts the children. The Alienating Parent callously puts their own desires, wants and needs above those of everyone else including their own children.

This all adds up to one thing, PAS is Domestic Violence in the form of Psychological Maltreatment.


Joan T. Kloth-Zanard, GAL, RSS, ABI & LC Executive Director and Founder
PAS Intervention: A Tax-exempt charitable organization approved under sec. 501(c )(3) of the IRS
(203) 770-0318

Author of "Where Did I Go Wrong?  How Did I Miss the Signs?  Dealing with Hostile Parenting and Parental Alienation" and “Broken Family Bonds: Poems and Stories from Victims of Parental Alienation”.  All proceeds go to PASI.


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