Parental alienation syndrome reflects the control a parent can exercise over their child over the other parent. More or less consciously, the alienating parent destroys any connection between the child and the alienated parent, often in the event of separation. But we also observe the phenomenon in couples who stay together, and in which the dominant parent tries to have absolute control over one (or more) children.
What is parental alienation syndrome?
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a concept that first appeared in the 1980s in the United States. It is absent from psychiatric classifications, which is why we do not really talk about diagnosis. " But in fact, the notions of grip and manipulation are well known clinically ", Affirms Stéphane Clerget child psychiatrist, and co-author of Teens, the decoder (Leducs). It is recognized that this form of psychological abuse can come from both the father and the mother.
How does it manifest in children?
In parental alienation syndrome, we observe a denigration of the other parent, the absence of guilt on the part of the child in the way he treats the alienated parent, the absence of ambivalence (very strong opinion on parent), and unwavering support for the favorite parent with whom a strong alliance has been built. Violence and hatred towards the alienated parent can go very far: categorical refusal to speak to him, firm opposition, false accusations … The alienated parent can even be the target of physical attacks or verbal violence. " Sometimes this can go as far as nuisance behavior where the child steals papers, makes phone calls … At that point, he becomes the armed wing of a parent in the event of a divorce. Unfortunately, we observe that when this takes place in childhood, it is rare for the child to regain serene relations with the rejected parent. », Reports Stéphane Clerget.
Always conscious manipulation?
Parental alienation is not always consciously exercised by the parent. Some consider the other parent to be harmful to the child, and by doing this they are protecting the child. But they often tend to confuse their own interests with those of children. " These are parents who have difficulty separating the parental couple from the conjugal couple. They can back their criticism with good arguments, but no parent is perfect full time. Moreover, in the field of education, everything depends on the interpretation and the values of each one. Negligence cases are often very complex to demonstrate », Says the child psychiatrist.
What psychological consequences for the child?
The first pity for the child is that he finds himself deprived of everything that the other parent could bring into his life. " In addition, the child uses a lot of energy at the expense of his own emotional and social development. Every child needs serenity to grow well. For me, this really is a form of psychological abuse. A child is always half of his father and mother, and this state of tension inevitably subjects him to internal conflict. Finally, it does not help him develop his free will and prevents him from listening to his own emotions. As a result, the child can potentially become a submissive person or, conversely, identify with the dominant parent and adopt a similar posture in their relationship to others », Explains Stéphane Clerget.
When the siblings are torn apart
In a context of major conflict, children of the same siblings can each mark their rejection of a parent. " This is a way of finding a balance by "distributing" the parents. In this case, we do not necessarily speak of parental alienation because there is not a single dominant parent », Says the child psychiatrist.
What support can be offered to the child?
Ideally, children can speak on their own in a specialist's office. But for this, the practitioner must be able to make an alliance with both parents. Note that for a minor to consult a psychiatrist, the authorization of both parents is required, while psychologists are not subject to the same rules. " Ideally, professionals would agree not to make any paper that could be used in court in order to ensure that parents are as sincere as possible. In this way, the specialist can try to make the alienating parent aware that his posture is harming the child. But the whole difficulty is that in these situations, many parents stop therapy when they realize that the child might loosen from their total grip. »Says the child psychiatrist.
Broken family, manipulated children: parental alienation
Conflicting Separations and Parental Alienation: Children at Risk
by Roland Broca, Olga Odinetz and William Bernet (Preface)
Does a minor child have the right to refuse to see one of his parents?
In France, from the age of 12, judges are obliged to receive a child if he wishes to speak, but they are not required to follow their advice. From a legal point of view, the alienated parent can sue the other in order to assert his rights (non-representation of a child for example), but the legal procedure is long. He can also file a complaint for the offense of obstructing parental authority if he can prove that the alienating parent is doing everything to harm him. As for psychological abuse, it is also linked to the subjective assessment of the court. When the family court judge considers that the alienating parent is harming the best interests of the child, he or she may decide on majority custody for the alienated parent.
If the case is brought before a juvenile judge, there may also be the establishment of an AEMO (Services d'Action Éducative en Milieu Open). The educator will come directly to the family to discuss with the child. In very rare cases, the child is temporarily placed in a neutral place when both parents are very hostile. " From a personal point of view, apart from proven cases of mistreatment or incompetence, I think that the ideal is to opt for the most balanced mode of joint care possible in order to considerably reduce the impact of a possible alienation », Concludes the child psychiatrist.