Callie Thornton
Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome

by Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D.

Based on the content analysis of interviews, the following conclusions have been developed, each of which is explored in my book.

There Are Three Different Familial Patterns of Parental Alienation

The way in which parental alienation unfolded within each family varied -- there was more than one Parental Alienation Syndrome "story". In fact, there appeared to be three primary patterns of Parental alienation Syndrome: narcissistic mothers in divorced families alienating children from the father; narcissistic mothers in intact families alienating the children from the father; and cold, rejecting, or abusive alienating parents of either gender -- in intact or divorced families -- alienating the children from the targeted parent. Each of these patterns represents a dysfunction in the structure of the family system (despite most of the families being divorced, the two parents and child still represent a family system in that they continue to interact with and influence one another in significant ways [Goldsmith, 1982]). That is, the three patterns reflect a significant breach in the "parental unit", typically involving triangulation in which the child is asked to take on the parental role, making decisions or providing the parent with emotional support or involving cross-generational alliances in which parents compete for the child's attention and support (Minuchin, 1974). Thus, PAS can be thought of as a system type of structural family disorder.

Many Alienating Parents Seemed to Have Personality Disorders

Based on the descriptions of the alienating parent provided, it can be inferred that many met the diagnostic criteria for a personality disorder, a pervasive and distorted relational style, including narcissism, borderline, and antisocial personality.

Parental Alienation Co-Occurs with Other Forms of Child Maltreatment

Many of the adult children of PAS experienced physical and/or sexual abuse by the alienating parent. This finding is consistent with epidemiological research on the co-occurrence of different forms of abuse, demonstrating that parents who abuse their children in one way tend to abuse them in other ways as well.

Alienating Parents Function Like Cult Leaders

The parents who perpetrated parental alienation utilized techniques similar to those employed by cult leaders. Alienating parents were described by their adult children as using emotional manipulation strategies such as withdrawal of love, creation of loyalty binds, and cultivation of dependency. They were also described as using brainwashing techniques such as repetition of negative statements about the targeted parents and black/white thinking.

Parental Alienation Strategies Disrupt the Attachment Between Child and Targeted Parent

The adult children of PAS described 32 different parental alienation strategies their parents used. These are examined through the lens of attachment theory as developed by John Bowlby (1969). Within this framework, the strategies are viewed as effective tools for interfering with the developing or existing attachment relationship between the child and the targeted parent.

Parental Alienation is a Form of Emotional Abuse

Parental alienation can be considered a form of emotional abuse for at least two reasons. First, the strategies that the alienating parents used to effectuate the alienation are emotionally abusive in and of themselves. That is, the alienating parents verbally assaulted, isolated, corrupted, rejected, terrorized, ignored, and over-pressured the children in order to alienate them from the targeted parent. These behaviors are part and parcel of what constitutes emotional abuse of children. In addition, it is proposed that separation of a child from a parent also constitutes emotional abuse.

Realization of Parental Alienation is a Process Not an Event

It was usually a slow and painful process for the interviewees to realize that they had been turned against a parent by the other parent. For most of the adult children of PAS, the realization did not occur in a single transformative event. The defense mechanisms constructed to support the alienation take time to be broken through: they involve denying that the alienating parent is selfish and manipulative, denying that the targeted parent has positive qualities, denying that the child wants a relationship with the targeted parent, denying that the child is afraid of losing the love of the alienating parent. Although all of the adult children had come to realize that they had been alienated from one parent by the other, the length of time they had been alienated and the age of awareness varied. Length of time alienated ranged from 7 to 47 years, with an average of about 20 years.

The Impact of Parental Alienation is Life Long and May be Intergenerational

A significant portion experienced depression, divorce, and substance-abuse problems as adults. They had difficulty trusting others as well as trusting themselves. In addition, several reported becoming alienated from their own children. Three different patterns of the intergenerational transmission of PAS are presented.

How the Targeted Parent Responds Makes a Difference

What did the targeted parents do that helped their children to eventually realize that they had been manipulated? What more could they have done to prevent or mitigate the alienation?

* * * * *

Thirty-two different strategies were used to alienate the children from their targeted parent. Twelve of those strategies were described in detail above. These strategies can be understood in the context of attachment theory in that they contributed to the child believing that the targeted parent was unavailable and unsafe rather than an emotionally responsive and physically available attachment figure.

These alienating strategies worked together to give the child the following three-part message:The alienating parent is the only parent who cares, the alienating parent is needed in order for the child to feel safe and good about him- or herself, the targeted parent -- who is dangerous and does not love the child anyway -- must be disavowed in order to maintain the love and approval of the alienating parent. Boldly stated this way, the message resembles the message cult leaders convey to cult members.

There appears to be a wide range of actions and behaviors that constitute parental alienation. No one behavior characterized the full sample and no alienating parent utilized just one strategy. Thus, Parental Alienation Syndrome can be effectuated through many possible combinations of strategies, and there is no one formula for doing so. This means that counteracting will be difficult because the targeted parent may not even know all the strategies that the alienating parent is using. Most alienating parents probably participate in bad-mouthing, but bad-mouthing alone may not be sufficient to effectuate alienation and countering the bad-mouthing may not be enough to counter the alienation. Thus, parents who believe that they are the targets of parental alienation should assume that the alienating parent is utilizing an array of strategies. In the absence of tested interventions for Parental Alienation Syndrome, it may be advisable for targeted parents (or parents who suspect they are being targeted) to address the underlying goal of the alienating parent rather than the specific behaviors (which may be unknown and/or may change over time). Thus, rather than saying to a child, "I think your mother/father may be saying bad things about me to you." To which the child may accurately respond, "That is not true." It may make sense to say, "I think that your mother/father wants to come between us or make you feel unsafe/uncomfortable with me or have you believe that you can only love one of us at a time." If there is any chance that alienation is occurring, such a statement is more likely to reflect reality than any statement about a specific strategy. In order to avoid the appearance of badmouthing the alienating parent, which might backfire, a targeted parent might also want to consider saying to the child "I really want to be close with you and help you feel safe and good about yourself." In this way, the targeted parent is aiming to fortify the attachment relationship without bringing the alienating parent into the picture at all.

It is also important to bear in mind that the list of strategies generated by the adult children is limited by what can be remembered by the adult children of PAS and by what they understand to be the actions that led to the alienation. It is quite possible that some of the strategies used by the alienating parents were so subtle that they remain outside the awareness of the adult children. This line of thinking is supported by a study conducted by Baker and Darnall (2006) in which targeted parents were surveyed regarding the strategies that they believe the other parent was using in the service of parental alienation. While there was considerable overlap, there were also some strategies only known to the targeted parents.

* * * * *

There were 11 identifiable pathways or catalysts for the adult children of PAS to realize that one parent had alienated them from the targeted parent. In many cases, this led to a reunion with the targeted parent and a distancing from the alienating parent. Most of the adult children of PAS mentioned only one catalyst. But it is more likely that a confluence of factors were present. Their memory may not provide a complete understanding of what actually allowed them to become aware that they had been manipulated. The "good news" is that there are many ways to get from manipulated alienation to awareness and autonomy. Targeted parents currently alienated from a child can gather hope from these stories that it is possible for alienation to be reversed and that there are many ways that this can happen. The "bad news" is that it is not clear what the specific steps are to make this process more likely to occur. Some of these stories are so idiosyncratic that it is not possible to draw definitive conclusions about how the process of becoming aware of the alienation occurred.

It is also notable that most of the adult children of PAS experienced this process as slow and painful, although in the end they were grateful to know the truth and to have a more balanced understanding of their parents. They were happy to have found their way back to the targeted parent and to learn that for the most part this parent was not a dangerous unloving person as they had been to believe. At the same time the awareness of the alienation led to a greater degree of conflict in their relationship with the alienating parent. For some this had occurred anyway as that parent turned on them. Nonetheless, awareness of the alienation created a greater degree of separation and lack of shared reality with the alienating parent than had been present in their relationship up to that point. As Alice Miller (1988) argued, denying the truth allows one to avoid acknowledging a painful reality. Not knowing something that is true entails a loss of self as one closes off parts of one's own thoughts and feelings that -- if conscious -- would lead to the realization. Miller believed that the body holds onto the truth and that pain is incurred when the mind and the body are in conflict, "If your cognitive system asserts the opposite of what the cells in your body unerringly identify as the truth you will live in a permanent state of inner disorder" (1988, p. 5). For this reason, there was a palpable sigh of relief that could be felt as the participants described with candor the shortcomings of the alienating parent, including the reality that this person had put his/her own needs above the needs of his/her own children.

Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D. is a research psychologist and Parental Alienation Syndrome expert. This article has been edited and excerpted from Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties that Bind (WW Norton, April 2007). Dr. Baker is also the author of Beyond the High Road: Responding to 17 Parental Alienation Strategies without Compromising Your Morals or Harming Your Child. For more information, visit her website at
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3 Responses
  1. GOOD DAD Says:

    have persisted, but her condition is withheld from me.
    Elaine Baggerley of CPS began diagnosing my daughter as ADHD, & more, on their first meeting.
    Even with the mother’s sworn statements of medically abusing/neglecting my daughter & with the doctors corroborating records of her mistreatment, Judge Suzanne Stovall took my daughter from me & placed her into the mother’s sole custody.
    The mother continues to deliberately, medically mistreat my daughter, neglects her dental care, & the high risk lifestyles exposes my daughter to diseases.
    The mother had a history & pattern of medically mistreating her other children with steroids, psychiatric drugs, numerous prescriptions, OTC medicines, etc.
    Depositions, CISD records, Sworn statements, & other Certified & Certifiable evidence revealed a home with an AGGRAVATED SEXUAL ASSAULT FELON, wrist CUTTING, daily VIOLENCE, runaway teen, destruction, criminals, drug abuse (METH, COCAINE, XANAX, OXYCOTIN, etc), frequent police visits & a SEARCH WARRANT confiscated drug paraphernalia, multiple sex partners, multiple suspensions for drugs & violence, burglary, vandalism, shootings, disease, fighting, screaming, profanity, pornography (incl BEASTIALITY), boys & men sleeping over, my daughter sleeping at men’s homes, being taught obscene language & gestures, & so much more.
    With the knowledge &/or support of Dr Edward G Silverman, Lynn T Coleman, Theresa Burbank, & Elaine Baggereley, the mother has so thwarted my daughter’s education that at 6½ years old she is below District Guidelines, in Kindergarten,.
    At 4 years old my daughter had her own computer, & could count to 29, count to 100 by tens, write her name, recognize most letters, could tie her shoes, play checkers, play computer & card games, & much more.
    At 6+ years old, she could do none of those, & now she requires special attention, & is a behavioral problem.
    The mother provided & reared her young children on GRAPHICALLY SEXUALLY VIOLENT entertainment & since infancy has repeatedly exposed my daughter to the same.
    Known to Dr Edward G Silverman, Theresa Burbank, Lynn T Coleman, the mother’s other children became violent, drug abusing criminals, who attended alternative high schools.
    20 months of Theresa Burbank’s therapy & the mother’s sole parenting have resulted in my daughter being referred to a psychiatrist & probably psychiatric drugs.
    The mother’s family & friends have threatened me at my home & away, & my property has been vandalized.
    I have received harassing, obscene, & middle of the night phone calls.
    The well paid, well insured mother has lived rent & utilities free for 3½ years, but claims to be deep in debt from undisclosed medical expenses.
    The mother has committed tax, CHIPs, Medicaid, & insurance fraud at least since 2003.
    I have neither a history of, nor is there any evidence that I have ever been violent, destructive, abusive, hostile, etc.
    My debt exceeds twice my gross annual income & is increasing.
    Fees & expenses have exceeded 4 times my gross annual income & are increasing.
    I have recorded nearly every contact with the mother, CPS, ad litem, & many others.
    I will be appealing to the Texas: Bar, Judicial Review, Attorneys General, Appellate Courts, Supreme Court, Board of Examiners of Psychologists, TDFPS, etc. & will include:
    medical & doctors records of years of mistreatment
    CPS reports of violence, drugs, medical mistreatment, etc
    psychological evaluations include lying, abuse, etc
    depositions of lying, violence, drug abuse, sex, etc
    CISD records of violence, drugs, sex, etc
    police reports of violence, drugs, shootings, etc
    myspace of violence, drug abuse, sex, pornography, etc
    emails to/from the: ad litem, psychologist, therapist
    I have always loved & wanted my daughter & always will, & I will never, ever, ever give up trying to rescue her.

  2. GOOD DAD Says:

    The following injustice is happening right now, in Montgomery County, Texas, under our laws & in our courts.
    In July, 2009, I was massacred in a 3¼ year custody battle for my, now, 6½ year old daughter.
    Convicted child molesters have more access to their children than I do.
    Calls, letters, & gifts are intercepted, & I have no visitation.
    The mother also secreted her 2 month & 14 month old babies 1200 miles from their father & for 15½ years, her family prevented all contact.
    The mother’s history & pattern of relentless hostility, aggression, alienation, & medical mistreatment was well known to evaluating psychologist Edward G Silverman, therapist Theresa Burbank, ad litem Lynn Coleman, the attorneys,
    Judge Suzanne Stovall continued the case for years because the mother’s discovery was incomplete, but contradictorily refused to compel the mother to produce discovery.
    Judge Suzanne Stovall inconsistently ruled on motions, laws, or rules to favor the mother.
    Judge Suzanne Stovall ignored the overwhelming certified/certifiable evidence of violence, hostility, aggression, & abuse by the mother, her family & her friends.
    My lawyers complained that she favored the mother.
    Judge Suzanne Stovall punished me with over 20% plus an additional $100, monthly child support.
    For 3 years, I pleaded for a trial or in some way, to present a case.
    Despite 3 years of Hearings, Rule 11’s, hundreds of emails, letters, & conversations, Judge Suzanne Stovall refused to compel the mother to produce discovery, yet granted the mother years of continuances because her discovery was incomplete; including continuing a preferentially set trial.
    The mother & lawyers knew how devastating her discovery would be, but Judge Suzanne Stovall refused to compel production.
    Judge Suzanne Stovall disregarded over 3 years & over 300 exhibited provable charges of Contempt against the mother, including failure to pay child support, interfering with child custody, & worse.
    It has required the written threat of a Writ of Habeas Corpus for the mother to surrender my daughter to me.
    I paid the jury fee & adamantly insisted on a trial, but without my signature, without my lawyer's signature, & without a trial, Judge Suzanne Stovall signed a Final Decree that was written to remove me from my daughter’s life.
    Aggravated perjury, forged letters, falsified evidence, unsupported, inconsistent, & unchallenged false accusations, by the mother, CPS, et al., outweighed exhaustive undisputed facts, certified evidence, sworn statements, & objective/testable/verifiable documentation, disproving the accusations, & proving neglect & abuse by the mother.
    For years, the mother has secreted our daughter to doctors, & medically mistreated her.
    For at least 15 months, the mother yo-yoed my daughter on steroids.
    But when pediatricians & specialists examined, x-rayed, diagnosed, & ordered treatment for a real & progressing condition, the mother rejected the doctors & with the support of Elaine Baggerley, Theresa Burbank , Edward G Silverman, & Lynn Coleman, Judge Suzanne Stovall removed my daughter from me.
    Even at the repeated request of one specialist and with weeks of notice to attend the appointments, ad litem, Lynn Coleman, & the mother refused.
    Symptoms have persisted, but her condition is withheld from me.
    Elaine Baggerley of CPS began diagnosing my daughter as ADHD, & more, on their first meeting.
    Even with the mother’s sworn statements of medically abusing/neglecting my daughter & with the doctors corroborating records of her mistreatment, Judge Suzanne Stovall took my daughter from me & placed her into the mother’s sole custody.
    The mother continues to deliberately, medically mistreat my daughter, neglects her dental care, & the high risk lifestyles exposes my daughter to diseases.
    The mother had a history & pattern of medically mistreating her other children with steroids, psychiatric drugs

  3. Dear Good Dad,

    I am pleased to meet you but so sorry it is under these circumstances. I am about to read your post again shortly but did see enough to know that it needed to be published here. One of the things that caught my eye was the part about your ex wife medically mistreating your daughter and I think other children? I am going to post some information that I ran across last night. It does cover medically mistreating children and it is most definatly a syndrome NOT to be ignored by DFCS or anyone. I am shocked that CPS has not removed the child from her care! Not very much shocks me regarding CPS, Juvenile and family court corruption. This however was not anything to be taken lightly/ignored by the court. The article "Parental Alienation Is A Pattern of Severe Psychological and Emotional Child Abuse
    by Dr. Randy Rand ", will be up shortly. If there were any doubts in my or my fiance's mind at all about the severity of his ex wifes PA they are all gone now...

    Thank you