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DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME AND BONA FIDE ABUSE-NEGLECT by Richard Gardner

Criteria for Differentiating Between PAS and Bona-Fide Abuse-Neglect in Children

Inducing a PAS in a child is a form of abuse. After all, it can result in the attentuation and even permanent destruction of the psychological bond between loving parents and their children. It is a form of emotional abuse, however, that is different from physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. Here the term abuse will generally refer to physical abuse and, to a lesser degree, sexual abuse. Included also in such abuse would be such behaviors as frequent menacing, threatening, hovering, and other forms of child intimidation. These often serve as precursors to physical and sometimes sexual abuse. All these abuses, and neglect as well, will be encompassed under the terms abuse-neglect. This group will be compared to PAS, which is basically a form of emotional abuse. This is the distinction that will serve the purposes of this article.

When attempting to differentiate between PAS and bona fide abuse, examiners would do well to refer first to the eight basic PAS symptoms as guidelines. In general, PAS children are likely to exhibit these symptoms, whereas children who have been genuinely abused-neglected are not likely to. Listed below are the eight primary manifestations of PAS.

  • Campaign of denigration
  • Weak, frivolous, or absurd rationalizations for the deprecation
  • Lack of ambivalence
  • The “independent thinker” phenomenon
  • Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental conflict
  • Absence of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the alienated parent
  • Presence of borrowed scenarios
  • Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent

Listed below are the primary symptoms seen in post-traumatic stress disorder (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV]; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Many abused children (but certainly not all) will exhibit such symptoms. This is especially the case if the abuse has been chronic. PAS children rarely exhibit these symptoms. Accordingly, reference to these symptoms, as well as the aforementioned primary manifestations of PAS, can be useful for differentiating between bona fide abuse-neglect and the PAS in children.

  • Preoccupation with the trauma
  • Episodic reliving and flashbacks
  • Dissociation
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization and psychic numbing
  • Recreational desensitization and fantasy play
  • Trauma-specific dreams
  • Fear of people who resemble the alleged abuser
  • Hypervigilance and/or frequent startle reactions
  • Running away from home or the site of the abuse
  • Pessimism about the future
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