PTSD confused with Parental Alienation Syndrome


Parental Alienation Syndrome is a term that was coined by Richard A Gardner in the 1980’s.  Parental Alienation Syndrome is a grouping of symptoms seen in children of divorce who act alienated or apprehensive towards one parent.  The proof of PAS focuses on the symptoms of the child.  When “Symptoms of PAS” is seen in a child it is assumed that the parent the child feels bonded and safe with is the abusing/ offending parent.   Likewise it is assumed the parent the child feels alienation towards is the “good” parent.

There are many problems with PAS.  Imagine the irony that the symptoms of PAS are very closely related to the symptoms of PTSD.  Symptoms of PTSD are caused by traumatic experiences, often it is the case that PTSD is caused by Child Abuse.  According to Wikipedia “Gardner himself emphasized that PAS only applied in situations where there was no actual abuse or neglect had not occurred, but by 1998, noted an increase in the awareness of PAS had led to an increase in its misapplication as an exculpatory legal maneuver.”

Ask yourself.  If a child was abused by a parent what symptoms would that child display towards the abusing parent?  Don’t you think an abused child would feel alienated towards their abuser?

Here I have a side by side comparison of the symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, most often caused by trauma or abuse) and the symptoms of PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome).  Read over these symptoms.  As you read see if you can see why Richard A Gardner said PAS does not apply in cases of abuse.  See if you can see why Gardner was concerned that PAS was being “misapplied.”

Symptoms of PTSD according to the MAYO Clinic Symptoms of PAS according to About Parenting
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event.
  • Shuns the parent in question.
  • Negative feelings about yourself or other people.
  • Inability to experience positive emotions.
  • Unjustly hates the parent.
  • Views the parent as singularly bad; sees nothing good in the parent in question.
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event.
  • Appears unable to distinguish lies from the truth in regards to the parent.
  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event.
  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks).
  • Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event.
  • Defames the parent with invented stories and lies.
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior.
  • Always being on guard for danger.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Being easily startled or frightened.
  • Uses inappropriate language to deride the parent in public.
  • Denigrates, belittles, or disparages the parent.
  • Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event.
  • Feeling emotionally numb.
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Shows extreme resistance to seeing or maintaining contact with the parent.

PTSD symptoms can look like PAS.  PAS is very frequently “misapplied” in our courts towards abuse cases. 

Can you imagine a court case going more backwards then blaming the symptoms of abuse on the supportive parent and removing the custody of the supporting parent, giving full custody of the abused child to their abuser?  I can.  Because this is what happens over and over again in our court systems when Gardner’s symptoms of PAS are “misapplied.”

Of course a child who has been abuse by a parent is going to feel apprehension and alienation towards the abuser.  Of course an abuse child is going to shun the abuser, feel hate towards their abuser.  Of course a child who is abused will show resistance to being around their abuser.  If that child is brave and has a good support system then that child will tell horrible stories about the abuser.  In fact reporting an abuser is so difficult for a child they will most likely only tell an adult if they feel safe around them.    Symptoms of PTSD are most certainly going to be present in cases of Child Abuse.

It is unfortunate that when a child reports abuse they are then labeled with PAS.  This is very traumatic for the child.  How would you feel if you told authorities you were hurt by an adult just to have the authorities say you were making up lies?  How would you feel if the adults supporting you were accused of abusing you? Really, looking at this from a child’s point of view it is easy to see how backwards this all is.

The unfortunate truth is Parental Alienation is real and does happen.  Most often Parental Alienation is a manipulation used by the abusive parent to groom the supportive parent into submission, or to attempt to alienate the child from the support systems that may help the child out of the abusive situations.

While PAS focuses solely on the symptoms in the child,  Parental Alienation focus on the factual and proven actions of the parents.  The syndrome is a manipulation of our courts and a twisting of PTSD in order for the abuser to take custody of their victim children.  Parental Alienation is in fact devious actions the abuser takes against the supporting parent in order to manipulate and control the people involved.  The Syndrome turns the truth upside down and accuses the “good” supportive parent of causing the symptoms of PTSD that were caused by the abusive parent.

Just encase you are still battling in your mind with the validity of PAS,  Wikipedia has these shocking statements about Parental Alienation Syndrome. 

PAS has not been accepted by experts in psychology, child advocacy or the study of child abuse or legal scholars. PAS has been extensively criticized by members of the legal and mental health community, who state that PAS should not be admissible in child custody hearings based on both science and law.

PAS is not recognized by the American Medical Association or the American Psychiatric Association.  The American Psychological Association declined to give a position on PAS, but raised concerns over its lack of supporting data and how the term is used and the APA’s 1996 Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family expressed concern that custody evaluators use PAS as a means of giving custody to fathers despite a history of violence, a concern shared by other commentators.  The United States National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges rejected PAS, recommending it not be used for the consideration of child custody issues.

PAS is not included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

Gardner’s formulation of PAS is critiqued as lacking a scientific basis,  and as a hypothesis whose proponents have failed to meet the scientific burden of proof to merit acceptance.  .

The theoretical foundation of PAS has been described as incomplete, simplistic and erroneous for ignoring the multiple factors (including the behaviors of the child, parents and other family members) that may contribute to parental alienation, family dysfunction and a breakdown in attachment between a parent and a child.

PAS has been criticized for making clinical work with children who are alienated more confusing and for labeling children with a mental diagnosis who may react angrily to their parents’ separation or divorce.  Gardner’s analysis has been criticized for inappropriately assigning all responsibility of the child’s behavior to one parent when the child’s behavior is oftentimes, but not always, the result of a dynamic in which both parents and the child play a role.


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