The risk factors for PAS are not always ‘messy divorces’. Likewise, messy divorces will not always be alienating ones. The parents are the cause of the alienation of the children from the target parent. So what does an alienating parent look like? Just like you and me, with a little difference in their response to the emotions of a divorce.
The primary risk factor for PAS is a messy divorce. When a divorce is complicated, angry or bitter, the chances of emotions running to an extreme level are greatly increased. It is these emotions that precipitate alienation tactics from one parent towards the other. These emotions include anger, fear, disappointment and hurt. When the emotions run high in a divorce proceeding, PAS is much more likely to be incorporated by the more unstable and emotional parent.
The alienating parent will frequently exhibit feelings of unwillingness to involve the children with the other parent, and not necessarily on the degree of emotions that are expressed at the emotional times of divorce. Alienation can manifest in varying levels, from mild to severe. At the mildest levels, the expressed alienating phrases may be unconscious and flippant, and not meant to be derogatory but are rather manifestations of extreme emotions.
As the progression of PAS passes into more moderate and severe cases, there may be expressions of a psychiatric disorder, but that is not always the case. The vulnerability of the children involved in a divorce is another risk factor for PAS. Children who are more dependent on one parent are more susceptible to alienation from a target parent. Children who are also lacking in self-esteem, self-worth and self-image are also more likely targets for an alienator to increase the exclusion of the target parent and precipitate emotions in the child that are characteristic of PAS.
Alienators who are more obvious in their approach to denigrate the target parent to children will prey on the weaknesses in the relationship the child has with the target parent. Therefore, parents who have problematic relationships with their children in the marriage will see a higher instance of PAS because the relationship is easily degraded with the children. This is, perhaps, more common with teenage children who see the target parent as the ‘mean parent’ or the disciplinary parent who is always the one doling out punishment for wrong-doings.
Children who are readily eager to please may also be a higher risk factor for PAS. Living with an alienator parent, they will seek to please the alienator by agreeing with the negative statements made about the target parent. Then, the children will precipitate the negative comments on their own, perhaps to the target parent, or when the target parent is scheduled for visitation or communication.
It is important to realize the symptoms of PAS as early on as possible and to interject yourself into your children’s lives with regularity and a response that is opposite of alienation. By showing concern and care for the alienating parent, you can be slowly undoing what is being done to your children.