Parental Alienation vs. Parental Alienation Syndrome

Parental Alienation vs. Parental Alienation Syndrome

If you’ve ever heard of parental alienation, chances are you’ve also heard of parental alienation syndrome.

At first glance — and without a psych degree — the two terms almost seem interchangeable. However, there is a distinct difference between parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome

What is Parental Alienation? 

Parental alienation describes the situation in which a child is encouraged by one parent to reject the other parent unjustly and without cause. The strategies that the targeting parent may attempt can be broken down into five general categories

  • Poisonous messages to the child about the targeted parent
  • Limiting contact and communication between the child and the targeted parent
  • Attempting to erase and/or replace the targeted parent 
  • Encouraging the child betrays the targeted parent’s trust
  • Undermining the authority of the targeted parent

Usually, parental alienation occurs in situations of divorce, although this isn’t always the case. As long as one parent (the “favored” parent) is purposefully trying to target the other parent (the “targeted” parent) by way of the children, parental alienation can occur in any household. 

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome? 

You already know what parental alienation is, but what is a syndrome? A syndrome refers to a group of symptoms that occur together and may also be called a condition. If a child is experiencing parental alienation syndrome (PAS), they might display several signs, such as: 

  • Hatred toward the targeted parent 
  • Rationalizations that don’t make any sense or sound repeated (likely by the favored parent) 
  • Seeing a distinct “good” parent and “bad parent” and putting that favored parent on a pedestal 
  • Denial that the favored parent influences their thoughts
  • Generally negative behavior, like rudeness, spitefulness, and ungratefulness towards the targeted parent
  • Has a hatred towards the targeted parent’s extended family as well

Parental alienation syndrome in children is diagnosable using symptoms like these. But if you only recognize some of these symptoms, then that may be because there are three types of parental alienation, which vary in severity:

  • Mild: The child resists seeing the targeted parent at first but then enjoys time together once they’re left alone.
  • Moderate: The child generally resents the targeted parent almost all the time.
  • Severe: The child avoids speaking or visiting the targeted parent at all costs. Younger children may hide when it’s time to see the other parent.  

The Key Differences

Parental alienation is the umbrella term that refers to the act of one parent attempting to alienate the child from the other parent without just cause. 

Parental alienation syndrome is a diagnosable condition characterized by specific syndromes. While the child doesn’t have to display all of the symptoms (because the level of alienation may vary), more than half is usually a good indicator of an active syndrome. 

Take depression as an example to tell the difference between the two: “Depression” is the term that describes what the disorder is and what it does, but “depressive disorder” is the condition a person experiences due to the predetermined set of characterized symptoms. 

Contact Hickey & Hull

If anything in this article sounds familiar, you might be the targeted parent of parental alienation. While this phenomenon is not uncommon, it can be hard to reverse once immense emotional and mental damage is done. 
The good news is that Hickey & Hull can help you today: Call us today or fill out our online form, and we’ll get started. Our River Valley office number is 479.434.2414, and our Northwest Arkansas number is 479.802.6560.