An exploration on young adults' experiences of childhood parental alienation syndrome
Borstlap, Orgelena Maryna
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For over 20 years, the phenomenon of parental alienation and its related characteristics has been described in literature. Various clinicians independently researched and described the pathological alignment of a child within the context of divorce. In the 1980’s Richard Gardner coined this “Parental alienation syndrome” (PAS). According to Gardner PAS is characterised by a child’s profound preoccupation with criticism against a parent. This criticism is overstated and ungrounded, and it is caused by both conscious and unconscious behaviour by the alienating parent, which influences the child negatively against the alienated parent. In essence, PAS is the subjective contamination of the child’s understanding and beliefs about his/her environment. The alienating parent gives the impression that the targeted parent is unworthy, dangerous, unloving and deserving of the child’s rejection. This is done by a series of alienation strategies like bad-mouthing, blaming, limiting contact and belittling. The alienated child, as a result responds with unjustified expressions of hate and discontent towards the targeted parent. The experience of divorce can be very challenging to children. Research about the relationship between divorce and child adjustment holds that a child’s exposure to inter parental conflict and the quality of the parent-child relationship are the two major predictors of children’s adjustment during divorce. Research suggests that the negative effects of PAS may include guilt, self-hatred, distortion of reality testing, and general emotional and psychological problems. The aim of this study was to provide an in-depth exploration and description of how PAS is experienced, and the possible effect it has on children from the perspective of young adults who was possible exposed to PAS as children. This was done by exploring their memories and their recalled experiences of their parents’ divorce and the possible effect on their current lives. In this study a collective exploratory/descriptive case study design was used. Nine voluntary participants, between 18 and 28 years of age, were chosen for this study by means of purposeful sampling strategies. Data were collected through in-depth semi-structured interviews that were audio taped and transcribed verbatim. Transcribed data were analysed by means of thematic analysis from which themes and sub-themes were derived. Two main themes with sub-themes were identified. It was found that some of the parental behaviour evident in PAS cases may fall under specific subtypes of psychological maltreatment and leave children feeling angry, worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, incompetent and sceptical about trusting other individuals. It was found that parents who engage in alienation strategies are likely to discourage autonomous behaviour and lack nurturance and emotional responsiveness towards their children’s needs. As result children exposed to PAS learn parental love and acceptance is conditional and is based needs fulfilment of the alienating parent. These expectations are brought forward from the early relationship into adulthood and influences individual’s expectations, behaviour, and beliefs about relationships across the lifespan. The results indicate that the lack parental support, encouragement, and responsiveness may negatively influence the self-esteem, autonomy, competence, and relatedness of individuals exposed to PAS. They reported difficulties with trust, intimacy and social skills and depression as adults.
- Health Sciences 
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