The 8 Symptoms Of Parental Alienation

parental alienationParental Alienation Awareness Day is Monday, April 25. Leading into the day, DadsDivorce is speaking with a number of parental alienation experts and survivors about the factors that contribute to a parent being alienated and what affect that can have on families.

Today, we’re featuring a guest article from Dr. William Bernet, who is president of the Parental Alienation Study Group and Professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University.

Dr. Bernet reviews the eight criteria for diagnosing parental alienation that were originally developed in 1985 by Dr. Richard Gardner. These eight symptoms all occur in the child rather than in either parent.

Although Dr. Bernet cautions that the symptoms still need to be studied further, he says they have held up well as indicators of parental alienation.

Check back next week for an interview with Dr. Bernet about the work being done by the PASG.


The campaign of denigration is when the child repeatedly complains about the parent over and over again.

In fact, that’s often the first thing the child says when he or she comes into my office. They will say, “Dr. Bernet, let me tell you some things about my father that he did wrong.”

That’s the campaign. Even though they have these complaints, the justification for the complaints are frivolous.

Frivolous rationalization for the complaint

That’s the second symptom. The child will give some silly reason for not wanting to ever see the targeted parent again.

Lack of ambivalence

A really interesting symptom is called lack of ambivalence.

When we have relationships with people, they’re usually ambivalent in the sense that there are some good points and some bad points, and that’s normal. For almost everyone we know we can think of some good qualities and not-so-good qualities about the person.

These children have a lack of ambivalence, meaning they see one parent as totally good. I talked with one child who said, “My mother is an angel and my father is a devil.” And he meant it.

Independent thinker phenomenon

This symptom is a bit controversial. It’s important to note that we’re not criticizing children for thinking independently. That’s not what this is about.

There are some children who come in and they spontaneously say, “Dr. Bernet, these are my ideas about my father or mother. I thought of this all by myself. Nobody influenced me. No, my mom didn’t tell me what to say, but this is what I think about my father.”

In other words, the child goes out of his or her way to say they thought about these ideas without being influenced by the alienating parent.

Automatic support/Reflexive support

This symptom involves the child always choosing the side of one particular parent in any given argument or disagreement.

A typical situation might involve a family meeting. Regardless of the topic that comes up, the child will automatically side with the preferred parent and automatically disagree with the targeted parent.

Absence of guilt

Another symptom is absence of guilt. These children can be very disrespectful and say or do horrible things with absolutely no qualms.

They show a disregard for the parent’s feelings and emotions and it does not bother them at all to do or say these horrible things about one of their parents.

Borrowed scenarios

Borrowed scenarios refers to how a child tells a story about something that happened. Their story will be the exact same story their preferred parent has described.

In other words, if we’re doing an evaluation we might interview the preferred parent. They might tell us about something that happened with the targeted parent. Then later, we interview the child and the child gives exactly the same story and will sometimes even use identical words.

Spread of animosity

The final symptom refers to the spread of animosity to other people.

In other words, if the father is the targeted parent, the child’s hate spreads from the father to his family members such as aunts and uncles and grandparents. Even though these relatives have done nothing wrong, the child will suddenly hate them and never want to see them because of their connection to the father.

In extreme circumstances, this animosity can even extend to the targeted parent’s pets.

Check back throughout the next month for various articles and interviews about parental alienation. 

End of Content Icon

13 comments on “The 8 Symptoms Of Parental Alienation

    This article so parallels the alienation from my daughter that I have been forced to suffer from these past 17 years. It was even noted in our court ordered GAL report that was first published on July 21, 2000 in which it specifically states – “her (my daughter’s) statements about Bob (me) were riddled with evidence of having uncritically accepted much of her mother’s statements and agendas” and in this very same report it was even stated – “I tried to get the daughter into an adolescent group but mom acted ineffective and it didn’t happen. Plus, mom was talking to Mika (daughter) about what was going to happen, how they might lose the house because of Bob (me). She was using her as a sounding board”. But even at that, this very same GAL person later stated – “It would be counter-productive to mandate contact between Mika (daughter) and her father. She should make her own decisions in this regard.” So here’s my complete story of how the Family Court system dragged out my case which indeed cost me several thousand dollars in legal expenses and tried to silence me. All the lies, misrepresentations of my character, unsubstantiated as well as uncorroborated documents that summarize the entire nightmare including the loss of my fatherly rights to see my own daughter that I was faced with and continue to struggle from 17 years later.

    Divorce Proceedings Part I:
    Divorce Proceedings Part II:
    Divorce Proceedings Part III:
    Divorce Proceedings Part IV:
    Divorce Proceedings Part V:
    Divorce Proceedings Part VI-A:
    Divorce Proceedings Part VI-B:
    Divorce Proceedings Part VI – A:
    Divorce Proceedings Part VI – B:
    Divorce Proceedings Part VI – C:
    Divorce Proceedings Part VI – D:
    Divorce Proceedings Part VII-A:
    Divorce Proceedings Part VII-B:

    This type of behavior comes from people justifying any sort of wrong behavior- including affairs. Change the word child to cheating spouse and the supposedly unduly influencing parent to the other man or woman and you have the same type of gaslighting and rationalisation. It’s all relative. People caught up in affairs somtime’s cannot see anything good or worthwhile about their partners and even their children and will say anything to justify their behaviour. It strikes me that if the Divorce was truly mutually agreed on and amicable and there was no betrayal involved, this type of alienation wouldn’t be happening. If there was some shoddy behaviour on the part of either parent (eg if dad had had an affair) the kids would interpret it as a personal betrayal and the’offending’ parent would need to be a lot more compassionate, humble and patient if they were truly sincere about wanting a relationship.

    Wow, this hits home JoJo15. When my wife cheated on me multiple time, she would say those things to her friends. After the divorce (why after) her friends would tell me what she said about her affairs and the reasoning behind it.

    This article is interesting, but I feel it relies to heavily on what a child says, and how it is not of concern. My children are starting to feel the disinterest of school activities by their mom, and wants me to help them with their homework even when at her house. They feel neglected. I listen to their concerns, never trying to make excuses for mom, but not dismissing their thoughts either. I listen, give compassion, and we work on a plan on how we can better work on things, with or without mom’s help. I often tell them they should talk about this with their mom but they say it doesn’t help. But I will always still encourage them to talk with their mom, no matter what.

    This not only occurs with children, but also with adult children. During my divorce, my adult children stopped talking to me as well as the young teenager. I hope that someday they will realize what has happen. It has been five years. The good thing is, they don’t ask for anything because they don’t communicate with me. That is about the only good thing about the adult children. For the younger one, it is very sad.

    Although Gardner pioneered parental alienation and much progress has been made in his name, the push now is to contextualize it in terms acceptable to the APA. Without their blessings further progress will be stymied by ideologically-driven factions. In this regard much attention is given to Childress as we petition the APA to revise its position. Basically, using existing APA diagnostic categories, parental alienation is being defined and diagnosed as Child Psychological Abuse.

    Gardner was chosen for discreditation by courts who saw his suicide as a mental defect…plus, alienation takes away their bid for bias that works well when it comes to grant funding. Hopefully you’ll be successful with the APA…but don’t be surprised if their funding has its own caveat towards the bias.

    I have witnessed all of these actions towards me and my family in the last 7 years. The alienation process was successful with two of my children but the youngest still holds on to what she believe it is surprising that alienation is so successful in the court system and with professionals but it happens and it is real and it hurts. mostly the children who are scarred for life.

    The court system sees so little of real life, that they easily interpret things wrong. Its why shared parenting is so important. It is the most effective means of preventing parental alienation.

    But they lose funding. View “Deconstructing America”, parts 1 & 2 on YouTube. “Real Life’ to the courts is gaining statistics to gain funding. That’s the reason few, if any, court decisions, EXCEPT the funding angle, makes sense.

    Wow, I’m sorry you have to deal with that. I can’t imagine alienating my son from his father… I’m trying to get him to be involved. I’ve been trying for 3 years with no luck. And my son is special needs… he won’t have anything to do with him, he alienates himself from our son… and here you are, you want the relationship with your children and that right has been ripped from under you… it’s just wrong… I pray they see the truth one day…. no parent should do anything to cause a child to have negative feelings for the other parent. If the parent is “bad” let the child find out on their own, through their own experience. Allow them to form their own opinion of their own parent. And always tell the to have respect for the other parent…. that just makes me so angry…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *