In the early 2000s, Dr. Richard Warshak, articulated three components to define Parent Alienation — a somewhat different schema than the one that Dr. Gardner developed. Per Dr. Washak’s heuristic, the following three elements must occur:
- The alienator engages in a campaign of rejection or denigration of the targeted parent.
- This campaign is not justifiable or reasonable.
3. The child rejects the parent whole or in part as a result of this campaign.
The Long Raging Debate Over Parental Alienation
The subtle discrepancies between Dr. Warshak and Dr. Gardner’s definitions are the tip of the iceberg of a bigger, more polarizing debate about this topic. We don’t need to wade too deeply into this debate, but you should appreciate its existence and understand its history and implications.
Prior to Dr. Gardner’s work in the 1980s, psychologists and other child development experts had identified similar unholy family alliances and triangulation schemes. In fact, one of the scariest and most famous stories of child brainwashing occurred way back in the late 1600s in Salem, Massachusetts. A group of impressionable young children became convinced that several women in the town were witches. These children believed in and repeated this narrative — that were witches among them who sought to do the town harm — and convinced their elders to go on a “witch hunt” that resulted in the deaths of many women as well as horrible acts of ostracism, rejection and wrongdoing.
History.com summarizes what happened as follows:
The infamous Salem witch trials began during the spring of 1692, after a group of young girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft. As a wave of hysteria spread throughout colonial Massachusetts, a special court convened in Salem to hear the cases; the first convicted witch, Bridget Bishop, was hanged that June. Eighteen others followed Bishop to Salem’s Gallows Hill, while some 150 more men, women and children were accused over the next several months. By September 1692, the hysteria had begun to abate and public opinion turned against the trials. Though the Massachusetts General Court later annulled guilty verdicts against accused witches and granted indemnities to their families, bitterness lingered in the community, and the painful legacy of the Salem witch trials would endure for centuries.
The Salem Witch Trials provide useful historical context to understand the tragedies that can occur (to individuals and communities) when children come to believe in and support destructive false narratives about other people.
Stockholm Syndrome: Another Useful and Relevant Concept
“Stockholm Syndrome” refers to the bizarre, counterintuitive behavior that certain hostages exhibit towards their captors, after a hostage crisis. If someone threatened you, held you at gunpoint, restricted your movement and forced your friends and loved ones to pay ransom for your release, you might think that you would hold a grudge toward the hostage takers and probably want to see severe justice done.
However, it’s a well-documented phenomenon that many hostages exit such ordeals feeling protective of their captors and even angry at those who secured their release.
In a similar way, a child subjected to an abusive, ongoing campaign of alienation may not “act out” against the alienating parent but rather, quite surprisingly, may grow fiercely supportive of that parent and defend him or her passionately.
For skillful, experienced assistance battling back against untrue allegations of child abuse or neglect, call the Williams Law Group, LLC immediately at (908) 810-1083.