Prior to his contribution in these areas, these techniques and tools simply did not exist. Gardner was their creator. He was esteemed throughout the world for these contributions.
Then, in 1984 as Richard Warshak wrote in his Introduction to the International Handbook of Parental Alienation Syndrome, he wrote that children can lie about what happened to them, especially in the context of their parents’ divorce, and he became a target. From that point on, he became a target for many groundless and distorted attacks from many sources.
It is important to note that Gardner recognized that children can certainly be the victims of abuse and that this is always a serious travesty. He regularly wrote about the deep psychopathology of the Pedophile and was clearly saying that tragically, some children are the victims of these unspeakable acts. He however was the first to say that children, under the right pressures and influences of an alienating parent, can allege things that simply did not happen. He recognized that this was a possibility.
Since that time, there has been much research verifying the truth of this. Children can lie rather easily when put in the right environment, such as a contested custody battle. This is not to say that they must, only that it is a possibility. While this is largely recognized now via much research, such was not the case when Gardner published his first article on PAS in a 1984.
I was fortunate enough to know and to work with Dr. Gardner and was even privileged to do an evaluation with him as a co-evaluator, so I got to observe his technique and his sharp clinical perceptiveness up very closely. What was plainly clear to anyone who worked with him was that he had an extraordinarily keen clinical eye which was seasoned by a great many years of experience and training. It was through this clinical eye that he began to keep tabs on the things he saw over and over again in cases where parental alienation was present.
It is from this clinical perception and extensive experience, that the pattern of the eight symptoms began to take shape. He began to see that the alienation was progressive and that as it progressed, more symptoms were increasingly in evidence to the point of its full blown severe form, where all would be in evidence.
In other words, he saw that this was a progressive phenomenon whose course could be charted, and whose future could be predicted.
These eight symptoms, therefore, became the touchstones of what he eventually labeled as Parental Alienation Syndrome. But enough background. On to the main discussion. The second symptom described by Richard Gardner, MD in 1984 is Weak or Frivolous Rationalizations for the Deprecation.
This typically refers to a child offering up trivial reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship with what is now known as the targeted or unfavored parent. During the evaluative process in the context of divorce when parental alienation is present, the alienated child is invariably asked why they do not wish to see the once loved, now unfavored parent.
What Gardner began to notice was that when that question is put to them, that there was an obvious searching for some reason to substantiate their position. Since the primary true reason is the influence and wishes of the other parent (which was not to be shared), the child would often come up with reasons which were incongruous with their insistence that they not see the unfavored or targeted parent.
In other words, rather silly reasons would be given to substantiate such a serious position. Such reasons might be that they do not like that parent’s cooking, or perhaps they do not like that parent’s home or housekeeping, or perhaps that they thought that the unfavored parent “talked like a hick” too much, or only wanted to take them to theme parks, and not spend time with them, or perhaps they did not like the way that they dressed or did not like the music they preferred. You get the idea.
When we look ahead to more serious and evolved forms of parental alienation, we often see more serious false accusations being leveled against the targeted parent. Under this scenario the targeted parent might be falsely accused of abuse or molestation, which would then be given as the reason for that parent not seeing that child.
However, even when this is the case, one will typically find that these weak, trivial and frivolous reasons to not see that parent preceded the much more serious ones.
As with all patterned things, there can be exceptions to this, but from my experience, even in cases where these more serious accusations begin to appear, one can still find what I think of as a quiet “sound track” of these trivial reasons playing in the background. For example, when evaluating a child who as accused a parent of having abused them in some way, if one asks the right questions, there will be evidence of these trivial reasons being present. This symptom then appears to have greater prominence in the earlier stages of the alienation process. As the alienation becomes more severe, so do - typically - the accusations.
When the allegations become serious to the point where law enforcement may become involved, it is these more serious allegations that receive the lion’s share of the attention. However this symptom, the weak and frivolous reasons for the deprecation of the parent remain, albeit more quietly. They are simply less relied and focused on, as the more serious accusations draw most if not all of the attention.
As always, I would be interested in your experiences with Parental Alienation, and this symptom in particular.
Parental Alienation Education for Attorneys
Effective litigation can change the face of Parental Alienation. The National Association of Parental Alienation Specialists, of which I am Co-Founder, has launched a new online workshop - "Litigating Family Law Cases with Parental Alienation" - please help us to spread the word about this FL Bar approved workshop by sharing this link with your attorney, and others specializing in Family Law.