Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent. The Fifth Symptom

This is the fifth in a series of post devoted to the symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome as originally described by Richard Gardner, MD. You can read the first post here.

The fifth symptom is Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict.

Within the context of parental dispute, be it divorce or post divorce, unless there as been actual abuse and or neglect in the extreme, children will typically contort themselves to not takes sides in the parental dispute. If a child feels one parent is being ganged up on in some way, they will often go to their aid and support their position.


This reaction is certainly common but not universal. In cases where abuse has been present, one may see the child taking the side against the abuser, however this is still more the exception than the rule. However when abuse is not present, this reflex to take one parent’s side will simply not be absent.

Suffice it to say, children like to stay out of the middle of their parents disputes. They want nothing to do with it, and will typically head for their rooms or some other exit to get away from it.

One of the reasons for this reflex of avoidance of parental conflict is the possibility that they may get drawn into it. If, for example, during an argument between two parents, one parent looks at the child and asks for confirmation of their position, any such confirmation will typically represent a betrayal of the other parent. Again, this is something that children will contort themselves to avoid.

It is from this backdrop then, that this symptom of Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict finds its greatest resonance.

When an alienated child actively and even aggressively takes whatever position that the alienating parent takes, we can see how unnatural this is. When this symptom is present, the alienated child will support even the most absurd position if it is offered by the alienating parent. In group settings or family counseling settings, even when the child is offered indisputable proof that the position of the alienating parent is impossible, they will continue to support it.

It is under these extreme circumstances that the depth of the pathology of alienation is exposed.

As Gardner originally described, the parental alienation dynamic is a fear driven phenomenon. That is the alienated child is fearful of displeasing the alienating parent, and this fear is at the core of alienation. As this process takes root and grows, this fear of the alienating parent operates something like the fear of reprisal that a gang member would feel if he or she disobeyed the group.

When we are speaking about children and the “gang” is a parent with whom they spend most if not all of their time, the fear is palpable. It is this level of fear and its consequent “identification with the aggressor” or alienating parent, that drives the pathological behavior and distorted thinking of the alienated child. This symptom is one very clear expression of this.

This symptom can be baffling and dangerously distorting to the naive custody evaluator who is not familiar with parental alienation. Under this circumstance, they are likely to take what the alienated child says at face value.

This symptom is therefore very important for the evaluator, the guardian or whomever else the court should appoint to help determine the best interest of the child to understand.

As with the previous posts, I would appreciate any feedback regarding this symptom.

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.


The Eight Symptoms of Parental Alienation: The Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict


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