Domestic Violence by Proxy

 No, You Haven't.

          "It is likely that the mother has sexual problems... In many cases she herself was sexually molested as a child... She may never have achieved an orgasm -- in spite of the fact that she was sexually molested. . ."

A mother writes:
"OK, liz, but now just about everything I have ever been accused of, or heard about what a mother ever does to alienate a child against their father, has been done by the father against me.  So how can you argue that PAS doesn't exist?   How do you not go there without making a hypocritical argument?  I just choke on arguing that it doesn't exist.  It was used unfairly and wrongfully against me, but now isn't what the father doing PAS?"

A lawyer writes:
"As for PAS, I have no scientific studies, but years of experience and I know it happens.  I think I even know how it happens in some cases.  One's distaste for Gardner's self-promotion, does not eliminate the problem, and it seems to be generated more by women than men.  See "Children Held Hostage" by Clawar and Rivlin, an ABA publication."

liz responds:

The answer is that one has to differentiate between (1) nasty, uncooperative and hateful behaviors (quite common reactive human behaviors and defense mechanisms, and very common and yet NORMAL -- negative is ALSO "normal," by the way -- behaviors in conflicted custody cases), and (2) the labeling of these as a psychological syndrome, i.e. sickness, i.e. can get worse if left unchecked, i.e. contagious even, i.e. a disease, i.e. mental defect that requires counseling and therapy, and vigorous prophylactic and corrective Treatment, and which (and this is the important part), once diagnosed, itself implies a whole lot of OTHER "symptoms," perhaps hidden, perhaps unobserved, but (evil, evil) THERE. I realize this is abstract, but "getting it" is crucial.

Here's a medical analogy, that maybe will make the difference easier to understand:

A person is observed blowing her nose a lot.  Sometimes her eyes water.  And then there's an occasional cough.  What's the diagnosis?  What shall we "call it?"

Okay, these are isolated behaviors, symptoms. Do we look at these and label them -- and EVERYONE observed to be having them -- with... oh say... bacterial pneumonia?  flu?  cold? allergy?  or is this just a smoker who also had a loved one die this week and is going around feeling weepy...

NOTE THAT ANY ARBITRARY "DIAGNOSIS" WILL IMPLY A WHOLE HECK OF A LOT OF OTHER THINGS -- a lot more than just what we have observed, which is, plain and simply, ONLY (1) nose-blowing, (2) a little eye watering, and (3) an occasional cough.  They might not even have the same cause!  They may involve absolutely no "syndrome" at all!!!

Can you see the difference now?  If it's the flu, we "treat" it with bedrest and we also "know" that the person is in fact infected with a virus and also has aches and pains and alimentary problems.  If it's pneumonia, we "know" that the person must have an antibiotic, that the person's lungs are filled with fluid, etc.  We "know" all these OTHER THINGS about the situation based on the diagnosis of syndrome-like symptoms as one thing or another.  We "know" after the extrapolation from these symptoms, that all these other things are going on.

Now, in medicine, we have some clearly quantifiable tests for things like infection and physical disturbances.  So based on a few symptoms, a physician can check for UNIQUE indicators and make a decent (not perfect, though) diagnosis.  When we're talking about psychology and human behavior, however, there IS no such thing.  We're talking about something that's largely theoretical, intuitive and based more on logic -- deductive, rather than scientific inductive (empirical/objective) reasoning.  A lot of smoke and mirrors mixed in with common sense and theories and biases of the culture.  Worse, to extrapolate this way in psychology from "symptoms" to a diagnosable "syndrome" (let alone a contagious one) is particularly dangerous without the ability to do objective testing because logic flat-out fails here.  In the field of logic, falsely generalizing from a few specific indicators is called a "fallacy of composition."

In the example of PAS "reasoning," the logical fallacy of composition is applied two ways. First, there is the assumption that the exhibition of a few common behaviors or symptoms, which also commonly cluster together, indicates a particular diagnosis.  This is hogwash on any measure.  Bolstering that leap of illogic are additional symptoms which can only be described with an assumed conclusion already in place (circular reasoning.)  Then going the OTHER way, after that diagnosis is "proved" in this manner, there is the further illogical assumption about what OTHER symptoms and behaviors "must" also be there, because after all, the malady just diagnosed in turn indicates these are there, or else these are "at risk" of developing (mild and medium versus severe PAS.)

YES, people going through litigation and conflict say and do nasty things.  YES, they can be petty, vindictive, and downright mean.  They might lie.  They sometimes play games.  They "lobby" friends, family and even their children to "their side."  And human beings often react in common ways -- there's really a limited number of kinds of actions and reactions in social behaviors.  And negative though they might be, they're not all necessarily related, and they are not abnormal or indicative of some kind of personality disorder, symptom, or umbrella-like "problem."

How do you describe it?  You say in formal milieus (and by the way, I'm a fan of pleading the FACTS not conclusions, legal, psychological or otherwise -- facts either stand on their own or they don't): he told my daughter X, which is false; he is preventing me from talking to her on the telephone; he has done this and he has done that, and she has reacted this or that way, and this or that outcome has resulted, and therefore her best interests would be...  In casual milieus, you describe it as: "he's a game-playing jerk."  But what is being observed still isn't "parental alienation syndrome" any more than it's obsessive-compulsive disorder, Altzheimer's disease or the flu.  And it doesn't indicate anything about the truth or falsity of the claims made, nor does it indicate the presence or risk of other symptoms, nor does tell us that there's a propensity for other behaviors, NOR is there an indication anywhere here of some kind of mental illness on the part of the jerk parent or the child which needs to be treated.

One of the biggest reasons PAS has become so well-accepted is precisely because it relies on the observation of COMMON, however mean, insecure and obnoxious, NORMAL behaviors ("symptoms") that EVERYONE has seen, that nearly EVERYONE has done at one time or another (it's only a matter of degree), and as to which nearly EVERYONE can say, why yes, yes, that's so true!  I've SEEN it -- why this one is guilty of it, and that one is guilty of it.

OF NOTE: in this society we also tend to (historically and currently) "medicalize" women's behaviors in particular.  A man can be a boor or an asshole, and we describe it as he's angry, or he's cruel or self-serving.  BUT let a WOMAN behave that way, and right away, she's mentally ill, she's disturbed, she needs "treatment." 

That is part of the reason this nonsense is so incredibly dangerous for women.  Its proponents even have concocted and developed PAS theory such that the exhibition of only a few "symptoms," only mildly, isn't an indicator of perhaps something else going on (like how about these people are in the midst of fighting where a lot is at stake and emotions are high, etc.), or even that NOTHING going on unusual, or other than TEMPORARY, but STILL "diagnosable" as "mild PAS!"  And of course, if the "symptoms" observed are many, and seem strong, well, there you have it.  If we can have MILD PAS, then surely over there's a really clear-cut case of "severe PAS."  And no one looks to the other possible infections -- like how about child molestation really IS occurring, and she's a protective parent.  

The context is important!  For example, If someone you loved has just been killed in a car accident, you're going to react, scream, weep, cry, do this or that.  While under most circumstances such behavior would be clearly outlandish, under these kinds of circumstances, IT WOULD BE NORMAL!  And everyone would recognize it as, not only normal, but reactive and temporary.  Instead, in PAS theory, the context is used to further condemn (see how illness arises so commonly when a person is suffering grief.) That's BACKWARDS.  Another example: if you've just delivered a baby, your hormone changes will cause some emotional fluctuations, and IT'S NORMAL!  And clearly reactive to an incident, a provocation, a cause.  It's not psychosis, it's not neurosis, it's not a personality disorder, it's not clinical depression... and at least THOSE kinds of illnesses ARE recognized (researched, peer-reviewed, studied, and long-accepted) as actual "mental illnesses."

Now if you read the PAS theorists, Gardner, et al. you will see that they always carefully add the disclaimer that "it's not PAS if there's really abuse."  Never mind what they mean by "abuse," another sneaky fall-back.  HOWEVER, these guys are psychiatrists and psychologists!  All the while they claim no liability for "misuse" of PAS theory, THEY KNOW EXACTLY how their theory is going to be read, used, perceived!  (And if that isn't enough, consider the self-interest of one who is earning a living writing about or using PAS theory, whether as a defense lawyer or as an expert witness.)

They know damn well that even in cases that don't even fit their syndrome-symptoms (the CHILD isn't acting out, e.g.) it's still going to work against mothers.  Because that's what medicalizing this really is about.  You THINK she's just an angry, probably even justifiably angry woman, acting in normal angry ways, or that she must be reacting to some provocation (so let's get at and stop the provocation), but the PAS expert convinces you that she's really a dangerous sicko.  She is SO dangerous in fact, that it's a good thing we caught this illness in the early mild stages before all these really horrible additional symptoms start occurring.  Little did you know, did you, that no matter what HE'S done, she was the "real" abusive parent, and so much WORSE by comparison.... 

It's utterly specious to promote the widespread use of PAS, and to tout that very widespread use as "evidence" of the validity of the theory, while disclaiming responsibility for its "misuse."

Heck, based on "PAS" theory, just filing for divorce and seeking custody ought to make out a prima facia case of PAS!  

Consider the following drivel.  

An angry father, apparently representing himself and looking around under rocks to find litigation slug potential, complains on what is supposed to be a professional family law listserve, that his motion to strike a responsive pleading as rude, offensive, inflammatory (whatever) and for sanctions against the mother's lawyer was denied, and what should he do.

The problem?  The mother's lawyer wrote in a pleading: "The filing of this Motion to Modify Visitation by the father is a self-centered and selfish request to turn his children's lives upside down just because he unilaterally decided to move back to the area where they live and wants them to be with him."  (Okay, so it's not a terribly well-drafted comment.  Anyway...)

The family lawyer responds to him as follows: "What, is your guy a convicted sex offender?  Without knowing the background, it sounds like you're looking a gifthorse in the mouth, because your opponent just GAVE you a gold-plated admission of parental alienation.  Be thankful for the favor..."

Jesus H. Gardner!  This advice-giving lawyer, this "psychological syndrome" diagnostician, is so clueless about human behavior she doesn't even recognize that she's not talking to another lawyer, but a pro se custody litigant.  But boy oh boy, she recognizes that PAS -- and solely on the basis of one sentence cropped out of what an opposing lawyer has written (probably the truth) in a responsive pleading.  Kind of scary, isn't it.

For further reading, also see: and



    "At the present time, the sexually abused child is generally considered to be the victim," though the child may initiate sexual encounters by 'seducing' the adult."
    Gardner, Richard A., Child Custody Litigation (1986), p.93

    Sexualizing children can have procreative purposes, because a sexualized child is more likely to reproduce at an earlier age. "The younger the survival machine at the time sexual urges appear, the longer will be the span of procreative capacity, and the greater the likelihood the individual will create more survival machines in the next generation."
    Gardner, Richard A., True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse (1992), pp.24-25

    "It is of interest that of all the ancient peoples it may very well be that the Jews were the only ones who were punitive toward pedophiles."
    Ibid. pp.46-47

    Many child advocates are "charlatans, and/or psychopaths, and/or incompetents."
    Ibid. p.526

    "It is extremely important for therapists to appreciate that the child who has been genuinely abused may not need psychotherapeutic intervention."
    Ibid. p.535

    "There is a whole continuum that must be considered here, from those children who were coerced and who gained no pleasure (and might even be considered to have been raped) to those who enjoyed immensely (with orgastic responses) the sexual activities."
    Ibid. p.548

    "Older children may be helped to appreciate that sexual encounters between an adult and a child are not universally considered to be reprehensible act. The child might be told about other societies in which such behavior was and is considered normal. The child might be helped to appreciate the wisdom of Shakespeare's Hamlet, who said, 'Nothing's either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.' In such discussions the child has to be helped to appreciate that we have in our society an exaggeratedly punitive and moralistic attitude about adult-child sexual encounters."
    Ibid. p.549

    "If the mother has reacted to the abuse in a hysterical fashion, or used it as an excuse for a campaign of denigration of the father, then the therapist does well to try and 'sober her up'... Her hysterics... will contribute to the child's feeling that a heinous crime has been committed and will thereby lessen the likelihood of any kind of rapproachment with the father. One has to do everything possible to help her put the 'crime' in proper perspective. She has to be helped to appreciate that in most societies in the history of the world, such behavior was ubiquitous, and this is still the case."
    Ibid. p.584-585

    "Mothers who have been sexually abused as children may have residual anger toward her molesting father or other sexual molester, and this may be interfering with her relationship with her husband. This should be explored in depth, and she should be helped to reduce such residual anger... Perhaps she can be helped to appreciate that in the history of the world his behavior has probably been more common than the restrained behavior of those who do not sexually abuse their children."
    Ibid. p.585

    "It is likely that the mother has sexual problems... In many cases she herself was sexually molested as a child... She may never have achieved an orgasm -- in spite of the fact that she was sexually molested, in spite of the fact that she had many lovers, and in spite of the fact that she is now married. The therapist, then, does well to try to help her achieve such gratification. Verbal statements about the pleasures of orgastic response are not likely to prove very useful. One has to encourage experiences, under proper situations of relaxation, which will enable her to achieve the goal of orgastic response... Vibrators can be extremely useful in this regard, and one must try to overcome any inhibition she may have with regard to their use... her own diminished guilt over masturbation will make it easier for her to encourage the practice in her daughter, if this is warranted. And her increased sexuality may lessen the need for her husband to return to their daughter for sexual gratification."
    Ibid. pp.584-585

    "If he [the molesting father] doesn't know this already, he has to be helped to appreciate that pedophilia has been considered the norm by the vast majority of individuals in the history of the world. He has to be helped to appreciate that, even today, it is a widespread and accepted practice among literally billions of people. He has to appreciate that in our Western society especially, we take a very punitive and moralistic attitude toward such inclinations... He has had a certain amount of back [sic] luck with regard to the place and time he was born with regard to social attitudes toward pedophilia. However, these are not reasons to condemn himself."
    Ibid. pp.593

    "Of relevance here is the belief by many of these therapists that a sexual encounter between an adult and a child -- no matter how short, no matter how tender, loving, and non-painful -- automatically and predictably _must_ be psychologically traumatic to the child... The determinant as to whether the experience will be traumatic is the social attitude toward these encounters."
    Ibid. pp.670-71

    "I believe it is reasonable to say that at this time there are millions of people in the United States who are either directly accusing or supporting false sex-abuse accusations and/or are reacting in an extremely exaggerated fashion to situations in which _bona fide_ sex abuse has occurred."
    Ibid. p.688

    Mandated reporting of child abuse has resulted in the "reporting of the most frivolous and absurd accusations by two- and three-year-olds, vengeful former wives, hysterical mothers of nursery school children, and severely disturbed women against their elderly fathers."
    Gardner, Richard A., Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, 5(1), p.26

    "We need well-publicized civil lawsuits against incompetent and/or overzealous psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, child protection workers, 'child advocates,' police, and detectives whose ineptitude has promulgated a false accusation."
    Ibid. p.26


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