Tag Archives: Psychology

Trump’s head: don’t go in there, you might not get out

17 Apr
Trump's wisdom? Or trumps wisdom?

Trump’s wisdom? Or trumps wisdom?

Guest post by psychologist Dr Stewart Hase.  Stewart blogs here

Human Irrationality 102: The Trump Phenomenon

As a psychologist, it is difficult to resist exploring the Trump phenomenon. There are two aspects to what is happening in probably the most bizarre presidential race that I have seen in my lifetime. The first is the man himself and the second, probably more important factor is the support that has gathered around him.

Most psychological profiling is undertaken using a mixture of interviews and sophisticated personality testing tools. For me, the well constructed interview is the most effective means to understanding people, if you know what you are looking for and have the right interviewing technique. To construct a profile of someone from just watching them from afar is fraught with risk. You probably wouldn’t do this with most politicians, who show very little of themselves. In the case of Donald Trump, we have a gift that keeps on giving in terms of the showing of himself. Furthermore, there is a consistency to what you see, as well as a fairly well documented history of the man himself. So, I’ll have a go.

Trump is extremely narcissistic. As well as an inflated sense of his own importance, that is at odds with reality, he is quick to anger when criticised. We have seen his angry retorts towards his critics, as well as his tendency towards litigation in his many business failures in which he quickly blames others.

It is pretty clear he lacks empathy and is extremely impulsive. This combination is unfortunate because he fails to understand the behaviour of others, is not concerned about their feelings and does not think before he acts or speaks. Added to this is an obvious, ‘Do what it takes’ attitude to getting what he wants. Ordinary people lost lots of money investing in his ventures that he, without a second thought, abandoned. He sees these people as ‘losers’. Trump just doesn’t care much about people and, gives the impression that he is a bully both at work and elsewhere.

What does Trump believe in? I suspect that he doesn’t much believe in anything, given his about-face on so many issues and his business antics. He has probably never had any long-term goals-in fact he may not be able to set any. Trump has never run for any kind of political office before, has never trained himself. He was trained in the family real estate business but his ventures since then have been impulsive and, mostly ill-conceived. Apart from 4 bankruptcies, that he has been able to personally avoid, he has a string of huge business failures.

On the face of it, Trump is very confident and seems to lack anxiety. While there may be many insecurities in his deep unconscious driving this behaviour (I’ll leave it to Jung to sort this out), we see someone who believes in himself and believes that he is right. This lack of fear along with his impulsivity and inability to plan makes for an interesting combination.

I saw somewhere in the media the question of what is happening in Trump’s mind. I suspect that it is chaotic in there. He is an extreme extrovert, he thinks out loud and has a low attention to detail. There is a lot spinning around in his head and it just has to come out, verbally. Many people in public life are extraverts but Trump is completely off the scale. He just has to process information by speaking. Again this is linked to an inability to plan and to foresee consequences. I think he is probably cognitively intelligent (although I’m not totally convinced of this) but very low on social/emotional intelligence.

The support Trump has gathered is significant. Many commentators have pointed to the fear that the republican machine has gradually built up since the inauguration of Obama. He inherited an economy in a mess, two wars, social systems in chaos, high unemployment and so on, but this was sheeted home to him and his party by a cleverly orchestrated fear campaign. It is also clear that there are a lot of people suffering in the USA from a variety of causes but which can be attributed to long-term middle class policy failure and the darker side of capitalism. In short, capitalism has not delivered on its promises. Trump inherited an environment of fear and has used it to his advantage.

When people, and more so groups of people, become fearful they look around for someone to blame. In Germany in the 1930s it was the Jews and many governments around the world, including the Vatican, turned a blind eye to the systematic abuse of a whole ‘nation’. In the US of A at the moment it is vilification Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, the ‘soft’ government, drug abusers, women, Bernie Sanders and all other democrats, and so on-you’ve heard it all. But this time nations, thanks to social media, are taking notice.

So, we should not be surprised, given it has happened before, that someone like Trump is able to gather people around him. He has been able to appeal to the darker side of human nature-stereotyping, bigotry, racism, misogyny, narrow mindfulness, hatred, and the need to express discontent through violence. If it were France in the late 18th century we would hear the tumbrils clattering along the cobbled streets heading for Madame Guillotine.

Human irrationality is a fascinating phenomenon and we are seeing it in spades in the US of A right now. But, irrationality is around us all the time in everyday life and often has very unfortunate consequences. Perhaps the civilisation of the human species is a fantasy given the current state of our evolution.

Is there an elephant in your room?

10 Jul

Today’s guest post is by Stewart Hase. 

Is that an elephant that I see?

Elephants are big people. In fact, you would not want one to sit on your sandwich.  You would think an elephant is too big to ignore. But there are zillions of elephants, everywhere you look, but we pretend they’re not there: it’s the elephant in the room phenomenon.

In families, elephants in the room range from the worst kind, such as family incest, to the more harmless (except to her) cupboard drinking of Aunt Mildred.  Everyone knows what is happening, in the case of incest it may even be the mother, but often no-one speaks up or takes action. Humans are even reluctant to say anything about relatively small matters such as offensive or antisocial behaviour, being let down by a friend or that what someone is doing might in fact be a poor choice: what I call the ‘zit on the nose’ phenomenon.

We just don’t like to tell people bad things.

It takes courage to act. Largely, humans dislike conflict mainly because it creates a huge amount of anxiety, which is extremely uncomfortable and to be avoided at all costs. There is also the fall out that might involve fractured relationships, being disliked and rejection. We like to be liked or as Albert Ellis says, we are love slobs. Better to remain in the inner circle with a nasty secret that being a pariah and morally or ethically intact. After all, it is family.

Elephants love living in organisations too where they are ignored with an even greater intensity than in families. You’d think it was the other way around given the emotional factor in a family setting but it is likely that there are huge emotional investments in the organisations in which we work and play.

Again, there is a huge range when it comes to severity and impact. There are organisations in which there is institutionalised corruption and bullying, for example, that goes on unchecked. In some cases the organisations acknowledge that there is a problem, such as paedophilia in the Catholic Church and bullying in the Australian defence forces, but still nothing is done. Its as if the elephant has been let out in the garden for feeding time.

Poor behaviour is one of the more common elephants in the room. Here I am not referring to poor performance, which often gets picked up at performance review time but to what amounts to anti-social behaviour. Every organisation or organisational unit has at least one person who behaves in ways that causes reactions from mild irritation to motional catharsis.

This is an even bigger problem when the person is a manager. You might find, for example, a very senior person is a dreadful bully but he is allowed to get away with it. The result is a culture of bullying that runs right through the organisation. People are, understandably, reluctant to speak up and people who do in fact blow the whistle on high level abuse or corruption do not have a good time if it, as the research on whistle-blowers shows.

We might think that, well, if its not a big thing then let it go. So what if the boss or someone else in the team tells lies, doesn’t keep promises, doesn’t listen, fails to communicate information, gets a little irritated, ignores people, is not a team player or is just plain rude. It doesn’t matter.

Well, it does, Employee engagement is a critical factor in job satisfaction and, we know that both these effect performance. Employees can easily become disengaged by elephants in the room. They sap motivation, destroy loyalty, disintegrate faith and hope, distinguish innovation and create a culture of mistrust. Elephants in teams can completely undermine effectiveness.

When we let someone get away with poor behaviour we being a co-dependent. We are implicitly saying that all is fine, that we approve and the behaviour will continue. And we’ll complain: a co-dependent victim.

All it takes is courage.

Also relevant to this topic is Stewart’s earlier post here on workplace bullying

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com


In Search of the Bricoleur

23 Apr

Guest post today by Stewart Hase

Bob le Bricoleur

In Search of the Bricoleur

Key Points

1. Another personality difference that creates conflict.
2. Bricoleurs see the word differently to non-bricoleurs
3. Bricoleurs are often side-lined.
4. Bricoleurs need to be invited into decision making situations not excluded.

I recently discovered that I am a bricoleur and it is a blessed relief to have outed at last. What this insight has done has explained how it is that I have managed to upset so many people in organisations, and perhaps other situations, over the years. It is a personality thing and, as I’ve mentioned before, it is personality differences where most conflicts begin, if not end.

Bricolage is a French word, as you’d probably guess, and originally referred to a worker who would make the best with what they had to complete a task. Thus they were people who tinkered with things, even playfully in an effort to solve a problem and used whatever resources they might have at hand. The term then became associated with art and craft. Later the usage has been broadened to include people who use their experience, their instinct, trial and error, and again, tinkering, to solve any sort of problem.

Thus, a manager or a researcher, for example, would bring whatever models are appropriate to a problem and would not be tied to a particular way of doing or thinking. They’d try something, perhaps even an amalgam of competing techniques or ideas, and see what worked rather than using a recipe driven approach. For the bricoleur, dogma and gurus who think they know the best way to approach a problem or issue are viewed with suspicion.

It is easy to see that to some people the bricoleur is nothing but a terrorist. They don’t work by the book, fiddle with process, flaunt policies and procedures, play with ideas, tinker and dislike high levels of control. This is the stuff of a nervous breakdown for the manager who is high on order, with crockery ducks flying along the wall in precise formation. The ISTJ will probably end up on high levels of psychotropic medication if a bricoleur is a member of their team. The archetypal Humphrey Applebee would be looking at Guantanamo Bay as a solution to the situation.

The truth is, of course, that we need both types in any organisation but it is easy to see where the conflict occurs. The bricoleur and the non-bricoleur are seeing the world through quite different lenses and will find it hard to understand each other’s language. Bricoleurs, in the original definition, were seen as being well-meaning amateurs by more traditional craft-persons or tradespersons who did things the ‘correct’ way. A bricoleur would see herself or himself as bringing expertise from many disciplines and experiences that enable them to see a task or problem in a different light. They’d see the other as narrow minded, limited in imagination and simply in the way.

My guess, and I don’t have any hard data to support this, is that bricoleurs would tend not to rise to the top of the corporate tree and f they did it would be an accident of sorts. Whether or not that is a good thing is open to debate and it may not matter because nature has probably spoken on the topic by making them unacceptable as leaders/managers and excluding them already.

I think organisations need bricoleurs, particularly in their decision-making and strategic processes. And it may be the case that they tend to be side-lined and ignored, infrequently being asked into the board room or places where the important decisions are made. We need people who are prepared to see things differently, ask difficult questions, be a bit different and tinker with ideas. They need to be heard and not just seen. My experience is that they tend to be seen as a bit too different, not a team player and just a bit too out there-a well meaning amateur perhaps.

Some years ago I was doing a consulting job with a great friend, Alan Davies. We were arranging a search conference to undertake a strategic planning exercise. The CEO was objecting to Alan wanting to invite union leaders and some other rebels who did not tend to toe the organisational party line. This list included customers who had not had a good experience with the organisation. Alan insisted they attend because you need to have your ‘enemies’ (not that they were really enemies but were perceived as such) in the room and not banging on the portcullis creating a stir. Best piece of management learning I every received and so too for the many CEOs who did eventually engage with the ‘enemy’, who is anyone unlike themselves.

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com


Changing Behaviour is Trickier Than it Looks

15 Mar

Guest post today on change, by Stewart Hase

Key points

1. Leaders often underestimate the difficulty of changing behaviour.
2. People are naturally resistant to change for sound biological reasons.
3. Teachers, trainers, coaches and managers are mistaken in thinking that well presented logic will win hearts and minds.
4. Most change efforts fail miserably.
5. Leadership behaviour can make the difference by changing habits over time.
6. Changing behaviour takes careful planning and good techniques.Recently, I have been surprised (again) that leaders don’t understand the complexity of behaviour change. As a consequence they become frustrated when people don’t do what they have told or do what is expected.While it is true that humans have a history of adaptation to their environment, the process is relatively slow: generational rather than situational. We are hard wired to resist rapid change.

The reason for this is simple and based on biological imperatives that are several thousand years old and belong to a world where primitive drives such as hunting, gathering, procreation and survival involved high risk activities. These activities require a lot of energy and, hence, we find ways to be energy conserving. In addition, we have a finite capacity in short and working memory that limits our attention and a significant task like change is not likely to be a natural priority.

It may be unpalatable to many but the same primitive and self-interested drives still preoccupy our species: it’s just that the behaviours associated with meeting these drives are more complex compared to pre-agrarian times. Despite having modified our environment and our control over our circumstances, we have yet to throw off this tendency to preserve energy.

Energy preserving behaviour is easily seen through the phenomenon of habits. These automatic behavioural scripts mean that we do not have expend effort to rewrite behavioural scripts for similar, and even not so similar, circumstances. Humans mostly like routine. We also tend to have quite durable values, attitudes and beliefs. I am sure you can think of many ways you demonstrate this capacity daily.

Nothing wrong with doing this, we are all just practicing an ingrained drive to survive. Recognising that this is the normal human condition is important and helps explain why we are so resistant to change. Recent research shows that changing a habit takes about three months before the new habit becomes, well…..a habit!

Changing attitudes, values and beliefs (collectively known as schema) is even more tricky and beyond the scope of this blog. In short, though, the best and quickest way to change schema is to change the person’s behaviour. The easiest way to increase resistance is to challenge someone’s schema because they will automatically find arguments to support these holy cows. We often talk about winning hearts and minds. We should, in my view, think about winning hearts by changing behaviour. But more about this in another article, even though the answer is still found in effective leadership.

I have been involved in clinical psychology work for around 30 years in one way or another. Countless people I have met have been in dreadful pain with depression, anxiety, addictions and other good reasons to change their behaviour to improve their lot. Nonetheless many have resisted change and, for various and often complex reasons, decided that they would rather stay in pain rather than ‘risk’ doing things differently. As might be expected others are very motivated to try something new even though it is hard work. Pretty well everyone needed intensive help to do this.

Sometimes people do change spontaneously but often in response to a traumatic or extremely enlightening experience that accelerates learning. Mostly motivation to change is enhanced and the required skills are obtained through the resulting expenditure of effort.

So, in the face of a natural human propensity to resist change why would anyone be motivated to change when: they are relatively healthy; their habits seem to be quite functional in the absence of any personally relevant evidence to the contrary; they are not experiencing any incongruence between their attitudes and their behaviour-in other words their behaviour makes sense to them and they feel comfortable about it; and they are being sufficiently rewarded in a variety of ways to keep on doing what they do?

I think most change agents, teachers, trainers, coaches, and managers overvalue the impact of what they do and attempt largely ineffective approaches in their attempts to change other people’s behaviour. Mostly we think that logical argument, well presented reasons attached to emotional messages, policies, procedures and simply telling people will win people over. We are often surprised and then frustrated to find that what we are doing does not work.

So, changing behaviour, whether it is our own or someone else’s, needs to be planned carefully. It requires good techniques and, we need to be motivated which is often emotionally mediated. If it is another person we need to get their attention.

Leaders can get attention by: having a good relationship with the person in the first place; being prepared to have difficult conversations; providing clear description of the desired behaviour; coaching where necessary; establishing an action plan with timelines; providing support; intervening when there are difficulties; providing resources; ensuring the desired behaviour becomes part of the KPIs (or whatever performance system is used) for that person or persons); and follow-up.

Remember too that people will find change easy and others will have reasons to be resistant. Whatever the case, we need to have a clear process that creates a reason for the person to spend energy on change.

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com

What does brain plasticity have to do with leadership?

9 Aug

Guest post today by Dr Stewart Hase 

There are three related issues that I’d like to briefly mention here on the way to providing some hard science that people who want to be leaders could find useful, if not compelling.The first is that the ‘great’ debate about whether leaders are born or made is a non-event. The issue is more about what people do that make them leaders and whether they have the capacity to perform the behaviours. It is clear that some people can’t be good leaders and others can. The second issue is closely related to the first and that is that people in leadership roles do not pay much attention to the social, anthropological and psychological evidence about what great leaders do and how to get the most out of people and, ergo, organisations. Leadership is treated a bit like counselling and teaching (other than in schools), that it that anyone can do it, without any formal training, if they have the inclination. It is fascinating that we still promote people to leadership roles on the basis that they have demonstrated high levels of competence in their profession (being an engineer, academic, town planner). Lastly, for this little article at least, the leadership literature is, at best, fluffy and has probably not had much impact, other than the occasional halo effect, on what most people in leadership roles do at the coalface.With these three issues in mind it is interesting to actually look at the science behind what people need to do in order to become good leaders. The evidence is pretty well overwhelming concerning the conditions in which people perform best at work. The tragedy is that the evidence is not accessed, oversimplified or incorrectly interpreted. I know of many organisations that have been sold psychological ‘pups’ by consultants or whose CEOs have read a trendy book on leadership at the airport that sounds good but has not evidential base. These ‘pups’ come in the form of untested theories and models that are anecdotal at best. They might consist of colourful and sexy personality testing instruments that have no reliability or validity whatsoever and are simplistic in the extreme. Medical practitioners, psychologists, dentists, nurses, physiotherapists, engineers are required to use evidence based practice. Why not people in leadership roles?We know from many social psychological experiments that people work best in an environment where they have control over their immediate work, are informed, make a contribution to decision making, feel that what they do is worthwhile, feel that they have a positive future, feel a valued member of the team, are acknowledged for what they do, are appropriately rewarded, have interesting work, and enjoy optimal variety in their work,

We also know, again from social psychological research, what it is that good leaders do to have influence and to get the best out of people. They have empathy, listen attentively, have good interpersonal skills, make people feel valued by involving them, are optimistic and positive, involve people in decision making that affects them, and don’t micro-manage (they believe that expertise outranks rank). Good leaders consciously create the type of environment or culture described in the paragraph above.

In recent years technology has made it possible to view in living brains how experiences change our brain structure, how new neural networks grow and how relationships between the various are affected. In general it can be said that positive experiences have a growth and positive effect on our nervous system and negative experiences have the opposite.

This research has now given us some explanations of why the social factors described above seem to be important in what has come to be called employee engagement. People perform best in a situation of what I call Goldilocks Stress: it has to be just right. That is, not too much and not too little. This means the environment has to be safe and you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to see that the factors described above from social research lead to a sense of safety. People are more likely to learn and adapt when they feel safe and is a central theme in the research on brain plasticity.

Research into brain plasticity also tells us that people learn and function better in enriching and challenging environments. This would explain why people tell us that they enjoy work when they feel that they are involved, have a valued role to play, work in functional team settings, have a role in decision-making and have control over what they do. Positive parenting has been shown to have very powerful cognitive and emotional advantages to children thus exposed. There is no reason to suspect that the same thing is not true for adults whose brain, we now know, develops throughout the lifespan.

Finally, we can see the role that positive interpersonal relationships are such an important aspect of leadership. Specifically, it is easy to see why people report that they most admire and are engaged with leaders who have empathy, listen and demonstrate good interpersonal skills. In short, it has a positive effect on their nervous system. Bullying behaviour, for example, has the opposite effect: it creates stress, reduces enrichment and diminishes cognitive ability.

At least there is a significant physical science to reinforce the already considerable social psychological evidence that what managers/leaders do really does matter. As does what they do not do.

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com


When Management Decisions Get in the Way of Productive Workplaces

16 Jun

Guest post today by Dr Stewart Hase 

It constantly amazes me, despite all we know about human behaviour, that managers can still get the implementation of change completely wrong. Psychology may not be a completely exact science and there is much we don’t know yet but it is better than whim. Moreover, there are some things for which we have ample evidence. For the purposes of this article, these are that employees more fully engaged in their work and more productive if: their job satisfaction is high; the culture is essentially democratic; they are valued; intrinsic reward is the norm; they feel they have autonomy in their work; relationships are fulfilling; the work has meaning and purpose; and there is optimum variety in the work.

It has also been shown that as little as a fifth of all employees in developing countries are fully engaged at work and, hence, fully productive. More importantly, workplaces are potentially psychologically unhealthy, if not managed well, and this has considerable impact on those who work there. There are dire consequences indeed of managers not being aware of what is required to develop and maintain a positive workplace culture. And it is the management of an organisation that is fully responsible for the culture.An experience I once had with an organisation has reminded me of the fact that managers make decisions based more on the quirks of their personality than they do on evidence from the scientific literature. For example, a high controlling, autocratic, punitive, aggressive, micro-management style will result in very specific decisions when it comes to day-to-day management and, in this case, the implementation of change.I was asked to assist a group of people cope with change in their organisation. The program was, inappropriately, called Change Management. The brief for the job was that a change initiative had come a little unstuck and that a group needed help with dealing with the outcomes of the process. Immediately my antennae started quivering. When things go wrong in an organisation it is often decided to conduct a training program rather than look at the reasons for the problem. It is easier, or more comfortable, to implement a training solution than the higher complexity of a systems solution.Closer inspection and on commencement of the ‘training’, the situation became clear. Had senior management carefully designed a change process designed to create enmity, negativity, angst, and dysfunction, they could not have done better than what occurred through incompetence.

The organisation had implemented a quality system and a new quality team to review the work of some 300 others. The change process, if you could call it that,: was completely ‘top down’; had no stakeholder consultation or involvement; devised a system of performance management for non-compliance; produced a complex and ambiguous manual that was intended to be a living document (like the law) on which to base decisions of compliance; created a lengthy adversarial system to manage the inevitable disputes over the decisions on non-compliance; was implemented in a culture that used email to deliver quality reviews due to the distributed nature of the organisation; and there was no attempt to make informed decisions after a lengthy trial when things clearly were not working, other than to conduct a change management program for the quality team (not the whole organisation).

In short, all the tenets of implementing successful change were ignored. This resulted, predictably, in: a classic in-group – out-group situation with all the enmity that this causes, especially against the quality team; high levels of stress for everyone; a high level of angry rather than co-operative disputation; team leaders protecting their ‘turf’ by defending non-conformance formally and informally; avoidance of personal contact between the quality team and the other employees; an adversarial culture; job insecurity; reduced job satisfaction; poor relationships; and alienation.

This could have been completely avoided had senior management bothered to read the change management literature or obtain advice from someone who did. Sadly, this was probably not likely to occur given the personality of the senior manager implementing the change.

The ‘change management’ program very quickly became a strategic planning exercise, based on the needs of the quality team, and was extremely successful. Unfortunately, we needed to have the whole organisation in the room and conduct a search conference, or similar process. Perhaps then we might have made a difference. As it stands this organisation will fail to function at an optimum level for a very long time. Worse it will remain an unhealthy workplace with all the sequelae that it entails. And all due to management by personality.

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com

When children become weapons

19 May

Broken heart

As children continue to be murdered by parents caught up in divorce, separation and custody battles, courts and counsellors struggle to establish environments that put the child’s needs first. This can be an impossible task when some parents, blinded by their own emotional turmoil, use their children as heavy ammunition to win a personal battle against a spouse they perceive as the enemy.

Murder is the extreme point on the continuum of co-opting children as weapons. Far more common, though regarded as contentious among some mental health and legal professionals, is a concept known as Parental alienation syndrome. This is a term used to describe a situation in which a child is encouraged to identify with one parent and alienate the other. The child’s behaviour reflects the emotions and perspective of the alienating parent, rather than his or her own feelings. It’s thought to emerge as a consequence of separation and divorce, however it’s apparent in some on-going dysfunctional relationships in which the mother or the father attempts to garner support for his or her position against the other parent from the child. These are general PAS criteria as defined by some psychologists:

Children who succumb to the pressure and ally themselves with one parent against the other often exhibit a set of behaviors that have become known as parental alienation syndrome: 

(1) The first manifestation is a campaign of denigration against the targeted parent. The child becomes obsessed with hatred of the targeted parent (in the absence of actual abuse or neglect that would explain such negative attitudes). 

(2) Weak, frivolous, and absurd rationalizations for the depreciation of the targeted parent. The objections made in the campaign of denigration are often not of the magnitude that would lead a child to hate a parent, such as slurping soup or serving spicy food. 

(3) Lack of ambivalence about the alienating parent. The child expresses no ambivalence about the alienating parent, demonstrating an automatic, reflexive, idealized support of him or her. 

(4) The child strongly asserts that the decision to reject the other parent is her own. This is what is known as the “Independent Thinker” phenomenon. 

(5) Absence of guilt about the treatment of the targeted parent. Alienated children will make statements such as, “He doesn’t deserve to see me.” 

(6) Reflexive support for the alienating parent in the parental conflict. There is no willingness or attempt to be impartial when faced with inter-parental conflicts. 

(7) Use of borrowed scenarios. These children often make accusations towards the targeted parent that utilize phrases and ideas adopted wholesale from the alienating parent. And, finally, 

(8) The hatred of the targeted parent spreads to his or her extended family. Not only is the targeted parent denigrated, despised, and avoided but so too are his/her entire family. Formerly beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are suddenly avoided and rejected. When children exhibit these 8 behaviors the most likely explanation is the manipulation of the favored parent.

On the other hand, accusations of PAS are seen as frivolous and dishonest by some opponents of the syndrome. Some go so far as to claim that a court’s acceptance of PAS causes children to be exposed to on-going abuse from the so-called “targeted” parent. In reality, they claim, the “alienating” parent has attempted to protect the child from the parent perceived as harmful, and the symptoms of PAS are also consistent with those exhibited by children who are enduring real abuse from the targeted parent.

There is no clinical research into the syndrome, and it remains anecdotal.

I’v seen situations in which children have lost contact with a “targeted” parent, and that parent’s family. I’ve seen situations of dysfunction when the parents don’t separate, but the hostility and hatred of one for the other is conveyed through the indoctrination of the children against one parent. The “target” parent is alienated from his or her offspring within their own household, usually most acutely during the process of an adult dispute. Children take the alienating parent’s part, and when the fight has been temporarily resolved and the parents have made up, they are then permitted to re-engage with the targeted parent. The emotional chaos this causes in the children is enormous and long-lasting.

It’s surprisingly easy to persuade children to take against a parent, particularly when they’ve been taught that the “alienating” parent is the only one who really loves them, and the only one who will look out for them. The target parent is constructed as anything from incompetent and unreliable to dangerous and threatening, while the alienating parent presents as their competent and loving protector.

However, distinguishing between so-called PAS and abuses actually perpetrated by the “target” parent can be difficult. Evidence of abuse can be hard to establish if it isn’t blatant. Too often it comes down to which parent is the most articulate, can tell the most convincing story, and has the best lawyer. Children are collateral damage in such circumstances, as the parental focus makes it “all about me” with scant if any regard for their child’s well being.

I’ve known circumstances in which a “targeted” parent has walked away from his or her family rather than fight the wrath of the “alienating” parent, and continue to live with the acute distress they experience when a child or children turns against them on a regular basis. As well, the targeted parent can feel that his or her continued presence in the family will only serve to confuse and distress their children, and in an effort to prevent their children being further emotionally torn, they give up and leave the alienating parent in total control.

The targeted parent is then described as having abandoned the family, and as confirming the alienating parent’s position that he or she is the only one who really cares about the children. After years of clinical practice there’s no doubt in my mind that these are relatively common practices to varying degrees, between parents caught in conflict and dysfunction.

Parents don’t have ownership over their children. We have a responsibility to do our best for them, but we don’t own their feelings and their hearts and minds. Children are entitled to form and enjoy relationships with their family members, especially both parents. To sever the connection between one part of a child’s family is to do violence to that child’s knowledge of him or herself, and to their sense of belonging. Alienating a child from any family member without good cause is emotional abuse and emotional violence, regardless of whether it is identified as a legitimate mental health syndrome or not.

While the murderous extremes of parental manipulation make headlines, children daily suffer greatly in ways that go unrecognized and unacknowledged. The tragedy is that this suffering has long term consequences, and can be generational. One manipulative parent can tear an entire family apart, leaving children without access to grandparents and extended family members. It’s tough being a kid.

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