Friday, May 21, 2010

The Ever Expanding Parental Alienation Theory: Amy J. Baker's Research Revisited

By the awesoeme Randi James

As previously discussed by F. Bessette, Amy Baker's participants were mainly recruited via internet advertisements:

Nothing wrong with this method. However, the wording could lead to a biased selection:

1. She introduces herself as a research psychologist, versus a researcher.

2. The word manipulated is loaded. How does she define it or how do her participants define it?

3. The word alienated is loaded. How does she define it or how do her participants define it?

And so what kind of people responded to her ads? Who was represented? Baker gives us some information in her research entitled, Patterns of Parental Alienation Syndrome: A

Qualitative Study of Adults Who were Alienated from a Parent as a Child.

40 participants were utilized (a large sample size for a qualitative study)

The age range was from 19 to 67 years old (keep in mind that they are reflecting on their childhood.

37.24 was the average age for women and

42.73 for men

in rounding ages mode=40

just some maybe useless information!!)

15 men and 25 women (interesting gender distribution)

29 of the participants reported that their parents divorced during their childhood. (This ranged from from birth to age 13, with an average of 5.76 years and a mode of 2. What about the other 11 participants? )

34 cases in which the mother was the alienator

6 cases= father

**There is no information about the parents'/children's economic status [pre-divorce, post-divorce] which may give us information on class issues. There is no racial or ethnic information which may give us some background on cultural issues.**

Baker's goal #1:

to determine whether there were people who identified themselves as having been alienated from one parent due to the other parent’s actions and attitudes.

She notes:

Although these data do not provide any benchmark for determining the actual prevalence of the phenomenon in the general population, they do provide evidence that there are people who believe that they have had this experience.

There are also people who believe they were raped, impregnated, and abducted by aliens. There are people who believe Tupac Shakur and/or Elvis Presley are still alive. There were people who thought the world would end in 2000. All of their evidence says/said so. What mattered in this study was not there was something called parental alienation, but people's beliefs about their recollections. This study did not involve proving anything. It was exploratory in nature.

Baker's goal #2:

to determine whether there were different types of parental alienation experiences or whether they all followed the same general outline.

So she might be trying to expand on the previous literature. Innovative.

This is what Baker found:


all portrayed their mother as self-centered, demanding a high degree of attention and admiration, and not able to see them as separate individuals...a woman who was charming, dynamic, and preoccupied with having her own needs met rather than meeting the needs of her children.

Picture portrayed does not necessarily equal reality. A mother (or any parent) more concerned with her own needs against her children's own best interest would essentially be neglecting her children. In what ways did the participants in Baker's research describe the children being neglected--emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually? Each is very different.

it can be surmised that these narcissistic mothers cultivated an emotionally enmeshed relationship with the participants when they were young children that appeared to serve their own need for love and admiration rather than to promote the emotional health and growth of the participants.

Enmeshed is an overused word--heavily saturated in psychological literature--that tries to malign the relationship between mothers and their children. The opposite of enmeshment is detachment, which is also pathological according to psych theory (yes, these are theories, not laws). It is easy for strangers and those without a vested interest in the relationship to pathologize other people's family dynamics. Perhaps it would serve psych researchers better if they were to performethnographic studies--become a part of the family and observe--in order to determine how what has been classified as maladjustment may serve to benefit the family in various situations.

Baker goes on to say:

Maternal narcissism appeared to fuel the alienation in at least three ways. First, despite the powerful personality presented to the world, narcissists tend to feel empty inside and easily become enraged at the first sign of humiliation or abandonment (Masterson, 1981). Therefore, it is quite likely that the end of the marriage triggered in these women feelings of shame and rage that became directed towards the husband.

Pure speculation. (Then again, who ever said what was presented in research was fact?) If the marriage's end was a result of the husband's actions, is that shame and rage unwarranted? Could we also not apply the same humiliation or abandonmentand/or shame and rage to the father because he now realizes the extent of his actions? Could the father be the narcissist?

This is certainly consistent with the fact that the participants recalled a steady stream of badmouthing about the absent father following the divorce. These men were referred to as cheaters, gamblers, rapists, alcoholics, and abusers in front of the participants.

This is almost laughable (not at the children's pain though). Might we want to consider that these fathers were in fact the names that were used, or that the behaviors they exhibited matched these names? No. This research wasn't supposed to verify or dispute this. The focus is on the mother's actions, rendering the father's potential behaviors as invisible. And who gets to decide what a mother should or should not tell her child or what is or is not age appropriate? Psychologists?

Thus, the alienation may have been partly motivated by revenge, as if the mothers were saying, “If you don’t want me you can’t have the children.”

Speculation. What if the mother was saying, "Your display of character has caused such a disturbance and is evidence of your utter disregard for the children."

A second underlying motivation of the alienation fueled by the mothers’ narcissism appears to be anger towards the children that they wanted to have a relationship with the father even though he had rejected the mother. This is consistent with the fact that narcissists generally have a hard time understanding that others (including if not especially their children) have separate feelings and experiences of the world (Kernberg, 1976). For the narcissist, if she is angry with someone, the children should be as well.

Was the mother angry because the father rejected her or because the father abusedher [or the children]? Big difference. How would we know, decades later? If a mother is not to speak of the father being a drunk or cheater, is she supposed to speak of him being physically or sexually abusive? And if so, when should that information be divulged? On the other hand, if the father is the narcissist, wouldn't he have a hard time understanding that others (including his children and maybe his ex-wife) have separate feelings and experiences of the world? How might he display that narcissism? (hint: by claiming parental alienation)

Third, the narcissistic mothers might have felt especially alone and fragile following the divorce and might have relied more on their children for comfort, companionship, and reassurance than before. Seen in this light, the time the children spent with the father under these circumstances would have been experienced as a profound loss. Many narcissists do not know how to be alone, as they need an audience to make them feel real and to reassure them of their grandiosity (Golumb,1992).

Speculation with misogynistic undertones. This particularly pathologizes mothers who do not re-couple after divorce and choose to focus on [rebuilding] the relationship between her and her children (which is vital if they were previously subjected to abuse). And then, as I previously stated, would the same thing apply to the father if he is indeed the narcissist (doesn't know how to be alone and thus re-partners quickly, garners support from his parents, then decides to take interest in kids now that he has an audience)?

Moving on,


There were 8 cases in which "parental alienation" was displayed in an intact family--no divorce, no custody battle--the parents and children lived in one household. I have asked this question repeatedly--Does parental alienation occur in intact families?-- and I have stated that these so-called alienating behaviors occur in "regular" households (see Parental Alienation in "High Conflict" Divorce: Questions We Must Ask). According to Richard Gardner, founder of parental alienation theory, this isn't parental alienation. According to Baker, it was like this:

The primary technique entailed confiding in the child about the inadequacies and failings of the father.

Confiding implies that it was some sort of secret between the mother and child. Was this the case?

Much of what was shared with the participants about the father was designed to make them feel anger or resentment toward him and protective of the mother, furthering the alienation.

Is this a fact or opinion and how can we know? How do we know that the child did not carry these feelings on his/her own and look to the mother for mutual support?

It is also possible that the mother was not able to maintain an adult relationship in which emotional honesty and compromise would be necessary. Perhaps these mothers turned to their children because having the unquestioning adoration of a child was more satisfying and less demanding than a mature relationship with another adult.

Horrible speculation. Furthermore, how does one carry out a mature relationship with an alcoholic or cheater? The emotionally dishonest person would be the one with the negative behaviors that are ruining the family, not the person who cannot communicate with him.


According to Richard Gardner, if there is bona fide abuse, there is no parental alienation (although with Gardner's encouragement of sexual relations between fathers and their children, his categorizations are questionable). According to Baker, it was like this:

Rather than a “fabulously close” or “excellent” relationship, as the participants in pattern 1 and 2 described having with their mothers, the participants in pattern families were physically, verbally, and/or sexually abused by the alienating parent. Sixteen cases fit this pattern, three in intact families and 13 in divorced families.

That is 45% of the divorced family participants and 27% of the intact family participants fitting into this category. And these are people who elected to reveal this information.

In half the families the alienating parent was alcoholic in addition to being physically, emotionally, sexually, and/or verbally abusive and in five cases the father was the alienating parent.

That is out of 40 families, 20 of them had alcohol abuse issues on top of other abuses. And out of the total of 6 cases in which the father was considered the alienator, 5 were physically, emotionally, sexually, and/or verbally abusive (83%) (I'm unsure whether I am interpreting Baker's statement correctly as it is rather unclear).

The alienation occurred not through the alienating parent winning the child over through charm and persuasion, but through a campaign of fear, pain, and denigration of the targeted parent.

This is what has been described as Domestic Violence by Proxy or Stockholm syndrome. Interesting, Baker didn't offer these terms as possibilities however she chooses to repeatedly align mothers with cults throughout this research, and then, makes this statement:

Thus, parental alienation syndrome can take different forms.

because her (and others PAS theorists) ultimate goal is the expand the definition of what constitutes parental alienation syndrome/disorder. And she doesn't try to hide her m.o.:

Narcissistic mothers as alienators may present different clinical opportunities than alcoholic physically abusive fathers. The first scenario is the one commonly envisioned and described when parental alienation syndrome is discussed (Gardner, 1992). However the field needs to recognize that there is more than one type of parental alienation syndrome appears that it may be time to broaden our understanding of parental alienation syndrome..

She also notes:

...alcoholism, maltreatment, and personality disorders co-occurred

in most of the cases included in this study.

And yet it appears that the focus is still parental alienation; therefore, it is a mask, a distraction from dealing with the real problems inherent in the select families in which PAS is said to exist.

And here Baker gets down to the nitty gritty of this research where she fills in the gaps with the true motivations for PAS theorists:

Second, determination of personality disorders should be taken into account when devising methods for overseeing visitation schedules since such individuals are not likely to comply with court orders. People with narcissistic personality disorders tend to be arrogant and, therefore, are likely to devalue authority figures and emphasize their own ability to make judgments and decisions (e.g., Golumb, 1992; Hotchkiss, 2002). Without real teeth in a visitation or shared parenting order, it is not likely that such a person will comply. The legal system has developed measures for tracking and enforcing payment of child support; it is now time for methods of ensuring compliance with visitation to be developed as well.

Personality disorders, Visitation enforcement, and Shared parenting all thrown together on the backdrop of child support. No surprises here. Amy Baker appears to be advocating for punishment in suspected (or assumed) cases of parental alienation.

A second notable finding from this study is that parental alienation can occur in intact families. The majority of the attention to parental alienation syndrome has emerged from the legal system in response to problems dealing with high conflict divorces, custody disputes, and false and real allegations of parental alienation (Darnall, 1998; Warshak, 2001). To date,there has been minimal if any attention to the fact that parental alienation can occur outside of the legal system.

Third, alienation occurred in some of these families that were not involved in post-divorce litigation. Again, the typical parental alienation scenario discussed in the field is that of a family involved in intense and chronic legal conflicts around custody and visitation (Gardner, 1998). This was not always the case.

These findings are not notable. And it leaves a major question unanswered: If PAS occurs in intact and non-litigating households then what would be the likelihood that this occurs in a significant amount of otherhouseholds? The greater the likelihood, the less pathological it would be. Maybe it is a natural phenomenon. of the participants who did not fall into the three patterns reported that the alienating parent was the non-custodial father.

But Baker would prefers to explain it like this:

Despite the fact that the targeted parent lived in the same household, the participants rejected them, avoided them, denigrated them (in their hearts and mind) and essentially lost out on the experience of having a healthy rewarding relationship with that other parent.

See Parental Alienation and Loving Relationships: Questions We Must Ask

And Baker would like to get everyone involved:

Likewise, teachers, social workers and other mental health professionals who come into contact with parents and children should become versed in the patterns of parental alienation syndrome and the strategies parents use so that they can identify them when they are present.

Will they be mandated to report it just like other child abuse suspicion? Will Social Services or Child Protective Services get involved? Will this lead all other families into court and into protracted litigation? Will every family get a third person embedded into their family life..aka Parent Coordinator or other Court Whores? And at whose expense--the parents or the government?

Fourth, the parents who were the target of the alienation appeared to play a role in their own alienation. In some cases these parents were passive and uninvolved (even when living in the same household) and did not work particularly diligently to establish and or maintain a positive and meaningful relationship with their own children. Many did not write letters or make phone calls to their children during periods of non-visitation, they did not attend school events and sporting competitions, they did not follow through on planned visitations, and in some respects appeared to be casual about their relationships with their children.

So, is this considered parental alienation, too? Who is the alienator?

Baker adds: must be noted that these reports were made by the adult children, and because they were children at the time of the alienation, they may not know everything that the targeted parents did or tried to do for them...

without mentioning that this same disclaimer (delimitation?) can be applied to the knowledge the children/adults may NOT have about why the mother behaved as she did.

The final finding that emerged from a review of these cases is that the alienation was not always completely internalized.

And so, by according to Richard Gardner, this would NOT be parental alienation either.

This marks the end of Amy J. Baker's research. In this study, she never defined what parental alienation meant. She interviewed the participants herself and didn't specify whether she personally analyzed the data for content/themes, or not. These things matter.

Baker tries parallel the concept with cultism, and explains that PAS isn't in the DSM, similar to other syndromes that took time to get it in. A similarly appropriate parallel would be to the former catchall diagnosis of female hysteria...which then went to be called somatization disorder and then conversion disorder. The field of psychology operates in this wish-washy manner because it is based on "theory" (opinion).

Another important thing to keep in mind is the demographic data provided at the beginning of Baker's study. Go back and re-read it above...........

In the study, Baker states:

Section two focused on memories of the marriage, the participant’s relationship to each parent until the time of the separation/divorce,how the participant was told about the separation, who moved out of the house and a description of the custody/visitation schedule through age 18.

I have provided you with enough information and emphases throughout this post to let you put this together on your own.


In performing a study in this manner, Amy Baker tried to expand the definition of parental alienation syndrome by using people's beliefs so that the the people could define parental alienation as it meant to them:

the interview aimed to understand in a focused way the subject’s every day life world as it related to parental alienation and the meaning of the alienation for them

This is a magnificent selling point to society at large. PAS theorists have struggled with trying to separate from Richard Gardner not only because his definition was limited (to "high conflict" divorce with mothers as the main alienators), but because of his pro adult-child sexual beliefs. ie:

Special care should be taken not alienate the child from the molesting parent. The removal of a pedophilic parent from the home "should only be seriously considered after all attempts at treatment of the pedophilia and rapprochement with the family have proven futile."

Gardner, R.A. (1992). True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse . Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.(p. 537)

The child should be told that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. "The sexual exploitation has to be put on the negative list, but positives as well must be appreciated"

Gardner, R.A. (1992). True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse . Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.(p. 572)

Older children may be helped to appreciate that sexual encounters between an adult and a child are not universally considered to be reprehensible acts. 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."

Gardner, R.A. (1992). True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse . Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.(p. 59)

However, the broader the scope of parental alienation, the more watered down it's definition becomes. If any child (and parent) can suffer from parental alienation in any circumstance, what makes it abnormal? How is it a mental illness?

DSM stands for “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” and is published by the American Psychiatric Association, the professional organization representing United States psychiatrists. The DSM contains a listing of psychiatric disorders and their corresponding diagnostic codes. Each disorder included in the manual is accompanied by a set of diagnostic criteria and text containing information about the disorder, such as associated features, prevalence, familial patterns, age-, culture- and gender-specific features, and differential diagnosis. No information about treatment is included.

Please stay tuned for part 2.

See Also: Amy Baker and Parental Alienation Syndrome: Is This What Scientific Research Looks Like?

Psychology and Parental Alienation: Closer to Science?

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