Pathology Markers in Case I Leave

Standard

My current focus is on the battle to solve “parental alienation” by establishing professional competence throughout mental health.  The extent of profound professional ignorance and incompetence in mental health surrounding the pathology commonly called “parental alienation” is astounding.

In this post, however, I want to take a step to the side for a moment to place “pathology-markers” down that can serve as guides for other mental health professionals to follow in unraveling the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA).  Once we’ve solved the pathology of “parental alienation,” once all of the children are returned to their loving and authentic parents targeted by this horrific pathology, once we’re able to prevent “parental alienation” within the first six months when it emerges, then I’ll hopefully have time to walk more fully down the paths of these pathology-markers.  But for right now, I just want to set the markers, because right now the most important goal is simply achieving basic competence in mental health.

Ultimately, we need to achieve “special population” status for targeted parents and their children so that mental health professionals will be required to possess specialized professional knowledge and expertise to competently assess, diagnose, and treat this form of pathology.  It’s when we accomplish that phase of the solution – when mental health professionals who work with AB-PA (attachment-based “parental alienation”) have a high level of specialty expertise – that the pathology-markers I’m currently putting down can be more fully unpacked.

But right now, the goal is simply to move from abject professional incompetence to just basic professional competence.

I’m over 60 years old and have already had one stroke.  Hopefully, I’ll be around for another decade or so, but perhaps I could leave tomorrow.  There is a lot about this pathology that I know but am not sharing because it’s too far beyond where everyone is right now.  I’m waiting for mental health professionals to catch up to the most basic constructs of the cross-generational coalition with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent and the addition of the splitting pathology to the coalition, and to the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma in the schema pattern of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent” (contained in the internal working models – schemas – of the attachment system).

The attachment system is the brain system for managing all aspects of love and bonding throughout the lifespan, including grief and loss.  What we’re dealing with is an attachment-related pathology (a love-and-bonding pathology) involving distorted information structures (schemas; relationship patterns) in the attachment system of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent that are being transmitted to the child’s attachment-related behavior with both the allied and the targeted parent. 

Once we move away from defining the pathology of “parental alienation” as a new form of pathology that’s unique in all of mental health and instead recognize that the pathology is an attachment-related and parental personality disorder pathology, a truly amazing amount of insight emerges regarding both the origins and the symptom manifestations of the pathology.

But we’re still waiting for all mental health professionals to release from the conceptually flawed and dead-end construct of Gardnerian PAS and return to standard and established, scientifically validated constructs and principles of the attachment system and personality disorder pathology so that we can then solve this pathology.

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3), in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

This is not a child custody issue; this is a child protection issue.

But the extent of professional ignorance and incompetence is stunningly profound, and it may outlive me.  So while I’m still here I want to at least put down some pathology-marker signposts, breadcrumbs on the path if you will, for others to follow should it take too long for the rest of mental health to catch up.

Personality Pathology-Marker

The personality pathology is the Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad (see references). 

The Dark Triad Personality is comprised of:

  1. Narcissistic personality traits
  2. Psychopathic personality traits
  3. Machiavellian manipulation

The Vulnerable Dark Triad (Miller, et al., 2010) is a variant of the Dark Triad which is comprised of:

  1. Vulnerable rather than grandiose narcissism
  2. Psychopathic manipulation
  3. Borderline personality traits

The Dark Triad personality pathology is associated with the use of four types of high-conflict communications, contempt; criticism, stonewalling, and defensiveness (Horan, Guinn, & Banghart, 2015).  In the research literature on communication, these four destructive high-conflict communication patterns are called the Four Horsemen of destructive communication :

According to Gottman (1992):

“Contempt involves “statements that come from a relative position of superiority…‘You’re an idiot’”; criticism entails “stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality…‘You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish’”; stonewalling describes “the listener’s withdrawal from interaction;” and defensiveness describes self-protection in the form of “righteous indignation or innocent victimhood.” (Gottman, 1993, p. 62)

The empirical research of Horan, Guinn, and Banghart (2015) link the Dark Triad personality to the Four Horsemen of high-conflict communication:

“Hypotheses 1a–1c examined the relationships among the Dark Triad personality structure and general nature of romantic partner conflict.  Results demonstrated that individuals reporting higher levels of Machiavellianism, subclinical psychopathy, and subclinical narcissism tended to have higher levels of romantic partner disagreement and that such conflict discussions were both intense and hostile.” (Horan, Guinn, & Banghart. 2015, p. 165; emphasis added)

“Hypothesis 2 explored the relationships among the Dark Triad personality structure and use of the Four Horsemen during romantic partner conflict.  Correlations revealed that individuals reporting higher levels Machiavellianism and subclinical psychopathy also reported greater use of contempt, criticism, stonewalling, and defensiveness.  A similar picture was painted for narcissism, with the exception of stonewalling.” (Horan, Guinn, & Banghart. 2015, p. 165; emphasis added)

The use of the Four Horsemen of high-conflict communication has also been linked to insecurity in attachment bonding:

“Recently, Fowler and Dillow (2011) examined how attachment orientations predicted the enactment of Four Horsemen.  They found that attachment anxiety predicted an increased use of the Four Horsemen and attachment avoidance predicted the use of stonewalling.  Their findings underscore the importance of studying individual personality traits, or predispositions, in conjunction with the Four Horsemen; a similar approach was adopted here by studying the Dark Triad.” (Horan, Guinn, & Banghart. 2015, p. 160; emphasis added)

Pathology-marker:  Given these empirically demonstrated linkages in the research literature between the Dark Triad personality and high-conflict communication, ALL mental health professionals – including child custody evaluators – who are diagnosing and treating family pathology involving high-conflict divorce need to assess for potential parental Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personality pathology as being responsible for creating the high-conflict patterns of communication in the family.

Scientifically based practice grounded in the empirical research, not unique new made up forms of pathology.

Pathology-marker:  Currently, there are self-report measures for the component pathologies of the Dark Triad (narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism), and for the Dark Triad personality as a whole.  There is also a scale on the HEXACO personality inventory (low scores on the H scale for Humility and Honesty) which is associated with the Dark Triad personality.  However, since these are all self-report inventories they will be vulnerable to self-serving bias in the self-report of the Dark Triad personality when being assessed as part of a custody evaluation, so these measures may currently be of limited utility for direct use in custody evaluations.

An alternative approach in child custody evaluations would be to have each parent rate the other parent’s personality characteristics on the HEXACO – called “informant ratings” – with the goal of assessing specifically for a low-H score.  These informant ratings would still be vulnerable to the self-serving reporting bias of one ex-spouse rating the other ex-spouse (this time in a negative way), but these informant ratings on the HEXACO potentially could reveal the possible presence of a Dark Triad personality in one of the parents, which could then be confirmed by additional supportive evidence from history and symptom information, creating an overall pattern of the Dark Triad personality within the data.

(The informant ratings by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent regarding the personality traits of the other ex-spouse would be fascinating research, and may actually reveal a characteristic pattern of distortion that may be more diagnostic of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent than anything else we might develop.  Rather than assessing the Dark Triad personality directly, this would be assessing the characteristic distortion to perception created by the Dark Triad personality pathology.)

The association of the Dark Triad personality with high-conflict patterns of communication also highlights the extremely high importance that all child custody evaluators – who are specifically assessing families in high-conflict divorce – need to be exceptionally knowledgeable and skilled in the clinical assessment and recognition of narcissistic personality traits, borderline personality traits, psychopathic personality traits, and evidence of Machiavellian manipulation.

Typologies of AB-PA

There appear to be two patterns of AB-PA (attachment-based “parental alienation”), the first is associated with a more prominent narcissistic-style personality parent (the Dark Triad personality) and the second is associated with a more prominent borderline-style parent (the Vulnerable Dark Triad).  Based on my experience, there tends to be a gender association with these two differing styles, with “alienating” fathers tending to show the more narcissistic pattern of the pathology and “alienating” mothers tending to show the more borderline pattern of the pathology. 

While there may be a gender association with these different variants, this would by no means be an absolute association, so that some pathogenic mothers may evidence a more narcissistic-style and some pathogenic father’s may be along the borderline continuum.  But I have noticed in my work a tendency toward a gender association, in which pathogenic “alienating” fathers’ tend to present a more narcissistic-style pathology while pathogenic “alienating” mothers tend to present a more borderline-style pathology.

Pathology-Marker Narcissistic-Style AB-PA:  The pathogenic “alienating” parent in this variant tends to be the father, and this pattern has a stronger domestic violence feel to the pathology (evidencing themes of power, control, and domination). The mother in this variant typically was led into marriage by the seductive narcissistic-psychopathic charm of the Dark Triad father, believing that emotional intimacy would develop as the marriage progressed. However, once married, the father’s emotional abuse of her and his increasing exercise of power, control, and domination became evident.

In this variant, the mother often reports that the marriage included degrading and demeaning treatment of the mother in front of the children.  The mother in this variant typically tries to put up with the verbally demeaning treatment from her Dark Triad husband during the marriage, but ultimately seeks a divorce (often when the eldest child is between the ages of eight and 14 years old).  At this point, the father’s overt contempt for the mother escalates, although he will present to the children that he is the aggrieved party in the divorce, that he still wants to keep the family together, and that the mother is “breaking up the family” because of her own “selfishness.”  The narcissistic-style father will sometimes enlist the allied child as an emissary to try to get the mother to call off the divorce – sometimes providing the child with the extraordinarily manipulative narrative: “Tell your mother that I forgive her and that I still love her, and I want to work things out for the sake of the children and family.”

In the presentation to therapists and attorneys, the father in the narcissistic-style of AB-PA tends to use the children’s rejection of their mother as evidence of the grandiose magnificence of the father as the “all-wonderful” and ideal parent, and his reporting to therapists and the Court will often include descriptions of his wonderful parenting and the wonderfully idyllic bond of love he shares with his children.  The narcissistic-style father’s parenting is often notable for the frequent use narcissistic indulgences with the children as rewards, such as providing the children with expensive gifts and adult-like privileges.

The children of narcissistic-style AB-PA tend to show extremes of contempt and hostility toward their mother, which may rise to the level of physically threatening her, which prompts the mother to call the narcissistic father and sometimes the police for help with a child who is exceedingly angry, threatening, or assaultive.  When called, the father’s response to the mother’s requests for help in disciplining the angry child is to admonish the child, “I know she’s difficult, but try to get along with your mother, okay?” and he will respond as being put-out by always having to deal with the “consequences of the mother’s bad parenting.” The oft-heard refrain from the narcissistic Dark Triad father is, “I’m always telling the child to get along with his (her) mother, but what can I do, I can’t force the child to… xyz.”  In the narcissistic-style of AB-PA, the children’s reasons for rejecting the mother tend to emphasize the inadequacy of the mother as a person. 

When the eldest child is a daughter and the narcissistic-style father is not remarried, narcissistic-style AB-PA can sometimes evidence an “uncomfortable-creepy” spousification of the daughter by the father.  In the “spousification” of the daughter there are uncomfortable non-sexualized but incestuous undercurrents where the eldest daughter replaces the mother in the spousal role in a non-sexualized but affectionally bonded “spousal” relationship with the father.

For mental health professionals knowledgeable about attachment, this narcissistic “domestic violence” variant of AB-PA is the product of the parent’s disorganized attachment with anxious-avoidant overtones.  The psychodynamic origins for the prominent angry-aggressive display of this “domestic violence” variant of AB-PA is in the narcissistic parent’s underlying (unexpressed) hostility and rage at the rejecting “mother” of childhood (the rejecting attachment figure) who emotionally abandoned the narcissistic parent as a child into the avoidant attachment surrounding an absence of parental nurture.  This psychodynamic attachment rage toward the abandoning mother is currently being vented toward the current wife-and-mother, the current attachment figure/mother.

(This underlying rage of the narcissistic Dark Triad father toward his own mother (which is being displaced onto the targeted parent) can be present even if the father reports having a “close” relationship with his own mother.  Upon closer inspection this “close” relationship with his own mother is likely to be an enmeshed psychological relationship in which his mother dominates, controls, and invalidates the separate authenticity of her son; the father – creating the inner rage that cannot be expressed toward her but which is instead vented toward the targeted parent as the attachment figure and “mother”.)

Pathology-Marker Borderline-Style AB-PA:  The borderline-style pattern tends to emanate from an “alienating” pathogenic mother and is characterized by the mother’s exceedingly elevated anxiety and threat perception. In this variant the father was typically led into marriage by the emotionally expressive and sexually seductive charms of the mother’s borderline-style personality, and only after their marriage did the emotional instability, emotional neediness, and high-conflict/high-drama of the mother’s borderline-style personality emerge.  In some cases, this form of the AB-PA pathology will remain dormant after the divorce until the father remarries – i.e., replaces the mother as a “spouse” with a new wife – at which time the “alienation” of the children begins in earnest, often with the children expressing a theme of being rejected by their father’s time spent with his new wife.

In this borderline-style variant of the AB-PA pathology, the mother flamboyantly characterizes the father as dangerous and “abusive,” and prominently displays that the children need the mother’s “protection.”  However, when this threat perception is examined in more specificity, the father’s parenting practices are assessed to be normal-range and the children are in no objective need of “protection.”  The elevated perception of threat is emanating from the mother (from her trauma history) not from objective reality.  As a result of the mother’s (childhood trauma-related) elevated and unrealistic perception of threat, the prevalence of restraining orders and unfounded and unsubstantiated Child Protective Services abuse allegations is higher in the borderline-style AB-PA than in the narcissistic-style AB-PA.

The “protective” theme will often find expression as the mother sending food and clothing with the children when they go to their father’s home, which represents a subtle but clear signal to the children (emanating from the mother’s own belief in the father’s parental inadequacy) that the father is unable to provide adequate care for the children. The mother will also frequently query the children with an anxious emotional tone regarding their level of “safety” with the father (“Are you okay?  Did anything bad happen?”) which communicates to the children both an expectation that the father is dangerous and also that the mother is the “protective parent.”  The mother will also frequently make unwarranted “safety plans” with the children (“You can call me if anything bad happens and I’ll come pick you up”) which also clearly communicates to the children that the mother perceives the father as being dangerous to them and simultaneously creates an “us-versus-him” shared in-group/out-group bond between the “protective” mother and the children.

In the borderline-style of AB-PA, the mother’s presentation to therapists and the Court is filled with frequent assertions of threat perception regarding the father’s parenting and with frequent characterization of her own parenting as “protective” of the children.  The over-riding emotion is one of excessive maternal anxiety regarding her perception of threat, and the mother’s anxiety is notably not reassured by any reality-based evidence, argument, or intervention.

The children of the more prominently borderline-style of AB-PA also tend to present more strongly with anxiety symptoms, sometimes reaching the level of phobic anxiety displays (a “father phobia”), saying that they don’t feel “safe” when they are with their father.  When specificity is sought as to the source of their anxiety, the children’s reports will typically become vague and diffuse or linked to a low-level parent-child conflict or display of parental anger in the past, sometimes years in the past.

An intriguing symptom presentation of borderline-style AB-PA is when the mother asserts that the father was an uninvolved parent prior to the divorce and that this is the reason the children don’t want to be with him now (the children will sometimes echo this justification as a reason for current rejection of their father).  In these cases, the mother will spend a fair amount of time describing to therapists and custody evaluators how the father was an uninvolved parent prior to the divorce and how the mother was the much more involved and better parent, as if custody was a “competition” about who was the “better” parent, and since the father was not as involved as the mother, she is therefore the “winner” as the “better” parent so she should be awarded the “prize” of the children.

However, the illogic of this idea which is prominently presented by the mother escapes her (and many mental health professionals, I might add).  Even if we grant that “the problem” was the father’s prior lack of involvement with the children before the divorce (which is a big if and is often disputed by the father), but even IF, then the SOLUTION is to give the father MORE time with the children not less, so that the father and the children can now develop a healthy and loving bond.  The idea that the problem is that the father wasn’t involved before so the solution is to now restrict the father’s involvement is bizarre.

Note to all therapists:  If the problem asserted by the mother and children is the father’s lack of prior involvement, then the SOLUTION is to give the father MORE TIME with the children so that they have the opportunity to affectionally bond and develop positive parent-child relationships.

In the borderline-style of AB-PA, the mother typically evidences a prominent identity fusion with the child in which there is a severe loss of psychological boundaries between the mother and the child.  This seems particularly true when the eldest child is a daughter, creating an identity fusion enhanced by an equality of gender identification as well.  In borderline-style AB-PA families where the eldest child is a daughter, there is often an intensely enmeshed relationship between the mother and eldest daughter, and younger children in the family are often not as affected by the “alienation” split within the family for the first two or three years following the divorce, and so are better able to maintain an affectionate bond with the father.  As time passes, however, the younger children will be pulled into the coalition of the mother and eldest child as well.

Excessive text messaging between the mother and the children when they are in the care of their father is also extremely characteristic of the borderline-style of AB-PA.  Sometimes the mother will put the allied oldest child “in charge” of ensuring the “safety” of the younger children.  While excessive text messaging is also characteristic of the narcissistic style of AB-PA, it is almost always a very prominent feature of the borderline-style of AB-PA.

On a clinical psychology note, there are also often a variety of soft clinical signs of a sexual abuse history with the mother.  I’m not going to elaborate on these soft clinical signs here, but if I should die before this pathology gets solved and before I’m able to get to this clinical issue, other mental health professionals should follow up on this pathology-marker.  In the borderline-style of AB-PA, a history sexual abuse trauma in the mother’s childhood is a strong possibility as the source for the mother’s elevated threat perception in the current family situation.


I cannot emphasize enough that this really is a pathology that warrants the designation as a “special population” requiring specialized expertise in the attachment system, trauma, personality pathology, and family systems pathology in order to competently assess, diagnose, and treat.  Right now in mental health we’re allowing plumbers and traffic cops to do open heart surgery, and guess what… patients are dying because plumbers and traffic cops are wonderful plumbers and traffic cops, but they’re not competent to do open heart surgery.


Attachment System Pathogen

This pathology is the result of distorted information structures (schema patterns) in the attachment system – the brain system that governs all things love-and-bonding throughout the lifespan, including grief and loss.  This is not a pathology like ADHD or autism.  This is fundamentally an interpersonal pathology.  It is an attachment-related pathology.

Prior to my work with “parental alienation” I was the Clinical Director for an early childhood assessment and treatment center that worked primarily with children in the foster care system.  I am trained to clinical competence in the two primary early childhood diagnostic systems that incorporate attachment-related pathology, the DC-03 and the ICDL-DMIC.  These are alternative diagnostic systems to the DSM system that are specifically designed for early childhood related disorders, which includes attachment-related disorders.  I am also trained to clinical competence in the two primary attachment-related therapies of early childhood: Watch, Wait, and Wonder and the Circle of Security.  I know attachment-related disorders.

I also have direct experience working with the attachment system that has been exposed to severe neglect – such as the child psychologically abandoned and exposed to severe physical neglect by meth-addicted parents. 

I have direct experience working with the attachment system that has been exposed to severe physical abuse – such children beaten with electrical cords and burned with cigarettes as “discipline.” 

I have direct experience working with the attachment system of children who have been sexually abused – the cruel and malevolent violation of the child’s self-integrity and trust. 

As a clinical psychologist tasked with diagnosing and fixing the traumatized attachment system, I know what trauma does to the attachment networks, and I know what each type of trauma looks like and does to the relationship systems of attachment. 

I know what the various forms of childhood trauma look like in the attachment networks, and I know what each of these forms of childhood trauma do to the information structures of the attachment system.

Pathology-Marker: For nearly a decade now, I have studied the fundamentally interpersonal, damaged and distorted attachment information structures of the “parental alienation” pathology, working out the various levels of the pathology.  For nearly a decade now, I’ve been studying in detail the pathogen that is inhabiting the attachment networks of AB-PA.

What I noticed early on is that the pathogen (the characteristic pattern of distorted and damaged information structures in the attachment system) contains particular sets and types of damage that are highly characteristic of sexual abuse trauma – particularly of incest.  But they’re not the complete set of damaged information structures, just fragments of the themes, like fragments from the source code of incest trauma in the attachment system.

This pattern of fragmentary damage in patterns characteristic of sexual abuse trauma suggests that the pathology of AB-PA had its origins in sexual abuse trauma, but not in this generation.  The sexual abuse trauma likely entered the family system a generation or two earlier, and only fragments of the trauma remain in the current attachment networks.  Let me be clear, AB-PA is NOT due to sexual abuse of the child.  But there are fragments of damaged information structures that are typically only found in sexual abuse, suggesting that the original trauma that entered the family a generation or two earlier was sexual abuse.

Based on my analysis of the pathology, I strongly suspect that the pathology of AB-PA represents the trans-generational transmission of sexual abuse trauma…

… from the generation prior to the current “alienating” parent…

… into the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child through the trauma-influenced pathogenic parenting of the sexually abused parent (the parent of the current narcissistic/(borderline) parent)…

… which then created the disorganized attachment in the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child…

… that then led to the formation of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality pathology…

… which is now being manifested into the current family as the symptoms of AB-PA.

This is just a hypothesis – a professionally informed guess – born in my background with attachment trauma and my years spent analyzing the attachment-related pathology of AB-PA.  And just as there appear to be variants of the pathology, there are almost certainly alternative variants in the origins of the pathology.  But if I leave the planet tomorrow I have at least placed these pathology-markers like breadcrumbs on the path so that others could explore the leads pointed to by these markers.

Shades of Color

The attachment system is the brain system responsible for managing all aspects of love and bonding throughout the lifespan, including grief and loss.  It functions in characteristic ways, and it dysfunctions in characteristic ways.  The brain is a complex organization of neural networks that are both genetically and environmentally wired.  Nothing is black-and-white, everything is complex shades of integrated colors.  I’m simply placing some pathology markers for others to follow should I leave earlier than anticipated.

Now that these pathology-markers are down, I’m going to go back to the work of obtaining professional competence from current mental health professionals in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of AB-PA; attachment-based “parental alienation.”

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

References for the Dark Triad

Baughman, H.M., Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M., and Vernon, P.A. (2014). Liar liar pants on fire: Cheater strategies linked to the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 71, 35–38.

Book, A., Visser, B.A., and Volk, A.A. (2015). Unpacking ‘‘evil’’: Claiming the core of the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences 73 (2015) 29–38.

Christie, R. C., & Geis, F. L. (1970). Studies in Machiavellianism. New York: Academic Press.

Giammarco, E.A. and Vernon, P.A. (2014). Vengeance and the Dark Triad: The role of empathy and perspective taking in trait forgivingness. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 23–29.

Horan, S.M., Guinn, T.D., and Banghart, S. (2015). Understanding relationships among the Dark Triad personality profile and romantic partners’ conflict communication. Communication Quarterly, 63, 156-170.

Jonason, P. K. and Krause, L. (2013). The emotional deficits associated with the Dark Triad traits: Cognitive empathy, affective empathy, and alexithymia. Personality and Individual Differences, 55, 532–537.

Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M. Baughman, H.M., and Vernon, P.A. (2014). What a tangled web we weave: The Dark Triad traits and deception. Personality and Individual Differences, 70, 117–119.

Jonason, P.K., Lyons, M., and Bethell, E. (2014). The making of Darth Vader: Parent–child care and the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 30–34.

Jones, D.N. and Paulhus, D.L. (2014). Introducing the Short Dark Triad (SD3): A Brief measure of dark personality traits. Assessment, 21, 28-41.

Lee, K., and Ashton, M. C. (2012). The H factor of personality: Why some people are manipulative, self-entitled, materialistic, and exploitative —and why it matters for everyone. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Miller, J.D., Dir, A., Gentile, B., Wilson, L., Pryor, L.R., and Campbell, W.K. (2010). Searching for a Vulnerable Dark Triad: Comparing Factor 2 psychopathy, vulnerable narcissism, and borderline personality disorder. Journal of Personality, 78, 1529-1564.

Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556–563.

Rasmussen, K.R. and Boon, S.D. (2014). Romantic revenge and the Dark Triad: A model of impellance and inhibition. Personality and Individual Differences, 56, 51–5.

Wai, M. and Tiliopoulos, N. (2012). The affective and cognitive empathic nature of the dark triad of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 794–799.

One is True – The Other is False

Standard

There are currently two models of “parental alienation,” the Gardnerian PAS model and the attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA).

These two models are incompatible. They cannot both be true. 

The basic premise of the Gardnerian PAS model is that the pathology of “parental alienation” is a unique new form of pathology unrelated to any other form of pathology in all of mental health, and that this unique new form of pathology requires an equally unique set of symptom identifiers that also have no relation to any other form of pathology in all of mental health.

The basic premise of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA), on the other hand, is that the pathology commonly referred to as “parental alienation” in the popular culture is an expression of standard and established forms of attachment-related pathology (the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma), personality disorder pathology (parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology that is the product of childhood attachment trauma), and family systems pathology (the child’s triangulation into the family conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent against the targeted parent), and that the pathology can be reliably identified by a set of three diagnostic indicators that are based in the attachment system and personality disorder origins of the pathology.

These two models are fundamentally incompatible.  The pathology of “parental alienation” cannot simultaneously be an entirely unique new form of pathology unrelated to any other type of pathology in all of mental health – so unique in fact, that it requires its own unique set of diagnostic symptom identifiers made up specifically for this pathology alone – AND, at the same time, be an expression of standard and established forms of existing psychopathology with an entirely different set of diagnostic symptom identifiers.  It’s either one or the other. 

The pathology cannot logically be BOTH a unique new form of pathology and also an existing form of standard and established pathology.  It’s either one or the other.

These two models are fundamentally incompatible.  It is a logical impossibility for both to be true.  If one is true, the other must be false.  If it’s a unique new form of pathology, then it’s not an expression of standard and established forms of pathology.  If it’s an expression of standard and established forms of pathology, then it’s not a unique new form of pathology. 

One model is true and the other model is false.  I know the Gardnerians would like both models to be true, but that’s a logical impossibility.  One model is true, and the other model is false.

These two models also lead to two different sets of diagnostic symptom identifiers: 

The Gardnerian PAS model proposes a set of eight diagnostic symptoms which were made up by Gardner based on his anecdotal clinical experience.  According to the PAS model, these diagnostic indicators may or may not be present in any specific case and can vary in degree, leading to a vaguely defined set of potential symptom identifiers and an arbitrarily defined continuum from mild to severe “parental alienation,” in which the operational definitions for what constitutes mild or moderate or severe “parental alienation” are not specified.

In addition, since the Gardnerian PAS diagnostic indicators are unique symptoms created just for this form of pathology alone, with no association to any other form of pathology in all of mental health, they do not lead to any defined DSM-5 diagnosis.

The attachment-based (AB-PA) model, on the other hand, identifies three diagnostic indicators based on a conceptual analysis of the pathology.  The first diagnostic indicator involves attachment system suppression, which reflects the attachment-related origins of the pathology.  The second diagnostic indicator of five specific a-priori predicted narcissistic personality traits in the child’s symptom display is evidence of the psychological influence on the child by a narcissistic parent.  The third diagnostic indicator is a delusional belief regarding the child’s supposed “victimization” by the normal-range parenting practices of the targeted parent, which reflects the child’s incorporation into the false trauma reenactment narrative of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

In an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA), all three of these diagnostic indicators must be present in the child’s symptom display for the diagnosis of pathogenic parenting to be made, and the diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA) yield a dichotomous diagnosis as either present or absent (although a sub-threshold category can also be defined).

In addition, since the diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” are all standard symptoms within mental health, they lead directly to a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.  Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

You can tell which model a mental health professional is using by which diagnostic indicators are being used to define the pathology, the eight diagnostic indicators of Gardnerian PAS or the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA).

One model is true.  The other model is false.  The question then becomes, which model is true and which is false? 

Is the pathology commonly referred to as “parental alienation” a unique new form of pathology in all of mental health, unrelated to any other form of pathology, requiring eight equally unique diagnostic indicators that may or may not be present in any individual case and may be present to varying degrees?

Or is the pathology a manifestation of standard and established forms of attachment-related pathology, personality disorder pathology, and family systems pathology; and is the pathology identifiable by a set of three definitive diagnostic indicators which must all be present, which result in a clearly defined categorical diagnosis as either present or absent, and which lead to a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Only one of these two definitions of the pathology is true.  Whichever model is true, the other model is false.

Obviously, I am of the firm opinion that an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is true, which makes the Gardnerian PAS model false.  In Foundations I provide a comprehensive conceptual description of the pathology across three levels of analysis, the family systems level, the personality disorder level, and the attachment system level, detailing the origins of the symptoms evidenced in the pathology, including a detailed description of how the child’s symptoms are induced by the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  Foundations also provides an integration of the pathology across all three levels, in which the attachment system level creates the pathology at the personality disorder level, and the personality disorder level creates the pathology at the family systems level.  No definition of a pathology could provide such a comprehensive and integrated definition of the pathology within each of three separate levels of analysis and also across all three levels of analysis unless the definition of the pathology is accurate.

The descriptive definition of the pathology is so comprehensive that it actually predicts specific sentences used by the child and narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  No description of a pathology could make specific predictions of specific sentences if the model of the pathology was not accurate.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is absolutely an accurate definition of the pathology from within standard and established, fully accepted, and scientifically validated constructs and principles of professional psychology.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is true.  Which means the Gardnerian PAS model is false.  I know this is hard for the Gardnerian PAS experts to accept, but it is reality.

If the Gardnerians want a different reality to be true, then they’re going to have to make the argument that an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) is false.  Although I’m not sure why they would want to fight against adopting a model of the pathology that provides an immediate DSM-5 diagnosis of confirmed Child Psychological Abuse in order to hold on to a failed model that has provided no solution whatsoever in 30 years – 30 years.

Or the Gardnerian PAS experts can simply try to live in a parallel universe in which both models are simultaneously true; where the pathology of “parental alienation” is both a unique new form of pathology with unique symptom identifiers developed specifically for this unique new form of pathology AND, at the same time, where the pathology is a manifestation of standard and established forms of existing pathology with an entirely different set of symptom identifiers.  La-la-la, both are true, both are true, would you like another cup of tea?

Gardnerian PAS is a failed model.  That’s reality.  Thirty years of PAS as the primary definition of the pathology has produced EXACTLY the situation we have right now – no solution whatsoever, and Gardnerian PAS has led us into the rampant and unchecked professional incompetence and gridlock that surrounds us.  In addition, Gardnerian PAS offers no plan whatsoever for a solution except another thirty years of controversy, incompetence, and gridlock.

Switching to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA), on the other hand, provides an immediate solution, today, right this instant. 

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

The DSM-5 diagnosis of the pathology as V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed provides the entry into the solution. Diagnosis guides treatment.  The mental health response to all forms of child abuse, physical child abuse, sexual child abuse, and psychological child abuse, is to protectively separate the child from the abusive parent, treat the consequences of the parent’s abuse of the child, require that the abusive parent receive collateral individual therapy to gain and demonstrate insight into the causes of the prior abuse, and then to restore the child’s relationship with the formerly abusive parent with appropriate safeguards to ensure that the abuse doesn’t resume upon reintroducing the child to the abusive parent.

This is the standard mental health response to all forms of child abuse.  This is the standard mental health response to physical child abuse.  This is the standard mental health response to sexual child abuse.  This is the standard mental health response to psychological child abuse.  Diagnosis guides treatment.

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) provides an immediate solution to “parental alienation” right now, today.  Diagnosis guides treatment.

So why are any “parental alienation” experts still holding on to the false and failed Gardnerian PAS model for the pathology?  Beats me.  There is no scientifically or rationally based reason to hold on to the failed and false Gardnerian PAS model for the pathology.  It makes no sense whatsoever.

You will know which model the mental health professional is using by the diagnostic indicators they use to define the pathology; the eight diagnostic indicators of Gardnerian PAS, or the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA)

So let me propose this challenge to any “parental alienation” expert who still uses the eight Gardnerian symptoms to define the pathology:

I propose that we have an online debate regarding the respective models.  We can jointly set up a WordPress blog and each of us can then post our opening position.  We can then take turns posting blogs and commenting on the other’s blog posts, creating a documented record of the discussion.

My position is that the continued use of the Gardnerian PAS model delays the solution to “parental alienation,” and that the sooner we stop using the Gardnerian PAS model and the sooner we switch to an attachment-based model (AB-PA), the sooner we will have the solution; as soon as today, right this instant.

My position is that we need to put a bullet in the brain of Gardnerian PAS because Gardnerian PAS needs to die as an active definition of the pathology. 

Disagree?  Let’s debate.  WordPress.  I’m ready.  This is an open challenge to any “parental alienation” expert who is continuing to use the Gardnerian PAS model.  Email me with the heading – “Debate Challenge Accepted” – and we can set up the joint WordPress blog.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

 

I am not your warrior

Standard

I received a comment from a targeted parent regarding my last blog on recovering the adult children of alienation.  I believe my response to be of sufficient importance to all targeted parents that I have decided to make my response a full blog post.  I have removed the comment from my blog because I don’t want to put the parent in an uncomfortable position. I fully understand the frustration, helplessness, and deep sorrow that gave rise to the comment.  However, I also want to use the comment to address a larger issue.

Here is the comment:

“As nice as this is, it is not the least bit helpful. Not one parent out here has any idea whatsoever how to reach their alienated older teenage or young adult child. Can you please, try to come up with some ideas for that. Thanks”

Here is my response:

This attitude highlights a fundamental problem in creating the solution to “parental alienation.”  As long as targeted parents wait for me, or for anyone else, to rescue their children there will be no solution.

The fundamental and primary responsibility of a parent is to protect the child.  I am not the parent.  You are.  Your children are waiting for you to protect them.  Your children are waiting for you to rescue them.  I am not the parent, you are.

I am not your warrior.  I am your weapon.

I have given you everything you need to protect and rescue your children. 

The solution to parental alienation is available right now, today, this instant.  All that needs to happen is for the paradigm to shift from the failed and inadequate PAS model of Gardner to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA).  As long as Gardnerian PAS remains the dominant paradigm, there will be NO solution to “parental alienation.”  The moment the paradigm shifts to an attachment-based model, the solution becomes available immediately.

I’ve collaborated with Jason Hofer (mostly Jason’s work) on creating a list of the

Top 15 Things Targeted Parents Need to Know About Attachment-Based Parental Alienation (AB-PA)

I thought he did a wonderful job of presenting all of the important information.  I just tweaked a word here and there and added my name to make the list “official.”

Attachment-based “parental alienation” is not a theory.  It is diagnosis.  The application of standard and established psychological principles and constructs to a set of symptoms is called diagnosis.

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

This is not a theory.  This is diagnosis.

I have given you rock-solid Foundations on which to stand, based on well-established, fully accepted, scientifically validated constructs and principles of professional psychology.

I have given you three definitive diagnostic indicators of the pathology that can reliably and consistently distinguish attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA) from all other forms of child and family pathology, including authentic child abuse, normal-range parent-child conflict, and child oppositional-defiant behavior.

I have given you booklets to provide to the mental health and legal professionals involved with your families describing the pathology of the narcissistic parent and the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA).

I have activated for you Standard 9.01a and Standard 2.01a of the APA ethics code for psychologists so that you can now hold ALL psychologists (and other therapists under their separate ethical codes of conduct) accountable for the competent assessment and accurate diagnosis of the pathology when the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting are present in the child’s symptom display.

I have given you the rationale to seek a change in the APA Position Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome that will immediately restore professional psychology as your ally.

I have given you everything you need.  But I am not your warrior.

You are the warrior.  You, the children’s authentic parents, you must rise up, you must unite, and you must become an unstoppable force for change.  You, together, must protect ALL of your children.

I know this pathology better than anyone on this planet.  The pathogen is located in the attachment system (the brain network responsible for governing all aspects of love and bonding across the lifespan, including grief and loss) and it has a specific meme-structure – a specific information structure – that acts to keep the victim isolated and alone.  As long as the pathogen can keep you isolated and alone it can keep you powerless.

As long as each of you fights only to protect your specific child, then the pathogen and its allies can keep you powerless; helpless.  You must come together.  You must stop fighting to recover your specific child and begin fighting to recover each others’ children, the children of your colleague and neighbor, the children of other targeted parents.   You must begin fighting to recover each others’ children.

Just like I am fighting for your children, you must mirror this and also fight for each others’ children.

Fighting just for your own situation is a reflection of a narcissistic attitude of personal self-interest.  We cannot fight narcissism with narcissism.  We must fight narcissistic pathology with self-sacrifice to each other.  Fight for your neighbor’s children, for your colleague’s children, fight for the children of other targeted parents.

We cannot solve parental alienation in any single specific family until we solve it for ALL families.

“What about MY situation?”

“What’s the solution for MY situation?”

“How can I recover MY child?”

Stop it. 

I am not working for my own children – my Jack and my Annie are fine.  They’re in college, my wife and I are married.   We’re fine.  I’m not fighting for MY children… I’m fighting for YOUR children.  You need to begin fighting for each others’ children. 

The mental health system is broken.  The legal system is broken.  There is no solution.  Gardnerian PAS is a failed model.  It provides no solution.  There is no solution.

We must put a bullet in the brain of Gardnerian PAS and return to established and accepted psychological principles and constructs. 

In proposing a “new syndrome” which is supposedly unique in all of mental health, and which, according to Gardner, is identifiable by an equally unique made-up set of symptom identifiers, Richard Gardner skipped the crucial step of professional diagnosis. He did not apply the professional rigor necessary to define the pathology using standard and established, scientifically validated constructs and principles within professional psychology.

Gardner and PAS have taken us down a dead-end road of controversy which only leads us to rampant and unchecked professional incompetence and gridlock.

Foundations corrects this.  Foundations defines the pathology of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established, scientifically validated constructs and principles in professional psychology.  The application of standard and established psychological principles and constructs to a set of symptoms is called diagnosis.

Diagnosis.  AB-PA is not a theory.  It’s diagnosis.

Gardner constructed a model on the shifting sands of his personal assertions.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) is built on the solid bedrock of standard and established, fully accepted, and scientifically validated constructs and principles. In Foundations  you can stand on the solid bedrock of established and scientifically validated constructs and principles in your fight for your children.

So stand and fight.  Wake up from your slumber of helplessness created by 30 years of Gardnerian PAS.  You are more powerful than you can imagine.  But only if you come together, and only if you begin to fight for each other rather than for yourself alone.

We cannot solve “parental alienation” in any one specific family until we solve it for ALL children and ALL families.   This is crucial for you to understand.

We need to put a bullet in the brain of Gardnerian PAS.  It is a dead paradigm.  It gives away your power through poorly defined diagnostic indicators and endless controversy.

Re-own your power.  Join together in a movement of unstoppable power.  In a single isolated voice you are helpless.  When you come together into 100 you have reclaimed your voice.  In 1,000 you reclaim your power.  In 10,000 you become an unstoppable force for change. Become that unstoppable force.  Your children need you to become that unstoppable force.

Write to the APA – your leadership has the contact information.  Demand a revision to the APA position statement on “parental alienation” because there is a new model of the pathology, an attachment-based model, which must be considered.  The APA Position Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome ONLY and specifically addresses PAS, it doesn’t address an attachment-based definition of the pathology.  The AB-PA model makes the APA position statement too narrow, the APA position statement must now be revised to take into account a second model and second definition of the pathology.  I have given you your weapon… but you must use it.

I am NOT your warrior.  These are your children.  You must be their warrior.  I am your weapon.  I have given you everything you need.  But it is up to you to use what I have given you… NOT for your own child, but for each others’ children.  We cannot solve this for YOUR child until we solve it for ALL children.  Don’t be narcissistically self-absorbed, thinking only of yourself.  You must act each for the other.  Let others fight for your specific child while you fight for theirs.

Standard 9.01 BannerStandard 9.01a and Standard 2.01a of the ethics code of the APA are active for you.  You can now demand – you can now demand – professional competence from ALL psychologists using the rock-solid Foundations of established, fully accepted, and scientifically validated constructs and principles.

Will you get professional competence?  Of course not.  But you’re not fighting for your child, you’re fighting for your neighbor’s child. 

If you file a licensing board complaint, will Standard 2.01 Bannerthe licensing board do anything?  Of course not.  But you’re not fighting for your child, you’re fighting for your neighbor’s child.  

When the next targeted parent comes to this therapist and asks the therapist to assess for the pathology, the therapist will now assess for the pathology because the therapist wants to avoid another licensing board complaint, and the therapist will now accurately diagnose the pathology because the therapist wants to avoid another licensing board complaint. 

Did your complaint, did your malpractice lawsuit, change anything in your specific family?  No.  Did it help solve “parental alienation” for all families, for your neighbor’s family?  Absolutely yes.

I have made you dangerous.  Be dangerous.  Demand professional competence.  Be kind, but demand competence.  Lay the paper trail.  Document in a letter to the mental health professional your request that the therapist or child custody evaluator assess for pathogenic parentingnot “parental alienation” – pathogenic parenting – use the words of power I’ve given you.

Document in this letter that you provided the therapist with a copy of the booklet Professional Consultation.

Document in this letter that you provided the therapist with the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting – note it’s not called the Diagnostic Checklist for Parental Alienation – use the words of power I have given you.

Document in this letter that you are giving the therapist my email address (drcraigchildress@gmail.com) and that you are asking the therapist to contact me to schedule a professional-to-professional consultation.

Lay the paper trail.  Will the therapist assess for the pathology?  Of course not.  But when this therapist does not assess for the pathology (and does not document in the patient record the results of the assessment), then file a licensing board complaint citing Standards 9.01a and 2.01a of the APA ethics code.  Will the licensing board do anything?  Of course not.  But you’re not fighting for your child, you’re fighting for ALL children.  Do you think that the next targeted parent who asks that this therapist assess for pathogenic parenting is going to get an assessment for pathogenic parenting?  Absolutely.  If not, then this parent is also going to file a licensing board complaint so that the next targeted parent will get an assessment for the pathology.  Fight for each other.

“But what about Master’s level therapists?”

Really?  Are you kidding me?  You can’t figure this out?   Master’s level therapists have their ethics codes as well, and all of these ethics codes have a Standard regarding professional competence.  Figure it out.  I’ve listed these ethics codes and the specific standard in a previous post (Demanding Professional Competence). This is your fight, not mine.  I am not your warrior.  You are the warrior.  Will their licensing board do anything?  No, of course not.  But what do you think the Master’s level therapist is going to do the next time a targeted parent requests an assessment of pathogenic parenting? 

The goal is to provoke a risk-management response throughout ALL of mental health, a system-wide change, in which ALL mental health professionals take responsibility for becoming professionally competent from their personal self-interest to AVOID a licensing board complaint (and possible malpractice lawsuit) if they continue to remain incompetent.

They can be incompetent, and they can remain incompetent, but from now on they do so at their own peril.

The licensing board may collude with allowing them to be incompetent, but we’re going to make the licensing board collude with professional incompetence over-and-over again until the licensing board eventually stands up and fulfills its responsibility by no longer colluding with professional incompetence and the blatant refusal by incompetent mental health professionals to assess for and diagnose child abuse when they are mandated reporters and have a “duty to protect.”

I have made you dangerous to professional incompetence.  So be dangerous to professional incompetence.  NOT for your child, but for your neighbor’s child, for each other’s children.

Unsheathe your sword and take a swing.

“I did, but it missed.  Nothing happened.”

Stop thinking of yourself.  Stop being narcissistically self-involved.  Okay.  So nothing happened in your specific situation.  Your specific situation wasn’t solved.  But in taking out your sword, in taking a whack at the pathogen, you have improved the chances that your neighbor’s blow will strike home.  You have improved the chances that your neighbor’s efforts with his specific case or her specific case will succeed.  Work for each others’ children.

And your neighbors’ efforts in their specific cases may not succeed for their specific children, but in taking out their sword and in their taking a whack at professional incompetence they will be improving the chances that you will succeed in your fight for your child.  Fight for each other.  Stop saying “what about me, what about me.”  This isn’t about you.  We don’t fight narcissism with narcissism, we fight narcissism with empathy and self-sacrifice.  Fight for each other.

Come together – 10,000 strong.  The recent Petition to Change the APA Position Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome has 4,000 signatures.  Really?  There are only 4,000 targeted parents in the world?  If you are not willing to expend the minimal effort necessary to sign an online petition, then there is nothing I can do for you.  I am not your warrior.  YOU are the warrior.  This is your fight.  I am your weapon.

4,000 signatures.  Really?  You should be ashamed of yourselves.  This means that there are less than 4,000 families in the world who are affected by “parental alienation, assuming that targeted parents who signed the petition also asked friends and family to sign the petition, or it means that there are less than 4,000 targeted parents, friends, and extended family who are willing to actually fight for their children.  “What about me?  The petition won’t change my situation.” – What about all the children.  We cannot solve the pathology of “parental alienation” until you start fighting for each other, for all families, for all children.

But what about the now-adult children of childhood alienation? How do we also recover them when their parents can’t contact them.

“What about me?  How do we solve my situation?”

We solve this by solving “parent alienation” for ALL families.  And in solving “parental alienation” for ALL families we need to create and generate as much media attention as possible – lots and lots of media attention.  And we need to actively encourage the formation of online support groups of recovered adult children of alienation who can help each other. 

How about this for an idea… form a closed online peer support group for adult survivors of childhood alienation… and invite me in as a participating consultant…  I’m willing.

The targeted parents of now-adult children of alienation cannot contact their children.  This is a fact.  We must do it for them, our movement must do it for them.  Don’t worry about your specific child, that will be the responsibility of the rest of us – all of us – together.  Worry about your neighbor’s child.  How are the targeted parents of now-adult children going to restore their relationship with their children?

We need to work to get articles in the local papers, in the national media.  Targeted parents have a great “hook” for the media.  The human pathos of your personal stories are heartbreaking. 

The rampant professional incompetence provides a “hook.” 

An “epidemic” of undiagnosed child abuse provides a “hook.” 

The lack of action from the APA to enforce their own professional ethical standards for professional competence by not recognizing your children and families as a “special population” who require specialized professional knowledge and expertise to assess, diagnose, and treat, provides a “hook.” 

A grassroots movement of targeted parents hellbent on recovering their children, who are now consistently filing licensing board complaints and malpractice lawsuits against all mental health professionals who refuse to assess for the pathology of pathogenic parenting (use the words of power) and who refuse to accurately diagnose the pathology as Child Psychological Abuse when the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting are present, provides a “hook.”

This isn’t my fight, it’s yours.  Not for ten of you, or even one hundred of you.  It’s the fight for ten thousand of you.  You are more powerful than you know… if you come together and fight for each other.  Become an unstoppable force, become a tsunami of 10,000 voices, 20,000 voices.

We need to surround the now-adult children of alienation with information, and with an invitation to recovery.   And we need to give them a path to recovery.  We need to create competent mental health professionals who are able to help the adult child of alienation when that now-adult child wants to recover the lost relationship with the targeted-rejected parent.  We need to encourage the formation of online peer support groups of recovered adult children of alienation.  We need to flood the media with advocacy and awareness.

None of this… NONE of this… is possible using Gardnerian PAS.  We need to put a bullet in the brain of Garnerian PAS.  It is a failed paradigm that offers no solution whatsoever.  In over thirty years since its introduction it has given us exactly what we have right now – no solution whatsoever.  We must kill Gardnerian PAS.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) provides an immediate solution, today. 

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

We start by getting an accurate DSM-5 diagnosis of the pathology in all cases of AB-PA.  We then build on that.

Diagnosis begins with assessment:  The Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting.

Step-by-step we construct the solution.

There is no reason your current mental health professional cannot assess for the pathology of pathogenic parenting today, right now.  There is no reason your current mental health professional cannot make an accurate DSM-5 diagnosis of the pathology as V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed today, right now.  There is no reason your current mental health professional cannot file a suspected child abuse report with Child Protective Services today, right now when a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse is made.

There is nothing standing in the way of a solution to attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA) occurring today, right now.

I want you to let that sink in… 

Everyone has been so captivated by needing to have something “accepted” – i.e., the new and unique pathology of Gardnerian PAS – that people are failing to comprehend that the moment we give up the Gardnerian PAS model and switch to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) there is nothing to accept or reject – because all of the component pathology in attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA) has ALREADY been accepted, and it is ALREADY scientifically established fact.

Jason gets it.  Look at item 6 of the Top 15 Things Targeted Parents Need to Know About Attachment-Based Parental Alienation (AB-PA)

There is nothing – nothing – standing in the way of the solution offered by attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA) occurring today, right now:

A DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed and a child abuse report filed with CPS by the mental health professional… as just the beginning of the solution that then unfolds.

We need to put a bullet in the brain of Gardnerian PAS so that it goes away and mental health professionals stop using this failed and utterly inadequate model of the pathology.

We need to demand professional competence in the assessment and diagnosis of the pathology (pathogenic parenting – not “parental alienation”), and you need to become extremely dangerous to continued professional incompetence under Standards 9.01a and 2.01a of the APA ethics code, not for your child in your specific case but for your neighbor’s child; for all children. 

We must expect and achieve professional competence in the assessment and accurate diagnosis of the pathology – every single time in every single case.  Now.  Today.  Or else the mental health professional who fails to conduct the assessment for pathogenic parenting and who fails to make an accurate diagnosis when the three definitive symptoms of pathogenic parenting are present in the child’s symptom display needs to be held accountable.  What happens at the licensing board is not our concern.  They’ll do what they’ll do.  If they wish to collude with professional incompetence, there’s nothing we can about that… except continue to file complaints over-and-over again in each case of professional incompetence in the assessment and diagnosis of pathogenic parenting, until eventually mental health professionals step-up to their professional obligation to be competent and until they begin to assess and accurately diagnose the pathology.

I am not your warrior.  Don’t expect me to solve this.  Your children need you to protect them.  I am your weapon.  You are the warrior.  Fight for each other.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Recovering Adult Children of Alienation

Standard

As you can imagine, many targeted parents contact me seeking my advice and consultation regarding their family experience with “parental alienation.”  Unfortunately there are a variety of professional and legal reasons that prevent me from offering advice and counsel to targeted parent on their specific situations.  I am only allowed by professional practice standards to provide expert testimony in legal cases, and I am allowed by professional practice standards to provide professional-to-professional consultation to other mental health professionals.

My recommendation is for targeted parents to request from the mental health professional involved in your family situation that the mental health professional contact me to engage in a professional-to-professional consultation.  I cannot talk to the targeted parent regarding the specifics of your situation.  I can, however, talk with the mental health professional as part of a professional-to-professional case consultation as long as the mental health professional does not disclose identifying information about the clients in the case.

Both the mental health and the legal system response to the pathology of “parental alienation” are broken.

We must first fix the mental health response to the pathology, and then, with the mental health system as your firm ally, we can turn to fixing the legal system’s response.  My typical recommendation to all targeted parents who seek my counsel is for them to ask the involved mental health professional to contact me by email with the heading <Professional Consultation>. 

Diagnosis guides treatment

The first step is to obtain an accurate DSM-5 diagnosis of the pathology.

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Patho=pathology; genic=genesis, creation.  Pathogenic parenting is the creation of significant pathology in the child through aberrant and distorted parenting practices.  The term pathogenic parenting is an established psychological construct typically used in association with attachment-related disorders, since the attachment system never spontaneously dysfunctions but only dysfunctions in response to pathogenic parenting.

There is a Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting available on my website that lists the three diagnostic indicators and 12 Associated Clinical Signs of the pathology.

Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting

Diagnosis guides treatment, and diagnosis begins with assessment.

Standard 9.01a of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct specifies:

9.01 Bases for Assessments
(a) Psychologists base the opinions contained in their recommendations, reports and diagnostic or evaluative statements,
including forensic testimony, on information and techniques sufficient to substantiate their findings.

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

ALL mental health professionals involved in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of attachment-related pathology in high-conflict divorce (i.e., the child’s apparent rejection of a normal-range and affectionally available parent) need to assess for the diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting by an allied narcissistic/(borderline) personality parent (a Dark Triad and Vulnerable Dark Triad personality parent).

Recovering Adult Survivors of Childhood “Alienation”

I recently received a request for consultation from a targeted parent regarding how to recover now adult children of childhood alienation.  While I cannot address specific issues in any specific case, I responded by describing the general issues surrounding the recovery of children from the pathogenic parenting of attachment-based “parental alienation” (i.e., the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the current family relationships, mediated by the personality pathology of the allied parent which is itself a product of this parent’s childhood attachment trauma).

I thought my response to this parent may be of broader interest in its description of the pathology from the child’s perspective, so I’ve decided to provide this response more broadly on my blog.  It’s a long response – sorry – it’s a complicated pathology.  But hopefully it will be helpful.  Since my discussion is so extended, I also decided to post it to my website as a pdf:

Recovering the Adult Survivor of Childhood Alienation

The following is my response to a targeted parent regarding the general pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” with a particular focus on the child’s experience:



The central feature of “parental alienation” for the children is grief and guilt, and the pathology generally would fall into the category of “disordered mourning” (Bowlby, 1980).[1]   In order for an adult child to become open to restoring a relationship with the targeted parent, the child must be willing to become open to the pain of unresolved grief and guilt.  Typically, adult children are reluctant to open the doors to their buried sadness.

Understanding the Pathology

The attachment system is a set of brain networks that manage all aspects of love and bonding, including grief and loss.  The attachment system functions in characteristic ways, and it dysfunctions in characteristic ways.  Mary Ainsworth, one of the premier experts in the attachment system describes the functioning of the attachment system:

I define an “affectional bond” as a relatively long-enduring tie in which the partner is important as a unique individual and is interchangeable with none other.  In an affectional bond, there is a desire to maintain closeness to the partner.  In older children and adults, that closeness may to some extent be sustained over time and distance and during absences, but nevertheless there is at least an intermittent desire to reestablish proximity and interaction, and pleasure – often joy – upon reunion.  Inexplicable separation tends to cause distress, and permanent loss would cause grief.

An ”attachment” is an affectional bond, and hence an attachment figure is never wholly interchangeable with or replaceable by another, even though there may be others to whom one is also attached.  In attachments, as in other affectional bonds, there is a need to maintain proximity, distress upon inexplicable separation, pleasure and joy upon reunion, and grief at loss. (Ainsworth, 1989, p. 711)[2]

            In the family pathology described as “parental alienation” in the common culture, everyone, including the child, experiences sadness and grief surrounding the loss of the intact family structure following divorce.  Even if the marriage was unhappy and filled with conflict, still the attachment system will initiate a grief response in coping with loss. 

The allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent, however, cannot process grief and loss.  The origins of this parent’s personality characteristics is in childhood attachment trauma, called “disorganized attachment,” in which the child is unable to organize a coherent strategy for establishing a secure attachment bond to the parent or for repairing a breach in the attachment bond when this occurs.  Edward Tronick describes the parent-child relationship dance in healthy parent-child bonding called the “breach-and-repair” sequence:

In response to their partner’s relational moves each individual attempts to adjust their behavior to maintain a coordinated dyadic state or to repair a mismatch.  When mutual regulation is particularly successful, that is when the age-appropriate forms of meaning (e.g., affects, relational intentions, representations) from one individual’s state of consciousness are coordinated with the meanings of another’s state of consciousness — I have hypothesized that a dyadic state of consciousness emerges. (Tronick, 2003, p. 475)[3]

Unlike many other accounts of relational processes which see interactive “misses” (e.g., mismatches, misattunements, dissynchronies, miscoodinations) as indicating something wrong with an interaction, these “misses” are the interactive and affective “stuff” from which co-creative reparations generate new ways of being together.  Instead there are only relationships that are inherently sloppy, messy, and ragged, and individuals in relationships that are better able, or less able, to co-create new ways of sloppily being together.  The co-creation of relational intentions and affects and the recurrence of relational moves generate implicit relational knowing of how to be together. (Tronick, 2003, p. 477)

A second kind of unique implicit knowledge is knowing how we are able to work together (e.g., how we repair sloppiness) no matter the content of the errors. (Tronick, 2003, p. 478)

Out of the recurrence of reparations the infant and another person come to share the implicit knowledge that “we can move into mutual positive states even when we have been in a mutual negative state.”  Or “we can transform negative into positive affect.” (Tronick, 2003, p. 478)

Tronick is describing the process of normal and healthy parent-child breach-and-repair sequences in which the parent and child work together in a coordinated way to repair, often sloppily yet nevertheless successfully, their relationship.  This is healthy.  It creates an implicit understanding about how to repair relationships when things go awry.

However, in the parent-child relationship that produces the disorganized attachment of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality, the child’s parent is both a source of danger and simultaneously a source of comfort for the child, creating an incompatible motivational set for the child for both avoidance and bonding.  Beck describes the parent-child relationship that leads to a disorganized attachment:

Various studies have found that patients with BPD [borderline personality disorder] are characterized by disorganized attachment representations.  Such attachment representations appear to be typical for persons with unresolved childhood traumas, especially when parental figures were involved, with direct, frightening behavior by the parent.  Disorganized attachment is considered to result from an unresolvable situation for the child when “the parent is at the same time the source of fright as well as the potential haven of safety.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 191)[4]

When the parent is simultaneously both the source of threat and the source of comfort, the child is motivated both to avoid and to seek this parent.  The child’s incompatible motivations to simultaneously avoid and seek bonding to the threatening-comforting parent prevent the child from developing an organized strategy for how to repair relationship mismatches and breaches to the relationship – leading to what’s called a “disorganized” pattern of attachment.  Since the disorganized attachment cannot repair breaches to the relationship when they occur, the person with a disorganized attachment is strongly motivated to avoid a breach in the relationship by creating “enmeshed” relationships of continual psychological fusion, and the person will respond to breaches in the relationship by entirely cutting off the the other person once a breach occurs (i.e., not trying to repair the relationship).  Relationships for this person (the allied parent) exist in a polarized all-or-none state of either continual psychological fusion or entirely cut off.

In the pathology commonly called “parental alienation,” the allied parent has a disorganized attachment created in childhood attachment trauma that subsequently coalesced in late adolescence and early adulthood into the narcissistic and borderline personality traits of the adult phase.[5]   When the divorce occurred, this parent’s underlying disorganized attachment was unable to implement a strategy for responding to the loss experience.  The sadness and grief surrounding loss, caused by a breach in the attachment bond, triggered the incompatible motivations of the childhood trauma experience surrounding a breach in the attachment bond with a frightening-nurturing parent.  The disorganized attachment networks of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality are unable to process the resulting sadness and grief surrounding the loss experience, and instead translate sadness and grief into anger and resentment.  According to Kernberg, a leading expert on the narcissistic and borderline personality:

They are especially deficient in genuine feelings of sadness and mournful longing; their incapacity for experiencing depressive reactions is a basic feature of their personalities.  When abandoned or disappointed by other people then may show what on the surface looks like depression, but which on further examination emerges as anger and resentment, loaded with revengeful wishes, rather than real sadness for the loss of a person whom they appreciated. (Kernberg, 1975, p. 229)[6]

With the divorce, all of the family members, including the children, experienced grief and sadness surrounding the loss of the intact family.  That’s how the attachment system responds to loss.  However, the disorganized attachment networks of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent cannot process grief and sadness surrounding loss.  As a result, this parent’s psychological organization began to collapse into chaos and disorganization.  In order to maintain psychological coherence, the sadness and grief were translated into anger, since anger is a cohesive emotion that prevents fragmentation and holds self-structure together.  This parent then triangulated the child into the spousal conflict to help stabilize the fragile psychological structure of the parent which is collapsing in response to the exposure of core-self inadequacy (narcissistic vulnerability) and abandonment fears (borderline vulnerability).  By manipulating the child into rejecting the other parent, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent makes the other spouse the inadequate and rejected-abandoned spouse-person-parent, and restores the fragile narcissistic defense against psychological collapse.

Narcissistic/(Borderline) Parent: “I’m not the inadequate parent (spouse-person); you are.  I’m not the abandoned parent (spouse-person); you are.  The child is rejecting you because of your inadequacy and the child is choosing me because I’m the ideal parent (spouse-person).”

(Projective displacement of self-inadequacy and abandonment fears which were triggered by the divorce onto the other spouse, and a restoration of the grandiose narcissistic defense as the ideal and all-wonderful person who will never be abandoned.)

Under the manipulative guidance of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child’s grief and sadness are similarly transformed into anger and resentment directed toward the other parent.  The other parent is blamed for the dissolution of the family, for “causing” the child’s hurt and sadness, and as therefore “deserving” the child’s anger and rejection.

Once the child is led into becoming angry and rejecting toward the targeted parent, this rejection of a parent then triggers a second wave of grief and loss from within the attachment system.  Not only has the child lost the intact family which triggered the initial round of grief and sadness, the child has now also lost an affectionally bonded relationship with the beloved-but-now-rejected targeted parent.  On the surface the child is angry, hostile, and rejecting.  Underneath the child’s attachment system continues to function and continues to produce a grief response at the loss of an affectionally bonded relationship the beloved-but-now-rejected parent.

The attachment system is a “goal-corrected” motivational system, meaning that it always maintains the goal of forming an attached bond to the parent (even a bad parent – a bad parent is still better than the predator.  In fact, children are even more strongly motivated to bond to a bad parent; called an “insecure attachment”).  Throughout the child’s overt rejection of the targeted parent, the child’s attachment system continues to motivate the child toward bonding with this parent and will continuously produce a grief response at the loss of an affectionally bonded relationship with this parent.

As a result of the continued normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment system beneath the surface while it’s overt expression is being suppressed, whenever the child is in the presence of this beloved-but-now-rejected parent, the child’s attachment system will motivate the child toward bonding with this parent.  However, because the child is refusing to bond to the parent, the child’s attachment system will produce a grief response that leads to the child hurting more when in the presence of the beloved-but-rejected parent.  In contrast, whenever the child is away from the targeted parent the attachment bonding motivations toward this parent are less since this parent is not available in the environment, so the grief response lessens and the child hurts less when the child is away from the beloved-but-now-rejected.

What the child experiences is a rise and fall in emotional pain.  The emotional pain (grief) increases when the child is with the targeted parent, and the emotional pain (grief) decreases when the child is not with the targeted parent.  Under the distorting parental influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child is then led into a misinterpretation of this authentic self-experience of rising and falling pain that it must be something the targeted parent is doing that is causing the child more hurt, since the hurt increases when the child is with this parent and decreases when the child is away from this parent.  The child’s cognitive-thinking system then constructs various reasons and justifications to explain what the targeted parent is supposedly doing to hurt the child.

It is impossible to convince the child that these constructed reasons are not true, because the child authentically feels the rise and fall in emotional pain associated with the presence and absence of the targeted parent.  The core issue is that the child is misinterpreting the natural grief response arising from the child’s attachment networks at the loss of an affectionally bonded relationship with the beloved-but-now-rejected targeted parent.  The solution is to correct the child’s misattribution of causality; that it’s not something the targeted parent is doing that is creating the child’s pain, but that the child is hurting because the child is not allowing affectionate bonding to the beloved-but-now-rejected targeted parent, that’s what hurts.  The child simply misses, and grieves, an affectionate relationship with the targeted parent.

The unprocessed and misunderstood grief response results in a paradoxical feature of this form of family pathology (disordered mourning) in which the kinder and nicer the targeted parents becomes with the child, the angrier and more hostile the child becomes.  When the targeted parent becomes kinder and nicer, this increases the child’s attachment bonding motivations.  Yet because the child is not bonding, the increased motivation toward attachment bonding created by the kindness of the targeted parent increases the child’s grief response, which then increases the child’s hurt and pain.  The kinder the targeted parent is, the more the child hurts, so the angrier and more rejecting the child becomes.

The core of the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” is disordered mourning and unresolved grief.  In the normal grief process, a parent dies and the child grieves.  However, in “parental alienation” there is no available way for the child to ever process and resolve the child’s grief because the parent isn’t actually dead but is continually available for bonding – so the child remains in a continual state of active grieving for years and years.  In “parental alienation,” the child grieves and so the child must psychologically kill the parent in order to be able to resolve the grief response.  As long as the parent remains available for bonding (psychologically alive to the child) then the child is in a continual state of grief.  In order to resolve the grief, the child must psychologically kill the parent.

The Guilt

            Children love both parents.  That’s just the way the attachment system works.  With the divorce, the psychological structure of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent begins to collapse into disorganization.  The targeted parent, on the other hand, has normal-range attachment networks and so is better able to process and resolve the grief and loss experience of divorce.  The psychological stability of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is more fragile, the targeted parent is psychologically stronger and healthier.

            The narcissistic/(borderline) parent needs to triangulate the child into the spousal conflict in order to stabilize the collapsing psychological structure of this parent.  The child loves this parent.  The child intuitively recognizes that this parent psychologically needs the child to support this parent (by forming an alliance with this parent) in order to stabilize the fragile psychological structure of this parent.  The child unconsciously selects to sacrifice himself or herself to the parent out of loyalty and love for this fragile parent.

            But in selecting to stabilize the psychologically fragile parent, the child must reject and lose a relationship with the beloved healthier parent.  This is the loyalty bind of the child.  The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is asking the child to choose a side in the spousal conflict.  The child realizes that to choose the side of the beloved but healthier targeted parent will result in the psychological collapse of the more fragile narcissistic/(borderline) parent who needs the child more.  If, however, the child chooses to support the more fragile narcissistic/(borderline) parent then the child must reject and betray the love of the targeted parent.  Either way, the child will betray and abandon a parent.  Either way, the child will experience tremendous guilt at betraying the child’s love for a parent and that parent’s love for the child.

In a noble choice of self-sacrifice, the child selects to support the more fragile parent at the expense of the child’s relationship with the healthier and beloved targeted parent.  The child must then cope with the tremendous guilt at having betrayed the deeply beloved targeted-rejected parent.  In order to cope with this tremendous amount of guilt, the child tries to make the targeted parent “deserve” to be rejected.  If the targeted parent “deserves” to be rejected, then the child is not betraying the love of this parent.

The child then creates a variety of reasons why the targeted parent “deserves” to be rejected, supported in this constructive process by the jubilant guidance of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

  • The targeted parent is responsible for causing the divorce, so the targeted parent “deserves” to be punished.
  • The targeted parent is selfish and self-centered, and doesn’t really love the child, so the targeted parent “deserves” to be rejected.
  • The targeted parent is mean and critical and emotionally “abusive” of the child, so the targeted parent “deserves” to be rejected.
  • The targeted parent did some “unforgivable” act (such as calling the police to enforce custody orders), so the targeted parent “deserves” to be rejected.

This theme, that the targeted parent “deserves” to be rejected, is a prominent and highly characteristic theme of the disordered mourning of “parental alienation” pathology.  Its origins are in the child’s efforts to manage the child’s guilt at betraying the beloved targeted parent.

Resolution & Restoration

            The challenge for restoring the adult child’s relationship with the beloved-but-now-rejected targeted parent is twofold. 

First, the child’s efforts to cope with the tremendous guilt of betraying the beloved targeted parent rides the surface of the child’s defensive process.  When the child opens up and restores a relationship with the beloved targeted parent the child is going to feel this tremendous guilt at having betrayed the love of the targeted parent in choosing the alliance with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  If, however, the child continues to maintain the constructed belief that the targeted parent “deserves” to be punished – “deserves” to be rejected – then the child can hold the feelings of guilt at bay.

Second, the path to restoring a loving and bonded relationship with the targeted parent leads directly through grief and mourning.  The principle issue is the child’s unresolved grief and sadness, surrounding first the loss of the intact family and then surrounding the loss of an affectionally bonded relationship with the beloved-but-rejected parent.  The core pathology is disordered mourning.  In order to resolve the pathology and restore the child’s relationship with the beloved targeted parent, the child will need to experience the grief and sadness surrounding this lost relationship.  In many cases this pain is too great, and the presence of this emotional pain continues to feed the false belief that it is something the targeted parent is doing (or did) to cause the pain, leading to the justification for the rejection that the targeted parent “deserves” to be rejected for causing the child such emotional pain – for not adequately loving the child.

This knot of grief and guilt is complex and difficult to unravel for the adult child.  The child has coped with the pain of unprocessed and unresolved grief by psychologically killing the parent.  This is a coping strategy that has worked, to some extent.  It limits the extent of the pain even if it doesn’t entirely eliminate the grief.  Just like when a parent authentically dies and the child grieves, eventually the grief and sadness recedes into the background, although the sadness and loss never disappears entirely.  So too in the constructed psychological death of the “parental alienation” pathology, the child has achieved a resolution by psychologically killing the targeted parent, which has allowed the grief to recede into the background.

To restore a relationship with the beloved-but-rejected targeted parent will require that the now-adult survivor of childhood alienation becomes voluntarily willing to re-open the grief and sadness at the core of the parent-child relationship, and the adult survivor of childhood alienation is not optimistic that this will produce positive results.  The child learned to respond to relationship breaches by cutting off the other person, the child has not learned the process of how “we can transform negative into positive affect.”  So the adult child will often choose to continue the cutoff in the relationship with the targeted parent rather than open the painful grief and guilt surrounding the relationship.

However, the actual therapy for this form of disordered mourning is actually quite simple.  We just need to provide the child with an accurate interpretation of his or her pain as an unprocessed grief response, dispose of the “deserves to be rejected” defense, and foster the child’s emotional release and bonding to the targeted parent.  Once the child bonds with the beloved targeted parent the attachment system will no longer produce the grief response and the child’s pain vanishes immediately.  Poof.  All gone.  If the pain ever begins to reemerge, possibly around feelings of regret and loss, all the child needs to do is express affectionate bonding with the beloved targeted parent and – poof – this new round of emotional pain also vanishes.  It’s actually quite simple.

As for the guilt… empathy and a focus on the present resolves this.  No need for the psychological archeology of digging up past conflicts and blame.  The past was a difficult time, there were a lot of things that people might have done differently, but we’re all frail people doing the best we can.  Even the pathology of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent was born in childhood trauma.  Blame is destructive.  Empathy is healing.  No need to resolve the past, just stay focused on sharing affection and bonding now.  Life is good.  Love is good.  Remain solution focused, remain in the present.  Love, hugs, and bonding are good things.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

[1] Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Vol. 3. Loss: Sadness and depression. NY: Basic.

[2] Ainsworth, M.D.S. (1989). Attachments beyond infancy. American Psychologist, 44, 709-716.

[3] Tronick, E.Z. (2003). Of course all relationships are unique: How co-creative processes generate unique mother-infant and patient-therapist relationships and change other relationships. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 23, 473-491.

[4] Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., Davis, D.D., & Associates (2004). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. (2nd edition). New York: Guilford.

[5]  The narcissistic and borderline personality styles are simply external variants of the same underlying disorganized attachment.  In the borderline personality style, the child sought to maintain an attachment bond to the frightening parent, resulting in tremendous anxiety and fear of abandonment (disorganized attachment with anxious-ambivalent overtones).  In the narcissistic-style personality, the child selected the avoidance motivation, choosing to sacrifice attachment bonding for safety, resulting in psychological isolation and devaluation of attachment bonds (disorganized attachment with anxious-avoidant overtones).  The core of both the narcissistic and borderline personality is a disorganized attachment, with the difference being whether the child emphasized the attachment bonding motivation (borderline personality) or the avoidance motivation (narcissistic personality).

[6]  Kernberg, O.F. (1975). Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism.. New York: Aronson.

The July Flying Monkey Newsletter

Standard

The July edition of the Flying Monkey Newsletter is now available on my website:

Flying Monkey Newsletter: July 1, 2016

This edition deals with the assertion that the pathology of “parental alienation” is controversial and not accepted within establishment mental health.

The focus of the newsletter is on professional competence. 

Mental health professionals are not allowed – by established standards of professional practice – to be ignorant and incompetent.  Targeted parents need to begin holding mental health professionals accountable for professional competence.

Mental health professionals cannot be held accountable to Gardnerian PAS. 

Mental health professionals CAN be held accountable for the standard and established, fully accepted and scientifically supported constructs and principles of an attachment-based model for the pathology.

Targeted parents need to begin holding mental health professionals accountable to standards of professional competence in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of their families.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Delusions – Encapsulated Delusions – Encapsulated Persecutory Delusions

Standard

Google the term “encapsulated delusion.”

Encapsulated delusion: a delusion that usually relates to one specific topic or belief but does not pervade a person’s life or level of functioning.”

Encapsulated delusion: An isolated mistaken but unshakable belief in something for which there is neither evidence nor common acceptance, occurring in the absence of other signs or symptoms of psychiatric illness.”


The American Psychiatric Association defines a persecutory delusion as:

“Persecutory Type: delusions that the person (or someone to whom the person is close) is being malevolently treated in some way.” (APA; 2000)


A delusion is a fixed and false belief that is maintained despite contrary evidence.

A delusion is a psychotic pathology. At its core, the pathology we are dealing with in attachment-based “parental alienation” (not PAS) is a psychotic pathology involving an encapsulated delusion that the targeted parent represents an abusive threat to the child.

Delusions can be bizarre (such as a delusion that extraterrestrials are implanting thoughts in the patient’s head) or non-bizarre (such as a husband’s delusional belief that his wife is having an affair when she isn’t – called a “jealousy delusion”; APA, 2000).

There is no point in arguing with a delusion because, by definition, the delusion is a false belief that is maintained despite contrary evidence. No amount of contrary evidence will alter the person’s fixed belief system.

What I find so incredibly troubling from a professional standpoint is that so many mental health professionals – whose job it is to diagnose pathology – are absolutely missing the diagnosis of a psychotic pathology that’s sitting right in front of them. That’s astounding to me.

Diagnosing pathology is the job of a mental health professional. For a mental health professional to entirely miss recognizing a psychotic pathology sitting right in front of them in their office represents astounding professional incompetence. I don’t expect a lawyer to recognize psychotic pathology, or an architect, or a policeman, or an engineer. But a mental health professional? That’s exactly our job. Astounding professional incompetence.

For nearly 15 years earlier in my psychology career I worked on a clinical research project at UCLA involving schizophrenia. Every patient in this project was rated every two weeks on their symptoms using a 7-point scale from “not at all present,” through “moderate symptoms,” to “severe symptoms” (the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale; BPRS).

This symptom rating scale included delusions, called “Unusual Thought Content” on the scale. The cutoff for a delusional belief was a rating of 4 or higher. Below a rating of 4 the patient’s thought content was considered unusual but it was not delusional. Above a rating of 4 the symptom moves into the realm of a delusion.

In order to maintain inter-rater reliability among all the clinicians who were rating patients’ symptoms, every year we had to go through “reliability training” with the Diagnostic Unit located at the VA. This involved a series of lectures from the head of the Diagnostic Unit regarding symptom features and then we each had to watch and rate 10 videos (new videos each year). Our ratings for these 10 videos were then compared with the “gold standard” ratings made by the head of the Diagnostic Unit. If we achieved 90% consistency with the head of the Diagnostic Unit then we were considered reliable symptom raters. If we did not achieve 90% consistency in our ratings with those of the head of the Diagnostic Unit, then we received additional training and rated additional videos until we achieved 90% consistency.

For 15 years I went through this yearly reliability training on rating symptoms on a 1-7 scale, learning the fine-grained analysis of what made a symptom a 3 or a 4 – what the difference was between a severity rating of a 5 or a 6. When was an unusual thought odd but normal-range, and when does it cross the line into a delusional belief… what features of a symptom elevate it from a mild delusion (a rating of 4) to a moderate delusional belief (a rating of 5) or a severe delusional belief (a rating of 6 or 7).

For fifteen years, every year, I underwent training on 10 videos comparing my ratings with the “gold standard” ratings made by the head of the Diagnostic Unit for a major longitudinal research project at UCLA on schizophrenia.

I know what a delusion looks like. The pathology of “parental alienation” (as described in Foundations, not by PAS) represents a delusion.

The professional term for this type of delusion is an encapsulated persecutory delusion. As noted above, the American Psychiatric Association defines a persecutory delusion as:

“Persecutory Type: delusions that the person (or someone to whom the person is close) is being malevolently treated in some way.” (APA; 2000)

In the case of attachment-based “parental alienation” the persecutory delusion centers around “someone to whom the person is close” – i.e., the child.

Beck & Rector (2002) describe the delusional process:

“The pathogenic belief has taken control of the information processing so that the interpretations of events show a systematic bias and appear to others to be contradictory to the evidence or to logic.” (p. 457)

“The dominant beliefs and consequently the interpretations are relatively impervious to reality-testing by the patient. The patient is unwilling or unable to consider that his ideas and interpretations might be wrong. In psychiatric terms, he lacks insight.” (p. 457)

Delusion. Encapsulated delusion. Encapsulated persecutory delusion. Psychotic.

We are dealing with a psychotic level of pathology. That’s what everyone needs to understand.

In our day-to-day lives, people don’t generally expect to run into psychotic distortions to reality. We generally assume that other people are relatively anchored in our same shared reality. But with this particular form of pathology that assumption is NOT warranted.

Delusion. Encapsulated delusion. Encapsulated persecutory delusion. Psychotic.

For 15 years I underwent yearly reliability training at UCLA in rating delusions on a 1-7 scale of severity. I know what a delusion looks like. The pathology of “parental alienation” represents the manifestation of a delusional belief system. An encapsulated persecutory delusional belief system.

Psychotic pathology.

The accurate diagnosis of this pathology using the ICD-10 diagnostic system of the World Heath Organization is F24: Shared Psychotic Disorder.

The accurate diagnosis of this pathology using the DSM-IV TR diagnostic system of the American Psychiatric Association is 297.3 Shared Psychotic Disorder.

The accurate diagnosis of this pathology using the DSM-5 diagnostic system is V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

According to the DSM-IV TR diagnostic description for a Shared Psychotic Disorder:

“Usually the primary case in Shared Psychotic Disorder is dominant in the relationship and gradually imposes the delusional system on the more passive and initially healthy second person. Individuals who come to share delusional beliefs are often related by blood or marriage and have lived together for a long time, sometimes in relative isolation. If the relationship with the primary case is interrupted, the delusional beliefs of the other individual usually diminish or disappear. Although most commonly seen in relationships of only two people, Shared Psychotic Disorder can occur in larger number of individuals, especially in family situations in which the parent is the primary case and the children, sometimes to varying degrees, adopt the parent’s delusional beliefs.” (p. 333; empahsis added)

Let that sink in…

“…especially in family situations in which the parent is the primary case and the children, sometimes to varying degrees, adopt the parent’s delusional beliefs” – the American Psychiatric Association.

Delusion. Encapsulated delusion. Encapsulated persecutory delusion. Psychotic.

According to the DSM-IV TR diagnostic description of the course of a Shared Psychotic Disorder:

“Without intervention, the course is usually chronic, because this disorder most commonly occurs in relationships that are long-standing and resistant to change. With separation from the primary case, the individual’s delusional beliefs disappear, sometimes quickly and sometimes quite slowly.” (p. 333; emphasis added)

Diagnosis guides treatment.

The core of the delusional process in attachment-based “parental alienation” is the false trauma reenactment narrative of the psychologically decompensating narcissistic/(borderline) parent which is contained in the pattern “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent.” 

This false trauma reenactment narrative is contained in the internal working models (Bowlby) of the parent’s attachment networks from their own childhood trauma experience.

The internal working models of attachment described by Bowlby are referred to as “schemas” by the renowned psychiatrist, Aaron Beck (2004):

“How a situation is evaluated depends in part, at least, on the relevant underlying beliefs.  These beliefs are embedded in more or less stable structures, labeled “schemas,” that select and synthesize incoming data.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 17)

“The content of the schemas may deal with personal relationships, such as attitudes toward the self or others, or impersonal categories.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 27)

“When schemas are latent, there are not participating in information processing; when activated they channel cognitive processing from the earliest to the final stages.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 27)

“In personality disorders, the schemas are part of normal, everyday processing of information.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 27)

“Arntz (1994) hypothesized that childhood traumas underlie the formation of core schemas, which in their turn, lead to the development of BPD.” (Beck et al., 2004, p 192)

“Young’s schema model… patients with BPD were characterized by higher self-reports of beliefs, emotions, and behaviors related to the four pathogenic BPD modes (detached protector, abandoned/abused child, angry child, and punitive parent mode)” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 192)

“The conceptualization of the core pathology of BPD as stemming from a highly frightened, abused child who is left alone in a malevolent world, longing for safety and help but distrustful because of fear of further abuse and abandonment, is highly related to the model developed by Young (McGinn & Young, 1996)… Young elaborated on an idea, in the 1980s introduced by Aaron Beck in clinical workshops (D.M. Clark, personal communication), that some pathological states of patients with BPD are a sort of regression into intense emotional states experienced as a child.  Young conceptualized such states as schema modes.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 199)

“Young hypothesized that four schema modes are central to BPD: the abandoned child mode (the present author suggests to label it the abused and abandoned child); the angry/impulsive child mode; the punitive parent mode, and the detached protector mode… The abused and abandoned child mode denotes the desperate state the patient may be in related to (threatened) abandonment and abuse the patient has experienced as a child.  Typical core beliefs are that other people are malevolent, cannot be trusted, and will abandon or punish you, especially when you become intimate with them.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 199; emphasis added)

This is not Dr. Childress making these statements, this is Aaron Beck, one of the preeminent psychiatrists in mental health making these statements.

Internal working models (schemas) of attachment trauma:

“abusive parent” – “victimized child” – “protective parent”

Current targeted parent – current child – current narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

There is a one-to-one psychological correspondence between the internal working models (schemas) in the attachment networks of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the current family relationships.

“Abusive parent” = targeted parent
“Victimized child” = current child
“Protective parent” = narcissistic/(borderline) parent

The trauma reenactment narrative.

Delusion. Encapsulated delusion. Encapsulated persecutory delusion. Psychotic.

That’s the pathology we’re dealing with.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author

Beck, A. T., & Rector, N. A. (2002). Delusions: A cognitive perspective. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 16(4), 455-468.

Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., Davis, D.D., & Associates (2004). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. (2nd edition). New York: Guilford.

Diagnosing the Pathology

Standard

I recently received an email consultation request from a child custody evaluator who asked if I was also a custody evaluator.  I’m not.  I explained how I became involved in diagnosing and treating the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” in the common culture.

I then explained how this pathology is not a “new syndrome” but is an expression of well-established, well-defined, and fully accepted forms of psychopathology within the field of professional psychology and how this form of pathology can be reliably diagnosed and differentiated from other forms of parent-child conflict 100% of the time.

My response to this child custody evaluator may be of broader interest to targeted parents and mental health professionals generally, so I am providing it as a post below.

My email response to a child custody evaluator:


Hello Dr., it’s a pleasure to meet you.

To answer your question, I’m not a child custody evaluator because I come out of the ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder realm.  We could control the symptoms of ADHD but never cure them, so I kept working with a younger and younger age group in hopes that if we caught it early enough we could actually cure ADHD.  In the mid-1990s I dropped below the age of 5, which meant that I had to develop a secondary expertise in early childhood, which led to my background with the attachment system.

In 2007 I left my role as the Clinical Director for an early childhood assessment and treatment center working with children in the foster care system to enter private practice with the goal of writing books on a socio-neuro-developmental approach to child therapy and parent-child therapy.  That’s when I ran into my first case of “parental alienation.”

I had never even heard of “parental alienation” or Gardner before.  I immediately recognized the family systems cross-generational coalition, and what was readily apparent to me from my background with the attachment system was that the child’s display of the attachment system was inauthentic to how the attachment system actually works.

Children don’t reject parents.  Children who rejected parents were eaten by predators and their genes were removed from the gene pool.  Bad parenting actually produces an “insecure attachment” that MORE strongly motivates the child to bond to the bad parent.

What was also clearly (and disturbingly) evident was a prominent display by the child of an absence of normal-range empathy.  The absence of empathy is a narcissistic personality symptom not an Oppositional Defiant Disorder symptom.  I then looked for other narcissistic personality symptoms and noted that a variety of narcissistic symptoms were evident in the child’s symptom display; including splitting.

The child was in a cross-generational coalition (Munichin; Haley) with a narcissistic parent (Millon, Beck, Kernberg) against the other normal-range parent.

I met with dad in this particular case, who was the allied parent, and confirmed the diagnosis.  All this took about three to six sessions.  No big deal.  All standard family systems and DSM diagnostic stuff.  What astounded me was how the legal system was totally unable to address the pathology.

When I looked into it more I came across all the controversy surrounding Gardner and PAS.

What struck me first is that Garnder’s model of PAS is really bad.  The eight symptom identifiers are too vague and are not associated with any other form of pathology in all of mental health.  And there is no underlying theoretical formulation for the pathology, it simply exists ex nihilo (out of nothing).

This pathology is not a “new syndrome” – Gardner was simply a very poor diagnostician.  He too quickly abandoned standard and established psychological principles and constructs in proposing a “new syndrome” that was unique in all of mental health, with a proposed set of eight equally unique new symptom identifiers which he simply made up out of anecdotal clinical experience.

In proposing a unique “new syndrome,” Gardner took everyone down the wrong path.  He skipped the step of diagnosis.

So looking at the situation and what was needed, I decided to fix the step that Gardner skipped – diagnosis.  This meant that I had to define the pathology from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

A child’s rejection of a normal-range parent is clearly an attachment-related disorder (i.e., a trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma – mediated by the narcissistic/(borderline) personality traits of the allied parent).

It involves a family systems cross-generational coalition (the child’s symptoms maintain a homeostatic balance in a family which is having difficulty transitioning from an intact family structure united by the marriage to a separated family structure united by the continuing parental roles with the children).

It involves the influence on the child by a narcissistic/(borderline) personality parent in which the child acquires the narcissistic personality traits (attitudes and beliefs) of the parent.

Once I worked out the pathology, I identified the most parsimonious set of child symptom identifiers that could reliably differentiate this form of pathology from ODD and other forms of parent-child and family conflict.

  • Attachment system suppression: indicative of the attachment-related core of the pathology.
  • Narcissistic personality traits in the child’s symptom display: indicative of the influence on the child by a narcissistic personality allied-parent.
  • A fixed and false belief (encapsulated delusion) regarding the supposedly “abusive” parenting of a normal-range (targeted) parent: indicative of the child’s incorporation into a false trauma reenactment role as the supposedly “victimized child,” reflecting the overall attachment trauma reenactment narrative the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

False trauma reenactment narrative: “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent”

No other pathology in all of mental health will produce this specific set of three child symptoms.  This specific set of child symptoms represents definitive diagnostic evidence of the child’s cross-generational coalition with a narcissistic parent and the child’s incorporation into this parent’s false attachment trauma reenactment narrative of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent” which is designed to stabilize the collapsing psychological structure of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent surrounding the rejection and abandonment inherent to divorce.

In clinical psychology, there is no such thing as “parental alienation.”  The correct clinical psychology term for this pathology is “pathogenic parenting” (patho=pathology; genic=genesis, creation).  Pathogenic parenting is the creation of significant psychopathology in the child as a result of aberrant and distorted parenting practices.

The construct of pathogenic parenting is an established construct in early childhood mental health and attachment-related pathology since the attachment system ONLY dysfunctions in response to pathogenic parenting (the term “pathogenic caregiving” was used in the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for a Reactive Attachment Disorder).

Diagnosis guides treatment:

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Pathogenic parenting is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue.

All mental health professionals, including child custody evaluators, need to begin assessing for this pathology under Standard 9.01a of the APA ethics code:

9.01 Bases for Assessments

(a) Psychologists base the opinions contained in their recommendations, reports and diagnostic or evaluative statements, including forensic testimony, on information and techniques sufficient to substantiate their findings.

All mental health professionals, including child custody evaluators, need to begin making an accurate DSM-5 diagnosis of the pathology as V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed when the three definitive diagnostic indicators of severely pathogenic parenting are present in the child’s symptom display.

All mental health professionals have a “duty to protect” and all mental health professionals are mandated reporters of child abuse.  When a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 is made, all mental health professionals incur a professional obligation under their duty to protect to take affirmative actions to protect the child, and these affirmative actions to protect the child must be documented in the patient record.

This obligation is in addition to any other function or role the mental health professional may have.

A failure to properly assess for the pathology may represent a violation of Standard 9.01a of the APA ethics code, and a failure to properly diagnose the pathology when the three diagnostic indicators of severely pathogenic parenting are present in the child’s symptom display may represent a violation of Standard 2.01a regarding boundaries of competence and the professional’s “duty to protect.”

Gardner was correct in identifying a form of pathology, but he was incorrect when he proposed that it represents a new form of pathology; a “new syndrome.”  It doesn’t.  It is a manifestation of well-established and fully accepted forms of pathology.

Gardner was a poor diagnostician.

I have simply corrected Gardner’s diagnostic inaccuracy.

I have submitted proposals for APA and AFCC presentations for the past two years without being accepted.  I will apply again this next round.  I suspect they just lump me in with PAS been-there-done-that sort of proposals.

I have presentations regarding the theoretical foundations of the pathology up online which I did for the Master’s Lecture Series of California Southern University:

Parental Alienation: An Attachment-Based Model (7/18/14)

Treatment of Attachment-Based Parental Alienation (11/21/14)

I am also attaching a Diagnostic Checklist of Pathogenic Parenting that is available on my website.

Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting

The pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” is readily solvable once we turn away from Gardnerian PAS and return to standard and established principles and constructs of professional psychology.

Diagnosis guides treatment.

Best wishes,

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857