Question: The Violent Child

I received this question and thought I’d reply through my blog because my response may have broader applicability to the experience of many targeted parents.

Please note, I cannot speak to any individual situation since I have not conducted an independent assessment of the situation and relationships.  I am only addressing the broader issues, not any specific situation.

Here is the question I was posed:


I have a question that no one seems to be able to answer yet.   What is a non-custodial targeted parent to do when a child (teenager) is encouraged to act violently towards the targeted parent, siblings, and even pets of the targeted parent.

Children’s protective services does not deal with child violence within it’s child protection parameters.  The police recommend that the targeted parent call them whenever the child acts violently for the health and safety of the other household members.  However, the children’s minor’s counsel and the Courts say that calling police endangers the child. They view the child’s violence as proof of the targeted parent’s incompetence to manage the child.

How should the targeted parent respond to the child’s (teenager’s) violence that is endangering family members? When the targeted parent follows the  advice of the police, the Court holds these actions against them, but failure to involve the police endangers the other family members.  So far the only definitive answer I’ve received about this situation is “I DON”T KNOW”.


A:  Situations such as the one described require the involvement and guidance of a competent mental heath practitioner, so the answer to the question “How should the targeted parent respond?” is that the targeted parent should engage the services of a competent mental health practitioner and follow the recommendations of this practitioner.

Caveat:  What if the situation actually does involve problematic parental responses from the targeted parent?  Perhaps the targeted parent IS responding in a problematic way to the teenager.  Without my conducting an independent assessment of the situation, there is no way I can provide a specific answer to the question posed.  The solution is to involve a competent mental health practitioner and follow the guidance offered by this mental health practitioner.

Caveat:  I acknowledge that there are far too many incompetent mental health practitioners out there, especially regarding the diagnosis and treatment of the “special population” of children and families experiencing attachment-based “parental alienation.”  Also, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent may prevent (through a variety of methods) the involvement of a competent mental health practitioner.

Caveat:  Therapy for attachment-based “parental alienation” requires the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting practices of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery.  Unless the child is protectively separated from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery, there is no solution available.

That’s the core of what professional mental health needs to comprehend in order for professional mental health to begin speaking with a single voice to the Court.  When mental health speaks with a single voice, the Court will be able to act with the decisive clarity necessary to solve the  tragedy of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

Unless the child is protectively separated from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery, no solution to “parental alienation” is available.


Qualifier:  In my response below, I am not addressing any specific situation.  What to do in any specific family situation will require an individualized assessment of the relationships within the family.  But from a general perspective regarding extremely hostile-violent child behavior as conceptualized within an attachment-based model of “parental alienation”…


Understanding Personality Disorders

Attachment-based “parental alienation” is driven by the narcissistic/(borderline) personality disorder of the alienating parent (that is formed from distorted “internal working models” of the parent’s attachment system).  So let me begin my response by providing a brief orientation to the construct of “personality disorders.”

It is increasingly recognized that personality disorders involve blends of distorted personality traits (Widiger & Trull, 2007; American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5 Chapter 3, 2013) rather than fixed categories. So when talking about personality disorders it is helpful to consider blends of traits rather than distinct categories.  To the extent that these blends organize around particular categories, such as narcissistic or borderline expressions of personality traits, then we can use these category names as a convenient label in our discussions.

In addition, the underlying “self-structure” organization of the narcissistic and borderline personality organization is the same (Kernberg, 1975), involving the person’s tremendous sense of core-self inadequacy and fears of abandonment. The difference between a narcissistic and borderline personality organization is simply that the borderline personality directly and continuously experiences this fundamental self-inadequacy and abandonment fear, which leads to tremendous ongoing disruptions to self-identity and problematic affect regulation, whereas the narcissistic personality has created a psychological defense of grandiose self-inflation against the experience of core-self inadequacy and abandonment fears, thereby allowing for greater superficial self-cohesion and superficial affect regulation (as long as the narcissistic defense holds).

In addition, the construct of “personality disorders” developed across the period from the 1930s to 1980s, with a more formal entry into the DSM-3 diagnostic system in 1980. Parallel to this process, however, was the work of John Bowlby in attachment theory, which was formalized in the 1970s across three seminal volumes (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980). Since the 1980s, increasing research has linked the two constructs (Brennan & Shaver, 1998), particularly around the formation of borderline personality organization (Fonagy, et al., 2003; Holmes, 2004; Levy, 2005; Lyddon & Sherry, 2001).

From Brennan & Shaver (1998):
“In the clinical literature, there is increasing support for conceptualizing personality disorders as disorders of attachment (e.g., Heard & Lake, 1986; Shaver & Clark, 1994; West & Sheldon, 1988; West & Sheldon-Keller, 1994). There is growing empirical evidence connecting borderline personality disorder with patterns of insecure attachment reflected in representations of childhood relationships with parents (Patrick, Hobson, Castle, Howard, & Maughan, 1994; Sack et al., 1996; Stalker & Davies, 1995; West et al., 1994).

In attachment-based “parental alienation,” the primary personality disorder driving the distorted family process is a narcissistic/(borderline) organization, with some “alienating parents” expressing a stronger narcissistic personality organization while others display a more pronounced borderline presentation.

In addition, other personality disorder traits can be evident, which lends additional textures to the symptom presentation within the family. I have encountered blends that include antisocial personality traits, histrionic personality traits, paranoid personality traits, and obsessive-compulsive personality traits. Each of these complex blends presents a different symptomatic feel to the “parental alienation” dynamics.  These additional personality disorder traits arise from within the unique “internal working models” of each unique person’s attachment system, which then coalesce in later development into the characteristic patterns reflected in the “personality disorders” types.

The reason I describe this as prelude to addressing the general question of an excessively violent and hostile child that occurs within the context of attachment-based “parental alienation” is that I’ve seen the presentation of the excessively hostile child (teenager) clinically to be generally associated with a narcissistic/(borderline)/antisocial personality blend. From my anecdotal clinical experience, the addition of antisocial personality traits in the alienating parent appears to create a particularly aggressive variant of “parental alienation” with strong domestic violence overtones.

I have generally seen this pattern with males as the alienating parent (perhaps because of the higher prevalence for males to display narcissistic and antisocial personality traits), with mothers then being the recipient of the child’s (teenager’s) excessive violence and threats (as a vehicle in expressing the father’s narcissistic and antisocial violence toward the mother). This pattern may also be associated with a history of pre-divorce domestic violence qualities within the family involving control, dominance, and verbal/emotional abuse from the narcissistic/(borderline)/antisocial parent (husband) toward the other parent (wife).

While these gender-related factors are likely typical, they are not absolute, and there is no reason why women cannot also be the perpetrators of this hyper-aggressive variant.

The Child’s Behavior

Children are a product of the parenting they receive.

If the child is aggressive, mean, rude, and disrespectful, this is the product of the parenting the child is receiving from the allied and supposedly “favored” parent.

The child and the supposedly “favored” parent will contend that the child’s atrocious behavior is the product of the fundamental human inadequacy of the targeted parent, who “deserves” the child’s hostility and contempt because of this parent’s inherently awful nature as a human being.

First, this effort at excusing and justifying the child’s atrocious behavior and the extremely poor parenting by the allied and supposedly “favored” parent that is reflected in the child’s behavior, is absurd on its face,

Second, the effort to excuse and justify the child’s atrocious behavior is a direct and evident symptom of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality processes and attitudes of the allied and supposedly “favored” parent that are being transferred to the child through the aberrant and distorted parenting practices of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

1.  Absurd on its Face: The assertion that the targeted parent deserves the child’s contempt and cruelty is absurd.  We do not treat other people with kindness or cruelty based on our judgments of what they “deserve.” We treat others with kindness or cruelty based on our value systems, based on who WE ARE as a person, based on how we define ourselves. We treat others with kindness, and respect, and consideration, not because of who they are, but because of who we are.

It doesn’t matter if the child doesn’t like his or her teacher.  The child is still expected to display socially organized and cooperative behavior, and especially non-aggressive behavior.  It doesn’t matter if the child believes the store clerk was rude, the child is nevertheless expected to display socially organized and non-aggressive behavior.  The child may not agree with or like the discipline meted out by the soccer coach, but the child is NOT allowed to vent cruelty or aggression toward the soccer coach.  And if this is our expectation for the child’s responses to teachers, store clerks, and coaches, then the same applies to the child’s response to his or her parents.

The aggressive and hostile cruelty of the child is NOT because of who the targeted parent is, the child’s aggression and cruelty is the result of who the child is.  Knowing this is the bedrock foundation of good parenting.

For anyone, including the allied and supposedly “favored” parent, to in any way attempt to excuse or justify the child’s aggressively hostile attitudes and cruelty reflects distorted beliefs and parenting that support the child’s development of distorted values and character traits. Even IF the targeted parent was a bad person and parent, the child should nevertheless respond with kindness, compassion, and consideration, not because of who the parent is, but because of who the child is.

Those are the values we teach our children.

In some cases, the excusing argument may be offered that the child “only acts this way with the targeted parent.” Then this excuse becomes EVEN MORE REASON to indict the parenting of the allied and supposedly “favored” parent, because this argument offered by others (or by the behavioral evidence provided by the child), means that the child inherently possesses the ability to regulate his or her affect but is CHOOSING not to do so in a specific case because the child believes that this person, this parent, “deserves” the child’s cruel treatment.

The child’s regulated behavior in every other situation reveals the lie in the assertion that the child is being “provoked” into dsyregulated anger, because the child has clearly displayed the demonstrated capacity to regulate his or her anger in other situations. Instead, the child is CHOOSING to be cruel, hostile, and mean to this select person whom the child believes “deserves it.”

2.  A Reflection of Narcissistic/(Borderline) Parenting: The attitude that we are somehow allowed to judge others and mete out cruelty to others we judge as deserving of our contempt is a reflection of a narcissistic/(borderline) personality process.

The narcissistic personality maintains a grandiose self-perception that judges others as inferior, and with an air of haughty arrogance feels justified (entitled) in the contemptuous treatment of others who the narcissist judges to be unworthy, so that the fundamental inadequacy of the other person justifies the contempt and cruelty delivered by the narcissist. The other person “deserves” the contempt and abuse because of the other person’s inadequacy.

This highly distorted narcissistic attitude represents a fragile defense against the narcissist’s own internal experience of fundamental inadequacy (and fear of abandonment because of this inadequacy). It is the narcissist who feels immensely inadequate and completely unworthy of being loved, and who then responds to these deep and profound feelings of inadequacy and unlovability by creating a narcissistic defense of grandiose over-inflation of self importance and devaluation of others (“I’m not inadequate, you are. I’m wonderful; I’m ideal. It’s you who are inadequate. And if you don’t recognize and acknowledge my wonderfulness, then you ‘deserve’ to be punished.”).

“If others fail to satisfy the narcissist’s “needs,” including the need to look good, or be free from inconvenience, then others “deserve to be punished”… Even when punishing others out of intolerance or entitlement, the narcissist sees this as “a lesson they need, for their own good.” (Beck, et al., 2006, p. 252).

The borderline personality organization also feels entitled to vent unbridled anger on others who “deserve” the borderline’s anger because they failed to adequately love the borderline. The narcissistic and borderline personalities are simply superficial variations in the manifestations of the inner core experiences of fundamental self-inadequacy and fear of rejection and abandonment by others. The core driving experience for both types of personality organizations is the same, with variations in the the overt manifestation of these underlying core beliefs.

Extremely Poor Parenting

A child’s behavior of aggressive violence is NEVER appropriate and is NEVER justified. ANY attempt by a parent to justify IN ANY WAY a child’s aggressive violence toward anyone (including and especially the other parent) reflects highly distorted parenting practices and a narcissistic/(borderline) personality organization of the parent who believes that venting of contemptuous anger can be “justified” when the other person “deserves” it.

If the minor’s counsel for the child or the Court concur with the child’s permission to become violent and cruel, then this is absolutely and fundamentally wrong.  There is NO valid excuse or justification for a child’s display of cruelty and violence toward anyone.  NONE.

That doesn’t mean that other people aren’t problematic. They are and can be.  But we teach our children to maintain their emotional and behavioral composure, to self-regulate their emotional and behavioral responses, and to exercise appropriate values and character in their response.  This is called “parenting.”

Pathogenic Parenting

Transferring a highly distorted belief system to the child, i.e., that the child is allowed to judge others and to deliver tirades of abusive anger if the child judges that the other person “deserves” it, represents extremely bad parenting. It is the beginning formation of narcissistic entitlement and borderline emotional dysregulation in the child as a product of distorted parenting practices by a narcissistic/(borderline) personality, who holds the distorted beliefs that the child is acquiring.

Children are a reflection of the parenting they receive. The distorted attitudes and behavior expressed by the child are NOT the product of the parenting from the targeted-rejected parent, as this parent has little to no influence on the child. The child’s highly distorted belief system and behavioral license are the product of the extremely bad parenting the child is receiving from the allied and supposedly “favored” parent.

When the child’s expressed attitudes and behavior are severe, such as would appear to be the case if the police need to be called to intervene, then the degree of severely poor parenting reflected in the child’s behavior raise child protection concerns. The allied and supposedly “favored” parent is doing such an extremely poor job of parenting that strong consideration should be given to switching primary parental care to the targeted parent, who can then strive to provide the child with better parenting and guidance that can restore the child’s balanced personality formation and undo the obvious damage to the child’s character development caused by the extremely bad parenting of the allied and supposedly “favored,” narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Conclusions of Dr. Childress

Children are a reflection of the parenting they receive.

Hostile aggressive behavior by the child is a reflection of extremely bad parenting. To propose that the child’s hostile-aggressive behavior is the product of the targeted parent is absurd on its face and should be rejected without consideration.

We will welcome consideration of the child’s grievances when these are expressed in appropriately socialized ways.  We talk, we dialogue, we discuss.  Violence, threats, and cruelty are NEVER acceptable, are NEVER excusable, and are NEVER justified.  Child grievances expressed as violence, threats, and cruelty will not be considered until such time as these are expressed in socially acceptable ways.

Even IF the parenting of the targeted parent is problematic (which it isn’t), the child should still be expected to maintain appropriate self-regulation.

An attempt by the allied and supposedly “favored” parent, to excuse the child’s atrocious behavior as somehow being understandable and justified because the targeted parent somehow “deserves” or provokes the child’s behavior is direct evidence of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality structure of the allied and supposedly “favored” parent who is supporting the child’s development of highly problematic affect regulation and attitudes of contemptuous disrespect for others.

If the child displays aggressive, threatening, or cruel behavior, then this is an indictment of the parenting practices of the allied and supposedly “favored” parent, and, if the child’s aggression, threats, and cruelty are severe, then child protection considerations may be warranted regarding the pathogenic parenting practices of the allied and supposedly “favored” parent as evidenced in the child’s attitudes and behavior, so that a change in primary parental care may be indicated.

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

References

Spectrum of Personality Disorder Traits

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Widiger, T.A. and Trull, T.J. (2007). Plate tectonics in the classification of personality disorder: Shifting to a dimensional model. American Psychologist, 62, 71-83.

Attachment and Personality Disorder Formation

Brennan, K.A. and Shaver, P.R. (1998). Attachment Styles and Personality Disorders: Their Connections to Each Other and to Parental Divorce, Parental Death, and Perceptions of Parental Caregiving. Journal of Personality 66, 835-878.

Fonagy, P., Target, M., Gergely, G., Allen, J.G., and Bateman, A. W. (2003). The developmental roots of Borderline Personality Disorder in early attachment relationships: A theory and some evidence. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 23, 412-459.

Holmes, J. (2004). Disorganized attachment and borderline personality disorder: a clinical perspective. Attachment & Human Development, 6(2), 181-190.

Levy, K.N. (2005). The implications of attachment theory and research for understanding borderline personality disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 17, p. 959-986

Lyddon, W.J. and Sherry, A. (2001). Developmental personality styles: An attachment theory conceptualization of personality disorders. Journal of Counseling and Development, 79, 405-417

Attachment Theory

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. Attachment, Volume 1. NY: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Volume 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. NY: Basic.

Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Volume 3. Loss: Sadness and depression. NY: Basic.

Association of Narcissistic and Borderline Personality

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

 

 

Legal: “Psychological Fingerprints”

Dr. Childress is a psychologist, not an attorney. This essay is not meant as legal advice.  For legal advice, consult an attorney and follow the counsel of your attorney.  This article discusses the possible application of psychological constructs in a legal setting.  Dr. Childress is a psychologist.


The “Puppet Master”

If the details of “parental alienation” need to be proven through the legal system, then the targeted-rejected parent is in trouble. The solution for attachment-based “parental alienation” is to be found through the mental health system, not through the legal system. When mental health speaks with a single voice the legal system will be able to rely on the testimony of mental health, and so can act with the necessary clarity to solve “parental alienation.”

In the meantime, however, targeted-rejected parents may need to turn to the legal system in order to protect and defend their children from the psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  Attachment-based “parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue.

Proving Gardner’s model of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) in court can be extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible, because the theoretical understructure of PAS is based on anecdotal clinical indicators with no foundation in established psychological principles or constructs .

The psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is insidious, so that it can be hidden from general view by the veneer of the child’s induced and adopted role as “the victim” and the role adopted and displayed by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as the supposedly “understanding” and “protective” parent.  The script for the displayed drama is well written and rehearsed, and the theater can be convincing to the susceptible.

Through the highly distorted parenting practices of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child is induced-seduced into psychologically surrendering to the controlling influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent (see “The Hostage Metaphor” article on my website; http://www.drcachildress.org).  Once the child surrenders into adopting the “victim role” relative to the other parent, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent then places the child into the front, into the leadership position, in expressing the child’s supposed “victimization” by the supposedly “abusive” targeted parent.  It is the child who holds the pathology, but it is the narcissistic/(borderline) parent who is the source of this pathology.

By placing the child in front as the supposed “victim” of the the allegedly “abusive” parenting of the other parent, the actual source of the pathology within the family (i.e., the narcissistic/(borderline) parent) is hidden from view.  Placing the child into the leadership position in expressing the pathology directs the focus of mental health professionals and the legal system onto scrutinizing the parenting of the supposedly “abusive” targeted parent who is accused by the child’s adopted and presented role as a “victim,” an induced role that is then actively supported by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent,

“Oh you poor child, I can’t believe the other parent is so abusively insensitive of your emotional needs.”

“I know just how the child feels, the other parent was the same way with me during our marriage.”

In the child’s presentation as a “victim,” our attention is drawn to the puppet and away from the puppet master.  And if the targeted parent tries to expose the controlling influence on the child that is being exercised by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, then the targeted parent is accused of “not taking responsibility” for his or her supposedly bad parenting practices.  The focus remains on the puppet show, and away from the puppet master.  It’s the perfect manipulative control.

Inducing the child into adopting the “victim” role (supposedly occurring at the hands of the “abusive” parenting of the targeted parent) allows the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to then adopt and display as the coveted and narcissistically desired “all wonderful” and “protective” parent.  And the false roles within this artificially constructed drama are readily believed by the susceptible.

The appearance of bonding between the child and the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is NOT a sign of a positive parent-child relationship, but is instead a symptom of severe psychopathology called a role-reversal relationship, with its source in the pathogenic parenting of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent draws “narcissistic supply” as the “all-wonderful” perfect parent from the child’s induced  surrender to the psychological control of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and the apparent bonding is actually a very pathological role-reversal relationship in which the child is being used to meet the psychological needs of the narcissistic/borderline parent.

“Prove It”

When we try to expose the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as the puppet master, the response of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is essentially, “prove it.”

We are then required to “prove” the psychological control of the child that is evident from careful inspection but that is so insidious as to be hidden from common gaze. The evidence of the control is present, but recognizing it requires an advanced understanding of psychological processes, too advanced for many in the mental health system and too advanced for the ready comprehension of the legal system. The legal system must rely on the testimony of psychology.

While the psychological evidence is complicated, the legal system does not need to litigate the advanced principles of psychology that are involved but can instead rely on the testimony of professional psychology.  Yet for the legal system to rely on the testimony of professional psychology, all of professional psychology must speak with a single voice. Dissent within professional psychology fractures the testimony to the Court which allows the pathology to remain hidden.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is an accurate description of the psychological processes involved.  An attachment-based description of these psychological processes is based entirely within established and scientifically supported psychological constructs and principles, so that an attachment-based model of parental alienation” can serve to unite professional psychology into a single voice.

And it can both identify the psychopathology and “prove it.” Key to understanding this proof, is that the psychological control of a child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent will leave “psychological fingerprints” in the symptoms of the child.

“Psychological Fingerprints”

The psychologist is like a detective investigating a murder… the murder of the authentic child who loves the targeted-rejected parent.   The murder weapon is the symptomatic child, who is being used by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to kill the authentically loving child of that parent. The targeted parent used to have a loving child. But that child is gone. That child is dead.

And there are no eye witnesses to the murder. The killing of the authentic child is committed outside of public view. Yet without an eye witness how can the murder of the authentic child be proven?

Yet even without an eyewitness to the murder of the authentic child, there is nevertheless substantial and convincing evidence that the allied and supposedly “favored” parent is the perpetrator, who is using the symptomatic child as the murder weapon.  The psychological control of a child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent will leave “psychological fingerprints” of the control in the symptom display of the child.

These “psychological fingerprints” are most directly evident in the narcissistic and borderline symptoms of the child that occur in association with the suppression of the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment system and along with a delusional belief system displayed by the child that the parenting practices of the other parent, the targeted parent, are somehow “abusive” in their inadequacy, when they are not. The parenting practices of the targeted-rejected parent are normal-range.

This set of three symptoms in the child’s symptom display represent definitive diagnostic indicators of the distorting influence on the child of pathogenic parenting practices by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent that are inducing severe developmental, personality, and psychiatric symptoms in the child.  There is NO OTHER EXPLANATION possible for the presence in the child’s symptom display of this disparate set of a-priori predicted specific symptoms other than the pathogenic parenting of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent, in which the child acquires and expresses the psychological state of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, hence the presence in the child’s symptom display of narcissistic and borderline personality traits.

This definitive and specific set of three diagnostic indicators, 1) attachment system suppression, 2) narcissistic and borderline traits in the child’s symptom display, and 3) a delusional belief expressed by the child regarding the supposedly “abusive” parenting of the targeted-rejected parent, represent the “psychological fingerprints” in the child’s symptoms (i.e., on the “murder weapon”) of the pathogenic psychological control and influence of the child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent that is inducing severe developmental psychopathology (i.e., distortions to and suppression of the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment system), personality distortions (i.e., the child’s acquisition of prominent narcissistic and borderline personality traits), and psychiatric symptoms (i.e., a delusional belief system that is resulting in the loss for the child of an affectionally bonded relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent).

Severely distorting pathogenic parenting practices by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent that are inducing severe developmental, personality, and psychiatric psychopathology in the child would seemingly warrant a DSM-5 diagnosis of “V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed” and would raise serious child protection concerns that rise beyond simple child custody and visitation considerations.

The Detective Metaphor

The psychologist is like a detective at a crime scene, collecting clinical evidence of what occurred.  The report of a child custody evaluation contains the clinical evidence collected by the custody evaluator, and if this evidence is correctly interpreted the “psychological fingerprints” of the child’s control by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent become evident.  However, the interpretation of the clinical evidence  collected through child custody evaluations sometimes (often) fails to recognize the degree of psychopathology within the family, and fails to “dust” for the “psychological fingerprints” of control by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent on the “murder weapon” of the symptomatic child.

Without the “psychological fingerprint” evidence, the presence of other circumstantial evidence is usually not deemed sufficient to “convict” the allied and supposedly “favored” parent of inducing the suppression of the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward the other parent, so that the custody evaluator often recommends joint custody, or primary custody to the allied and supposedly “favored” parent, along with therapy for the child and  targeted-rejected parent.

But the child in attachment-based “parental alienation” is essentially being held as a psychological hostage to the psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent (see my article “The Hostage Metaphor” on my website, http://www.drcachildress.org).  Therapy will be ineffective unless and until we are first able to protect the child from psychological retaliation by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent if the child dares to show attachment bonding to the targeted parent, or even fails to show sufficient rejection of the targeted parent.

A more advanced review of the clinical data contained in the custody evaluation, however, can often reveal the “psychological fingerprints” of the child’s control by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  If the three characteristic diagnostic indicators of attachment based “parental alienation” are evident in the child’s symptom display, then this represents definitive clinical evidence for the child’s psychological control by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

It is NOT necessary to formally diagnose the allied and supposedly “favored” parent as having narcissistic and borderline personality traits, although evidence of these traits in the allied and supposedly “favored” parent would serve as confirming clinical evidence.

In other words, it is NOT necessary to have direct “eye witness” evidence regarding the “murder.”  The presence in the child’s symptom display of the three characteristic diagnostic indicators (i.e., the “psychological fingerprints”) of the child’s psychological influence and control by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent represents sufficient and definitive clinical evidence that the symptomatic child-initiated cut-off of the child’s relationship with the other parent is the direct result of the pathogenic parenting practices of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent (i.e., the allied and supposedly “favored” parent), who is using the child in a role-reversal relationship as a “regulatory other” (see my blog essay: Parental Alienation as Child Abuse: The Regulating Other) for the psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The Clinical Evidence

In the evidence reported in the child custody evaluation, the mental health professional (i.e., the “psychological detective”) will want to look for the following “psychological fingerprint” evidence in the child’s symptom display:

1.  Splitting:  The child maintains dichotomous black-and-white perceptions of his or her parents, in which one parent (the allied and supposedly “favored” parent) is perceived as the “all-good,” wonderful and perfect parent, while the other parent is perceived as the “all-bad,” devalued and degraded parent. (DSM-5 Borderline Personality Disorder criterion 2; American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

2.  Grandiosity:  The child perceives himself or herself to be in an elevated role status within the family above that of the targeted-rejected parent, and from which the child feels entitled to judge the targeted-rejected parent as a parent and as a person. (DSM-5 Narcissistic Personality Disorder criterion 1; American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

3.  Entitlement:  The child feels entitled to have his or her every desire met by the targeted-rejected parent to the child’s satisfaction, and if the targeted-rejected parent fails to meet the child’s entitled expectations to the child’s satisfaction, the child then feels entitled and justified in exacting a retaliatory retribution against the targeted-rejected parent for the judged parental failure. (DSM-5 Narcissistic Personality Disorder criterion 5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

4.  Absence of Empathy:  The child displays a complete absence of empathy for the emotional suffering of the targeted-rejected parent that is the result of the child’s behavior and attitude toward this parent.  The child may actually make immensely cruel and hurtful statements to the targeted-rejected parent without apparent distress or remorse from the child. (DSM-5 Narcissistic Personality Disorder criterion 7; American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

5.  Haughty and Arrogant Attitude:  The child displays a haughty and arrogant attitude of dismissive contempt for the personhood of the targeted-rejected parent, as if this parent “deserved” to suffer because of the fundamental unworthiness of the targeted-rejected parent. (DSM-5 Narcissistic Personality Disorder criterion 9; American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

This set of “psychological fingerprints” in the child’s symptom display is only possible through the psychological control of the child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent. There is no other explanation possible for this set of clinical evidence in the child’s symptom display.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychlogist, PSY 18857

 

 

Parental Alienation as Child Abuse: The Regulating Other

Note: narcissistic and borderline personality processes are outward variations of the same underlying personality organization (see Kernberg, 1975)


The “Regulating-Other”

In attachment-based “parental alienation,” the child is being used by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to regulate the emotional and psychological state of the parent.

(see my blog on Attachment Foundations: Regulation Systems for more on the construct of “regulation”)

The clinical phrase for this process is that the child is being used as a “regulating-other” for the parent.  The child must express the attitudes and behavior desired by the parent or else be exposed to parental displays of narcissistic or borderline anger and rejection.

Narcissistic anger is very intense, although it can be subdued on the surface, and it combines signals of hostile-rejection with disgust (a visceral repulsion).  The combination of intense parental anger, rejection, and disgust can be extremely disturbing for a child.  Children exposed to parental narcissistic anger (commonly referred to as “narcissistic rage,” Kohut, (1972) find the experience so psychologically disturbing that they become strongly motivated to avoid venturing outside of the psychological state desired by the narcissistic parent.

This requires that the child continually monitor the internal psychological state of the narcissistic parent to remain aware of the emotional and psychological needs of the parent, so that the child can then meet the parent’s needs and avoid the retaliation of narcissistic anger and rejection should the child fail to be what the narcissistic parent needs the child to be.

One of the primary needs of the narcissistic parent is for continual admiration, called “narcissistic supply,” in which the narcissistic parent is perceived to be the all-wonderful, perfect and ideal parent.  This creates the surface appearance of a seemingly hyper-bonded parent-child relationship, with the child expressing uncritical adoration for the parent.  Rather than an authentically bonded relationship, however, this superficial appearance of bonding actually reflects the child being used by the narcissistic parent as a “regulating other” to maintain the narcissistic parent’s own grandiose self-image as the ideal and perfect parent/(person).

“To the extent that parents are narcissistic, they are controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of their children’s needs and of the effects of their behavior on their children, and require that the children see them as the parents wish to be seen. They may also demand certain behavior from their children because they see the children as extensions of themselves, and need the children to represent them in the world in ways that meet the parents’ emotional needs.” (Rappoport, 2005, p. 2)

Borderline anger is more chaotic and disorganized in its intensity, and will typically be combined with tearful displays of supposed victimization because of the alleged “abuse” supposedly being inflicted on the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  The borderline personality cannot organize or modulate its hyper-intense emotional experiences, leading to chaotic swings of intense emotional displays.

In addition, the thought processes of the borderline personality, the “cognitive structure” of the borderline personality, breaks down in response to the intensity of the emotional experience and the over-arching need of the impaired borderline personality structure to regulate the intensity of the emotions.  If truth and reality needs to be changed in order for the borderline personality to regulate the intense emotions, then the borderline personality simply asserts a different truth, a different reality.  For the borderline personality, “truth is whatever I assert it to be.”   Truth and reality are fluid constructs for the borderline personality, subject to the changing moment-to moment emotional needs of regulating the intensity of the emotional experience.

Within this context of volatile parental anger and an ever-changing definition of truth and reality that is based on the shifting moment-to-moment needs of the borderline parent, the child learns to continually monitor the emotional state and needs of the borderline personality parent in order to be what this parent needs, so that the parent remains in a regulated emotional state and the child can avoid the parent’s volatile displays of anger and hostility.

Because the truth and reality asserted by the borderline parent are continually in flux based on the shifting emotional needs of the parent, the child is unable to anchor his or her own perception of truth and reality in any stable frame of reference.  And in the context of unpredictable and intense displays of parental anger based on an ever changing reality, the child ultimately surrenders to the truth and reality asserted by the borderline parent in order to keep the anger and emotional volatility of the parent regulated and in check.  If the borderline parent asserts that the sky is red, the child agrees.  An hour later, if the borderline parent asserts that the sky is yellow, the child agrees.  No mention is made by the child regarding the inconsistency, because this would only provoke the parent into a tirade.  The child learns to surrender completely to the reality defined by the needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Role-Reversal Relationship

In the child’s relationship with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child becomes a “regulating other” for the psychopathology of the parent.  The child is used by the parent to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent.  When a parent uses a child to meet the parent’s needs, this is called a “role-reversal” relationship (note: there are several different types of role-reversal relationships).  In healthy parent-child relationships, the parent meets the needs of the child.  In a role-reversal relationship, the child is used by the parent to meet the needs of the parent.

The prototype exemplar of a role-reversal relationship is incest, in which the child is used to meet the psychological-sexual needs of the parent.

  • A role-reversal relationship is the product of relationship patterns contained within the internal working models of the attachment system (Macfie, McElwain, Houts, & Cox, 2005).
  • The development of borderline personality structure is linked to distorted relationship patterns contained within the internal working models of the attachment system  (Agrawal, Gunderson, Holmes, & Lyons-Ruth, 2004; Fonagy, Target, Gergely, Allen, & Bateman, 2003)
  • Borderline personality organization is also linked to childhood sexual abuse victimization (Hodges, 2003; McLean & Gallop, 2003; Ogata, et al., 1990; Trippany, Helm, & Simpson, 2006; Zanarini, et al., 1990) and to role-reversal relationships (Shaffer & Sroufe, 2005).

While other developmental factors can lead to a role-reversal relationship (such as parental alcoholism), the symptomatic presence in “parental alienation”of both a role-reversal relationship and borderline personality organization in the parent suggests the possible presence of sexual abuse “source code” in the internal working models of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment system that was inserted into the trans-generational transmission of attachment patterns (Benoit & Parker, 1994; Bretherton, 1990; Jacobvitz, Morgan, Kretchmar, & Morgan, 1991).

“There is evidence for the intergenerational transmission of boundary dissolution within the family. Adults who experienced boundary dissolution in their relationships with their own parents are more likely to violate boundaries with their children” (Kerig, 2005, p. 22)

“A maternal history of sexual exploitation has emerged as a significant predictor of boundary dissolution at 42 months” (Shaffer & Sroufe, 2005, p. 75)

Parent-initiated boundary dissolution in early childhood instantiates a pattern of relationship disturbance in the child. Role reversal is apparent by early adolescence and the available data suggest links to psychopathology in later adolescence, particularly as a result of sexualized behavior observed at age 13. (Shaffer & Sroufe, 2005)

The analogy would be to a computer virus infecting the “source code” of files in the internal working models of the attachment system, that is then passed on inter-generationally as the regulatory networks of the attachment system are “downloaded” from the parent to the child through the distorted parenting practices created by the corrupt “files” in the internal working models of the parent’s attachment system (see my blog, Attachment Foundations: Regulation Systems).

The internal working models of the attachment system mediate all close, emotionally bonded relationships throughout the lifespan.  Distortions in the parental attachment system will distort the parenting practices of this parent, leading to the inter-generational transmission of distorted attachment patterns from the parent to the child (Benoit & Parker, 1994; Bretherton, 1990; Fonagy, Steele, & Steele, 1991; Fonagy & Target, 2005; Jacobvitz, Morgan, Kretchmar & Morgan, 1991)..

The possible sexual abuse origins of this “source code” may be at the generational level of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, representing the possible childhood sexual abuse victimization of this parent, or the “source code” may have entered the trans-generational transmission of attachment patterns a generation earlier, with the parent of the current narcissistic/(borderline) parent whose distorted parenting practices then produced the narcissistic/(borderline) personality organization of the current parent, so that this particular “phrase” of the “source code” (i.e., a role-reversal relationship in which the parent uses the child to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent) is being passed on inter-generationally through several generations following the incest victimization trauma.

Psychological Child Abuse

The child-initiated cut-off of the child’s relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent as a consequence of the distorted pathogenic parenting practices of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent in which the child is being used by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in a role-reversal relationship to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the personality disordered parent (i.e., “parental alienation”) may represent a trans-generational iteration of child sexual abuse victimization that occurred a generation (or two) prior to the current child, but that is continuing to severely distort parent-child relationships through the distorted parenting practices of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent (whose own disordered personalty organization likewise represents the impact of the prior sexual abuse victimization).

There is evidence to suggest that the severely distorted parenting practices associated with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” represent a variant of child sexual abuse/incest that is being transmitted inter-generationally to the current child in a non-sexualized, but still psychologically abusive form.

Our response should be commensurate with this possibility, i.e., that what we are dealing with is a form of non-sexualized psychological-(sexual) abuse victimization of the child in a trans-generational iteration.  Attachment-based “parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue.

Even if the distortions to the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent as a consequence of pathogenic parenting by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent are not the product of the trans-generational transmission of sexual abuse trauma, the severely distorted parenting practices of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in which the child is being used as a “regulating other” to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent nevertheless rise to the level of psychological child abuse that is severely distorting the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development.

What may superficially appear to be a bonded parent-child relationship between the child and the allied and supposedly “favored” narcissistic/(borderline) parent actually represents a role-reversal relationship that is a symptomatic expression of the severe pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  Attachment-based “parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue.

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

Note:  I want to be entirely clear.  I am in NO WAY suggesting that the currently allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent is sexually abusing the child.  What I am saying is that there is evidence suggesting that the psychological processes currently being manifested through an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” could very possibly represent the trans-generational iteration of prior sexual abuse victimization that occurred a generation or two earlier, and that is continuing to severely distort parent-child relationship processes through the influence of pathogenic “source code” contained in the internal working models of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment system

References

Boundary Dissolution

Kerig, P.K. (2005). Revisiting the construct of boundary dissolution: A multidimensional perspective. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 5, 5-42.

Shaffer, A., & Sroufe, L. A. (2005). The Developmental and adaptational implications of generational boundary dissolution: Findings from a prospective, longitudinal study. Journal of Emotional Abuse. 5(2/3), 67-84.

Trans-Generational Transmission of Attachment Patterns

Benoit, D. and Parker, K.C.H. (1994). Stability and transmission of attachment across three generations. Child Development, 65, 1444-1456

Bretherton, I. (1990). Communication patterns, internal working models, and the intergenerational transmission of attachment relationships. Infant Mental Health Journal, 11, 237-252.

Fonagy, P., Steele, M. & Steele, H. (1991). Intergenerational patterns of attachment: Maternal representations during pregnancy and subsequent infant-mother attachments. Child Development, 62, 891-905.

Fonagy P. & Target M. (2005). Bridging the transmission gap: An end to an important mystery in attachment research? Attachment and Human Development, 7, 333-343.

Jacobvitz, D.B., Morgan, E., Kretchmar, M.D., and Morgan, Y. (1991). The transmission of mother-child boundary disturbances across three generations. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 513-527.

Macfie, J., McElwain, N.L., Houts, R.M., and Cox, M.J. (2005) Intergenerational transmission of role reversal between parent and child: Dyadic and family systems internal working models. Attachment & Human Development, 7, 51-65

Borderline Personality Disorder and Sexual Abuse Association

Hodges, S. (2003). Borderline personality disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder: Time for integration? Journal of Counseling and Development, 81, 409-417.

McLean, L. M., & Gallop, R. (2003). Implications of childhood sexual abuse for adult borderline personality disorder and complex posttraumatic stress disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 160(2), 369-71.

Ogata, S. N., Silk, K. R., Goodrich, S., Lohr, N. E., Westen, D., & Hill, E. M. (1990). Childhood sexual and physical abuse in adult patients with borderline personality personality disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 147(8), 1008-13.

Trippany, R.L., Helm, H.M. and Simpson, L. (2006). Trauma reenactment: Rethinking borderline personality disorder when diagnosing sexual abuse survivors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 28, 95-110.

Zanarini, M. C., Williams, A. A., Lewis, et al. (1997). Reported pathological childhood experiences associated with the development of borderline personality disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 154(8), 1101-6.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Attachment Networks

Agrawal, H.R., Gunderson, J., Holmes, B.M., & Lyons-Ruth, K. (2004). Attachment studies with borderline patients: A review. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 12, 94-104.

Fonagy, P., Target, M., Gergely, G., Allen, J.G., and Bateman, A. W. (2003). The developmental roots of Borderline Personality Disorder in early attachment relationships: A theory and some evidence.Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 23, 412-459.

Co-Narcissism

Rappoport, A. (2005). Co-narcissism: How we accommodate to narcissistic parents. The Therapist.

Narcissistic Rage

Kohut, H: Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 1972; 27:560-400.

Association of Narcissistic and Borderline Organization

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

“One subgroup of borderline patients, namely, the narcissistic personalities… seem to have a defensive organization similar to borderline conditions, and yet many of them function on a much better psychosocial level.” (Kernberg, 1975, p. xiii)

Attachment Foundations: Regulation Systems (1)

In my discussions you will frequently hear me use the term “regulation,” so let me take a moment to discuss the meaning of “regulation” relative to child development and the brain.


The brain has a variety of regulatory systems, with the attachment system being one of the primary systems for regulating emotions, behavior, and particularly relationships.

A useful analogy for understanding the concept of “regulation” is the thermostat.  When the temperature gets too warm in a room, the thermostat registers this and turns on the air conditioner to bring the temperature back down into a comfortable range.  Similarly, if the temperature in the room gets too cold, then the thermostat turns on the heater to return the temperature to a comfortable range.  The thermostat “regulates” the temperature of the room so that the temperature remains in a comfortable mid-range.

The brain works in the same way, acting to regulate emotions, behavior, and social relationships so that the person’s state remains organized and integrated with the environment and social field, a comfortable mid-range of emotions, behavior, and social cooperation.  Emotions that are too intense or conflicted, or demands that are too frustrating can lead to dysregulated emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal displays.  Meanwhile, the brain’s regulatory networks seek to maintain the organism in an organized and well-regulated mid-range comfort zone, and there are a variety of brain systems that act to maintain the integrated regulation of our emotions, behavior, and social relationships.

The Development of Regulatory Systems

We build what we use:  Brain cells and brain systems develop based on the principle of “we build what we use.”  Every time we use a brain cell or a particular brain network the connections within that network become stronger, more sensitive, and more efficient through “use-dependent” neural processes.  We build what we use.  If you want to learn to hit a baseball, you go to the batting cage and hit baseballs over-and-over again.  If you want to memorize a phone number, you repeat it back to yourself over and-over again.  We build what we use.  The renowned neuroscientist, Donald Hebb, referred to this use-dependent development as, “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Based on the requirements of this use-dependent approach to neural development, the brain employs a dual-system of “experience expectant” and “experience dependent” maturation in which the brain expects certain categories and types of experience and is already “pre-wired” in certain brain areas to receive these experiences (i.e., brain development is “experience-expectant”), and meanwhile the exact nature of the specific patterns that are laid down in these “pre-wired” areas is dependent on the specific nature of the experiences the person has (i.e., brain development is “experience-dependent”).  This integrated dual-process of experience-expectant and experience-dependent brain development is most clearly illustrated in our acquisition of language.

The Example of Language Acquisition

One of the primary regulatory systems of the brain is language, and the development and functioning of the language system can shed light on how other regulatory systems develop and function.

The brain expects that it will be exposed to language and already has certain areas pre-wired to acquire the rich complexity of language (experience-expectant).  However, the specific language that is learned, Chinese, French, Russian, is dependent upon which specific language the child is exposed to during sensitive periods of development (experience-dependent).

Language is also a primary regulatory network, serving to regulate emotions, behavior, and social relationships in order to keep them in an organized and comfortable mid-range of effective functioning. When we use language to express our emotions there are inhibitory networks from language and communication channels back to the emotion system that help quiet the intensity of the emotion (Greenspan & Shanker, 2004).  Language also helps us regulate our emotions and behavior through internalized self-talk (thinking) in which we can organize and direct our actions in planning and execution.  One of the primary regulatory functions of language is with our social relationships, in which language allows us to cooperatively organize our interpersonal relationships.  Language is a primary regulatory system that develops through an integrated combination of experience-expectant and experience-dependent developmental processes.

The primary organizational patterns that are laid down in the language system by experience-dependent development occur during a sensitive period of early childhood development, primarily between the ages of one to five years old.  This is the period when the basic structure of grammar is acquired.  The brain expects that it will acquire grammar and already has dedicated brain systems and structures ready to acquire the grammar of language, but each specific language will have its own unique grammatical structure.  The grammatical structure of Chinese is vastly different from that of French, yet the developing brain is equally adept at acquiring the underlying grammatical structure of either language.  The exact patterns laid down in the language system are experience-dependent.

And while the specific underlying patterns of language are acquired during a time-limited sensitive period of early childhood, we nevertheless use these underlying patterns of language throughout our lifespans to regulate our emotions, behavior, and social interactions.  Language isn’t something that’s just relevant to early childhood because that’s the period when we acquire the patterns of language.  We use the patterns of language we developed in childhood throughout our lives, from childhood to old age.

The Attachment System

In the 1970s a seminal psychological theorist, John Bowlby, identified another primary regulatory system in the brain, the attachment system.  The attachment system likewise acts to regulate our emotions, behavior, and social relationships throughout our lifespans, with a particular focus on regulating our emotionally close and intimate relationship bonds.

The attachment system developed across millions of years of evolution, just like the language system did, because of the survival advantage that children’s attachment bonding to parents confers, and the attachment system likewise develops through a combination of experience-expectant and experience-dependent developmental processes.  The brain expects certain attachment-related experiences of close emotional bonding with the parental caregivers, and the brain has pre-dedicated networks already in place to acquire the “grammar” of these relationships, what are called the “internal working models” of attachment relationships (Bowlby, 1969; Bretherton & Munholland, 2008).  The actual specific patterns imprinted onto the attachment networks, however, depend on the specific features of the parent-child relationship.

The “grammar” of attachment, the “internal working models” of the attachment system, is primarily acquired during a sensitive period of early childhood based on the child’s relationship interactions with parental caregivers.  Yet these internal working models of attachment continue to change and develop throughout childhood and adolescence (just like we continue to modify and change our language development throughout childhood), and we use the internal patterns of the attachment system throughout our lifespan to regulate both the formation of emotionally close and bonded relationships, as well as the loss of these emotionally close relationships.

The attachment system is a neuro-biologically embedded primary motivational system analogous to other primary motivational systems for food and reproduction (unlike the language system, which is not a motivational system).  Because we all live in a brain, we are all familiar with the experience of the attachment system.  When we love our mother, our father, our siblings, our grandparents, that’s the attachment system glowing warm within us.  Who we choose for a spouse, why we choose this person, and how we relate to this person, that’s the attachment system operating within us (Feeney & Noller, 1990; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Roisman, et al., 2001; Simpson, 1990)  When we argue and fight with our spouse, trying to improve our relationship and restore our affectional bonding, that’s the attachment system motivating us.  When we grieve the death of our parent, the divorce from our spouse, or the loss of our child leaving home for college, that’s the attachment system.  How we do each of these things, our style of love and loss, represents the manifestation of the internal working models of our attachment system, the “grammar” of our attachment networks (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980).

One of the primary experts in attachment theory, Mary Ainsworth, 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, emphasis added)

Transmission of Attachment Patterns

Just like we acquired the patterns of the language system from the language our parents spoke, i.e., the patterns in their language system were transferred to our language system, we acquire much of our attachment patterns, the internal working models of our own attachment networks, from the patterns contained in our parents’ attachment systems (Benoit & Parker, 1994; Bretherton, 1990; Fonagy, Steele, & Steele, 1991; Fonagy & Target 2005; Fraiberg, Adelson, & Shapiro, 1975; Jacobvitz, Morgan, Kretchmar & Morgan, 1991; van Ijzendoorn, 1992).  Just like we acquire the grammar of language from the grammar “files” in the language networks of our parents, we similarly acquire the “grammar” of the attachment system, our internal working models of attachment expectations, from the “files” of our parents’ attachment networks.

The patterns of attachment contained within the parents’ attachment networks are transferred to the children’s attachment networks. This is called the “trans-generational transmission of attachment patterns.”  And here is what is important for understanding the distortions to the child’s attachment bonding motivations in “parental alienation” — any corrupt “files” in the attachment system of the parent will be transferred to the child’s attachment system, just like a regional dialect or accent is transferred in the language system, so that the child’s attachment networks will contain the same corrupt “files” as the parent’s.

The child-initiated cut-off in the child’s relationship with a normal-range, affectionate and available parent represents the manifestation of a set of corrupt “files” in the attachment system of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that are being transferred to the child’s attachment networks, and these corrupt “files” are crashing the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment system relative to the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward the targeted parent.

What will be interesting is when, in later blog posts, I open these corrupt files and we read the actual source code that is contained in these files.  We will find that it is a very specific and characteristic code that speaks to the trans-generational origins of the “parental alienation” process.

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

References

Regulatory Function of Language

Greenspan, S.I. and Shanker, S.G. (2004) The first idea: How symbols, language and intelligence evolved from our primate ancestors to modern humans. New York: Da Capo Press.

Internal Working Models

Bretherton, I., & Munholland, K. (2008). Internal working models in attachment relationships:  Elaborating a central construct in attachment theory.  In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment (pp. 102-130). New York: Guilford Press.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. Attachment, vol. 1. (pp. )NY: Basic Books.

Attachment System and Spousal Relationships

Feeney, J.A. & Noller, P. (1990). Attachment style as a predictor of adult romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 281-291.

Hazan, C, & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511-524.

Roisman, G.I., Madsen, K.H., Hennighousen, L. Sroufe, L.A., and Collins, W.A. (2001). The coherence of dyadic behavior across parent-child and romantic relationships as mediated by the internalized representation of experience. Attachment and Human Behavior, 3, 156-172.

Simpson, J.A. (1990). Influence of attachment styles on romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 971-980.

Trans-Generational Transmission of Attachment Patterns

Benoit, D. and Parker, K.C.H. (1994). Stability and transmission of attachment across three generations. Child Development, 65, 1444-1456

Bretherton, I. (1990). Communication patterns, internal working models, and the intergenerational transmission of attachment relationships. Infant Mental Health Journal, 11, 237-252.

Fonagy, P., Steele, M. & Steele, H. (1991). Intergenerational patterns of attachment: Maternal representations during pregnancy and subsequent infant-mother attachments. Child Development, 62, 891-905.

Fonagy P. & Target M. (2005). Bridging the transmission gap: An end to an important mystery in attachment research? Attachment and Human Development, 7, 333-343.

Fraiberg, S., Adelson, E., & Shapiro, V. (1975). Ghosts in the nursery. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 14, 387–421.

Jacobvitz, D.B., Morgan, E., Kretchmar, M.D., and Morgan, Y. (1991). The transmission of mother-child boundary disturbances across three generations. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 513-527.

van Ijzendoorn, M.H. (1992) Intergenerational transmission of parenting: A review of studies in nonclinical populations. Developmental Review, 12, 76-99

The Attachment System

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

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. Attachment, vol. 1. (pp. )NY: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. NY: Basic.

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

Gardner’s Model of PAS and the Need for a Paradigm Shift

The construct of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was first proposed by Richard Gardner in the 1980s.  His work and insight is to be applauded for recognizing a clinical phenomenon surrounding an induced child rejection of a normal-range parent as a result of the distorted parenting practices of the allied and supposedly “favored” parent.  However, Gardner too quickly abandoned established psychological principles and constructs in proposing a new “syndrome” that was supposedly identifiable by a set of anecdotal clinical signs.  In abandoning the rigor imposed on professional practice by scientifically established psychological principles and constructs, Gardner failed to adequately establish the theoretical foundations for his anecdotal clinical insights, and targeted parents and their children have been paying the price for this theoretical failure across the 30 years since the introduction of the PAS model.

Gardner’s lack of necessary professional rigor in formulating his theory of PAS has resulted in decades of internal disputes within professional psychology that have divided the voice of professional psychology and have prevented the formulation of a solution to a very real clinical phenomenon.  Professional psychology has been “split” in dealing with the issues of “parental alienation” as a consequence of Gardner’s lack of professional rigor.  In order to find a solution, it is imperative that this rupture in professional psychology be resolved.

Marsha Linehan, one of the leading experts in borderline personality processes, describes a phenomenon called “staff splitting” that is familiar to all clinical psychologists who work with borderline patients.  Staff splitting involves a parallel process in the treatment team to the splitting dynamic of the borderline patient, in which polar sides develop within the treatment team regarding the borderline patient so that the treatment team becomes divided by internal arguments and disputes regarding the borderline patient.  It is almost axiomatic in clinical psychology, when disputes and arguments develop within a treatment team regarding a patient, assess for borderline personality characteristics with the patient.

“Staff splitting,” as mentioned earlier, is a much-discussed phenomenon in which professionals treating borderline patients begin arguing and fighting about a patient, the treatment plan, or the behavior of the other professionals with the patient… arguments among staff members and differences in points of view, traditionally associated with staff splitting, are seen as failures in synthesis and interpersonal process among the staff rather than as a patient’s problem… Therapist disagreements over a patient are treated as potentially equally valid poles of a dialectic. Thus, the starting point for dialogue is the recognition that a polarity has arisen, together with an implicit (if not explicit) assumption that resolution will require working toward synthesis.” (Linehan, 1993, p. 432)

The dynamics of “parental alienation” emerge from the narcissistic and borderline personalty disorder processes of the allied and supposedly “favored” parent, and so it is not surprising that the phenomenon of “staff splitting” has similarly emerged relative to the construct of “parental alienation,” in which sides have been drawn between supporters and detractors of the PAS construct. What is surprising is that no one in professional psychology has recognized the manifestation of “staff splitting” in the divided professional response to PAS, especially since the splitting dynamic is so prominently evident in the child’s symptom display.

In any event, an end to the division within professional psychology is long past overdue, and the clearly evident tragedy of “parental alienation” requires that professional psychology unite around a common effort to develop an accurate model of the clinical phenomenon associated with “parental alienation.”  Following the guidance of Marsha Linehan, professional psychology needs to recognize that both sides in the dispute represent “equally valid poles of a dialectic” that require synthesis.

The supporters of the PAS construct are correct in identifying a clinical issue of profound significance involving a parentally induced cut-off of the child’s relationship with a normal-range parent as a consequence of extremely distorted parenting practices of the allied and supposedly “favored” parent.  The critics of the PAS construct are also correct in their assertion that the PAS model lacks sufficient scientific foundation as a professional construct.  Both sides represent “equally valid polls of a dialectic.”

The division within mental health has lasted far too long to the the tragic detriment of far too many families and children.  It is time to end the rift and bring synthesis to the debate.  A clinical phenomena exists involving an induced child-initiated cut-off of the child’s relationship with a normal-range parent as a result of aberrant and distorted parenting practices emanating from the allied and supposedly “favored” parent, AND the nature of this clinical process requires description from within established and scientifically supported psychological constructs and principles.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” accomplishes this synthesis, and it can serve to end the division within professional psychology, so that mental health can speak with a single voice regarding the clinical phenomenon classically described as “parental alienation.”  An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” defines the dynamics involved in “parental alienation” across multiple levels of integrated analysis, 1) the family systems level, 3) the personality disorder level, and 3) the level of the attachment system.

The psychopathology involved is complex, but it is understandable, and it leads to a set of clear diagnostic indicators that are firmly established within scientifically supported psychological constructs.  In addition, an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” establishes clear domains of professional knowledge that define standards of practice for professional competence in the diagnosis and treatment of this “special population” of children and families.  Failure to possess the requisite professional knowledge, training, and expertise in attachment theory, personality disorder processes (particularly narcissistic an borderline personality dynamics and their characteristic decompensation under stress), and in family systems constructs (particularly centering on the child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through a cross-generational parent-child coalition against the other parent) which is necessary for competent professional diagnosis and treatment with this “special population” of children and families may represent practice beyond the boundaries of professional competence in violation of professional practice standards.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” also establishes clear treatment parameters based on a  fundamental understanding of the psychological processes involved, which require as the first step the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery. The need for a protective separation of the child is made necessary on two grounds, 1) to protect the child from continued exposure to the psychological child abuse associated with the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and 2) to prevent psychological harm to the child during the active phase of treatment as a result of being turned into a “psychological battleground” by the continued active resistance of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the goals of therapy, and from the continued motivated efforts of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to maintain the child’s symptomatic state even as therapy seeks to resolve the child’s symptoms.

Once ALL diagnosing and treating mental health professionals possess the same degree of understanding and professional competence regarding the reliable diagnosis and effective treatment of “parental alienation,” then professional psychology can speak with a single voice to the Court regarding the nature of attachment-based “parental alienation” and the treatment needs of the child.  No longer will targeted parents be required to prove “parental alienation” in Court.  Instead, the Court can rely on mental health for guidance since ALL professionally competent mental health professionals will be able to reliably come to exactly the same diagnosis under the same circumstances regarding the presence or absence of attachment-based “parental alienation,” which will allow the Court to rely on the clear and singular recommendations of mental health professionals.

Schizophrenia does not need to be proven in Court; bipolar disorder does not need to be proven in Court;  ADHD does not need to be proven in Court, because all of these psychological processes have achieved consensual validation within professional psychology.  In all of these cases, the Court can rely on the professional judgment and recommendations of professional psychology, because in all of these cases professional psychology speaks with a single voice.  An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” allows professional psychology to speak with a single voice regarding the diagnosis and treatment needs related to this “special population” of children and families.

The legal system is the wrong venue to diagnose and resolve psychological and family problems, just as the therapy office is the wrong venue to resolve contract disputes and criminal behavior.  By bringing professional psychology together in a single voice, an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” allows the diagnosis and resolution of the distorted family processes associated with “parental alienation” to be returned to its proper venue of professional mental health, rather than diagnosing the nature of psychopathology through the legal system.

Gardner’s model of PAS served many valuable functions.  It helped highlight the existence of “parental alienation” in the public and professional consciousness, and by giving the psychopathology a name the construct of PAS gave some degree of comfort to the many targeted-rejected parents who suffered the tragic loss of their children as a consequence of the psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that so severely distorted the development of the children.

However, in proposing a new “syndrome” based on anecdotal clinical indicators, Gardner too quickly abandoned the professional rigor demanded of professional practice.  Instead of building his theoretical foundations on the firm bedrock of established and scientifically supported psychological constructs and principles, Gardner built the model of PAS on the shifting sands of anecdotal clinical indicators, so that when we try to leverage this model to achieve a solution, the sands shift beneath our feet and the structure collapses.  In the 30 years since its inception, Gardner’s model of PAS has failed to provide a solution to “parental alienation” for the countless parents who continue to lose their children to the psychopathology of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  Gardner’s model of PAS is a failed paradigm

It is a failed theoretical paradigm.  It is a failed diagnostic paradigm.  It is a failed legal paradigm.  It is a failed treatment paradigm. It has failed to provide a solution.  We need to change paradigms.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” represents a paradigm shift to a scientifically based model based entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” can end the division within  professional psychology and unite mental health into a single voice because it is based entirely within established and scientifically supported psychological principles and constructs.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” establishes clear domains of professional knowledge and expertise in established psychological principles and constructs necessary to define professional standards of practice for ALL mental health professionals diagnosing and treating this “special population” of children and families.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” takes the solution for “parental alienation” out of the court system and returns it the the mental health system where the diagnosis and treatment of psychological problems the belongs.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” can provide targeted parents and their children with an actualized solution.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, PSY 18857

References

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: Guilford

 

Diagnosis of Attachment-Based Parental Alienation

I receive many requests for help and guidance.  When I am contacted, professional standards of practice prevent me from commenting on the specifics of an individual case.  However, the relationship dynamics involved with the pathogenic parenting of “parental alienation” processes are exceedingly similar across families, because they originate in the same type of parental psychopathology (a narcissistic personality disorder with borderline features that is decompensating into persecutory beliefs regarding the targeted/rejected parent’s abuse potential relative to the child).

Recently I received the following question from a parent, and I thought my response to this parent might be helpful to other parents (and to mental health professionals).

“Hello Dr. Childress, What assessment tools do you use to identify the possibility of a likely Parental Alienation Dynamic?  Would you need to interview the children?”


The assessment of “parental alienation” (i.e., pathogenic parenting) involves clinical interviews primarily with the child, but also with the targeted parent and child.  Additional interviews with the “alienating” parent can be helpful to confirm the diagnosis but are not necessary to making the diagnosis of “pathogenic parenting” associated with “parental alienation” processes (pathogenic: “patho” = pathology; “genic” = genesis, creation; pathogenic parenting is the creation of pathology in a child through highly aberrant and distorted parenting practices).

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is diagnosed from the presence of three separate symptom features that are evident in the child’s symptom display:

1.    Suppression of the normal range functioning of the child’s attachment system relative to one parent involving a child initiated “cut-off” of the child’s relationship with a parent.

2.   The presence in the child’s symptom display of a specific set of narcissistic and borderline personality disorder features, involving:

a.)  Grandiosity: A grandiose judgment of a parent in which the child perceives himself or herself to be in an elevated status position in the family hierarchy above that held by the targeted-rejected parent, so that the child feels entitled to judge the parent;

c.)  Entitlement: A sense of entitlement in which the child feels that his or her desires should all be met to the child’s satisfaction, and if the targeted-rejected parent doesn’t meet the child’s entitled expectations to the child’s satisfaction then the child feels justified in inflicting a retaliatory retribution on the targeted-rejected parent for the supposed parental failure;

d.)  Haughty Arrogance: A haughty and arrogant attitude of contempt regarding the supposed parental inadequacy (and personal inadequacy) of the targeted/rejected parent;

e.) Absence of Empathy: A complete absence of normal-range empathy and compassion for the feelings of the targeted-rejected parent;

a.)  Splitting:  Extremes in the child’s perception of relationships with his or her parents, in which the child overly idealizes one parent as being the all-good, perfect parent, while the other parent is viewed as being the entirely bad, horrible and wretched parent.

3. An intransigently held, fixed and false belief system (i.e, a delusion) regarding the fundamental inadequacy of the targeted-rejected parent who the child typically characterizes as being “abusive” (typically the allegation is that the supposedly inadequate parenting of the targeted-rejected parent is emotionally abusive).

If this specific set of 3 symptoms is present in the child’s symptom display, the only possible origin of this particular symptom set is through pathogenic parenting by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent, who represents the allied and supposedly “favored” parent in the family relationship pattern.  This specific symptom set CANNOT originate authentically to the functioning of the child’s nervous system.  This specific symptom set can only be acquired by the child from pathogenic parenting emanating from the allied and supposedly “favored” parent.

One of the key diagnostic criteria is number 3, the presence in the child’s symptom display of a delusional belief regarding the fundamental inadequacy of the parenting practices of the targeted-rejected parent.  In order to determine this third criteria, that the child’s beliefs about the parenting practices of the targeted-rejected parent are not based in reality, the parenting practices of the targeted-rejected parent must be clinically evaluated.  This involves joint parent-child sessions in which the parenting behavior of the targeted-rejected parent, and the child’s responses to the parenting behavior of the targeted-rejected parent, are assessed.

If the parenting behavior of the targeted-rejected parent is broadly normal range (i.e., no evidence of alcoholism, chronic drug use,excessive anger dysregulation, domestic violence, severely distorted communication processes), then the parenting behavior of the targeted/rejected parent could not reasonably account for the creation of the child’s symptom constellation of the three specific features noted above.  The pathogenic parenting must be originating in the aberrant and distorted parenting of the other parent, the allied and supposedly “favored” parent.

There is no other alternative explanation that would account for the presence of that specific set of symptoms displayed by the child.  That specific set of symptoms CANNOT arise on their own from the authentic functioning of a child’s own nervous system. That specific set of symptoms MUST be induced through interpersonal processes – i.e., through pathogenic parenting.  If the parenting practices of the targeted-rejected parent are assessed to be broadly normal range (with due consideration and latitude given to the broad array of parenting practices displayed in normal-range families, and with due deference given to recognized parental prerogatives in establishing family values through the legitimate exercise of parental authority, leadership, and discipline), then the presence of that symptom set in the child’s symptom display MUST be the induced product of pathogenic parenting by the allied and supposedly “favored” parent.  There is no other alternative explanation possible regarding the origins of that specific child symptom set.

The diagnosis is made based on clinical interviews with the child and targeted-rejected parent.  If the allied and supposedly “favored” parent consents to clinical interviews, then these interviews can confirm the diagnosis, but they are not necessary to make the diagnosis.

Associated Clinical Signs:

The diagnosis of attachment-based “parental alienation” is based SOLELY on the presence in the child’s symptom display of the three characteristic diagnostic indicators noted above.  Additional confirmatory features are also typically present, and while not necessary for the diagnosis, these additional “associated clinical signs” can provide confirming clinical evidence for the diagnosis:

1)   Listen to the Child:  The allied and pathological parent evidences the phrase “...listen to the child…” – such as “I’m only listening to the child” –  “you [i.e., therapists, attorneys, etc.] should just listen to the child” – “why isn’t anyone listening to the child.”  This phrase by the allied and pathological parent comes from a need to empower the child, both to exploit the child’s expressed rejection for the other parent and also from a specific personal need to empower the child, originating from particular psychological dynamics with the allied and pathological parent (involving the reenactment narrative).  Other versions of this effort to empower the child are the allied and pathological parent advocating that “the child should be allowed to decide” if he or she goes on visitations with the targeted-rejected parent and efforts by the allied and pathological parent to have the child testify in Court.  The core issue is a need to empower the child.

2)   Exploiting the Child’s Symptoms:  An exploitation of the child’s symptoms by the allied/pathological parent to limit, restrict, disrupt, and nullify the ability of the targeted-rejected parent to form a relationship with the child.

3)    Protecting the Child:  The allied/pathological parent prominently presents in the role as the “protector” of the child from the abuse (typically emotional abuse) of the targeted-rejected parent.  The need to “protect the child” can reach almost obsessional levels.

4)   Selective Parental Incompetence:  The allied/pathological parent presents as selectively incompetent, typically using the phrase “…what can I do, I can’t make the child…xyz” – for example; “I encourage the child to go on visitations with the other parent, but what can I do, I can’t make the child go if the child doesn’t want to go.” – “I tell the child to cooperate with the other parent, but what can I do, I can’t make the child be nice to the other parent.  I’m not there, how am I supposed to make the child be nice to the other parent?” The presence of this phrase has to do with placing the child into the leadership position so that the the narcissistic/(borderline) parent can exploit the child’s symptoms.

5)  Justifying – “I know just how the child feels…”:  The selective incompetence of the allied/pathological parent is often accompanied by a statement of supposed “understanding” for the child’s hostility and rejection of the other parent – “I tell the child to be cooperative, but what can I do, I can’t make the child be cooperative, I’m not there.  And, actually, I know just how the child feels.  The other parent acted just like that with me during our marriage.”

6)  Typical Complaints: The typical complaints regarding the targeted-rejected parent are,

a)  Insensitive to the Child’s Needs: the targeted-rejected parent doesn’t adequately “listen to the child”

b)  Too rigid, inflexible and controlling, the targeted/rejected parent always has to have things his (or her) way

c)  Anger management issues: the targeted-rejected parent has anger management problems;

d) Selfish and self-centered: this allegation combines doesn’t listen to the child and always has to have things his or her own way.

7)   Disregard of Court Orders:  The allied/pathological parent displays a cavalier disregard for the authority of Court orders, so that the targeted-rejected parent must continually return to Court seeking enforcement of Court orders.  This represents the expression of narcissistic personality processes of the allied pathological parent.  Narcissists to not recognize (i.e., perceptually register) the construct of “authority” – only the power to compel.  For the narcissist, the construct of “authority” (such as the Court’s authority) is synonymous with the “power to compel.” If the Court does not compel, then the Court has no authority in the mind of the narcissist.

Note on “Splitting”

The child’s “splitting” symptom is often expressed as an “unforgivable grudge” in which the child maintains that some past parental failure supposedly justifies the child’s rejection of this parent.  One of the leading authorities on borderline personality processes (narcissism is a subset of borderline personality organization), Marsha Linehan describes this “unforgivable grudge” feature of splitting:

“They tend to see reality in polarized categories of “either-or,” rather than “all,” and within a very fixed frame of reference.  For example, it is not uncommon for such individuals to believe that the smallest fault makes it impossible for the person to be “good” inside.  Their rigid cognitive style further limits their abilities to entertain ideas of future change and transition, resulting in feelings of being in an interminable painful situation.  Things once defined do not change. Once a person is “flawed,” for instance, that person will remain flawed forever.”(Linehan, 1993, p. 35; emphasis added)

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder.  New York, NY: Guilford

The American Psychiatric Association (200) defines splitting as,

“Splitting:  The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by compartmentalizing opposite affect states and failing to integrate the positive and negative qualities of the self or others into cohesive images.  Because ambivalent affects cannot be experienced simultaneously, more balanced views and expectations of self or others are excluded from emotional awareness.  Self and object images tend to alternate between polar opposites: exclusively loving, powerful, worthy, nurturant, and kind – or exclusively bad, hateful, angry, destructive, rejecting, or worthless.”  (p. 813; emphasis added)

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

Splitting is a characteristic feature of both narcissistic and borderline personality organizations, because both of these types of personalities are differing external expressions of the same underlying structures,

“Splitting is an identified symptom of both borderline and narcissistic personality disorders.” (Siegel, 2006, p. 419)

Siegel, J.P. (2006). Dyadic splitting in partner relational disorders. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(3), 418–422.

“Splitting is often thought to be central to pathological narcissism” (Watson & Biderman, 1993,p. 44)

Watson P. J. and Biderman, M.D. (1993). Narcissistic personality inventory factors, splitting, and self-consciousness. Journal of Personality Assessment, 61 (1), 41-57.

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