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

 

 

One thought on “Legal: “Psychological Fingerprints””

  1. This is an excellent description of parental alienation as a direct result of a parent with a narcissistic/borderline personality.

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