Stark Reality

To targeted parents:

I am often sought out by targeted parents who want my help to the question,

“How can I reestablish a positive and affectionate relationship with my child?”

My answer is… that’s the wrong question.

The Well-Formed Question

Do you really want me to open the child to a positive and affectionate relationship with you? Knowing full well that the child will pay a terrible price for any show of affection toward you, or even for not rejecting you sufficiently, as a result of the retaliation by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The capacity for psychological cruelty by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is immense. Just think of it for a second. The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is willing to inflict the immense cruelty on you of taking your most precious beloved child from you, so that you no longer have a child, to inflict on you such intense psychological suffering as revenge for your not sufficiently appreciating the “wonderfulness” of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Their capacity for cruelty is immense, and it is without empathy or pity.

If the child shows any affection toward you, or does not reject you with enough display, then the full force of the psychological cruelty that is capable from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent will be turned on the child. The child will have to endure daily hostility, rejection, contempt, and torment. Irrational rules, irrational punishments. Anger. Rejection. Guilt.

The pathological cruelty capable from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is hard enough for a fully developed adult psyche to endure, it is devastating to the still in-formation psyche of the child.

So are you asking me how you can expose your child to this retaliation? You’re asking me how to open up your child and expose your child’s authenticity and vulnerability to the immense  psychological cruelty capable from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  Is that really what you want to do?

“How can I protect my child?”

That’s a much better question.

Until we can protect the child, we cannot expose the child.

How can we ask the child to show affection toward you unless we can first protect the child from the psychological retaliation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that is sure to follow any display by the child of affectionate bonding to you, or even just the child’s insufficient display of rejection of you?

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent REQUIRES the child to reject a relationship with you. If the child shows bonding motivations toward the targeted parent, or even fails to show sufficient rejection of the targeted parent (such as insufficiently dramatic displays of protest at visitation transfers), then the child will be subjected to a withering psychological retaliation from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

So, as a therapist, my question to targeted parents is this;

“Do you want me to open the child’s bonding motivations toward you? To stop the child’s displays of rejecting you? To re-form a positive parent-child bond with you? Knowing that to do so will expose the child to an excruciating psychological torment from the retaliation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent once the child returns to the custody and ‘care’ of the pathological parent.”

As long as the child must live in the world of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, as long as we cannot protect the child from the psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child must find a way to psychologically survive in that world.

My First Exposure

My first case of “parental alienation” involved a 10 year old boy who had to reject a relationship with his mother. I had met with the father on several occasions and the dynamic was obvious. As I sat in the mother-son therapy session with the child sitting apart in a dramatic display of rejection, refusing to play a board game with his mother and me, I decided to reach out with my empathy into the child’s experience.

As I sat talking with the mother, I allowed my empathic resonance to shift over to the child, to the child’s inner experience. I didn’t share this empathic awareness with the child, I just allowed myself to feel what it was like to be him, looking for his authentic self-experience.

As I dropped my empathic awareness into the child’s authenticity, this is what I “heard” in my mind’s imagination,

Child (in my mind’s imagination): “Dr. Childress, can you help me escape from here? I’m trapped, buried deep inside. I don’t want to reject my mother. I love my mother. But I have to reject her because it’s what my dad requires me to do. He’ll torment me if I don’t. Can you rescue me? Can you help me escape from here?

Dr. C (in my mind’s imagination): I’ll see what I can do.

Child (in my mind’s imagination): “But Dr. Childress, don’t get me half the way out. Because if you only get me half the way out my dad will torment me for showing affection for my mom, for not rejecting my mom. If you can’t rescue me, if you can’t get me all the way out, then just leave me here.

Dr. C (in my mind’s imagination): Okay, I’ll see what I can do.

That’s the voice of the child in “parental alienation.”

“Help me. My authenticity is trapped deep inside here. Please, I want you to rescue me. But if you can’t get me all the way out, if you can’t rescue me, then leave me here, because otherwise the pathological parent will torment me if I try to escape but can’t get fully away.”

“At least if my authenticity is buried deep inside, hidden beyond my awareness, then it’s safe. If you expose it but cannot protect it, then the narcissistic/(borderline) parent will destroy it.”

We must first protect the child. Only then can we ask the child to expose his or her authenticity.

Protecting the Child

I am a therapist. I am not the child’s parent. I cannot do what is necessary to protect the child. You must do that.

I can support you. I can write, I can film Youtubes, I can describe what “parental alienation” is for mental health professionals and the Court. I will do everything in my power. But I cannot achieve the child’s protection. Each parent must accomplish that for each child. Every situation has its own individual characteristics, and only you can achieve your child’s protection.

Unless you can protect the child, how can you ask the child to love you? Knowing that to love you will expose the child to the abusive psychological retaliation of the hostage taker?

Or is that just the child’s problem? After all, if we restore the child’s positive relationship with you then you’ll be fine. You’ll have a positive, normal-range relationship with the child. Whatever happens to the child at the other parent’s house, well, that’s the child’s problem.

I know that’s not how you feel. But how, then, can we ask the child to bond to you? We can’t. Not until we achieve the child’s protection from retaliation.


You, the targeted parent, cannot protect the child unless you have allies. The principle ally is mental health.

It is the responsibility of mental health to recognize the degree of psychopathology and to voice this diagnosis in your support. You are the normal-range and healthy parent. The allied and supposedly “favored” parent is the pathology.  You know that.  I see that.  All of mental health should similarly see it.  But they don’t.

We need to solve that.

Then, once you have a strong ally in mental health, we turn to the Court system. The united voice of mental health can then provide you with the institutional power you need to enlist the power of the Court as your ally, and it is with the power of the Court that we can protect the child.

The solution to “parental alienation” is not through the legal system, it is to be found in the mental health system. When mental health speaks with a single voice, the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity necessary to protect the child and solve “parental alienation.”

Until mental health speaks with a single voice, no solution to “parental alienation” is possible. Not for you.  Not for the next parent.  This isn’t because we can’t fix your relationship with your child, it’s because we can fix it.  Yet how can we ask for the child’s authenticity if we are unable to first protect the child’s authenticity?

Do you really want to expose the child to the immense psychological cruelty capable from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?  If we open the child’s affectionate bonding toward you, that’s exactly what we will be doing.

Securing the Mental Health Ally

Currently, one of the major problems in securing mental health as an ally for targeted parents is the massive level of professional incompetence in both the diagnosis and treatment of “parental alienation.” Mental health doesn’t understand what it’s dealing with, what “parental alienation” is.

The first step to securing mental health as an ally is to clear the field of professional incompetence, so that ONLY professionally knowledgeable and competent mental health professionals treat this “special population” of children and families.

Key to achieving professional competence is defining “standards of practice” to which ALL mental health professionals can be held accountable. A Gardnerian PAS model does not allow us to establish professional standards of practice because Gardner too quickly abandoned established and accepted psychological constructs to describe what he thought was a new “syndrome.” We need to return to the foundations and re-define the construct of “parental alienation” entirely from within standard and established psychological constructs, so that we can then use this definition to establish “standards of practice” for ALL mental health professionals who work with this “special population.”

That’s what I set about to do, and that’s what I have accomplished with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”

I cannot enact the protection of your child. You must accomplish that. But I can give you the weapons from within professional psychology to achieve your child’s protection and the recovery of your child’s authenticity.

The Next Step

The next step in achieving mental health as your ally is to establish these “standards of practice” within mental health, so that ALL diagnosing and treating mental health professionals are knowledgeable and competent.

If you are going to rely on me for that, I would anticipate that this will take between 10 to 15 years for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” to achieve professional acceptance.

Within two years I will submit for publication. It will take about a year and a half for the article to be published. It will languish in obscurity for another two years, when my second and third articles become published. A little more interest will emerge. I’m currently 60 years old. Within the year I’m going to be shifting my focus back to my primary professional practice domain of ADHD (I’ve actually solved what “ADHD” is and how to treat and resolve it, and in order to accomplish this I had  to advance child therapy into the 21st century, so I need to get back to these areas of prime importance. Solving “parental alienation” is a side-track for me). At some point in the next decade I’ll retire. At some point I’ll pass away. Then my work will gradually be “discovered” and picked up by younger therapists and researchers, and it will gradually find its way into the professional mainstream.

My estimate is that if you leave it to me to carry the solution, it will take between 10 to 15 years to achieve mental health as an ally.

What I’ve tried to do is give you the professional weapons you need to carry the fight for your children. I’ve defined the theoretical foundations for the construct of “parental alienation” on the solid and scientifically supported bedrock of attachment theory and personality disorder dynamics. From a professional psychology standpoint, I’ve done the heavy lifting for you. You now have a theoretical foundation built on solid bedrock that you can leverage to achieve the solution. But the fight for your children must be yours.

If you take up this fight to establish an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” within mental health, to require a “standard of professional practice” with this “special population” of children and families, then you may perhaps shorten the time-frame needed to acquire mental health as an ally. Perhaps to as little as a year or two. The theoretical foundations are extremely solid. You have everything you need.

Along the way, I’m willing to do whatever I can to support your voice within mental health.

Stark Reality

Because of my understanding of what “parental alienation” is, I’m often asked by targeted parents what they can do to restore a relationship with their child.

The stark reality is, nothing.

How can we ask the child to love you, to bond with you, to expose their authenticity, if we cannot also protect them from the torment of psychological retaliation that is sure to be inflicted on them by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?

We must first protect the child.

Then, and only then, does a solution become available. And in order to protect the child we MUST have the strong and steadfast support of mental health. This requires that we clear the field of professional incompetence by establishing professional “standards of practice” for ALL mental health professionals who work with this “special population” of children and families.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” provides the necessary theoretical foundations on the established bedrock of attachment theory and personality disorder dynamics.  An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” can be leveraged into standards of professional practice for ALL mental health professionals who work with this “special population” of children and families.

How long this solution takes to enact, how long before we are able to protect our children… that’s up to you.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.

10 thoughts on “Stark Reality”

  1. Dear Doc,
    I have utilized many of your docs, pamphlets, letters, etc to assist in re establishing a normal parent-child bond/relationship with my young son that was once almost destroyed. I followed your guidelines & steps in helping to achieve this and it worked!! I had almost given up completely but found your website. I cannot thank you enough. My son and I are very close now even though we have little time together but he will be 18 in 2 years and we can finally be fully reunited. I cannot explain how much this means to me. Sincerely, Mari Lewis

  2. Dr. Childress, I lost friends because I moved away from my daughter who went to live with her dad & his 5th wife during an vicious custody battle that awarded he & his wife’s deception & corrupting influence on my daughter (he was alienated from his mom by his dad) even in the face of hard evidence. It’s been… difficult, to say the least. Torment. Thank you so much for the work you do. It seems police officers & even our child’s teen friends have more sense about the reality of the alienating parent than many therapists with their PhDs! I hope some accessible info will be provided to middle & high school kids regarding this form of abuse.

  3. Dr. Childress makes some very valid and critical points in this post. Consistent with Dr. Childress’ points I would suggest to targeted/rejected parents that they consider very carefully before agreeing to traditional therapy/counseling. Judges and attorneys frequently believe that a solution is to refer cases to rehabilitation or reunification counseling. Unless the mental health provider is extremely knowledgeable about parental alienation such a referral could be disastrous. The literature is very clear that traditional therapy will in all likelihood make both the alienation and the rejected parent’s legal position worse. While I agree that mental health professionals need to be thoroughly trained in this area, courts and attorneys need to be informed as well. Sometimes instructional testimony can be effective in informing judges as to the severity and long term consequences of parental alienation as well as recommending appropriate treatment. Unfortunately the success rate is “sometimes”; there is no guarantee.

    1. Mr. Evans,
      What training is currently available to mental health professionals in the area of identifying Parental Alienation? Do they earn some kind of certificate to demonstrate that they have received training? When choosing a therapist, what is the best way to identify one that has experience with cases of alienation, and will be able to recognize alienation and treat it appropriately other than the therapist being a self proclaimed “expert’ in the area of alienation?

      Thank you

      1. There really are no formal training programs and there is no certification at this time. Very few of us conduct the training for mental health and legal professionals. I do some during the year, and I Dr. Warshak is doing one in Chicago soon. The best way to identify experienced therapists is by referral of other rejected parents. Short of that, interview the provider before you commit. Ask them what books they’ve read (Gardner’s works, Warshak’s, Rand, Children Held Hostage by the Am Bar Assoc., etc.) Many will tell you they’re experienced and knowledgeable but in reality they heard of it or they’re from the school that believes in a majority of cases are “hybrid”. That is, it’s just as much the rejected parent’s fault as it is the alienating parent, so we have to work on your role in alienating your child from you. While this may or can occur in some cases and the rejected parent may have had some faults, their role typically does not rise to the level that would cause the child’s hostile and rejecting behavior. it’s simply not the norm.

  4. I totally agree with Robert, and also with Craig. My custody case with my two children and my ex went horribly as the court appointed “professionals” were highly incompetent. They were oblivious to what was going on and now I feel very powerless. I would like to learn more about what I can do to get involved in court reform. I am a 38 year young tile contractor in Maine. Thanks! -TS

  5. Reblogged this on Keep Your Head Without Losing Your Mind and commented:
    Thank you Dr. Childress — developing the foundation for actually treating parental alienation is so important. Now those of us impacted by PA, those who work with PA families need to spread the information about your model to change the mind set of the mental health community. It’s hard for target parents to see their children suffering and feel so helpless, but without the professional support you list here, we can’t achieve change.
    For those working in the divorce, family court, or mental health fields, please spread the word and realize that change will start one mental health professional at a time. Thank you!

  6. Every time I read your materials I wonder why everyone else in the legal and mental health field doesn’t just protect the child by getting him or her away from the narco-path parent. I need help finding a qualified therapist who even knows what parental alienation/pathogenic parenting is, here in Kansas City.

    1. I know. It is baffling to me as well. The diagnosis is pretty straightforward. The solution is pretty straightforward. And yet the legal system and the mental health system insist on colluding with the psychopathology. Mental heath in particular should be ashamed of itself. It is unconscionable. The lack of mental health support for targeted parents is simply a manifestation of professional ignorance and incompetence. As for locating a therapist in XYZ city (pick a city). I’m afraid I don’t know any.

      On November 21 I will be giving an online seminar on therapy for attachment-based “parental alienation” through the Masters Lecture Series of California Southern University. This online seminar will be posted by California Southern University and will be publicly available. My suggestion is to seek a therapist willing to read my blogs, willing to read “The Hostage Metaphor” available on my website, willing to watch my Masters Lecture Series seminars. At this point, that’s all I can suggest.

  7. We lost our two living grandchildren four years ago to a psychotic, narcissistic mother who accused our son, the kids father, of every kind of possible abuse and scandalous behavior that she could think of. She was determined to punish her husband, our son, for the accidental drowning death of their first born two years earlier. But the court was not told that, and we were so naive we never dreamed she could be committing such a heinous crime. She could not have found a more effective means of causing deepest pain and grief for our entire family. These four years have been so painful as the woman has brought another man into the children’s lives and effectively shut us completely out. Even though our little granddaughter was diagnosed with an STD ten months after she had last seen our son, nothing was done by the courts. Even though our son proved by a consistent record of blood donations that he was never treated for this or any other sexually transmitted disease, nothing was done. All this time the courts have protected her, even as they have time and again been unable to discover any single piece of evidence linking our son to any criminal or abusive behavior. Im convinced that our son is not an abusive parent. IF anything, he was guilty of letting his wife’s constant abusive behavior, petty theft, and other acts of theft continue, I know first hand how very deeply evil a narcissist can be. My son married one. And he pays for it now every single day.

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