Changing Paradigms

There are substantial efforts underway from targeted parents to make use of my work in defining an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” to achieve a solution to the family tragedy of “parental alienation.” These efforts have my full support and I will do whatever I can to help in finding a solution.

Professional mental health should be the staunch and firm allies of targeted parents in protecting the healthy development of their children. But instead, professional psychology has been lost in a quagmire of professional incompetence, ignorance, and ineptitude – divided within ourselves by an unnecessary and unproductive debate that has failed in our responsibility for protecting the healthy development of the children.

We must bring this internal debate in professional psychology to a close.

The family tragedy of “parental alienation” must end. Today. Each day that passes without a solution is a day we abandon children to the psychological child abuse of “parental alienation.”

To find a solution means that the divisive internecine debate within professional psychology must be brought to an end.

The official position of the American Psychological Association on the construct of parental alienation is,

“January 1, 2008

Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome

The American Psychological Association (APA) believes that all mental health practitioners as well as law enforcement officials and the courts must take any reports of domestic violence in divorce and child custody cases seriously. An APA 1996 Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family noted the lack of data to support so-called “parental alienation syndrome”, and raised concern about the term’s use. However, we have no official position on the purported syndrome.”

This is an inadequate professional position. This official position must change.


First, the position taken by the APA is about “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” which is no longer a relevant paradigm for describing the psychological processes of “parental alienation.”

The paradigm is shifting from PAS to an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” that is based entirely within scientifically established psychological constructs and principles. A new position statement is needed regarding an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation.”

Toward this end, my first book regarding an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is due out shortly, with my second book on Diagnosis due this summer. In the initial book, “Foundations,” I describe the theoretical foundations for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” at three separate, but interrelated, levels of analysis,

Family Systems Level: a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent against the other parent.

Personality Disorder Level: the use of the child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent in a role-reversal relationship as a “regulatory object” for the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent

Attachment System Level: The reenactment of attachment trauma patterns from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into the current family relationships, expressed in the (false) trauma representational pattern of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent.”

With this book, the paradigm will begin shifting away from a Gardnerian PAS definition of “parental alienation” that originated in the 1980s based on a set of anecdotal clinical indicators, to a current 2015 attachment-based definition for the construct that is based entirely on the solid professional bedrock of scientifically established psychological principles and constructs.

With this shift in paradigm, the American Psychological Association will need to revisit its position statement regarding the construct of “parental alienation” relative to an attachment-based reconceptualization for this construct.

The current position statement of the APA is out of date and obsolete.

Misdirected Focus

Second, the focus of the APA’s position statement is misdirected toward domestic violence rather than the attachment system pathology evidenced in “parental alienation.”

The opening sentence of the position statement regarding “parental alienation” diverts the focus from the family tragedy of a child’s induced rejection of a relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent, over to the issue of domestic violence. While domestic violence is a peripherally related construct, it is neither the primary nor foremost construct in “parental alienation” that it would warrant the focus for the APA’s position statement.

At its core, the pathology of “parental alienation” involves distortions to the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent. The severe distortions to the child’s attachment system are the direct result of pathogenic parenting practices of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and represent the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into the current family relationships.

The focus of the APA’s position statement should be on the pathogenic parenting that is inducing a suppression in the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment system relative to a normal-range and affectionally available parent.

The primary and central focus of the position statement should be on the child and the child’s symptoms, not on a peripherally related topic of domestic violence generally.


Third, the APA’s position statement cites as its primary reference to “parental alienation” a 1996 task force conclusion about the lack of scientific support for the PAS model proposed by Gardner. This citation of a task force conclusion from 20 years ago about a paradigm that is no longer relevant is extraordinarily out of date and entirely inadequate.

As the leading professional organization, the position of the APA should be based on current theoretical paradigms and current scientific evidence related to the attachment system, role-reversal relationships, the trans-generational transmission of developmental trauma, and the formation of personality disorder pathology relative to attachment trauma. There is substantial scientific support derived from the child development literature for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” as the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent into the current family relationships through the formation of a role-reversal relationship with the child in which the child is being used as a “regulatory object” for the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Given the immense amount of child development research that has emerged over the past 20 years, including important research on the socially mediated neuro-development of the brain during childhood, a new APA Presidential Task Force focused specifically on the psychological needs of children and psychopathology in the family would be warranted.

In particular, this Task Force should examine issues of,

  • Creating a clearly articulated operational definition for the construct of “parental capacity” that is used as a central construct in child custody evaluations;
  • Creating a clearly articulated operational definition for the construct of the “child’s best interests” that is used as a central construct in child custody evaluations;

If clearly articulated operational definitions for these two central constructs used in child custody evaluations are not forthcoming from professional psychology, then the practice of child custody evaluation should cease, as the conclusions and recommendations derived from child custody evaluations that lack operational definitions for these two central concepts will lack scientifically established reliability and validity.

  • A specific examination of role-reversal pathology within families as a form of psychological child abuse;
  • A specific examination regarding the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma within families;
  • A specific examination of parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology as a manifestation of attachment trauma that is transmitted trans-generationally to the child;
  • A specific examination of professional standards for education and training of child and family therapists, including specification of required domains of curriculum content necessary for professional competence in child and family therapy.


Both sides in the unproductive professional debate surrounding the construct of “parental alienation” are correct.

The Gardnerian position is correct. There is a valid clinical phenomenon in which a child is induced into rejecting a relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent as a result of distorted parenting practices by an allied and supposedly favored “alienating” parent.

The opponents of the Gardnerian PAS model are also correct in that Gardner’s definition of this clinical phenomenon as a “new syndrome” identified by a set of anecdotal clinical indicators lacks sufficient theoretical foundation.

Both sides are correct.

An attachment-based model offers a resolution to this unproductive and damaging professional debate by reformulating the definition for the construct of “parental alienation” from entirely within scientifically established and accepted psychological principles of the attachment system, attachment trauma, and parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology.

We must end this unnecessary and unproductive professional debate so that we can set about solving the family tragedy of “parental alienation” for the far too many parents and children who are living this ongoing family nightmare.

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

Personality Pathology and Disorganized Attachment

This post is directed toward mental heath professionals and contains a technical discussion of attachment pathology, although targeted parents may find the discussion enlightening as well.

The likely attachment organizations of family members in attachment-based “parental alienation” are:

Narcissistic style parent: Disorganized (unresolved trauma) with anxious-avoidant overtones

Borderline stye parent: Disorganized (unresolved trauma) with anxious-ambivalent overtones

Targeted parent: Variable, most likely secure

Child: Anxious-ambivalent (preoccupied) with narcissistic/borderline parent; Secure with targeted parent (suppressed)

Narcissistic and borderline personalities have the same underlying core dynamics within the attachment system. The attachment system forms expectations for self- and other-in-relationship. For both the narcissistic and borderline personality organizations the expectations are

Self-in-relationship:  “I am fundamentally inadequate”

Other-in-relationship: “The other person will reject and abandon me because of my fundamental inadequacy. “

The difference between the narcissistic and borderline personalities is merely in how these core beliefs are manifested.

The Borderline Style Personality Organization

The borderline personality has no internal structural defense against the continual experience of these core vulnerabilities, so that the borderline personality seeks an external “regulatory other” who will provide the borderline personality organization with “perfect” idealized love to fill the inadequacy void of self-experience and provide the idealized perfect security of never abandoning the borderline personality. Any empathic failure by the “regulatory other,” results in a collapse of the borderline personality into rages (the emotion of anger provides cohesion to fragmented self-structure) and intense fears of abandonment.

In these borderline rages the person will accuse their partner in the relationship of insufficient and inadequate perfect love of complete devotion to the borderline personality (i.e. the complete dedication of the other person to their role as the external “regulatory other” for the stabilization of the borderline personality organization), mixed with collapses into the alternate pole of self-devaluation as being horrible and unlovable, followed by attacks once more on the failure and inadequacy of the other person to provide the perfect love that would stave off the borderline’s experience of inadequacy. These swings reflect the anxious-ambivalent overtones to the underlying disorganized attachment in which the person swings between devaluation of the other and devaluation of self regarding the source of inadequacy.

The underlying disorganized attachment of the borderline personality structure means that the person has developed no organized approach to restoring relationships once breached. The anxious-ambivalent overtones to the disorganized attachment patterns of the borderline personality organization mean that the person will display a variety of conflicting approach and avoidance motivations, resulting in the characteristic display of forever swirling “drama” surrounding the borderline personality organization, in which the person alternately seeks an intense bonding of “perfect love” followed by a collapse into perceived rejections, real or imagined.

In initial presentations, the borderline style personality presents as emotionally seductive and charming, and often contains a prominent “victimization” presentation to elicit a caretaking response from others.

The Narcissistic Style Personality Organization

The narcissistic personality has developed a fragile internal structural defense of narcissistic self-inflation against the continual experience of core self-inadequacy and fears of rejection/abandonment by the attachment figure. This fragile narcissistic defense provides relief from the intense emotional pain of inadequacy and abandonment fears.

The narcissistic defense psychologically expels the core self-inadequacy through projecting it onto others, it is the other person who is inadequate; while the narcissist remains ideal and perfect. This projection of inadequacy onto others in order to maintain the self-image of ideal narcissistic perfection results in the externalization of blame and responsibility characteristic of the narcissistic personality. The fears of rejection/abandonment are avoided (attachment overtones of anxious-avoidant) by minimizing the importance of others to the narcissistic personality. Relationships are shallow and superficial and people are easily discarded when they stop providing “narcissistic supply.” 

Attachments to people are expendable once they no longer provide gratification (narcissistic supply).

The fragile structural stability provided by the narcissistic defense keeps the underlying borderline organization of “I am inadequate”/”I’m going to be abandoned” at bay, allowing for more organized and functional behavior than is displayed by the more overtly borderline personality which is continually being exposed to collapse into disorganized fragmentation. The generally maintained initial presentation of the narcissistic personality is of calmly confident self-assurance that can be charming and engaging.

However, if the narcissistic veneer is punctured by the other person through criticism or rejection of the idealized narcissistic self-image (inflicting a “narcissistic injury”), then the narcissistic defense collapses into its borderline core organization, resulting in intense displays of anger (the emotion of anger provides cohesion to fragmented self-structure) in which the narcissist degrades and devalues the other person in the relationship in order to reestablish the narcissistic defense of grandiose perfection by diminishing the value of the other person.

In general, the narcissistic defense is maintained through devaluing the importance of others (the anxious-avoidant overtones to the underlying disorganized attachment). The foundationally disorganized attachment means that the narcissistic person has no organized strategy for restoring relationships once they are breached. In response to relationship breaches, the primitive narcissistic defense simply tries to dominate the other person through onslaughts of degradation back into a submissive role as the external “regulatory other” for the narcissistic personality organization, whose role as the “regulatory other” is to provide continual “narcissistic supply” of adoration to support the narcissistic defense against the experience of primal self-inadequacy.

The Child’s Attachment Display

In attachment-based “parental alienation” the child’s attachment display differs between the two parents.

Secure Attachment:  In a secure attachment the child feels safe (i.e., secure in parental protection from predators) which allows the child to explore AWAY from the parent. Secure attachment results in increased exploratory behavior away from the parent, mixed with occasional “emotional recharging” reunions with the parent.

Insecure Attachment:  In an insecure attachment the child is uncertain in the bond to the parent, so the child becomes preoccupied with the parent and will seek continual protective proximity of the parent (i.e., proximity provides protection from predators). In an insecure attachment there is a suppression of the child’s exploratory behavior away from the insecurely attached parent because of the increased risk of predation created by an insecure attachment to the parent.

Child – Narcissistic/(Borderline) Parent

The child’s attachment behaviors toward the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in attachment-based “parental alienation” reflect an anxious-insecure attachment style of preoccupation on the parent and seeking continual (protective) proximity to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. The child also evidences a suppression of normal-range “exploratory” behavior away from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to form an independent relationship with the other parent, the targeted parent.

People, including therapists and custody evaluators, who are unknowledgeable about how the attachment system functions, misinterpret the child’s display of hyper-bonding motivation toward the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as evidence of a secure attachment bond to this parent. This represents an ENTIRELY INACCURATE interpretation of the child’s behavior. The superficial display of the child’s hyper-bonding motivation toward the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent actually represents definitive clinical evidence for an INSECURE ATTACHMENT to this parent, which then has important implications for the type of parenting the child is receiving from this parent that is creating the child’s insecure attachment (I will address the diagnostic differences between child avoidance behavior relative to problematic parenting and child “detachment” behavior displayed in “parental alienation” a future post).

It is ESSENTIAL that all mental health professionals diagnosing and treating a distortion to the child’s attachment bonding motivations be expert in understanding the nature and functioning of the attachment system, including its characteristic patterns of dysfunctioning and their meaning for the type of parenting practices that produce these characteristic patterns of dysfunctioning in the attachment system.

The clearly evident display by the child of an insecure attachment bond to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is the reason I always put the word “supposedly” ahead of the term “favored” when describing this relationship. The child’s hyper-bonding motivation toward this parent is NOT a sign of a healthy parent-child bond that could be characterized as positive, but instead is clear and definitive clinical evidence of a pathological parent-child bond creating an INSECURE child attachment to this parent, and is actually evidence of an extremely pathological role-reversal relationship in which the parent is feeding off of the child’s healthy self-structure development to support the inadequate self-structure of the parent.

I would identify the sub-category of insecure attachment displayed by the child toward the supposedly “favored” parent as insecure anxious-preoccupied, which is a variant description of anxious-ambivalent.

The child does not feel certain (secure) in the availability of the attachment bond to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent since this bond is predicated on the child’s display of the parentally desired behaviors. In general parlance this type of parental love would be called “conditional love” that is based on the child pleasing the parent, and this “conditional love” provided by the parent is what leads to the child’s insecure attachment and preoccupation on keeping the parent in a pleased (i.e., regulated) state.

Child – Targeted Parent

The child’s normal-range attachment behavior toward the targeted parent is being artificially distorted and suppressed by the pathogenic parenting practices of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent so it is sometimes impossible to get a clear read on the child’s authentic attachment status to the targeted parent, however there are suggestive clinical indicators of a secure attachment.

1. The child demonstrates a willingness to engage in exploratory behavior AWAY from the targeted parent to develop an independent relationship with the other parent.

2. The child feels safe (secure) enough to display hostile-rejecting behavior toward the targeted parent (I’ll have more to say on this in future posts).

3. In some cases, when the child is allowed sufficient separation periods from the distorting pathogenic influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child’s displayed attachment behavior toward the targeted parent returns to a normal-range expression of secure attachment.

Targeted Parent

The attachment display by the targeted parent will be specific to each individual case, but in general I’ve found the targeted parent to display a broadly secure attachment pattern.

This statement is with the caveat that in approximately 20% of the cases that come to me because of my expertise in attachment-based “parental alienation,” it is the targeted parent who is the narcissistic parent and who feels “entitled” to possession of the child, and is externalizing blame onto the other parent for the narcissistic targeted parent’s own profound empathic failures relative to the child that are creating child avoidance behaviors.

Note:  Child avoidance behaviors have very different characteristics than the detachment behaviors displayed by the child in “parental alienation.”

I would characterize these cases of the targeted parent being the narcissistic parent as “false allegations of parental alienation.” The application of the three Diagnostic Indicators can accurately and consistently differentiate (100%) actual attachment-based “parental alienation” from false allegations of “parental alienation” made by a narcissistic targeted parent (see Diagnostic Indicators and Associated Clinical Signs post), so clinically and diagnostically I’m not worried about these false allegations of “parental alienation.”  They’re easy to detect.

In some cases I’ve noted a slight overtone of avoidant attachment in a few of the targeted parents, and I’ve seen slight overtones of ambivalent attachment in a couple of cases, but this has been more rare.  And even in these circumstances, the avoidant and ambivalent overtones are still embedded in a generally secure attachment superstructure.

But unlike the narcissistic/(borderline) parent and the child’s characteristic pattern of symptoms created by the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, there is more potential variability in the targeted parent that would make the targeted parent’s presentation more variable in each individual case.

The Pathology of Disorganized Attachment

The underlying formative core of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment system is a “disorganized attachment,” which is one of the three primary categories of insecure attachment (the other two being anxious-ambivalent, also called “preoccupied,” and anxious-avoidant).

I want to make a clarifying comment on the use of the term “avoidant” relative to attachment and its application to “parental alienation.” In attachment literature the term “avoidant attachment” does not mean a child who is angry or hostilely rejecting a parent. It refers to a child who avoids attachment bonding by being low demand and low needy. An avoidant attachment style develops in a child who’s parent is overwhelmed, so that if the child places demands on the parent the parent withdraws even further away from the child, so that the child adopts an attachment strategy of placing minimal demands on the parent so as to maximize the availability of this parent.

The avoidant attachment overtones to the underlying disorganized attachment of the narcissistic personality parent refers to the superficial presentation of the narcissist as not needing other people, in which other people are seen by the narcissistic personality as being expendable and replaceable.

An ambivalent style of attachment is reflected in a child being highly demanding and needy, either through presenting a great deal of “protest behavior” (anger, defiance, inflexible demands, tantrums, etc.) or through a high frequency of demands for or displays of affectional bonding and reassurances with the parent. The ambivalent attachment style has also been called “preoccupied.” So the high frequency of phone calls and contacts made by the child to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent (and vice versa) while the child is in the care of the targeted parent are CLEAR diagnostic indicators of an insecure anxious-ambivalent attachment between the child and the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Anxious ambivalent (preoccupied) attachment develops in response to inconsistent parental availability, which, in the case of attachment-based “parental alienation,” is the “conditional love” offered by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that is provided only if the child surrenders to the will and desires of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to act as a “regulatory object” for this parent’s emotional and psychological state.

A disorganized attachment is the underlying attachment organization that creates narcissistic and borderline personality organizations, and it is considered the most pathological of the three types of insecure attachments.

“Individuals with BPD [borderline personality disorder] tend to have attachment styles classified as disorganized and unresolved.” (Stepp, et al., 2011, p. 3)

“Various studies have found that patients with BPD are characterized by disorganized attachment representations (Fonagy et al., 1996; Patrick et al, 1994). Such attachment representations appear to be typical for persons with unresolved childhood traumas, especially when parental figures were involved, with direct, frightening behavior by the parent. Disorganized attachment is considered to result from an unresolvable situation for the child when “the parent is at the same time the source of fright as well as the potential haven of safety” (van IJzendoorn, Schuengel, & Bakermans-Kranburg, 1999, p. 226). (Beck et al., 2004, p. 191)

“Some traumatic experiences may have taken place at a very early age, notably the kind of punishing, abandoning, rejecting responses of the caretaker that led to disorganized attachment. (Beck et al., 2004, . 191)

Role reversals observed among children with disorganized attachment histories, which may include both controlling/punitive and caregiving behavior patterns, may be attempts at fear mastery and self-protection.” (Shaffer & Stroufe, 2005, p. 72)

A variety of pathogenic parenting patterns can produce disorganized attachment in children (i.e., in the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent with his or her own parent). These different parenting practices that produced the disorganized attachment of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent are relevant to attachment-based “parental alienation” because these attachment behaviors are replicated trans-generationally with the next generation of children (Benoit & Parker, 1994; Bretherton, 1990; Fonagy & Target, 2005; Jacobvitz, Morgan, Kretchmar, & Morgan, 1991; Prager, 2003; van Ijzendoorn, 1992).

A list of parenting behaviors that result in disorganized attachment (i.e., the disorganized attachment of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent who may then display these same types of parenting behaviors with the current child) is provided by Lyons-Ruth, Bronfman, and Parsons (1999)

Maternal behaviors that result in disorganized attachment:

  •  Affective Errors
  • Contradictory cues
  • Nonresponse or inappropriate responses
  • Disorientation
  • Confused or frightened by the child
  • Disorganized or disoriented
  • Negative-Intrusive Behavior
  • Verbal negative-intrusive behavior
  • Physical negative-intrusive behavior
  • Role Confusion
  • Role-reversal
  • Sexualization
  • Withdrawal
  • Creates physical distance
  • Creates verbal distance

Of particular note is the inclusion of “role-reversal” in the creation of disorganized attachment.  The central pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is the role-reversal use of the child as a “regulatory other” for the emotional and psychological needs of the parent.  

In healthy parent-child development, the child uses the parent as a “regulatory other” to regulate the child’s emotional and psychological state

In a pathological role-reversal relationship, these parent and child roles are reversed, so that it is the parent who uses the child as a “regulatory other” to regulate the parent’s emotional and psychological state.

Another factor associated with the development of disorganized attachment are psychological boundary violations. Role-reversal relationships are a form of “boundary violation.”

“Examination of the theoretical and empirical literatures suggests that there are four distinguishable dimensions to the phenomenon of boundary dissolution: role reversal, intrusiveness, enmeshment, and spousification.” (Kerig, 2005, p. 8)

Parenting practices that involve boundary violations are transmitted trans-generationally to the next generation of the parent-child relationship (Jacobvitz, Morgan, Kretchmar, & Morgan, 1991).

A variety of researchers have discussed the pathology associated with boundary violations in the parent-child relationship:

Borderline personality symptoms were significantly related to early relational experiences previously reported in retrospective studies. These included attachment disorganization (12–18 months) and maltreatment (12–18 months), maternal hostility and boundary dissolution (42 months)” (Carlson, Edgeland, & Sroufe, 2009, p. 1328)

“The breakdown of appropriate generational boundaries between parents and children significantly increases the risk for emotional abuse.”(Kerig, 2005, p. 6)

“When parent-child boundaries are violated, the implications for developmental psychopathology are significant. Poor boundaries interfere with the child’s capacity to progress through development which, as Anna Freud suggested, is the defining feature of childhood psychopathology.” (Kerig, 2005, p. 7)

“Barber (2002) defines psychological control as comprising parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulative of children’s thoughts, feelings, and attachments to parents, and are associated with disturbances in the boundaries between the child and the parent… Rather than telling the child directly what to do or think, as does the behaviorally controlling parent, the psychologically controlling parent uses indirect hints and responds with guilt induction or withdrawal of love if the child refuses to comply. In short, an intrusive parent strives to manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings in such a way that the child’s psyche will conform to the parent’s wishes.” (Kerig, 2005, p. 12)

“In order to carve out an island of safety and responsivity in an unpredictable, harsh, and depriving parent-child relationship, children of highly maladaptive parents may become precocious caretakers who are adept at reading the cues and meeting the needs of those around them. The ensuing preoccupied attachment with the parent interferes with the child’s development of important ego functions, such as self organization, affect regulation, and emotional object constancy.” (Kerig, 2005, p. 14)

“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)

“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.” (Shaffer & Sroufe, 2005)

It is important to note that NONE of the above cited references were concerning the construct of “parental alienation.”  ALL of these statements were from child development literature.

“Parental alienation” is not a new or unestablished concept.  It is a well defined and well understood parent-child pathology in the child development literature, particularly the research regarding the attachment system. It’s just not called “parental alienation.” 

The distorted parent-child processes of “parental alienation” are well defined and well-described processes in child development literature. All an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” does is apply this scientifically established child development knowledge base to the family relationship pathology typically described as “parental alienation.”

“Parental alienation” is not something new or controversial, we know EXACTLY what it is.  We just use different terms for it.

We will have the solution to “parental alienation” the moment the paradigm shifts to an attachment-based model. 

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


Disorganized Attachment

Lyons-Ruth, K., Bronfman, E. & Parsons, E. (1999). Maternal frightened, frightening, or atypical behavior and disorganized infant attachment patterns. In J. Vondra & D. Barnett (Eds.) Atypical patterns of infant attachment: Theory, research, and current directions. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 64, (3, Serial No. 258).

 Personality Disorder and Disorganized Attachment

Stepp, S. D., Whalen, D. J., Pilkonis, P. A., Hipwell, A. E., & Levine, M. D. (2011). Children of mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder: Identifying parenting behaviors as potential targets for intervention. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. 1-16.

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

Boundary Violations

Carlson, E.A., Edgeland, B., and Sroufe, L.A. (2009). A prospective investigation of the development of borderline personality symptoms. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 1311-1334

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

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. & 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.

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