International Solutions

national bannersWe are all in this together. 

Our goal is to solve parental alienation for everyone, for all children and all families everywhere.

I am often contacted by parents in other nations who are suffering this nightmare in countries with varying degrees of understanding and responsiveness.  I am aware of your struggles and I am working for you and your children as well.

The key to the solution is to switch the paradigm to an attachment-based model that defines the pathology from entirely within standard and accepted psychological principles and constructs.  Gardnerian PAS proposes a “new syndrome.” This allows the citadel of establishment mental health to reject the construct of a “new syndrome.”

Once we switch to an attachment-based reformulation and redefinition of the pathology, there is nothing to accept or reject.  Personality disorder pathology is an established psychological pathology.  Family systems therapy is an established model of family psychotherapy.  The attachment system and attachment trauma are well-defined and accepted constructs within establishment psychology.  These are all accepted psychological principles and constructs.

In bringing archaic mental health systems up to speed, I would focus on describing the pathology as the addition of the “splitting pathology” of narcissistic and borderline personality pathology to the “cross-generational coalition” of family systems theory.

The “foot-in-the-door” is that this pathology (attachment trauma reenactment pathology) is a manifestation of narcissistic/borderline personality disorder pathology following divorce.

That is the first principle to get across. 

What’s happening in my family is a manifestation of narcissistic and borderline personality disorder pathology following divorce.

What’s happening in my family is a manifestation of narcissistic and borderline personality disorder pathology following divorce.

What’s happening in my family is a manifestation of narcissistic and borderline personality disorder pathology following divorce.

Narcissistic and borderline personalty disorders are  defined pathologies within both the DSM diagnostic system of the American Psychiatric Association and the ICD-10 international diagnostic system.  These are professionally established and defined psychopathologies. 

Gardner got us off-track when he proposed that this pathology represented a “new and unique syndrome.”  It’s not.  The pathology expressed as “parental alienation” is not a new and unique syndrome, it is a manifestation of well-established and well-understood forms of acknowledged and existing psychopathologies.  We need to return to the solid foundation offered by established psychological principles and constructs. Foundations Banner Green-Blue

Hence the title of my book as, Foundations.

We need to plant our feet on the solid bedrock of established and existing psychological principles and constructs, and wage our battle from this solid foundation.

The diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia, of bipolar disorder, of ADHD, of autism, are not controversial  Neither should be the diagnosis and treatment of this pathology. It is a manifestation of narcissistic and borderline personality pathology following divorce. 

While a full description of this pathology may initially appear complicated, an introductory description of the pathology can actually be made pretty straightforward.  It is the addition of the “splitting” pathology associated with both narcissistic and borderline personality pathology to a “cross-generational coalition” as defined by the preeminent family systems theorists Jay Haley and Salvador Minuchin.

The pathology of splitting is defined and established by the American Psychiatric Association (2000) 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, nuturant, and kind — or exclusively bad, hateful, angry, destructive, rejecting, or worthless.” (p. 813)

The family systems pathology of the cross-generational coalition is defined by Haley (1977) as:

The people responding to each other in the triangle are not peers, but one of them is of a different generation from the other two… In the process of their interaction together, the person of one generation forms a coalition with the person of the other generation against his peer. By ‘coalition’ is meant a process of joint action which is against the third person… The coalition between the two persons is denied. That is, there is certain behavior which indicates a coalition which, when it is queried, will be denied as a coalition… In essence, the perverse triangle is one in which the separation of generations is breached in a covert way. When this occurs as a repetitive pattern, the system will be pathological. (p. 37; emphasis added)

Salvador Minuchin, regarded by many as the world’s foremost family systems theorist, also identifies the cross-generational coaltion in his foundational book on family systems therapy, Families and Family Therapy (1974):

“The rigid triangle can also take the form of a stable coalition.  One of the parents joins the child in a rigidly bounded cross-generational coalition against the other parent.” (p. 102; emphasis added)

Minuchin even provides a case example regarding the impact on family relationships of a cross-generational coalition:

“An inappropriately rigid cross-generational subsystem of mother and son versus father appears, and the boundary around this coalition of mother and son excludes the father.  A cross-generational dysfunctional transactional pattern has developed” (p. 61-62)

“The parents were divorced six months earlier and the father is now living alone… Two of the children who were very attached to their father, now refuse any contact with him.  The younger children visit their father but express great unhappiness with the situation.” (p. 101)

This pathology is NOT a “new syndrome.”  It is manifestation of standard and well established pathology.

When the “splitting” pathology of the narcissistic/borderline personality is added to the “cross-generational” coalition, it transforms the already pathological cross-generational coalition into a particularly malignant form that seeks to entirely terminate the other parent’s relationship with the child.

The splitting pathology cannot accommodate to ambiguity and ambivalence.  The other person is perceived to be EITHER entirely good or entirely bad; “ambivalent affects cannot be experienced simultaneously” and “more balanced views and expectations of self or others are excluded from emotional awareness” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

Following the divorce the husband becomes an ex-husband, the wife an ex-wife.  The splitting pathology of the narcissistic/borderline parent cannot accommodate to ambiguity and ambivalence. Perceptions of the other person are split “between polar opposites: exclusively loving, powerful, worthy, nuturant, and kind — or exclusively bad, hateful, angry, destructive, rejecting, or worthless.”

As a result of the splitting pathology, the ex-husband MUST become an ex-father, the ex-wife an ex-mother.  No other alternative is allowed within the splitting pathology of the narcissistic/borderline personality.

Through the cross-generational coalition, the child is induced to entirely reject the other parent, thereby turning the ex-husband into an ex-father; the ex-wife into an ex-mother.

Splitting + Cross-Generational Coalition = “Parental Alienation”

1 + 1 = 2

It’s not complicated pathology.

In order to establish firm foundations, I drilled to the absolute bedrock of the attachment trauma at the core of this pathology.  But for an initial explanation you can remain on the surface; splitting + cross-generational coalition = rejection of the normal-range and affectionally available parent.

So start at the level of the personality disorder pathology of splitting. 

What’s happening in my family is a manifestation of narcissistic and borderline personality disorder pathology following divorce.

Then, once you’re able to obtain a second round of interest, introduce the cross-generational coalition:

My ex-wife/ex-husband has formed a cross-generational coalition with my child against me in order to stabilize the psychological pathology of my ex-wife/ex-husband.

The cross-generational coalition may be a barrier to the therapist’s comprehension, but keep at it.  It is not an insurmountable barrier.  The quotes you have available to you are from the preeminent family systems therapists Salvador Minuchin and Jay Haley.

Once you have an awareness opening from the therapist that allows you to move to the next statement, introduce the splitting pathology:

The splitting pathology of the narcissistic/borderline personality structure is creating polarized sides, in which I’m being falsely characterized as the all-bad spouse and parent.  Because of the splitting pathology of my ex-, I must not only become an ex-husband (ex-wife), I must now also become an ex-father (ex-mother).  This is a product of the splitting pathology of my ex-

Notice I’ve never used the term “parental alienation.”  I’m walking the therapist through the pathology using defined and established clinical terms.

Unfortunately, you will encounter ignorant and arrogant mental health professionals who will say, “You don’t tell me what the pathology is, I’ll tell you what the pathology is.”  We have barriers to overcome.  But we will be relentless.

Our biggest barrier is that the citadel of establishment mental health does not currently realize that an alternative paradigm to Gardner’s PAS model even exists. 

Stupidity tends to follow.  Right now that’s a barrier.  However, once the paradigm shift to an attachment-based reformulation of the pathology occurs, stupid will simply follow this new path.  So once we can shift the paradigm within the citadel of establishment mental health, the ignorance of therapists will follow this new paradigm of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

Three diagnostic indicators. 

Checklist format. 

Pretty simple.

There is nothing in an attachment-based model for establishment mental health to accept or reject.  It’s all established and existing pathology.  It just needs to be diagnosed.

This is really important for everyone to understand, because Gardner’s model of PAS got everyone thinking down a problematic path of a “new syndrome” that needs to be accepted by establishment mental health – no, no, no.  The pathology is NOT a “new syndrome.” It is all explained entirely from within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.

That is actually the constructive criticism that establishment mental health has been trying to give to the Gardnerian PAS advocates all along:

Establishment Mental Health:  “Don’t bring us a ‘new syndrome’ proposal.  Instead invest the time and effort necessary to define this pathology using standard and established psychological principles and constructs.”

That is seemingly a reasonable request.

When we meet this standard, which Foundations does, then we will be able to end the division within mental health that currently paralyzes the mental health response to the pathology, and we will be able to bring mental health together into a single voice that effectively ends the pathology through a seven-step solution.

Our goal is to achieve a synthesis of Gardner’s identification of the pathology with the requirement of establishment mental health that the pathology not be defined as a “new syndrome.”  An attachment-based model for the pathology of “parental alienation” accomplishes this integration of positions.

We need to end the rift created in mental health by the proposal of a “new and unique” pathology.  It’s not a “new and unique” pathology, it is a well-understood and well-established pathology.

We now just need to let establishment mental health know that their definitional requirement has been met.  The pathology of “parental alienation” has been defined entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.  Since the pathology is defined through existing and established constructs, there is nothing to accept or reject.  The definition of the pathology will be incorporated into practice, and we will achieve a seven-step solution to the pathology of “parental alienation.”

Once this lack of institutional awareness is overcome in any one country, it will cascade through the establishment mental health systems of all countries. The pathology of “parental alienation” is a manifestation of narcissistic and borderline personality pathology (splitting) following divorce. Once they have an initial grasp of the pathology, we can then unwrap for them the next level of pathology involving “projection,” and then the next level involving “attachment trauma.”

We are all in this together.  Once the light dawns in Australia’s mental health system, it will ripple back to the U.S., and then across the Atlantic. If the light dawns first in the U.S., then it will ripple up to Canada, to Australia, and over to Europe and South Africa (interestingly I haven’t heard much from Asia regarding their struggles with the pathology).

We are all in this together.  We cannot solve the pathology of “parental alienation” for any one family unless we solve it for all families.  And once the paradigm shift occurs in one country, it will ripple across all countries. We are all in this together.

The solution requires a paradigm shift in how we define the construct of “parental alienation.”  Creating this paradigm shift is our challenge.

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

References

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

Haley, J. (1977). Toward a theory of pathological systems. In P. Watzlawick & J. Weakland (Eds.), The interactional view (pp. 31-48). New York: Norton.

Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and family therapy. Harvard University Press.

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