The Gardnerian Challenge

Gardner proposed that the the pathology of “parental alienation” is a new and unique form of pathology within all of mental health.  According to Gardner and his supporters, the pathology of “parental alienation” is so entirely different from any other form of pathology within all of mental health that it represents something entirely new, a new syndrome, defined by a set of eight symptom indicators that are also unique to the pathology of “parental alienation” and are entirely unrelated to any other type of symptoms for any other mental health pathology (no other pathology in all of mental health has a symptom of a “borrowed scenario,” or a “campaign of denigration,” or an “independent thinker” phenomenon, or any of the other unique symptoms of this new syndrome).

According to Gardner and his supporters, in all of mental health there is no other pathology like the pathology of “parental alienation.”  It is unique in all of psychology.  It is a new form of pathology; it is a new and unique syndrome.

I disagree.

The pathology of “parental alienation” is not a new and unique syndrome.  Instead, the pathology of “parental alienation” is a manifestation of well-established and well-understood forms of existing and accepted types of psychopathology involving established and accepted constructs of family systems pathology, personality pathology, and attachment trauma pathology.

The pathology of “parental alienation” can be fully understood at three separate and also interrelated levels of description.

1)  Family Systems Pathology

Splitting and the Cross-Generational Coalition

At the family systems level of analysis, the pathology of “parental alienation” represents the triangulation of the child into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition (Haley, 1977; Minuchin, 1974) with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent against the other parent, the targeted-rejected parent.  The addition of the splitting pathology (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent transforms the already pathological cross-generational coalition into a particularly malignant and virulent form that seeks to entirely terminate the other parent’s relationship with the child.

The pathology of “splitting” is defined by the American Psychiatric Association (2000) and the pathology of the cross-generational coalition is defined by the preeminent family systems theorists Jay Haley (1977) and Salvador Minuchin (1974).  These are defined and established forms of pathology within mental health.

Splitting pathology, which is associated with both narcissistic and borderline personalities (Kernberg, 1975), is a psychological process of polarization that cannot accommodate to ambiguity.  As a result, when the spouse becomes an ex-spouse as a consequence of the divorce, this ex-spouse must also become an ex-parent as well.  I describe this process more fully in Foundations.  It has to do with the complete neural cross-inhibition of the attachment bonding and avoidance motivating systems that creates the splitting pathology.

With the addition of the splitting pathology of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the cross-generational coalition with the child against the other parent, the ex-husband must also become an ex-father; the ex-wife an ex-mother.  The child’s rejection of the targeted parent accomplishes this goal of the spitting pathology of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The pathology of “parental alienation” is not some form of new and unique pathology within all of mental health.  It is a manifestation of clearly defined and established forms of family systems pathology when combined with the personality pathology of the parent.

1+1=2

Cross-generational coalition + splitting (narcissistic/borderline parent) = “parental alienation”

2)  Personality Disorder Pathology

Projective Displacement of Parental Inadequacy and Abandonment Fears

The divorce triggered the core vulnerabilities of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent of primal self-inadequacy (narcissistic vulnerability) and fears of abandonment (borderline vulnerability).

In order to restore the narcissistic defense and stabilize the underlying borderline personalty pathology, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent induces the child’s rejection of the other parent through a variety of manipulative communication processes in order to projectively displace (psychologically expel) onto the other parent the experience of primal self-inadequacy and abandonment fears.

N/(B) Parent:  “I’m not the inadequate parent/(person) – you are.  It’s you who are being rejected and abandoned – not me.  I’m the ideal, all-wonderful, and perfect parent/(person).  The child has chosen me and rejected you because of YOUR inadequacy as a parent/(person).”

Scratch the surface of this projective process and the narcissistic/borderline parent will display excessive criticisms of the targeted parent as an “inadequate spouse” and as the “inadequate person.”

The pathology of “parental alienation” is not some new form of unique pathology within all of mental health.  The pathology of “parental alienation” is a manifestation of clearly defined and established personality disorder pathology of the parent.

3)  Attachment System Pathology

Trans-Generational Transmission of Attachment Trauma

The attachment system is the brain system that manages and regulates all aspects of love and bonding.  It mediates the formation of emotionally close and bonded relationships, as well as our approach to repairing ruptured relationship bonds, and the process of grieving for lost relationships.  The internalized patterns of the attachment system guide our individual personal responses to all aspects of love and bonding.

The divorce activates the attachment system of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to mediate the ruptured marital relationship and the loss of the spousal relationship bond (I refer to this as the attachment system “glowing warm”).  The response of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in responding to the ruptured spousal relationship bond is guided by the relationship patterns contained in the attachment system, called “internal working models” of attachment by the preeminent attachment theorist John Bowlby and as “schemas” by the renowned psychiatrist Aaron Beck.

The divorce therefore activates two complementary sets of representational networks in the attachment system of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, one set for the current family members of the targeted parent, the child, and the self-representation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and one set from the past relationship patterns embedded in the “internal working models” of the attachment system.

The formative processes of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality are the result of childhood attachment trauma involving a parent who is simultaneously a source of threat and a source of protection (Beck, 2004), which creates a disorganized attachment network that later constellates into the narcissistic and/or borderline personality traits that are then evidenced in relationships with others.  The childhood trauma networks of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment system are embedded in the pattern of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent.”  The dual parental representation is created by the splitting pathology; i.e., the complete neurological cross-inhibition of attachment bonding and avoidance motivating systems necessary to bring coherence to the disorganized attachment motivation of the child in trying to bond to a parent who is simultaneously a source of threat and of nurture.

The divorce therefore activates two sets of corresponding representational networks, one set for the current family members of the ex-spouse, the child, and the self-representation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and one set for the past childhood trauma patterns of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent” that are embedded in the internal working models of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment system.  This concurrent co-activation of two sets of representational networks, one from current relationships and one from past attachment trauma, creates a psychological fusion, a psychological equivalency, of these representational networks.  In the mind of the narcissistic/borderline parent, the ex-spouse becomes psychologically equivalent to the “abusive parent” (i.e., the abusive attachment figure), the current child becomes psychologically equivalent to the “victimized child” of the attachment trauma networks (the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a psychologically vulnerable child in need of protection), and the narcissistic/(borderline) parent adopts the coveted role as the all-wonderful “protective parent” of the attachment trauma.

The roles are then in place for the psychological reenactment of childhood attachment trauma through the current family relationships, mediated by the personality disorder pathology of splitting and the projection of core self-inadequacy and abandonment fears.

The attachment trauma patterns of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment system are reenacted into current family relationships by first inducing the child into adopting the “victimized child” role in the trauma reenactment narrative, which then immediately defines the targeted parent into the role as the “abusive parent, irrespective of the actual parenting practices of the targeted parent.  The child’s supposed “victimization” by the allegedly “abusive” parental inadequacy of the targeted parent allows the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to then adopt and conspicuously display to others the coveted role as the all-wonderful, perfect and ideal “protective parent,” thereby completing the trauma reenactment narrative and restoring the narcissistic defense as the ideal and wonderful parent (person), which was threatened with collapse by the divorce.

At its core, the pathology of “parental alienation” represents the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma, manifested through a trauma reenactment narrative of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent.”  But this narrative storyline is not true.  The child is not a victim, the targeted-rejected parent is not abusive, and the narcissistic/borderline parent is not a protective parent.  It is a false drama (a delusion) created by the pathology of a psychologically decompensating narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a means of stabilizing the fragile psychological state of the parent.

The pathology of “parental alienation” is not some form of new pathology that is unique within all of mental health.  It is a manifestation of clearly defined and established forms of family systems pathology, attachment trauma pathology, and personality disorder pathology.

The Gardnerian PAS Model

The Gardnerian PAS model asserts that the pathology of “parental alienation” is a new and unique form of pathology that represents a new mental health syndrome within professional psychology.  According to the Gardnerian model, the pathology of parental alienation is NOT a manifestation of any type of existing form of pathology.  It is an entirely new and unique syndrome within all of mental health.

This is not true.

The pathology of “parental alienation” is not a new and unique form of pathology; it is a manifestation of established and existing forms of well-defined and well-understood personality disorder pathology, family systems pathology, and attachment trauma pathology.  It is not a unique “new syndrome.”

Any mental health professional who is asserting the validity of the Gardernian PAS model is asserting that the pathology of “parental alienation” is a new and unique pathology in all of mental health, such that it represents a new and unique syndrome in mental health pathology, because that’s what the Gardnerian PAS model asserts.

They are, therefore, disagreeing with the attachment-based reformulation of the pathology as being a manifestation of established and existing forms of personality disorder pathology, family systems pathology, and attachment trauma pathology. 

Both premises cannot simultaneously be true.  The pathology cannot be BOTH a new syndrome which is unique in all of professional psychology, AND at the same time be an expression of established and existing forms of psychopathology.  Both cannot simultaneously be true.

EITHER the pathology is a new and unique syndrome, in which case the Gardnerian PAS model is true and the attachment-based model is false…

OR the pathology of “parental alienation” is a manifestation of established forms of personality disorder pathology, family systems pathology, and attachment trauma pathology, in which case it is NOT a new and unique syndrome so that the Gardnerian PAS proposal of a “new syndrome” that is unique in all of mental health pathology is incorrect.

Both proposals cannot simultaneously be true.

I am 100% convinced that the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” represents a manifestation of established and existing family systems pathology, personality pathology, and attachment trauma pathology, as described in Foundations, and that an attachment-based model is a correct and accurate description of the pathology.

I am therefore 100% convinced that the Gardnerian PAS proposal that the pathology represents an entirely new and unique syndrome within mental health is conceptually flawed and incorrect.  The Gardnerian PAS model is wrong.  The pathology of parental alienation” is NOT a new and unique syndrome.  The pathology is a manifestation of well-defined and established forms of accepted psychopathology within standard and existing mental health constructs and principles.

Choosing a Paradigm

So far, all the the Gardnerian PAS experts, Amy Baker, Bill Bernet, Linda Gottlieb, Richard Sauber, Richard Warshak, Michael Bone all continue to hold and support the Gardnerian PAS model.  None have announced their shift to an attachment-based reformulation for the pathology of “parental alienation.”

This means that all of the Gardnerian PAS experts, Amy Baker, Bill Bernet, Linda Gottlieb, Richard Sauber, Richard Warshak, Michael Bone all reject that the pathology of “parental alienation” represents a manifestation of existing forms of family systems, personality disorder, and attachment trauma pathology, and they all continue to assert that the pathology of “parental alienation” represents a new and unique form of pathology within all of mental health, entirely unrelated to any other form of established and existing psychopathology, because that’s what the Gardnerian PAS model asserts.

Since BOTH the Gardnerian PAS model AND the attachment-based model cannot simultaneously be true (the pathology of “parental alienation” cannot simultaneously be a new and unique syndrome within all of mental health AND at the same time be a manifestation of existing and well-established forms of psychopathology) then all of these experts in Gardnerian PAS are all asserting their belief that an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is incorrect, that an attachment-based model of the pathology is wrong.  Because if an attachment-based model is NOT incorrect, then it is the Gardnerian PAS model which is incorrect, because both cannot simultaneously be true (it is a logical impossibility for the pathology to be BOTH a new and unique pathology AND an expression of an existing and well-established form of pathology – it is either one or the other).

However, none of these experts in Gardnerian PAS have offered their justification and critique of an attachment-based model as to why they believe it is wrong.  As far as I can tell, they have simply ignored an attachment-based reformulation of the pathology. 

If they believe that the pathology of “parental alienation” is a new syndrome that is unique in all of mental health and that an attachment-based model that defines the pathology within standard and established forms of accepted psychopathology within mental health is incorrect, tell us why?  What aspect of an attachment-based model of the pathology is incorrect?  Where is an attachment-based model in error?

Because if its not in error, then it is true.   And if it is true, then the Gardnerian PAS model is not true – it is wrong.  It is a logical impossibility for both models to simultaneously be true.  Either the pathology is a new and unique form of pathology within all of mental health OR it is an expression of established and existing forms of pathology.  Both cannot simultaneously be true.

So if they are maintaining that the Gardnerian PAS model is true, then they must also be asserting that the attachment-based model of the pathology is false, that it is wrong.

Why is that?  Why is an attachment-based model wrong?  What part of an attachment-based model do you disagree with?  Because if you don’t disagree with an attachment-based model, then an attachment-based model is correct.  And if an attachment-based model is correct then the Gardnerian PAS model of a new and unique pathology is wrong.  So why would you continue to support and advocate for a model of pathology that you know is wrong and incorrect?  So you must believe that an attachment-based model is wrong.  So tell us why you believe that. 

I’ve done my job in Foundations.  I’ve laid out the theoretical foundations for an attachment-based model in great detail.  If you disagree with this model, tell us why.  What part do you disagree with?  Do you not accept a cross-generational coalition?  Or the splitting pathology?  Or the projective displacement of narcissistic and borderline vulnerabilities onto the targeted parent?  Or the disorganized attachment that leads to narcissistic and borderline personality processes?  Or the creation of a trauma reenactment narrative?  What do you disagree with?

Because if you don’t disagree with the model, then this means that the Gardnerian PAS proposal that the pathology represents a new and unique syndrome is incorrect.  So why would you continue to hold onto and advocate for an incorrect description of the pathology?  So you must believe that the attachment-based model is incorrect.  So tell us why you believe this.  What part of the attachment-based model do you disagree with?

In my view, it is now incumbent upon the experts in “parental alienation” who continue to hold to a Gardnerian PAS model to identify why they believe an attachment-based reformulation of the pathology, as described in Foundations, is wrong.

Otherwise, an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” is accurate, the pathology of “parental alienation” represents a manifestation of established and existing forms of family systems, personality, and attachment trauma pathology, and the Gardnerian PAS proposal of a new and unique form of pathology is wrong (the pathology of “parental alienation” is not a new an unique form of psychopathology).

Both paradigms cannot simultaneously be true.  Only one or the other model is correct.  The other model is incorrect.  The other model is wrong.  EITHER the pathology of “parental alienation” is a new syndrome unique within all of mental health, OR the pathology of “parental alienation” is a manifestation of well-defined, established and accepted forms of psychopathology.  Both propositions cannot logically be true at the same time.

The time for sitting on the fence is over.  Within the next year we will be using the attachment-based model to solve the pathology of “parental alienation” for all families and all children.

If an attachment-based model is correct (which it is), then it is the professional obligation of ALL mental health professionals to adopt an accurate framework for understanding the pathology of “parental alienation.” 

For the critics of “parental alienation” and the binding sites of ignorance for the pathogen, this means acknowledging the existence and the nature of the pathology of “parental alienation” (attachment trauma reenactment pathology), which will require them to become competent in its assessment, diagnosis, and treatment (i.e., a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed when the three diagnostic indicators of the pathology are present in the child’s symptom display).

For the Gardnerian PAS experts this means relinquishing an inaccurate model of the pathology that proposes a new and unique syndrome within mental health – which is not true – and adopting a more accurate model for the pathology.  It is professionally inappropriate to knowingly propose and support an inaccurate and incorrect model for pathology.

Ending the Division Within Mental Health

The attachment-based model for the pathology of “parental alienation” is going to bring ALL of mental health together into a single united voice.  It is going to heal the decades-long rift within mental health so that mental health can speak to the legal system with a single unified voice regarding the nature, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of what is a standard and recognized form of family systems, personality disorder, and attachment trauma pathology.

If any mental health professional, either “parental alienation” critic or Gardnerian advocate, believes that the attachment-based model for the pathology is incorrect and that the pathology of “parental alienation” is NOT a manifestation of personality disorder, family systems, and attachment trauma pathology as described in Foundations, let’s hear it.  Tell us why you think an attachment-based model is incorrect.

If not, then it is your professional obligation, whether you were a former critic of Gardnerian PAS or a former advocate for Gardnerian PAS, to switch to and adopt an accurate recognition and description of the family systems, personality disorder, and attachment-trauma pathology.

I’ve presented my position in detail in Foundations.  Your turn.  If you believe the description of the pathology provided in Foundations is wrong, tell us why it is wrong.  If you don’t, then we will assume that you have no argument against the attachment-based model of the pathology described in Foundations… meaning that an attachment-based description of the pathology as described in Foundations is correct… meaning that a Gardernian PAS proposal that the pathology of “parental alienation” represents a new and unique syndrome is wrong.

Either an attachment-based model is correct and the pathology of “parental alienation” is a manifestation of established and defined forms of existing pathology within mental health (personality disorder pathology; family systems pathology; attachment trauma pathology), or a Gardnerian PAS model is correct and the pathology of “parental alienation” is a new and unique form of pathology in all of mental health.  Both cannot simultaneously be true.  Only one of these paradigms is true, the other model is not true.

It’s time to declare your position with regard to the paradigm change.  Either you support the change in paradigms to an attachment-based model for the pathology of “parental alienation” or you seek to maintain a Gardnerian PAS paradigm and prevent the change to an attachment-based model.

If you want to maintain a Gardnerian PAS model, tell us why.  Tell us what solution a Gardnerian PAS model offers.  I’ve told you what solution an attachment-based model offers.  Tell us why a Gardnerian PAS model is a superior model of the pathology. 

Christmas 2016

My goal is to bring mental health together into a single voice to achieve a complete resolution to the pathology of “parental alienation” by Christmas of 2016.  I want to have all alienated children back in the arms of their loving and authentically protective targeted parents by Christmas-time of 2016.

This nightmare must end.  Today.  Now.  Even Christmas 2016 is too long to wait.  But I am only a single psychologist, without connections, without power, working alone.  There is only so much I can do on my own.  I could use help.

If the Gardnerian experts, Amy Baker, Bill Bernet, Richard Sauber, Linda Gottlieb, Richard Warshak, Michael Bone give their fully voiced and active support to a paradigm shift, I wonder if the addition of their power and professional standing could accelerate the paradigm shift, so that we could achieve the paradigm shift to an attachment-based model, and the seven-step solution offered by an attachment-based model, by Christmas of 2015, by this Christmas.

I know that’s only three months away.  But the solution is already here – because the pathology as defined by an attachment-based model is standard and established forms of pathology, already accepted within the citadel of establishment mental health.  The only thing that is preventing the solution is the ignorance of establishment mental health that an attachment-based model exists.  Once this ignorance is overcome, the solution becomes available immediately (i.e., a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed).

Once the pathology of “parental alienation” is recognized as a manifestation of existing and well-established forms of family systems, personalty disorder, and attachment trauma pathology, then the DSM-5 diagnosis of the pathology becomes V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed, and the seven-step solution becomes immediately available because we can hold ALL mental health professionals accountable under Standard 2.01 and 9.01 of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association.

To achieve a solution to the pathology of “parental alienation” we must end the division within mental health that has surrounded the pathology of “parental alienation.”  The Gardnerian model of PAS continues this division.  An attachment-based model brings the division within mental health to a close.  An attachment-based reformulation of the pathology within established and accepted forms of existing pathology can unite all of mental health into a single unified voice.

My goal is to achieve a resolution to the pathology of “parental alienation” by Christmas of 2016, because I am working alone and without support.  I am inviting the current experts in Gardnerian PAS to bring their support to a paradigm shift and see if we can achieve a resolution to the pathology of “parental alienation” a full year earlier than I can accomplish it on my own, by Christmas of 2015 (or the spring of 2016).  Each day that passes without a solution is one day too many.

Or, if you feel that the pathology of “parental alienation” is not a manifestation of existing types of family systems pathology, personality pathology, and attachment trauma pathology (as described in Foundations), and you believe that the pathology represents an entirely new and unique form of pathology in all of mental health, evidenced in a unique set of symptom identifiers, then I ask you to explain your position.  Why do you believe that?  What is incorrect about an attachment-based model of the pathology?  I have explained how a paradigm shift to an attachment-based model will achieve an immediate solution to the pathology of “parental alienation.”  If you disagree, tell us why.  Tell us the steps by which a Gardernian PAS model will provide a solution to the pathology of “parental alienation.”

Paradigm Shift

The Gardnerian PAS model is going away.  It is going to be replaced as a paradigm by an attachment-based model for the pathology.  My goal is to achieve this replacement, this change in paradigms, by Christmas of 2016, to have all of these lost children back in their parent’s arms by Christmas of 2016.  The sooner the Gardnerian PAS model goes away and is replaced in the consciousness of establishment mental health by an attachment-based model, the sooner we achieve the solution and the sooner we can return these lost children to their loving parents whom they currently reject.

Help me bring an end to the Gardnerian PAS paradigm so we can achieve this solution.  Now.  Today.  For all of these children and families who cannot wait another day.

But whether you help us or not, understand this, the Gardnerian PAS model is going away.  My goal is to bring it to an end by Christmas of 2016 so that we can return these lost children back to their loving parents by that date.  The pathology of “parental alienation” is not a new and unique form of pathology within all of mental health.  That proposal is incorrect.  In proposing that the pathology of “parental alienation” is a new and unique form of pathology within all of mental health, the Gardnerian model is wrong.  The pathology of “parental alienation” is a manifestation of established and existing forms of pathology.  Because of this, the moment the paradigm shifts to an attachment-based model we will have the solution immediately: the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Because the Gardnerian PAS model proposes a new and unique syndrome, it cannot give us this DSM-5 diagnosis today.

Because an attachment-based model describes the pathology from entirely within standard and established forms of pathology, it can give us this DSM-5 diagnosis today.  Immediately.  Once the paradigm shifts.

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.

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

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

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

One thought on “The Gardnerian Challenge”

  1. I like this, especially the beginning and your characterization of Gardnerian PAS. But I’m skeptical re: the likelihood of Gardnerian PAS top advocates / researchers giving up the paradigm they’ve invested their careers and their minds in. I had an email exchange with one which backs my opinion. We need a plan to succeed without their support. Have you thought of doing some kind of outreach to the anti-Gardnerian PAS crowd (National Organization of Women, etc.), especially now that women seem to be equally targeted for alienation, and they say they’re all about protecting the child?

    Also I want to say that the words “parental alienation” are toxic and tainted in family court (associated with bitter custody disputes and sketchy science, rather than legitimate child protection) and the less associated your paradigm is with those words, the better [no more “attachment-based ‘parental alienation’ – sounds like old wine in new bottles]. Maybe you could refer to “the concept formerly known as “parental alienation” when referring to Gardnerian PAS and keep your own terminology strictly within established and mainstream concepts.

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