The Domestic Violence Variant

The first case of “parental alienation” I treated involved a narcissistic husband/father and a targeted parent mother. The father was clearly using the child’s induced rejection of the mother as a weapon to inflict suffering on his ex-wife for having rejected his self-perceived “magnificence,” and the child was in fear of the father’s narcissistic retaliation if the child failed to show sufficient rejection of his mother.

Soon after, I treated another case with a narcissistic/antisocial father and targeted parent mother. In this case the hostility of the adolescent son toward his mother was excessive and required her to call the police for self-protection on several occasions. The domestic violence themes of power, control, and domination which were being enacted by the narcissistic/antisocial father through the child’s open contempt, hostility, and disrespect for his mother were clearly evident.

I have since been involved in several other cases of “parental alienation” involving a narcissistic father who displayed obsessive-compulsive personality overtones (i.e., highly moralistic judgement of the ex-wife from fundamentalist religious beliefs), in which the domestic violence themes of power, control, and domination were again evident.

I am not a domestic violence expert, but as a clinical psychologist I know enough to recognize the pathology of domestic violence.

There are several related variants of “parental alienation” involving a narcissistic/(antisocial), narcissistic/(obsessive-compulsive), and narcissistic/(paranoid) personality husband-father and a targeted parent mother that essentially represent domestic violence by proxy. The verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse by the narcissistic father of the mother during and following the marriage in this variant of the “parental alienation” pathology clearly evidence the themes of power, control, and domination characteristic of domestic violence. 

In some cases the loss of the mother’s beloved children is used as the weapon to inflict suffering,

“Aren’t you sorry now that you left me. I’ve killed your children. You don’t have your children anymore. They’re mine.”

In other cases, the children’s open contempt and hostility toward the targeted parent mother are used as violence-by-proxy weapons by the narcissistic (or narcissistic/antisocial or narcissistic/obsessive-compulsive or narcissistic/paranoid) ex-husband to continue the emotional and psychological abuse of his ex-wife following divorce.

So as I was researching why the mental health system response to this pathology was so broken, imagine my surprise in learning that the National Organization of Women (NOW) was one of the staunchest opponents of the “parental alienation” construct. Are you kidding me? They should be one of our staunchest allies. But instead, they are active opponents to recognizing the pathology of “parental alienation.” Why?

Gardnerian PAS.

They are afraid that the poorly structured symptom descriptions of Gardnerian PAS will discount the reports by children of authentic domestic violence based on false allegations of “parental alienation” made by the abusive narcissistic spouse. They are afraid that children exposed to authentic domestic violence, who are authentically afraid of their violent and abusive narcissistic father, and who are authentically being protected by their normal-range mother, will have their fears discounted based on false allegations of “parental alienation.”

So I looked at that concern. I imagined scenarios of authentic domestic violence and applied the Gardnerian eight symptom identifiers to these hypothetical cases. Is it possible that a poor application of the Gardnerian eight symptom identifiers could result in an authentically abused child potentially being returned to and re-exposed to an abusive narcissistic father based on a false allegation of “parental alienation”?

And you know what? Using the Gardnerian eight symptom identifiers… it’s possible.

That’s why you see the opening statement of the APA’s Position Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome address the issue of discounting allegations of domestic violence. They have a legitimate concern and this legitimate concern is officially recognized by the American Psychological Association.

So one of my main goals in working out an alternative model and alternative set of diagnostic indicators has been to address this concern of NOW and other domestic violence mental health professionals to ensure the protection of children from authentic child abuse by a narcissistic ex-husband/father.

A child who has been authentically abused will not meet the three diagnostic criteria of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”

The primary diagnostic indicator that will not be met by authentically abused children who are afraid of their abusive parent is Diagnostic Indicator 2: five specific personality disorder traits evidenced in the child’s symptom display. Authentically abused children will not evidence a haughty and arrogant attitude toward the abusive parent, and authentically abused children will not evidence an attitude of entitlement toward the abusive parent.

Nor will authentically abused children meet Diagnostic Indicator 3 of an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” regarding a delusional belief in the supposedly “abusive” parenting of the normal-range and affectionally available targeted parent, because in authentic abuse the child’s beliefs regarding the abusive parenting of the feared parent have a reality basis. They are not delusional. They are real and authentic concerns that can be supported by the evidence.

The child will actually not meet Diagnostic Indicator 1 of attachment system suppression either, but recognizing that symptom feature is more subtle and requires expertise in the attachment system display of children and the attachment system display in response to trauma.

In my former role as the Clinical Director for an early childhood assessment and treatment center, one of our primary client groups were children in the foster care system (we had a contract with the Department of Children and Family Services – our child protective services agency). I have seen all of the various forms of severe child neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Meth addicted parents whose children had no food in the house for days as the meth parent slept off a multiple-day drug binge. Children of meth addicted parents who were sexually abused by other meth addict friends of the parent while high. Children who were beaten with electrical cords leaving raised welts across their backs, or who had burns from where the parent put cigarettes out on the child’s arm as a form of discipline. I’ve seen authentic child abuse up close and personal.

And the attachment system response of these authentically abused children does not display the same pattern of distortion as it does in the pathology of “parental alienation.” If you know the attachment system and if you know how it responds to authentic trauma, it’s actually quite easy to differentiate the authentic trauma of child abuse from the induced pathology of “parental alienation.”

Our goal is to protect 100% of children 100% of the time from all forms of child abuse, physical, sexual, and psychological.

Interestingly, just the other day I took on two new cases involving “parental alienation.” One is a treatment-related case involving a clearly borderline personality mother who has a narcissistic personality veneer, who is seeking to make the ex-husband an ex-father in order to establish her “dream family” with the new spouse (with mountains of substantiated false and delusional allegations by the mother of supposed “abuse” by the clearly normal-range and affectionally available father), and the other case I accepted is a legal case working as a consultant and possible expert witness for an attorney involving a false allegation of “parental alienation” in which a clearly narcissistic, emotionally and psychologically abusive ex-husband and father is seeking to discount the child’s authentic fear by making false allegations that the child’s authentic fears are the product of “parental alienation” by the mother. In the legal case, I’ll be applying an attachment-based model to the child’s symptom display, along with the prior evidence of substantiated abuse, and I will be using this model to highlight how the child’s symptom display is actually consistent with authentic anxiety associated with chld abuse rather than induced pathology.

False allegations of “parental alienation” are a legitimate concern.  Not everything is a dog.  But neither is everything a cat.

Domestic Violence “Parental Alienation”

We need to recognize the legitimate concerns of mental health professionals and women’s rights groups regarding authentic domestic violence and child abuse relative to problematic aspects of the Gardnerian eight symptom identifiers. We should be allies with domestic violence mental health professionals and women’s rights groups, not adversaries. An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” with its three diagnostic indicators can achieve this reunification with our domestic violence allies in mental health.

There are a group of variants within the “parental alienation” pathology that essentially represent domestic violence by proxy.

The domestic violence variants of “parental alienation” typically involve a narcissistic husband-father (although not always) who may have additional antisocial, obsessive-compulsive (i.e., rigid moralistic beliefs), or paranoid overtones to the personality disorder pathology. In these cases, the targeted parent mother was typically attracted initially to the narcissistic/(antisocial) charm of the husband, and she believed that their emotional intimacy would develop over time during their marriage.

However, once married, the narcissistic emotional and psychological abuse by the husband became increasingly more evident. Eventually, the wife could no longer tolerate the emotional coldness and distance of the narcissistic husband and his continual openly displayed contempt and hostility toward her. In some cases, the children may have been so exposed to the father’s openly contemptuous and demeaning treatment of the mother that they are primed to evidence the same attitude toward the mother, in other cases the narcissistic father’s incapacity for emotional intimacy has allowed the children to form an emotionally close bond with the mother during the period of the marriage and intact family.

Having suffered years of emotional and psychological abuse from her narcissistic husband, the wife eventually decides to divorce her abusive narcissistic husband. It is at this point that the “parental alienation” pathology takes off into over-drive. This rejection of the abusive narcissistic husband creates a narcissistic injury of exposing his core self-inadequacy to public display. The narcissistic ex-husband is being publicly exposed by the divorce and by the wife’s rejection of him as being an inadequate husband and person.

This narcissistic injury provokes a narcissistic rage and an intense desire for retaliatory revenge against the ex-wife. However, because she is no longer physically present in the home to be emotionally and psychologically degraded and abused by the narcissistic ex-husband, he turns to his only remaining weapon, the children who are beloved by the mother, as the means to exact his retaliatory revenge and continue his emotional and psychological abuse of her.

By divorcing the narcissistic (antisocial, moralistic obsessive-compulsive, paranoid) ex-husband, the mother has escaped his direct emotional and psychological abuse and degradation. But because they still share children, she has not escaped him entirely, and he can continue his abuse of her indirectly through his use of the children as his proxy weapons of continuing emotional and psychological domestic violence.

With the mother’s decision to divorce, the narcissistic husband begins to poison the children against their mother by blaming her for the divorce and for her supposedly breaking up “our family” because “she doesn’t love us anymore.” The interpersonal power of narcissistic confidence and his open contempt for the children’s mother models for them what their attitude toward her should be. The father elicits criticisms from the children of their mother through his directive and motivated questioning and their role-reversal relationships with him as external “regulatory objects” to stabilize his emotional and psychological state. The narcissistic ex-husband and father then inflames and exploits these elicited child criticisms to create a culture of denigrating the mother for her supposed inadequacies and failures as a parent (as a person), all the while hiding his continuing psychological and emotional abuse of the mother behind the children’s induced hostility and rejection:

“I’m just listening to the children. Just ask them. I’m telling them that they need to love their mother no matter how bad she is. But what can I do, she’s just a bad parent. Just ask the children.”

This is not some “new form of pathology.” This is a all a manifestation of standard personality disorder pathology triggered by the rejection inherent to divorce. Once we stop thinking “parental alienation” and start thinking narcissistic personality disorder pathology (in the domestic violence variants with possible antisocial, moralistic obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid overtones, in other variants with possible borderline and histrionic overtones), the pathology becomes evident and easily diagnosable by professionals who are competent in assessing and diagnosing personality disorder pathology.

There is no “new syndrome.”  Richard Gardner was simply a poor diagnostician. 

It’s all standard and well-established forms of pathology fully accepted within the established domain of clinical psychology. We need to stop thinking “new form of pathology” and simply do an adequate job of diagnosing pathology.

The personality disorder pathology of the psychologically controlling parent will be evident in the child’s symptom display. Since the child’s symptoms are being induced by the personality disordered parent, the child’s symptoms act as a lens into exposing the exact personality disorder pathology of the narcissistic parent – with borderline overtones, with antisocial overtones, with histrionic overtones, with paranoid overtones, with moralistic obsessive-compulsive overtones.

Dr. Childress’ “new theory.” Nonsense. Personality disorder pathology. The only reason it seems “new” to some people is because personality disorder pathology is new to them. This is nothing new. Standard mental health constructs and pathology.

Letter of Support

I was recently asked for consultation regarding the domestic violence variant of “parental alienation” by a mental health professional who is seeking to get this component domestic violence by proxy pathology incorporated into the domestic violence response of the mental health system in her state. In response to her request for consultation, I wrote a letter of support for recognizing variants of “parental alienation” pathology as a form of domestic violence. I have posted this letter of support to my website in case this letter might be helpful to targeted parents who are going through this type of domestic violence by proxy form of the “parental alienation” pathology.

Domestic Violence in “Parental Alienation” Support Letter

Mental health professionals concerned about domestic violence and women’s rights groups, such as the National Organization of Women, should NOT be our adversaries, they are actually are natural allies. They have legitimate concerns. We need to address their legitimate concerns. An attachment-based model of the pathology of “parental alienation” that defines the pathology from the perspective of standard and established personality disorder pathology provides a road to reuniting with our allies in domestic violence prevention and treatment.

Let’s take that road.

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

16 thoughts on “The Domestic Violence Variant”

  1. Thank you Dr. Childress, for telling my story in clinical terms that fully articulate what has happened to me and my daughter. This posting and letter are powerful tools for the ongoing efforts to educate others about this insidious form of spousal and child abuse.

    1. Wow this has been my nightmare since the day I packed and left my abuser. My children now grown have been allienated from me for their entire lives. Taught to hate me and to disrespect me to do anything their father tells them to do. My adult now 22 year old child is still stuck in his claws and will never see me no reason why. I feel like I am losing everything and have tried virtually everything to stop him. Nothing has worked not even anti-harassment orders. He is relentless and no one believes it because he is a business man popular in our community. I raised both children yet you would not know it as they are not allowed to discuss me publicly etc. I live in constant fear. I wish I could find help to combat the allienation as I see articles but no laws against it or what to do. If anyone has any resources please share it would be much appreciated

  2. Yes, NOW has been fighting this for years! Unfortunately, a large part of the problem is Gardner’s opinions on Pedophiia.

    I believe because of this, everything else about his ideas (PAS) is perceived as rediculous.


    PS, thank you for all you are doing

  3. Yes, experienced.
    I want to add a cog onto this. The legitimately abused will be targeted by mental health as a problemed person and dealt with accordingly because they can. Abused children are also at the mercy of the mental health staff. If an abusive adult says that the person and/or children have mental and emotional problems, I have personally lived through two generations of mental health employees and family court personnel agreeing with the abuser. This is an ugly truth that I have yet to have a conversation about. THIS is why I keep saying that every authoritative institution can still work while doing the right thing. Ive been told many times that My opinions are not legitimate because I am speaking from personal experience. The only option left when put in these positions, is to fight or give up. I have lived to see both outcomes. Neither is good.

    1. I have a very similar situation. I have recently divorced my very disturbed, abusive, predator husband. He has engaged in an extreme denigration campaign against me for most of my, now 18 year old, daughter’s life. I have been labeled as having “serious problems” by my ex-husbands therapist, Fran, who is closely associated with my daughter’s therapist, Anne. Before I filed for divorce, my ex was asked to move out. My daughter’s therapist, Anne, worked to encourage my daughter to be angry at me and guided my daughter to suddenly leave the house and move in with her abusive, inappropriate father. My ex immediately demanded a GAL. The two therapists, Anne and Fran who are aligned with my ex, made stunning false allegations about me to the GAL who joined them in casting me as the “problem”. Over the last three years I have seen very little of my daughter due to her father’s extreme manipulation and control that has included his convincing her that I abused her. Her father is her abuser and has been for all of her life. Over the last three years, while living with her father, she has been put on anti anxiety, and anti-depressant medications and could barely function in school. The damage to my daughter is unfathomable.

  4. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    ” They have legitimate concerns. We need to address their legitimate concerns. An attachment-based model of the pathology of “parental alienation” that defines the pathology from the perspective of standard and established personality disorder pathology provides a road to reuniting with our allies in domestic violence prevention and treatment.

    Let’s take that road.”

  5. Dear Sir. Thank-you. This is my situation. Family /domestic violence ( mainly verbal/financial but some mild physical) extending into parental alienation. Physical violence gets all the attention in the media ( fair enough to a point) because it can be seen. Emotional/psychological abuse cannot be seen and when your child has been taken from your life and the narcissist still has the upper hand and all the control (while the stress causes your world to fall apart)…to the outside world, you may fit the picture of the unstable one whilst the narcissist looks so confidently in control….even to court psychologists! I have your books and watched videos which have validated my experience and confirmed my belief in myself through this hell-ride. The frustration is knowing all this and not being able to find a Psychologist ( or lawyer) where I live (Australia) with enough understanding of parental alienation. In fact, via your information, I am virtually having to educate them. I am glad the link between domestic violence and parental alienation is being discussed as it is clear the the latter is an extension of the controlling nature of domestic violence.

  6. Dr. Childress’ reformulation of parental alienation is solid. I get it. However, the following sets of ideas are part wishful thinking, potentially challenging, and deadly serious. Consider before anyone becomes intimately involved with anyone that perhaps you should clear one’s internal pathology acquired over a lifetime of pathological environments, e.g., a person’s parents, extended family, community, country and hemisphere of the world. Each generation owes the next a real effort to clear these pathological afflictions. Imagine a world where everyone is responsible to themselves and the people in their communities. Abusive people are simply a scratch in the broken record of life. It’s better these people stay out of relationships – families and do something that will correct (therapy) or feed their sickness (start their own private community of abuse among themselves along the late George Carlin model). I wrote this response is such a way that it is deliberately confusing to force debate. I’m hoping the other side will read it and consider the non-professional fraud that’s contributed to the ongoing debate. Perhaps they should join the private community of abuser and workout their ideas on the front line – personally, deliberately, and feel the pain directly vs unethical remuneration. I wonder what Amy Baker’s personal psychological and psychiatric testing would reveal. Think about it, why are they resisting? Fear of liabilities, public shaming, retaliation from the generations of damaged lives….It reminds me of the Johns Manville asbestos manufacturer that perpetrated outrageous misconduct with a 40 year cover up. The outcome changed US tort law. This is the type of pain needed to bust up PAS liabilities. If I were filthy rich, I’d make it a personal mission to arm every PAS victim with pathologically aggressive law firms and drag every last one of these “mental health persons” to court and bankrupt all of them – and possibly convict each and everyone one of them for experimenting with peoples lives. How’s that for simple and direct communications? Any questions?

  7. It is much more than Gardnerian PAS which keeps the National Organization for Women on the wrong side of pathogenic parenting. The domestic violence centers get their federal funding based on the number of cases they work up, regardless of any findings that domestic violence occurred in any particular case. It has become a false accusation factory and it is very profitable. It is part and parcel of the institutional biases which permit disturbed parents to use their children as weapons. Another area associated by the same dynamic is the campus rape hysteria, which is completely manufactured. When you delve deeply into the criminology and research psychology which purports to have discovered alarming rates of sexual assaults on college campuses, you find the same sort of professional chicanery which Dr. Childress has described on his blog as typical of mental health professionals. The false accusation get traction for reasons; they could be plausible. But where there is no evidence of sexual assault, there is still the pretext for treating the accused as if he is guilty/perpetually suspect. The economic reality of domestic violence agency funding is akin to operating milieu of pathogenic parents. They get away with it because they can, but also because they have deep disturbance which make them feel satisfaction when they hurt another person. Seeing feminist groups as potential allies in reformulating the conception of ‘parental alienation’ is like looking to the health insurance companies (as Obama has done) for help in solving the high cost of healthcare. We see now how well that has worked.

  8. Domestic violence is real. It is not always the male that is a perpetrator. Men are abused by women sometimes. Women are abused by men sometimes. Cats and trains…….
    Domestic violence groups have been apposed to Gardnerian PAS for good reason and it has been used by men that engage in domestic violence in order to gain control of the children and therefore be able to continue to inflict pain on the other parent.
    Domestic violence groups are aware of this. They will also understand the difference between what Gardner did and what Dr Childress is doing now.
    Fathers rights groups who also receive a lot of funding are no better than the feminist groups. Both have some disturbed individuals with extreme agendas. Mainly though they are trying to do a good service.
    Dr Childress hit the nail on the head with the domestic violence variant.

  9. Thank you. Two words that are infinitely inadequate in acknowledging Dr. Childress’ seminal, groundbreaking & unquestionably necessary in helping victims of domestic abuse – both the spouse of a personality disordered partner/ex-partner, and the children, who make up the next generation and our hope for a better future. Our future depends on a world full of people with empathy and compassion. There are two things in my personal and professional experience and research that hamper the heroic efforts of many in making this world a reality:

    1) Trauma resulting from abuse.

    2) Pathologicals. Individuals who fit in the cluster b personality disorder spectrum – anti-social, narcissist, sociopath/psychopath. Those that lack a conscious and cannot develop one.

    How frustrating, toxic and life draining it is to be a victim of domestic violence perpetrated by a partner who fits into this criteria. While governments, law enforcement, clinicians and service providers all now provide public information on domestic abuse that includes emotional or psychological abuse in their description of domestic violence, the courts, the laws and the general public are not adequately informed or educated on how deadly this firm of violence is. Those of us experiencing this form of violence are left to suffer from ongoing injuries that are deadly.

    The only difference between this form of violence and the violence carried out by a psychopathic serial killer is that the victims of “successful” sociopaths are slowly killed through unending torture, with little or no place to go for remedy, understanding and support.

    Again, profound thanks.

    Susan Skinner

  10. Even if it were possible to identify the narcissistic/antisocial personality disordered parent, short of denying the parent any access to his children, there is nothing to arrest this perverse triangle. The alienation becomes an obsession for the narcissist. The underlying psychological theme expressed in this parental alienation variant is, “you’ve got them now, but I’ll get them one day.” “One day your children will come to hate you as much as I hate you for wounding me.”
    The proxy in the family adopts the same contempt and hostility and transmits the trauma to the next generation: “I’m going to make you suffer for the pain you’ve inflicted on our family. I am going to alienate you from your grandchildren the way you alienated me from my father.” “You deserve to suffer.”

  11. Dear Craig, I am so relieved you finally brought this up. You are dead right and it is happening all the time. However, I believe many targeted parents suffer a disorder too as a result of the years of being abused in the marriage. I run a group of almost 1000 members who were victims of narcissistic abuse, most of them lose their children en almost all of them suffer from (C)PTSD, which is then falsely diagosed as BPD or Anxiety Disorder. It is not just the children who are infected by the targeting parent’s toxic behaviour, most targeted parents are also very badly damaged as a result of domestic violence and are in dire need of medical attention. I hope you or anyone else will finally address this problem, targeted parents are rarely healthy either and are being asked to save their children while suffering from exhaustion, depression, emotional dysregulation, sleeping problems, flashbacks, black-outs, nightmares, low self- esteem, a deep feeling of being unworthy and flawed, panic-attacks, overvigilance, all well-established DSM-criteria of (C)PTSD. It is time these parents get medical attention and treatment, as this is a seriuos disorder which cripples rejected parents in their effort to get their children back. Ignoring this is not going to help anyone, including the children. So by writing this I want to make a stand for proper medical assessment and treatment of targeted parents, Thank you. Regards, Ms drs Lotte Hendriks MA (therapist and alienated mother)

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