Mercer Redux

Dr. Jean Mercer is at it again.  Challenging an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” with vague allegations and outright falsehood. 

Flying Monkeys, “Parental Alienation”, and… No Vivid Writing Please

So let me address Dr. Mercer one more time.

For the record, this is my position:

The pathology that is traditionally called “parental alienation” in the common-culture represents the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the current family relationships, mediated by the personality disorder pathology of the parent that is itself a product of this childhood attachment trauma.

This is a professional-level diagnostic statement of pathology. 

And let me be entirely clear, I in no way endorse or support the antiquated and foundationally incorrect formulation of the family pathology as described by Gardernian PAS.  I am in no way talking about Gardnerian PAS.  

The term “parental alienation” is not a defined term in clinical psychology.  The discussion of this pathology within professional psychology needs to shift away from the use of the poorly defined construct of “parental alienation” over to the use of professionally accepted and professionally established constructs of:

  • Attachment pathology
  • Personality disorder pathology
  • Family systems therapy
  • Established research on parental psychological control of children

Through her appellation of “pseudoscience,” Dr. Mercer makes the allegation that there is no scientific foundation to the diagnostic formulation of the family pathology as described in Foundations.  This statement by Dr. Mercer is not true, and in fact Dr. Mercer’s statement so blatantly disregards objective reality as to be professionally reckless and irresponsible. 

In response to Dr. Mercer’s completely unfounded and professionally irresponsible allegation, I would ask that she identify what aspect of the diagnostic formulation as put forward in Foundations she seeks additional research support?  On my website is a checklist of the component pathology of an attachment-based diagnostic model of the pathology as described in Foundations:

Checklist of Component Pathology

Since Dr. Mercer has chosen to denigrate my work by making the unfounded assertion that it lacks scientific support, I ask that she identify what aspect of Foundations she believes warrants additional research support.

Let me, for example, take just one aspect of an attachment-based diagnostic formulation of this pathology, that of parental psychological control of the child by a narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  In his book, Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents – published by the American Psychological Association – Brian Barber and his colleague, Elizabeth Harmon, identify and describe 40 scientifically based studies on the psychological control of children in Table 1 on pages 29-32.  Forty scientific studies, Dr. Mercer.  Forty.

And this is just one aspect of Foundations having to do with the psychological control of the child.  Forty studies.  No scientific support?  Are you nuts?  There is overwhelming and substantial scientific support for every aspect of Foundations.

In their 2014 study of parental psychological control of children and emotional regulation, Cui, Morris, Criss, Houltberg, and Silk state:

“Because psychological control is emotionally manipulative in nature, making parental love and acceptance contingent on children’s behavior, it is likely that psychological control has a deleterious impact on emotion regulation (Morris et al., 2002). Indeed, the reasons for this link are rooted in the defining features of psychological control.

Specifically, psychological control has historically been defined as psychologically and emotionally manipulative techniques or parental behaviors that are not responsive to children’s psychological and emotional needs (Barber, Maughan, & Olsen, 2005).  Psychologically controlling parents create a coercive, unpredictable, or negative emotional climate of the family, which serves as one of the ways the family context influences children’s emotion regulation (Morris, Silk, Steinberg, Myers, & Robinson, 2007; Steinberg, 2005).

Such parenting strategies ignore the child’s need for autonomy, impede the child’s volitional functioning, and intervene in the individuation process (Barber & Xia, 2013; Soenens & Vansteenkiste, 2010).  In such an environment, children feel pressure to conform to parental authority, which results in children’s emotional insecurity and dependence (Morris et al., 2002).” (Cui, Morris, Criss, Houltberg, & Silk, 2014, p. 48)

According to Barber and Harmon:

“Psychological control refers to parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulative of children’s thoughts, feelings, and attachment to parents.” (Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 15)

“… and attachment to parents.”

Parental psychological control of the child represents a violation of the psychological integrity of the child:

“The essential impact of psychological control of the child is to violate the self-system of the child.” (Barber & Harmon: 2002, p. 24)

“…violate the self-system of the child.”

According to Kerig in the Journal of Emotional Abuse:

“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)

“…the child’s psyche will conform to the parent’s wishes.”

“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)

“…adept at reading the cues and meeting the needs…”

In their research on parental psychological control of children, Stone, Buehler, and Barber report:

“The central elements of psychological control are intrusion into the child’s psychological world and self-definition and parental attempts to manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings through invoking guilt, shame, and anxiety.  Psychological control is distinguished from behavioral control in that the parent attempts to control, through the use of criticism, dominance, and anxiety or guilt induction, the youth’s thoughts and feelings rather than the youth’s behavior.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 57)

“…manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings”

Barber and Harmon reference the established research regarding the damage that this violation of the child’s psychological integrity has on the child:

 “Numerous elements of the child’s self-in-relation-to-parent have been discussed as being compromised by psychologically controlling behaviors such as…

Individuality (Goldin, 1969; Kurdek, et al., 1995; Litovsky & Dusek, 1985; Schaefer, 1965a, 1965b, Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch, & Darling, 1992);

Individuation (Barber et al., 1994; Barber & Shagle, 1992; Costanzo & Woody, 1985; Goldin, 1969, Smetana, 1995; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986; Wakschlag, Chase-Landsdale & Brooks-Gunn, 1996 1996);

Independence (Grotevant & Cooper, 1986; Hein & Lewko, 1994; Steinberg et al., 1994);

Degree of psychological distance between parents and children (Barber et al., 1994);

and threatened attachment to parents (Barber, 1996; Becker, 1964).” (Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 25).

Compromised “…individuality, individuation, independence, degree of psychological distance between parents and children, and threatened attachment to parents.”

“…and threatened attachment to parents.”

The research by Stone, Buehler, and Barber establishes the link between parental psychological control of children and marital conflict:

“This study was conducted using two different samples of youth. The first sample consisted of youth living in Knox County, Tennessee.  The second sample consisted of youth living in Ogden, Utah.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 62)

“The analyses reveal that variability in psychological control used by parents is not random but it is linked to interparental conflict, particularly covert conflict.  Higher levels of covert conflict in the marital relationship heighten the likelihood that parents would use psychological control with their children.  This might be because both parental psychological control and covert conflict are anxiety-driven.  They share defining characteristics, particularly the qualities of intrusiveness, indirectness, and manipulation.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 86)

“…psychological control used by parents is not random but it is linked to interparental conflict, particularly covert conflict”

Stone, Buehler, and Barber offer an explanation for their finding that intrusive parental psychological control of children is related to high inter-spousal conflict:

“The concept of triangles “describes the way any three people relate to each other and involve others in emotional issues between them” (Bowen, 1989, p. 306).  In the anxiety-filled environment of conflict, a third person is triangulated, either temporarily or permanently, to ease the anxious feelings of the conflicting partners.  By default, that third person is exposed to an anxiety-provoking and disturbing atmosphere.  For example, a child might become the scapegoat or focus of attention, thereby transferring the tension from the marital dyad to the parent-child dyad.  Unresolved tension in the marital relationship might spill over to the parent-child relationship through parents’ use of psychological control as a way of securing and maintaining a strong emotional alliance and level of support from the child.  As a consequence, the triangulated youth might feel pressured or obliged to listen to or agree with one parents’ complaints against the other.  The resulting enmeshment and cross-generational coalition would exemplify parents’ use of psychological control to coerce and maintain a parent-youth emotional alliance against the other parent (Haley, 1976; Minuchin, 1974).” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 86-87)

“…the resulting enmeshment and cross-generational coalition would exemplify parents’ use of psychological control to coerce and maintain a parent-youth emotional alliance against the other parent.”

The narcissistic parent is particularly prone to exercising psychological control over the child:

“To the extent that parents are narcissistic, they are controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of their children’s needs and of the effects of their behavior on their children, and require that the children see them as the parents wish to be seen.  They may also demand certain behavior from their children because they see the children as extensions of themselves, and need the children to represent them in the world in ways that meet the parents’ emotional needs.” (Rappoport, 2005, p. 2)

“…they may also demand certain behavior from their children because they see the children as extensions of themselves”

“In regard to narcissistic parents, the child must exhibit the same qualities, values, feelings, and behavior which the parent employs to defend his or her self-esteem.” (Rappoport, 2005, p. 3)

“…the child must exhibit the same qualities, values, feelings, and behavior which the parent employs”

There is abundant scientifically established research support for all aspects of the diagnostic formulation of this family pathology as described in Foundations.  If Dr. Mercer is going to use her professional standing to assert that Foundations lacks scientific support, it is incumbent upon her to identify which aspect of the diagnostic formulation contained in Foundations she believes lacks scientific foundation.

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

Do you disagree with this statement, Dr. Mercer?

In response to Dr. Mercer’s professionally irresponsible, reckless, and false statements, I call on her to back them up with specifics.  Which aspects of Foundations does she believe lack scientific foundation?

I am not averse to criticism.  So let’s hear it:

Your criticism, Dr. Mercer, is that the diagnostic formulation provided in Foundations lacks scientific support.  So specifically, Dr. Mercer, which aspects of the diagnostic formulation contained in Foundations do you believe lack scientific foundation?  I am fully ready, willing, and able to engage you in a professional debate. 

I am willing to defend my position, Dr. Mercer.  Are you willing to defend yours?

Do you agree or disagree that parental psychological control of children (as defined in the scientific research literature cited above) exists?

Do you believe narcissistic and borderline pathology exists?  Describe for us the psychological response of a narcissistic or borderline parent to the rejection and abandonment inherent to divorce?

Do you agree or disagree that pathogenic parenting which is creating significant developmental pathology in the child, personality disorder pathology in the child, and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed?

You want to engage in a professional debate, Dr. Mercer?  Fine by me.  I’m not averse to criticism.  Are you?  I’ll address your questions; you address mine. 

You allege that Foundations lacks scientific support.  Back up your criticism.  What aspect of Foundations do you believe lacks scientific support?

Because if you don’t do so, Dr. Mercer, then your prior statements were professionally irresponsible and professionally reckless.  So back them up.  What aspect of Foundations do you believe lacks scientific support?

And, as a mental health professional, answer my questions to you Dr. Mercer.  Describe what happens to a narcissistic/borderline personality parent in response to the rejection and abandonment inherent to divorce?

Do you agree or disagree that pathogenic parenting which is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed?

I’m not averse to professional debate, Dr. Mercer.  Are you?

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

References

Barber, B. K., & Harmon, E. L. (2002). Violating the self: Parental psychological control of children and adolescents.In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents (pp.15–52). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Cui, L., Morris, A.S., Criss, M.M., Houltberg, B.J., and Jennifer S. Silk, J.S. (2014). Parental Psychological Control and Adolescent Adjustment: The Role of Adolescent Emotion Regulation. Parenting: Science and Practice, 14, 47–67.

Kerig, P.K. (2005). Revisiting the construct of boundary dissolution: A multidimensional perspective. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 5, 5-42.

Rappoport, A. (2005). Co-narcissism: How we accommodate to narcissistic parents. The Therapist.

Stone, G., Buehler, C., & Barber, B. K.. (2002) Interparental conflict, parental psychological control, and youth problem behaviors. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association.

15 thoughts on “Mercer Redux”

  1. It is hard for me to understand why this is such a difficult topic for the Mental Health Community. If you have ever lived this, and I don’t mean read a book about it… or did a dissertation on it… or took 40 hrs of classroom time in a class on it… but if you have lived this as many have, Foundations lays out a very logical reduction of what happens, how it happens and why it happens. To debate this in the face of the growing number of adult children who continue to come forward just doesn’t make sense to me. Never mind the alienated parents whose voices don’t seem to count because they didn’t take that course back in college… Then again just what credentials are applicable in this debate?

  2. Which parent is sensitive to making sure these behaviors do not exist for their children or any child for that matter? Which parent repents of any behavior that would come anywhere near this kind of behavior? How many nights have I cried out to God to forgive me for any slight I caused my children to suffer by my hand? Hundreds! Oh for a night to hover over my child and pray for their release. This covert behavior must be stopped. And I mean stopped dead in its tracks. This behavior exemplifies child abuse and anyone who refuses to see it are accessories to to this crime. Period.

  3. I seriously doubt Dr Mercer will be able to refute your statements much less actually defend her opinion piece. The Emperor really has no clothes and the empirical evidence she requests does exist. Her opinion piece was self conflicting and replete with blatant denial of the factual basis of Foundations and the accepted DSM factors of PA.

    Another “Flying Monkey” blustering and trying to defend the pathology.

    1. I wouldn’t consider Dr. Mercer a “flying monkey.” She is a mental health professional. I would instead consider her position as representing an ally of the narcissistic pathology being expressed in the family as a possible consequence of counter-transference issues related to her own potential attachment trauma history. We’ll see.

  4. My hope is that we some day have a better understanding and better treatment plan to offer families where this kind of thing is happening, whatever moniker you give it, PA, etc. I see value in much of what Childress writes. I also understand Mercer’s concerns. Neither offer a solution for the system as far as I can tell. The dramatic tones detract from what should be a sober professional discussion to find solutions. I’ve read everything I can by Dr. Childress including Foundations. One concern I have continues to be the same question I asked at the very beginning, and one that Dr. Mercer brings up in a response to a comment here:

    “Further, I see nothing that shows the personality characteristics of those people “within the normal range” who have children with atypical people. How do the personality characteristics of the non-preferred parent work together with those of the preferred parent to produce the outcome? For that matter, how does child temperament add to the mix? It is shockingly simplistic and contrary to all family systems thinking to assume that one of the parents is the cause of the trouble and that all will be well if a child is forcibly weaned from the relationship with that parent– especially when no evidence of the risks or benefits of that procedure has been provided.”

    In my professional experience, there is no one “bad, pathological parent” vs. the parent without pathology. The individuals I work with both have personality traits that ‘hook’ into the wounding carried by both, indeed it is their background and trauma wounding that draw these two together in the first place, and it is their wounded interactions together that affect and help create a unique and problematic family system.

    There is scientific work that presents and documents this very dynamic including The Narcissistic/Borderline Couple: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Marital Treatment which has an APA book review here. http://www.apadivisions.org/division-39/publications/reviews/narcissistic.aspx

    This is the couple I see most often presenting with the kinds of triangulation that Dr. Childress outlines.

    What is the treatment plan?

  5. I think it’s important to stay away from drama and all or nothing thinking. We can all fall into trauma responses or act from unconsciously from a place of wounding. Part of personality disorders thrive in an atmosphere of circular arguments, drama, and splitting dynamics.

    I see validity to some of Dr. C’s arguments, and I also understand some of Dr. M’s concerns.

    I copy here one of her replies:

    Further, I see nothing that shows the personality characteristics of those people “within the normal range” who have children with atypical people. How do the personality characteristics of the non-preferred parent work together with those of the preferred parent to produce the outcome? For that matter, how does child temperament add to the mix? It is shockingly simplistic and contrary to all family systems thinking to assume that one of the parents is the cause of the trouble and that all will be well if a child is forcibly weaned from the relationship with that parent– especially when no evidence of the risks or benefits of that procedure has been provided.

    This is a concern I understand and share. I am uncomfortable with any argument that identifies only one person in a diad/couple as the owner of pathology, or the pathological “one”. This does fly in the face of systems theory.

    The joint pathology of the Narcissistic Borderline Couple is also a well document and accepted phenomena, and one that I have seen as most likely to manifest the extreme problematic triangulated family dynamics Childress describes.

    This quote below is from a APA review of the The Narcissistic/Borderline Couple: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Marital Treatment (Book Review)
    Author: Lachkar, Joan
    Publisher: London: Taylor And Francis, 1992
    Reviewed By: Marilyn Newman Metzl, Fall 2004, pp. 49-50

    “The author explores the nuances of the parasitic bond, and describes the difficulty of entering into and changing the circular pattern of behavior. Suggestions for treatment and cautions about possible obstacles to change are carefully delineated. The abusive dyad impacts friends, family, and children involving all who come in contact with it into a kind of “Stockholm Syndrome,” i.e., bonding rooted in trauma.”

    1. While I can certainly agree that there are elements of both parents that contribute to this dynamic, and I have even in the last year and a half since I got out of my situation with my ex wife realized a lot of things that i did to fit into the dynamic I left… you are doing what I also hold as my biggest criticism of Dr. Mercer. You are getting lost in what I consider to be psycho babble while leaving the child out of the equation right NOW.

      in the end it is our ACTIONS that matter. I can and do expect I’ll unwind my own issues, like the realization that I grew up with a NPD/BPD mother, etc.. but in the meantime I am treating my child with love and consistent reinforcement when I do see her that both her parents matter.

      Here is the OBSERVABLE reality:

      I am NOT saying bad things about my child’s mother in front of her.
      I am NOT pressuring my child to say her mother is a bad person.
      I am NOT recruiting others to go against my child’s mother.
      I can and do recognize my child’s mother has good and bad qualities.
      I did NOT abduct my child and refuse to return my child to their normal life until I made mom agree to almost no time.
      I am not pushing for sole custody after a series of dis-proven and false allegations even when there are a string of professionals who have evaluated my child and found NOTHING to be concerned about.

      Sometimes, the fallacy that every argument has 2 sides can be quite seductive. And sometimes, there aren’t. You first need to get the child out of harm’s way and then deal with differences of what lead up to it and what to do about it going forward.

  6. Every argument does have two sides, it’s the relational reality of an argument. Individual perspective is not a fallacy, it is a relational reality. My hope is to move out of the argument and into thoughtful discussion. I commend you for your increased insight and wish you the very best on your journey. It still is a thorny issue in terms of a treatment plan; how do we get the child out of harms way? They have been pulled from one parent b/c of this pathology. Do we pull them now from the other parent? How to do that without reenacting the pathology outlined? For how long? What is the therapy frame? How do we protect the child from further trauma during this time? Are both parents and the child(ren) part of this recovery in some manner within the treatment plan? Dr. Childress argues a systems approach to outlining the pathology, which makes sense and is the prevailing science behind family therapy and it is an underpinning for his explanation of the pathology. Is the treatment plan a systems treatment plan? I am not taking sides here, I am exploring and asking questions. I have an open mind, and I want to learn. I want to problem-solve here. It’s okay to ask questions and to probe for solutions, right?

    1. Hi Susan,

      I am addressing the points I saw you make.

      Let me clarify. When I say 2 sides, I mean 2 sides that are automatically assumed to have equal weight or value, and that the answer is some where in the middle.
      http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Balance_fallacy

      I was not posting my situation for a personal compliment. I was posting it because it has been my experience over time that making things specific can illustrate a larger situation in a more “concrete” way, rather than putting it into hypothetical terms. Like for example when the news says that the US flew a sortie over XX country and took out a target- we can all sleep better than if was reported and shown as as people bombed out of their homes and you see the blood soaked faces of people where the guts of their former friends and neighbors are sprayed on the streets. Too violent an image? Imagine if that’s how all bombings were shown. i am guessing the outcry against such behavior would begin to grow substantially. It’s so easy to get lost in a discussion on the theory and lose sight of the fact that children are being harmed- right now. Right now my child is being pressured to hate her father. Right now she is scheduled to do a psycho sexual assessment – her innocence is being messed wirh because her mother wants to try and prove me to be something I’m not, even after 3 mental health professionals have confirmed there is nothing going on.

      Dr. Mercer keeps trying to poke holes in Dr. Childress’s position without any other ideas of her own to put into practice right now. She keeps trying to posit that the solution is too complex – which makes people, who deal in concrete ideas less interested and give up or move on. This is another fallacy of thought. I agree that at least to me she is someone whose behavior (what I can see “out here in the world”) is consistent with someone aligned with those who do not want anything to change.

      To answer your other questions, I continue to learn myself, as does Dr. Childress. I think your point is very valid- you don’t want to take the child from one parent and then just put them with the other indefinitely- the same imbalance occurs – the same longing for the child to have both parents still needs to be addressed. Dr. Childress has his own detailed protocols for how to do this, and works closely with Dorcy Pruter (http://www.consciouscoparentinginstitute.com/)
      who has a method for addressing the damage done by this dynamic along with how to create functional separated family systems. You can read more about his thoughts in her work here:
      https://drcraigchildressblog.com/2014/12/02/high-road-to-family-reunification/

      I think it’s good to probe for solutions. I agree. I would never have found this work to begin with if I hadn’t been. And I don’t know if there is a better way. But I am also very much a “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. This work, and this model have far and away been the most effective I have seen.

  7. Susan M. Greene:

    Using the phrases “preferred parent” and “non-preferred parent” is not fair to the children in these situations because it waters down the feelings that they are working so hard to express to everyone about their parents. This is because the term “prefer” is ambiguous and does not exclude the possibility of an inclusive choice. “I prefer living with my dad over living with my mom” does not accurately portray the feelings that my wife’s daughter has expressed about her mother. Indeed, my step-daughter would likely be very irritated if people thought that, after listening to her express her feelings about both parents, she just “prefers” her father over her mother. “Preferring” her father doesn’t prove to him that she loves him, so she would use highly unambiguous language when speaking about her mother.

    In this community we instead use phrases that honor the feelings being expressed by our children. Since we are talking about a cross-generational coalition, there is going to be one parent allied with the child, an “allied parent”. And since we are talking about the presence of a splitting dynamic within the coalition, there is going to be a parent who is being completely rejected by the coalition, a “rejected parent”. However, since we know that (deep down) children do not reject parents, a better way to put it would be a parent who has been “targeted” for rejection, a “targeted parent”. I’m not sure if “allied parent” and “targeted parent” would be conceptually agreeable to our children, but they would certainly be agreeable with the unambiguous nature of the terms “allied” and “targeted”.

    Now, with that out of the way, I’d like to address a couple of your questions:

    “How do the personality characteristics of the non-preferred parent work together with those of the preferred parent to produce the outcome?”

    Is there a requirement that these personality characteristics of the targeted parent must be negative traits? Because from my experience and understanding, the targeted parent does a lot of difficult things for the sake of the child’s emotional health that in the short-term benefit the allied parent’s desired outcome. For example, the personality characteristics of “empathy”, “compassion”, and “selflessness” would prevent a targeted parent from attempting to win back the love of their child if they felt that it would turn the child into a psychological battleground between themselves and the allied parent. Also, the personality characteristics of “patience” and “humility” in a targeted parent might allow a child to say and do horrible things to them, because the targeted parent knows it’s not actually coming from the child. All of these personality characteristics of the targeted parent are working together to produce the current outcome, are they not?

    “They have been pulled from one parent b/c of this pathology. Do we pull them now from the other parent? How to do that without reenacting the pathology outlined?”

    First of all, the pathology is within the allied parent, not within the child. This is the reason these children need protection from the majority influence of the allied parent, because, after a long-enough time under that majority influence, the pathology *will* be in the child. The targeted parent does not suffer from the pathology, and therefore cannot possibly re-enact the pathology in the child. If the targeted parent *did* suffer from the same pathology, they wouldn’t have any problem with using the children as pawns to play the same games that the allied parent plays.

    Secondly, separation of a child from a beloved parent does not create pathology in a child. Separation will create anxiety and/or grief which would represent the normal functioning of a healthy attachment system. The creation of a pathology is entirely dependant upon how these feelings are then processed and handled. In a child, this has almost everything to do with how their parents teach them to process and handle their emotions. If a child is never allowed to express their anxiety and grief over the separation, then it would start to be harmful to them. If a child is manipulated into being the one to cause and maintain the separation, then the feelings of guilt and shame will be added and also not be allowed to be expressed. If a child is then taught that the pain they feel from not being able to express these emotions is actually being caused by the targeted parent, that would be very harmful. All of this harmful processing of emotions would then start to create a pathology in the child.

    1. Allow me to clarify that Susan M. Greene did not use the phrases “preferred” and “non-preferred”, those were Dr. Mercer’s phrases. Also, the first question I address was not directly from Susan M. Greene, but a quote from Dr. Mercer, however Susan does agree with the concern expressed in that question.

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