Associated Clinical Signs: ACS-2 Empowering the Child

Empowering the child to reject the targeted parent is a key symptom feature of AB-PA because it is central to the underlying origins of the pathology in the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s reprocessing of this parent’s own childhood trauma through its reenactment in current relationships.

The empowerment of the child represents a central – and indeed vital – “corrective change” to the original childhood trauma experience of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent-as-a-child that is key to the psychological reprocessing and working through of this childhood trauma experience for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent (which is the psychological function of the trauma reenactment).

In the original childhood trauma experience of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent-as-a-child, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent-as-a-child was helpless, vulnerable, and unable to stop the traumatizing psychological abuse of the experience.  Years later, when the divorce activates the attachment system of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to mediate the loss of the spousal attachment relationship, the childhood trauma patterns contained within the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment networks also become reactivated.

This reactivation of the childhood trauma by the divorce (i.e., the rejection and abandonment by the attachment-figure) reactivates both the childhood trauma pattern (“abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent”) and also the immense childhood trauma anxiety of being a helpless, vulnerable, and “victimized child.”

The psychological identity of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as the “victimized child” in the original childhood trauma experience fuses with the current child’s role as the supposedly “victimized child” in the trauma reenactment narrative.  In the fluid psychological disorganization the narcissistic/(borderline) mind, a psychological equivalency develops between the “victimized” narcissistic/(borderline) parent-as-a-child and the current child who occupies the role of the “victimized child” in the trauma reenactment narrative.  In the mind of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, a diffusion of identity occurs that merges the parent’s childhood psychological experience of being the “victimized child” with the current role of the child as the “victimized child” in the trauma reenactment narrative.

The psychological function of the trauma reenactment is an unconscious repetition of the childhood trauma patterns in an effort to reprocess and work through the original trauma experience by altering certain key aspects of the original trauma experience in the current reenactment of the childhood trauma patterns.

In the original childhood trauma experience, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent was the helpless and vulnerable “victimized child.”

However, in the current reenactment of this childhood trauma experience, the current child is empowered by the supposedly “protective” narcissistic/(borderline) parent to be able to reject the allegedly “abusive parent.” This helps manage the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s own reactivated trauma anxiety from their original childhood vulnerability.

In the current reenactment of this childhood attachment trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the current child is not helpless, but is made to be powerful and empowered by the “protective” narcissistic/(borderline) parent in order to reject the “abusive parent” (the targeted parent’s role in the trauma reenactment narrative).

This empowerment of the child serves a critical function of reducing and regulating the re-activated and re-experienced trauma anxiety of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that is embedded in the trauma networks of this parent’s attachment system by countering the helpless vulnerability of the “victimized child” (representing both the current child AND the narcissistic/(borderline) parent-as-a-child).

In the current trauma reenactment, the child is not helpless – the child is empowered.

The Empowered Child

The empowerment of the child to reject the supposedly “abusive” targeted parent in the kabuki theater display of the trauma reenactment narrative represents an important – and indeed vital – “corrective change” to the original childhood trauma experience of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that is (unconsciously) designed to reprocess and work through the childhood trauma experience of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Because of the key and central role that this empowerment symptom plays in the trauma reenactment narrative by providing the corrective change to the original childhood trauma experience of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and in reducing and regulating the reactivated trauma-related anxiety of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, this symptom feature of empowering the child to reject the targeted parent is of central importance within the pathology and will therefore be present in all cases of AB-PA.

In all cases of AB-PA, the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent will seek to empower the child to reject the targeted parent.

In juxtaposition to the child’s empowerment to reject the “abusive” targeted parent, is the equal requirement that the narcissistic/(borderline) parent supposedly becomes “helpless” (a false and feigned “helplessness”) to stop the child’s powerful rejection of the targeted parent.

This feigned helplessness on the part of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to influence the supposedly “powerful child” is achieved in two themes:

First, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent claims parental incompetence (“What can I do?  I can’t force the child to…”), and

Second, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent presents as supposedly “respecting” the child’s “right” to make a supposedly “independent decision” to reject the targeted parent.

These two themes, feigned “helplessness” by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent and feigned “respect” for the child’s supposedly “independent decision” to reject the targeted parent, will be evident in the ACS-2 Empowering the Child symptom feature.

The three primary expressions of ACS-2 Empowering the Child are:

1.)  Child Deciding on Visitation.  Asserting that the child should be empowered to decide whether or not to go on visitation with the targeted parent (reflecting the “respect for the child” theme):

N/(B) Parent: “ The child should be allowed to decide on whether on not to visit the other parent.”

2.)  Listening to the Child.  The narcissistic/(borderline) parent will express variations of “listening to the child” (reflecting the “respect for the child” theme):

N/(B) Parent:  “We need to listen to the child” – “I’m just listening to the child” – “You should ask the child.  Just listen to the child.”

3.)  Child’s Testimony in Court.  The narcissistic/(borderline) parent will actively seek the child’s testimony in court to reject the targeted parent.

Child Testimony in Court

Seeking to have the child testify in court in order for the child to reject the other parent is so distinctive and pathology-specific a symptom, that when this particular sub-symptom of ACS-2 Empowering the Child by seeking the child’s testimony in court to reject the targeted parent is present, it is almost 100% characteristic of the corresponding presence of AB-PA.

NO normal-range parent who is capable of authentic empathy for the child would ever propose that the child testify in court in order to openly reject the other parent.  This sub-symptom of ACS-2 Empowering the Child is so significant and abhorrent that it will be addressed in a separate blog post.  But what should be noted here is that seeking the child’s testimony in court to reject the other parent is a sub-symptom of ACS-2 that is almost 100% characteristic of the absence of parental empathy in the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent associated with the pathology of AB-PA.

All normal-range adults, legal professionals and mental health professionals alike, are extremely uncomfortable with putting the child in the position of testifying in court to openly reject a parent.  This is because normal-range adults have empathy for the child, and because of their empathy they realize the immense unconscious psychological stress and guilt this would create for the child.

In most cases, the child’s testimony is not allowed by the reasoned humanity of the judge because of this normal-range empathy for the stress and guilt such testimony would create for the child.  When testimony is allowed, the judge’s normal-range empathy and discomfort usually results in the child’s views being provided privately in the judges chambers.

A highly distinctive feature of the “seeking court testimony by the child”  sub-symptom of ACS-2 is that the narcissistic/(borderline) parent actually thinks the child being allowed to testify is a good thing.  While the idea of the child testifying in court to reject a parent makes all normal-range adults extraordinarily uncomfortable, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent cannot comprehend (because of the polarization of the splitting pathology) that the child could actually love the other parent.  That the child might actually love the targeted parent is a concept that simply does not perceptually register for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

This empathetic insensitivity of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent emerges from four factors:

1)  Within the context of the childhood trauma themes of this parent’s trauma reenactment narrative, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent sees the empowerment of the “victimized child” to reject the “abusive parent” as a righteous and justified act;

2)  The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is characterologically incapable of empathy;

3)  Manipulation and exploitation of others are central features of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality pathology;

4)  The polarized splitting pathology characteristic of both the narcissistic and borderline personality cannot (at a neuro-biological level) accommodate to ambiguity.  If the narcissistic-borderline parent rejects other spouse – then the child must ALSO reject the other spouse (parent).  Because of the nature of the splitting pathology, it is (neurologically) impossible for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to conceptualize that the child might actually love the other parent.

Manipulation and Exploitation

The manipulation and exploitation of other people are highly characteristic features of both the narcissistic and borderline personality pathology.

In ACS-2: Empowering the Child, the narcissistic/(borderline) first manipulates the child into becoming a mirror for the narcissistic attitudes and beliefs of the parent, and then the narcissistic/(borderline) parent exploits the child’s reflection of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attitudes to achieve the desire interests of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent by empowering the child’s reflection of the parent.

In a narcissistic relationship, there is ONLY one person. The other person disappears and only the narcissist exists.

“In a narcissistic encounter, there is, psychologically, only one person present. The co-narcissist disappears for both people, and only the narcissistic person’s experience is important.” (Rappoport, 2005, p.3)

Once the child surrenders to the psychological domination (psychological control; Barber, 2002) of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child’s manipulated beliefs, wants, and feelings are then exploited by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to achieve the desired interests of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

If the child wants to play baseball but the narcissistic/(borderline) parent wants the child to play saxophone in the school band because that’s the instrument the narcissistic/(borderline) parent played in the school band, then the child suddenly “decides” that baseball isn’t fun and wants to take up the saxophone instead.  The targeted parent who is authentically empathetic with the child may continue to advocate for the child to play baseball because this parent’s empathy for the child knows how much the child actually enjoys baseball.  But the narcissistic/(borderline) parent first manipulates the child through methods of psychological control into expressing a desire to quit baseball and play the saxophone, and then empowers this supposedly “independent decision” with phrases such as, “We need to listen to the child” when the child’s expressed desires have obviously been manipulated by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

“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)

“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. 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.” (Cui et al., 2014, p. 48)

Oftentimes, the manipulative exploitation of the child is combined with a role-reversal hiding behind the child’s (manipulated) “decision” (ACS 10: Role-Reversal Use of the Child).

N/(B) Parent: “It’s not me, it’s the child who…” (“…doesn’t want to go on visitations” – “…doesn’t want to talk to his mother on the phone” – “…doesn’t want her dad at at her graduation” – “…wants to play saxophone rather than play baseball”)…

Manipulation and exploitation are hallmarks of the narcissistic and borderline personality.  Both the narcissistic and borderline personality are masters at manipulation and exploitation.  There is none better.

Manipulating and the exploiting the child is highly characteristic of this type of parental personality pathology and will be evidenced in ACS-2 Empowering the Child and the feigned supposed powerlessness of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to alter the “independent decision” of the “powerful child” to reject the other parent.

The classic tripartite sentence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent combines ACS-10 Role-Reversal Use of the Child and ACS-1 Use of the Word Forced in the service of ACS-2 Empowering the Child:

N/(B) Parent:  “It’s not me, it’s the child (ACS-10) who doesn’t want to go on visitations with the other parent.  I encourage the child to go on visitations, but what can I do, I can’t force the child to go (ACS-1).  The child should be allowed to decide whether or not to go on visitations.  We need to listen to the child.” (ACS-2)

Knowledgeable clinical interviewing can then typically elicit ACS-11, that the  Targeted Parent “Deserves” to be Rejected, following the tripartite display of the ACS-10-1-2 series, resulting in an ACS 10-1-2-11 boxed set of Associated Clinical Signs in a linked succession.

That a model of pathology (AB-PA) can not only predict the use of specific words (ACS-1: Use of the Word “Forced”) but also specific sentences and specific combinations of sentences is remarkable, and represents strongly confirming evidence for the accuracy of AB-PA as an explanatory model for the pathology.

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

Barber, B. K. (Ed.) (2002). Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Barber, B. K. and Harmon, E. L. (2002). Violating the self: Parenting psychological control of children and adolescents. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting (p. 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.

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

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Associated Clinical Signs: ACS-2 Empowering the Child”

  1. This all appears consistent with my experience. Your books accurately describe stage 1 (getting the child to see self as victim by indirect coaching) and this describes additional facets of stage 2.

    What is your recommendation for Judges and Evaluators who are considering the parenting plans and custody roles for two parents in grey areas? Suppose one parent is engaging in employing the mechanisms you describe and (thus far) has been only partly successful in achieving rejection of the targeted parent – due for instance to the strength of the bond with the targeted parent, the child’s still semi-existent reality testing capability, and the targeted parent’s calm and reasoned interventions?

    Your criteria for Psychological Abuse Confirmed seems to be based on the symptoms having reached a clearly pathological degree. What, then, is the recommendation, when the symptoms are thus far more moderate (though the N/B parent has been documented in engaging in the practices described for stage 1 and 2)?

    You apparently imply that answering questions like these may be in the category of wizardry or reading goat entrails, yet we are left without specific recommendations for the grey areas.

  2. Spot on. Distressingly so, in that the court system can actively collude to make the child ‘testify’ against a loving parent. At the time, I described this as validation for the resident parent’s distorted views. Thank you for this clear description.

  3. Thank you again for your clarity in this area. Without your dedication to this issue alienated parents like us would still be blaming ourselves for something we must have done. This methodology can also be used in other circumstances. Instead of testifying in court, my narcissistic Ex has empowered my eldest Daughter to attend all Family Court hearings. She is 23yo and well educated, but still was able to be manipulated to the point of making false accusations and perjuring herself in court. At what point do the manipulated have to take responsibility for their own actions. I can only sympathise with my Daughter as I understand she has been manipulated into this situation that she may never be able to escape from. The Justice system needs to understand the immense power these narcissistic/borderline parents have over people closest to them that they are supposed to unconditionally care about.

  4. It is all true. The words and sentences can indeed be predicted. I have heard them myself several times over from my husband. It is remarkable and quite surreal. As a targeted parent with this knowledge I sometimes feel as if I am in a science fiction or horror movie knowing I’m an innocent victim like a lamb being pursued by a wolf in sheep clothes that no one but I can recognise. Thank you Dr Childres for your work thus far in decoding this condition – this information helps.

  5. Excellent extension of your developing work about AB-P!. Thank you for continuing to push through this “sci-fi” psychological phenomenon that too many parents and children are living.

  6. Thank you for continuing your continued efforts to bring AB-PA into the light! For those of us currently in the trenches its incredibly validating to read your posts.

  7. Thank you again! If it wasn’t for your tireless dedication to eradicate this, we would be lost souls.

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