Dr Childress Analysis – Notes 2: AFCC & NCJFCJ Joint Statement on Parent-Child Contact Problems

This is my second post of my line-by-line notes for the AFCC & NCJFCJ Joint Statement on Parent-Child Contact Problems.

Notes 2 is in response to the first sentence of the Problem Statement


Line-by-Line Notes 2

From the AFCC & NCJFCJ:

Problem Statement: The vast majority of separating and divorcing parents maintain safe, healthy, and positive relationships with their children; however, a small percentage of parent-child relationships remain strained and/or problematic.”

Dr Childress Notes 2:

An estimated 90% of post-divorce parents successfully resolve custody schedules without court involvement. Approximately 10% of families become “high-conflict” custody conflicts litigated in the court.

From Saini & Birnbaum (2007): “The term ‘high conflict’ has been used as an umbrella term to describe parents who experience high rates of litigation and relitigation, high degrees of anger and distrust, verbal, physical and emotional abuse, and ongoing difficulty in communicating and cooperating about the needs of their children (Johnston 1994). In fact, most estimates of high conflict families are based on ongoing litigation rates post separation/divorce. Mnookin and Kornhauser (1979) note that less than 10 per cent of parents remain in high conflict as evidenced by on-going litigation. Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) and Hetherington, Stanley-Hagan, and Anderson (1989) also used ongoing litigation rates as a measure when they described that 10 per cent of families remain in high conflict situations.”

Saini, M., & Birnbaum, R. (2007) Unraveling the label of “high conflict”: What factors really count in divorce and separated families. Journal of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. 51(1), 14-20.

Research estimates a prevalence of narcissistic personality disorder in the general population at approximately 6%:

From Grant et al: “Prevalence of lifetime BPD was 5.9%”

Grant, et al., (2008). Prevalence, correlates, disability and comorbidity of DSM-IV borderline personality disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 533—545

Research estimates a prevalence of borderline personality disorder in the general population at approximately 6%:

From Stinson et al: “Prevalence of lifetime NPD was 6.2%”

Stinson, et al., (2008). Prevalence, correlates, disability, and comorbidity of DSM-IV narcissistic personality disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 1033-1045.

Both narcissistic and borderline personalities are known to be high-conflict personality styles.

Approximately 12% of the population have prominent narcissistic and borderline personality traits, and approximately 10% of divorces devolve into high-conflict custody litigation following divorce. It is reasonable to anticipate that a large percentage of the highly litigated custody conflict surrounding divorce involves either narcissistic or borderline personality pathology in a parent.

The potential presence of narcissistic or borderline personality pathology in a parent prominently raises the possibility of a dark personality parent, i.e., Dart Triad, Vulnerable Dark Triad, Dark Tetrad.

Dark Personalities and Induced Delusional Disorder (Greenham & Childress):

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/363197057_Dark_Personalities_and_Induced_Delusional_Disorder_The_Research_Gap_Underlying_a_Crisis_in_the_Family_and_Domestic_Violence_Courts

The collapse of narcissistic and borderline personality pathology into persecutory delusions is established knowledge.

From Millon: “Under conditions of unrelieved adversity and failure, narcissists may decompensate into paranoid disorders.  Owing to their excessive use of fantasy mechanisms, they are disposed to misinterpret events and to construct delusional beliefs. Unwilling to accept constraints on their independence and unable to accept the viewpoints of others, narcissists may isolate themselves from the corrective effects of shared thinking. Alone, they may ruminate and weave their beliefs into a network of fanciful and totally invalid suspicions. Among narcissists, delusions often take form after a serious challenge or setback has upset their image of superiority and omnipotence. They tend to exhibit compensatory grandiosity and jealousy delusions in which they reconstruct reality to match the image they are unable or unwilling to give up. Delusional systems may also develop as a result of having felt betrayed and humiliated. Here we may see the rapid unfolding of persecutory delusions and an arrogant grandiosity characterized by verbal attacks and bombast.” (Millon, 2011, pp. 407-408).

Millon. T. (2011). Disorders of personality: introducing a DSM/ICD spectrum from normal to abnormal. Hoboken: Wiley.

From Barnow et al: “This review reveals that psychotic symptoms in BPD patients may not predict the development of a psychotic disorder but are often permanent and severe and need careful consideration by clinicians. Therefore, adequate diagnosis and treatment of psychotic symptoms in BPD patients is emphasized… In conclusion, we therefore suggest that it is not a cognitive developmental deficit but rather a tendency to construe interpersonal relations as malevolent that characterizes BPD, and this may be shared with certain psychotic disorders. p. 187

Barnow, S., Arens, E. A., Sieswerda, S., Dinu-Biringer, R., Spitzer, C., Lang, S., et al  (2010). Borderline personality disorder and psychosis: a review. Current Psychiatry Reports, 12,186-195

From the APA: “Persecutory Type: delusions that he person (or someone to whom the person is close” is being malevolently treated in some way.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000)

From Walters & Friedlander: “In some RRD families [resist-refuse dynamic], a parent’s underlying encapsulated delusion about the other parent is at the root of the intractability (cf. Johnston & Campbell, 1988, p. 53ff; Childress, 2013). An encapsulated delusion is a fixed, circumscribed belief that persists over time and is not altered by evidence of the inaccuracy of the belief.”

From Walters & Friedlander: “When alienation is the predominant factor in the RRD [resist-refuse dynamic}, the theme of the favored parent’s fixed delusion often is that the rejected parent is sexually, physically, and/or emotionally abusing the child. The child may come to share the parent’s encapsulated delusion and to regard the beliefs as his/her own (cf. Childress, 2013).” (Walters & Friedlander, 2016, p. 426)

Walters, M. G., & Friedlander, S. (2016). When a child rejects a parent: Working with the intractable resist/refuse dynamic. Family Court Review, 54(3), 424–445.

The potential Machiavellian manipulation associated with dark personalities and their collapse into persecutory delusions under stress raises prominent concerns for the creation of a false attachment pathology in the child by the pathogenic parenting of the dark personality parent for the secondary gain of manipulating the court’s decisions on child custody as a result of the induced pathology in the child – which would represent DSM-5 diagnoses of 300.19 Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (a false attachment pathology and persecutory delusion imposed on the child) and V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse (i.e., creating a delusional thought disorder in the child that then destroys the child’s attachment bond to the other parent).

The differential diagnosis for severe attachment pathology in the child is possible child abuse, either 1) child abuse by the targeted parent creating the child’s attachment pathology toward this parent (a two-person attribution of causality), or 2) child psychological abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by the allied parent who is creating a shared persecutory delusion and false attachment pathology in the child (a three-person triangular attribution of causality).

From Bowen Center: “A triangle is a three-person relationship system. It is considered the building block or “molecule” of larger emotional systems because a triangle is the smallest stable relationship system. A two-person system is unstable because it tolerates little tension before involving a third person. A triangle can contain much more tension without involving another person because the tension can shift around three relationships. If the tension is too high for one triangle to contain, it spreads to a series of “interlocking” triangles. Spreading the tension can stabilize a system, but nothing is resolved.”

From Bowen Center Triangles: https://www.thebowencenter.org/triangles

From Stone, Buehler, & Barber: “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, & Barber, 2002, p. 86-87)

Minuchin structural diagram:

Standard 2.04 of the APA ethics code requires – mandatory – the application of the “established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline” as the bases for professional judgements:

2.04 Bases for Scientific and Professional Judgments
Psychologists’ work is based upon established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline

The established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline is:

      • Attachment – Bowlby and others
      • Family systems therapy – Minuchin and others
      • Personality disorders – Millon and others
      • Complex trauma – van der Kolk and others
      • Child development – Tronick and others
      • Self psychology – Kohut and others
      • DSM-5 diagnostic system & delusional thought disorders

In all cases of severe attachment pathology surrounding divorce, a proper risk assessment for possible child abuse needs to be conducted to the differential diagnosis of:

1) Possible child abuse by the targeted-rejected parent creating the child’s attachment pathology toward this parent (a two-person attribution of causality),

2) Possible child psychological abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by the allied parent who is creating a shared persecutory delusion and false attachment pathology in the child (a three-person triangular attribution of causality) for the secondary gain of manipulating the court’s decisions for child custody.

Note that the opening sentence of the Problem Statement places the adjective “safe” as a primary parental obligation, with the clear implication that court-involved families may not be “safe” for the child. A proper risk assessment for possible child abuse to the differential diagnosis of “which parent” needs to be conducted with all cases of court-involved child custody conflict when there is severe attachment pathology displayed by the child.

Dr. Childress Notes 2.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, CA PSY 18856

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