Conversations on Competence

I just posted an additional set of professional-to-professional YouTube Conversations, 8.01 – 8.04.

This sub-set series is entitled, Conversations on Competence.

These video segments are designed for me to speak directly to my professional colleagues regarding issues surrounding professional competence in the assessment and diagnosis of attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce.

This series, Conversations on Competence, along with the core series, Professional-to-Professional Conversations with Dr. Childress, offer targeted parents another potential education resource for enlightening ignorant and incompetent mental health professionals.

8.01 Conversations on Competence: Domains of Professional Competence

8.02 Conversations on Competence: Violations of Competence

8.03 Conversations on Competence: Licensing Board Complaints

8.04 Conversations on Competence: Risk Management

The core Professional-to-Professional Conversation with Dr. Childress series, along with the two Assessment Protocol Recommendation segments (4.01 Assessing the Targeted Parent; 4.02 Assessing the Allied Parent) form the platform for building professional competence and professional standards of practice in the assessment of attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce.

Introducing the Conversations on Competence series may help build professional appreciation for the importance of professional competence and for standards of professional practice in the assessment of attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce.

Our adversary is ignorance, our weapon is knowledge.

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

A Trans-Global Pathogen

I recently received an email asking if Standards 2.01 and 3.04 of the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code here in the United States applied in Canada.  No.  Each nation has it’s own regulatory standards governing the practice of professional psychology.

To help this parent understand how to apply the principles of our struggle with the pathogen here in the United States to her struggles with the impact of the pathogen on her family in Canada, I googled the code of ethics for Canada and (with appropriate caveats to the parent that I am not a Canadian psychologist) I identified for this targeted parent similar standards in the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists to Standards 2.01 and 3.04 in the Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association.

Based on the question of this parent, I thought it might be helpful at this point to formally recognize that the pathogen of attachment-based “parental alienation” (as defined in Foundations) is a trauma pathogen that has the same structural pattern in all nationalities, just like the trauma pathogens of domestic violence and physical child abuse are found and expressed in all nations.

The trauma pathogen of “parental alienation” (as defined and described in Foundations) represents the transmission of attachment trauma across several generations.  The childhood developmental trauma experienced by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent resulted in a disorganized attachment system that subsequently coalesced during late adolescence and early adulthood into the narcissistic and borderline personalty traits that are now driving the pathology described in an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” (Foundations).

But the pathogen didn’t begin with the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. Instead, the origins of the pathology likely extend back at least one generation earlier, to the parent of the current narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  The Alpha parent for the pathology (i.e., the parent of the current narcissistic/(borderline) parent) was the likely recipient of the initial trauma experience, which then distorted this Alpha parent’s parenting practices with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child that then produced the disorganized attachment that later coalesced into the narcissistic and borderline personality traits that are now driving the current “parental alienation” pathology.

This trauma pathogen likely extends across at least three generations, with the most recent trans-generational iteration of the original trauma being reflected in the symptoms of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

(Based on my analysis of the “information structures” of this pathogen, I suspect that the initial trauma that entered the family several generations earlier was sexual abuse, and was likely incest, so that the current expression evidenced in the symptoms of attachment-based “parental alienation” likely represents the trans-generational iteration of sexual abuse trauma – not in all cases, but in many.  Once professional mental health moves beyond it’s current impasse regarding its response to this pathogen then we can begin to discuss and research these deeper issues regarding this particular pathogen.)

A trauma pathogen within the attachment system that is being transmitted through aberrant and distorted parenting practices will be the same in the United States as it is in other countries. It is reasonable to expect that the pathology will be the same in Australia, and Britain, and Poland, and Portugal, and South Africa, and the Netherlands, and Germany, and South America, and Asia, as it is in the United States, just like domestic violence and child abuse are trauma pathogens found across nationalities as well.

So while we are engaged in our battle with the pathogen here in the United States, families are struggling with the same pathology across all regions of the globe. So I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge this trans-global impact of the pathology, and to say once again, that we are all in this together.  As we achieve advances against this pathogen here in the United States, this will help in the global struggle against the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.” Similarly, as advances are made in other nations, this will aid us here in the United States.

In adapting our struggle here in the United States to the struggles of targeted parents in other parts of the globe, the issue becomes identifying the applicable standards of professional practice for your country’s professional psychological association.  In the struggle of targeted parents across the globe to obtain an appropriate response from professional mental health to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” (i.e., to a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent involving the role-reversal use of the child as a regulatory object for the parent’s emotional and psychological state), targeted parents will need to identify the professional standards of practice applicable to the professional organization within their nation in order to apply these professional standards of practice to the expectation for professional competence.

Within the United States, what I have activated for targeted parents with Foundations (i.e., with an attachment-based reformulation for the construct of “parental alienation”) are Standards 2.01 and 3.04 of the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code concerning “Boundaries of Competence” and “Harm to the Client.”  What you will want to do in other countries is to look at the professional practice guidelines for professional psychology (typically codified as the Ethics Code) and look for these standards governing “Boundaries of Competence” and “Harm to the Client.”

As an illustrative example for this process, let me select the Australian Psychological Society Code of Ethics.  From my informal read on the global battle against the pathogen of “parental alienation,” Australia seems to be the most advanced, slightly ahead of the United States in its recognition of the trauma pathogen, although all nations remain woefully inadequate in the responses of their mental health systems to the pathology.  From what I’m told, Britain is reportedly one of the least advanced, although many nations could likely challenge for that dubious distinction.

Caveat

Let me begin with the caveat that I am an American psychologist and am not an expert in the legal and ethical issues of Australian psychologists.  I will defer to the analysis and judgement of Australian psychologists regarding the interpretation of their Code of Ethics.

I am offering my observations merely as an illustrative example for targeted parents on how to identify the relevant standards of practice for their professional organizations.  The interpretation of these standards of practice in any country should be discussed with the psychologists in those countries.

I also want to acknowledge that I am leaving out professional organizations governing Master’s level mental health professionals.  I am doing this entirely for the sake of simplicity  There are a variety of additional professional organizations, each with their own ethics code, but I would venture to say that all of the ethics codes for these additional professional mental health organizations will contain explicit standards or language related to “Boundaries of Competence” and “Harm to the Client.”  So entirely for simplicity’s sake I am going to remain focused on the professional organizations for psychologists, since I’m a psychologist.

With this caveat in mind, I wish to offer an example of how to recognize the relevant standards of practice for the professional organization in your nation.

APS Ethics Code

The  Australian Psychological Society Ethics Code is available online, and can easily be retrieved for general review by a google search.

The first thing of note in this Ethics Code is Standard A.6 regarding the release of information.  Standard A.6 states:

Release of information to clients

Psychologists, with consideration of legislative exceptions and their organisational requirements, do not refuse any reasonable request from clients, or former clients, to access client information, for which the psychologists have professional responsibility.

This standard seemingly gives targeted parents a right to request their children’s records from a treating psychologist.

In the U.S., specifically in California, psychologists can refuse this request if they believe it will be harmful to the client, but then they must document in the patient’s record what harm would be inflicted on the client by the release of information, and then they are still required to release the information to a mental health professional designated by the parent. This is a California state law, so you will need to check on the specifics of “release of information” laws for your specific jurisdiction.

Based on Standard A.6, it would seem that targeted parents in Australia may be able to use consultant psychologists as an aid to achieve professional competence.  If Australian targeted parents could identify even a few capable and competent psychologists (Foundations) who would be willing to review the work of other mental health professionals, then the targeted parents could request that the treatment records for their children be sent to one of these capable and competent psychologists for review (the targeted parent would have to pay for the time that their consultant psychologist spent reviewing the case material; essentially they would be hiring a expert professional consultant). An outside professional review of the case records of the treating psychologist might encourage development of a broader level of general knowledge and competence from all mental health professionals through the guided mentorship of these expert psychologists.

For example, a targeted parent came into my office the other day for consultation.  Based on this father’s situation we may be requesting the records of the treating clinician.  In this particular case, there has been two years of “reunification therapy” involving just the child with no contact between the child and the targeted parent for the past two years because the child supposedly “wasn’t ready” (to be loved). Based on our discussion, we may need to find out more about what specifically is going on in terms of treatment, and we might actually wind up meeting face-to-face with this psychologist (the father and I together) to discuss diagnosis and treatment planning.

So a professional review of cases by your consulting psychologist may help to encourage all mental health professionals to become competent (Foundations) when assessing, diagnosing, and treating this “special population” of children and families.

Knowing that targeted parents WILL request the records of their children and that these records WILL BE REVIEWED by a psychologist familiar with the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” (Foundations) may encourage a general improvement in the quality of knowledge and services provided by mental health providers generally.

Next, in the APS Ethics Code note “General Principle B: Propriety,” which states

Psychologists ensure that they are competent to deliver the psychological services they provide. They provide psychological services to benefit, and not to harm. Psychologists seek to protect the interests of the people and peoples with whom they work. The welfare of clients and the public, and the standing of the profession, take precedence over a psychologist’s self-interest. (emphasis added)

This is the type of wording you’re looking for.  This Standard would apparently require that psychologists are responsible for ensuring that they are competent and do not harm their clients.  This means that it is NOT your responsibility to educate them. It is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to “ensure that they are competent.”

Psychologists are not allowed to be incompetent and they are not allowed to harm their clients.

Then note what’s said in the “Explanatory Statement” that follows the initial general statement of the APS Ethics Code regarding professional competence:

Explanatory Statement

Psychologists practise within the limits of their competence and know and understand the legal, professional, ethical and, where applicable, organisational rules that regulate the psychological services they provide. They undertake continuing professional development and take steps to ensure that they remain competent to practise, and strive to be aware of the possible effect of their own physical and mental health on their ability to practise competently. Psychologists anticipate the foreseeable consequences of their professional decisions, provide services that are beneficial to people and do not harm them. Psychologists take responsibility for their professional decisions. (emphasis added)

A key element of this Explanatory Statement of the APS Ethics Code is the requirement that the psychologists “take steps to ensure that they remain competent.”  With regard to “parental alienation,” this would mean that they remain current regarding current theoretical models of “parental alienation” (Foundations).

A similar requirement in the Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association is Standard 2.03 on “Maintaining Competence” which states that,

“Psychologists undertake ongoing efforts to develop and maintain their competence.”

If a psychologist fails to “undertake continuing professional development” (Foundations) in order to “ensure that they remain competent this would seemingly represent a violation of the professional standards of practice (or practise) as mandated by the APS Ethics Code.

Again, it is of note that it is NOT the client’s responsibility to educate the psychologist.  It is the psychologist’s responsibility to already BE competent and to REMAIN competent.

As a targeted parent, it would seemingly be polite on your part to nicely (not angrily, not arrogantly; be kind) notify the psychologist that your expectation is that they are competent in the relevant domains of knowledge necessary to competently assess, diagnose, and treat the special circumstances surrounding your children and family (Section Four; Foundations).  But with or without your notification, psychologists are nevertheless responsible for knowing personality disorders, the attachment system, the decompensation of personality disorders into delusional beliefs, and the basic family systems concepts of the child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with one parent against the other.

These are some of the professional words-of-power from Foundations It is important to remember that the term “parental alienationhas NO power.  Absolutely none. To activate professional standards of practice you MUST use the professional-words-of-power that I provide in Foundations.

Targeted parents become empowered by the professional words-of-power I’ve provided in Foundations.  I didn’t write Foundations to explain “parental alienation” to targeted parents (well, sort of, but that wasn’t its main purpose).  I wrote Foundations to empower targeted parents to hold mental health professionals ACCOUNTABLE.

Standard B.1 Competence

So after reading the broad ethical principles, examine the specific Standards of the ethics code.  There will almost always be specific Standards covering “Boundaries of Competence” and “Harm to the Client.” With the APS Ethics Code, this is Standard B.1, which states:

B.1.1. Psychologists bring and maintain appropriate skills and learning to their areas of professional practice.

B.1.2. Psychologists only provide psychological services within the boundaries of their professional competence. This includes, but is not restricted to:

(a) working within the limits of their education, training, supervised experience and appropriate professional experience;

(b) basing their service on the established knowledge of the discipline and profession of psychology;

(c) adhering to the Code and the Guidelines;(emphasis added)

Psychologists must know what they’re doing.  The issue is whether the psychologist who is assessing, diagnosing, and treating the pathology being expressed by your children and in your family is competent to do so based on his or her education, training, and supervised experience?

And this is where Foundations comes into play.  In the first three sections of Foundations I define and describe the areas of necessary professional competence from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs.  This then defines the “boundaries of competence” needed to assess, diagnose, and treat this “special population” of children and families.  Then, in Section Four I take it one step further.  I specifically identify the domains of knowledge needed for professional competence (based on the material in the preceding three sections) and I even identify specific literature defining these domains of knowledge.

This activates the Standards in the Ethics Code for the professional psychological organization in your country regarding “Boundaries of Competence.”

The relevant domains of professional knowledge described and defined in Foundations for assessing, diagnosing, and treating an attachment-based reformulation for the pathology of “parental alienation” would include the following:

  • The Attachment System:  This includes the reenactment of attachment trauma (called “the transference” when enacted within the therapist-client relationship; called “core schemas” by the preeminent theorist Arron Beck; called “internal working models” of attachment by the preeminent attachment theorist John Bowlby).
  • Narcissistic and Borderline Personality Dynamics:  This includes the characteristic presentation of narcissistic and borderline personality dynamics in clinical interviews, the psychological decompensation of narcissistic and borderline personality processes into delusional beliefs, and the role-reversal relationship in which the child is used as a “regulatory object” by the narcissistic/borderline parent to stabilize and regulate the emotional and psychological state of the parent.
  • Family Systems Constructs:  This includes constructs of the child’s triangulation into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with the allied parent (the “favored” parent) against the other parent.  This would also include a professional understanding for the impact on family relationships from the addition of the “splitting” dynamic characteristic of narcissistic and borderline personality processes to the cross-generational coalition.

I describe all of these constructs in Foundations and apply them to the pathology of “parental alienation.”  You will need to read Foundations to begin to acquire these professional words-of-power.  Don’t worry about the technicalities.  Remember, it is the RESPONSIBILITY of the mental health professional, not you, to know this material.  But unfortunately, given the general state of professional ignorance, you’re going to have to at least become familiar with the professional words-of-power.  Dorcy Pruter has established her own companion site to my Empowerment videos that can also help guide you through understanding and using the professional words-of-power.

Accountability

Here in the United States, if a psychologist asserts that he or she possesses the necessary competence to assess, diagnose, and treat this “special population” of children and families, then my next sentence will be,

“Can you please document for me how you acquired your training and expertise in these areas?” – which is essentially saying “prove it” it formal-speak.

On the other hand, they can simply avoid this whole challenge to their professional competence by just reading Foundations and doing the right thing when the three definitive diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” are present (i.e., make the appropriate DSM-5 diagnosis as described in Foundations, which includes the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed).

If they do the right thing, then my next sentence is,

“Thank you.”

Standard B.3

According to Standard B3 of the APS Ethics Code:

B.3. Professional responsibility

Psychologists provide psychological services in a responsible manner.  Having regard to the nature of the psychological services they are providing, psychologists:

(a) act with the care and skill expected of a competent psychologist;

(b) take responsibility for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their conduct;

(c) take reasonable steps to prevent harm occurring as a result of their conduct;

(d) provide a psychological service only for the period when those services are necessary to the client;

(e) are personally responsible for the professional decisions they make; (emphasis added)

When the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” (i.e., of a cross-generational coalition of the child with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent involving the role-reversal use of the child as a regulatory object for the parent’s emotional and psychological state) are present, if the psychologist does not make an accurate diagnosis of the pathology then the “reasonably foreseeable consequences” would be the child’s loss of a developmentally healthy and bonded relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent, and the developmental pathology imposed on the child by the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/borderline parent.  These “reasonably foreseeable consequences” would be harmful for both the child and for the normal-range and affectionally available targeted parent.

Deference

I’m an American psychologist, and I wouldn’t want to presume on the practice of psychologists in other jurisdictions, so I would defer to the judgement of Australian psychologists in the matters I have discussed in this post.  I simply want to illustrate how targeted parents in other countries can locate the professional practice standards for the relevant professional organization (start with google).  And then how to read these professional practice standards for the standards relevant to your children and families. 

I would strongly urge you to discuss these standards with the diagnosing and treating psychologist.  We’re not out to blindside anyone or hurt anyone.  However, you have the right to expect professional competence that does not destroy your children’s lives and your life.  The trauma of “parental alienation” stops.  Today.  Now.  The citadel of establishment mental health cannot expect you to just stand by and do nothing while your children and families are destroyed.

You have a right, defined for you in the standards of practice for mental health professionals, to expect professional competence.  It is NOT up to YOU to educate mental health professionals. The standards of practice for mental health professionals requires that they already be educated and competent BEFORE delivering services.  It is their responsibility, not yours, for them to already be educated.  

What Foundations does for you by defining the construct of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs, is it activates for you these relevant standards of professional practice.

The words “parental alienation” will NOT activate these standards of practice.  Only the professional words-of-power I give you in Foundations will activate these standards.

The pathogen of “parental alienation” is a trauma pathogen (i.e., it was created by trauma and it inflicts trauma) that represents the transmission of attachment trauma across several generations.  This trauma pathogen is contained in the neural networks of the attachment system (the brain system responsible for love) and it is being transmitted from one generation to the next through aberrant and distorted parenting practices.

This trauma pathogen is the same in all countries, just like the related trauma pathogens for domestic violence and child abuse are found across nationalities as well. We are all in this together.  We cannot solve attachment-based “parental alienation” in any specific case until we fix the mental health and legal systems’ response to the pathogen, and when we fix the mental health and legal systems’ response to the pathology, we fix it for ALL parents and ALL families.

We start with mental health.  Then, once the mental health response is fixed we’ll turn to the legal system.

And let’s not forget those families of “parental alienation” with now-adult children.   Lets work to get these now-adult children back into the arms of their loving parents as well.  Because these now-adult children are cut off from their authentic parent and don’t yet have a road back, you will need to generate lots and lots of media focus onto your “insurgency of authentic parents” in order to surround these now-adult children with outreach, The media is not going to be interested in “parental alienation,” but they will be interested in your fight to protect your children.Foundations Banner Green-Blue

We will not abandon a single child to the pathology of “parental alienation” – nor will we abandon a single authentic and loving parent.  We want all of your children back in your arms.  All of them.

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

Psychologist Consultant Model

The solution to “parental alienation” requires a paradigm shift away from the failed Gardnerian paradigm of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), over to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” that describes the nature of the pathology from entirely within standard and established psychological constructs and principles.

Until we are able to achieve this paradigm shift, however, we are stuck working with the systems that we have, and these systems are broken. The mental health response is inept and too often colludes with the pathology, and the response of the legal system is glacial at best, prohibitively expensive, and entirely inadequate. So how are we to cope with these failed systems when we need the support of the mental health and legal systems to achieve a solution to   “parental alienation?”

Until we are able to achieve a paradigm shift that will allow us to solve all cases of attachment-based “parental alienation” quickly and effectively as they arise, we must find ways of resolving the ignorance and incompetence in mental health and the inadequacy of the legal response.

The Single-Subject Design remedy that I wrote about in my recent blog post and on my website (Single Subject Design Remedy) may (or may not) offer a remedy acceptable to the Court. 

My professional recommendation, however, is that the appropriate treatment response to the presence of the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation”  in the child’s symptom display (see Diagnostic Indicators post) would be an immediate 9-month protective separation of the child from the pathogenic psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent; followed by an initial intervention with the intensive “High Road” protocol of Pruter to quickly restore the child’s normal-range authenticity; followed by ongoing recovery stabilization therapy with a capable and competent therapist. 

In developing and offering the Single-Subject Design remedy I am trying to find a compromise solution that may be acceptable to the Court and functional in the current context of dysfunctional systems.  If you are familiar with the rationale of the SBS Intervention available on my website, you may also recognize the strategic family systems component of the Single-Subject Design remedy that seeks to alter the power dynamics conferred by the child’s symptoms.

The SBS Intervention and the Signal-Subject Design remedy are efforts to address the inadequate response of the legal system which is reluctant to take the necessary treatment related step of ordering the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery stabilization. 

In my view, we desperately need to end the unproductive and unnecessary debate in mental health surrounding whether or not “parental alienation” exists.  The pathology of narcissistic and borderline personalities definitely exists, as does the attachment system, attachment trauma, and the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma.  All of these things definitely exist.  And all of these things comprise the core foundation for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.”

Instead of being frozen in endless unproductive and unnecessary debate, we should be moving forward in actively conducting systematic research on different models for resolving the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.”  The SBS Intervention and the Single-Subject Design remedy are two offers for compromise solutions that may be acceptable to the Court and that could serve as beginning options for additional treatment research (once we end the unproductive and unnecessary debate in mental health as to whether “parental alienation” exists).

Broken Mental Health Response

But until we can achieve the needed paradigm shift, we must work within the broken systems that we have.  In this blog post I will be turning my attention to the broken mental health response.  We need to address the ignorance and incompetence which is prevalent in the mental health response to attachment-based “parental alienation.” In this blog post I describe a possible “psychologist consultant” model for the role of an expert professional in assisting the targeted parent in obtaining an appropriate mental health response to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

The concept of a psychologist consultant model is not new. Michael Bone and Richard Sauber (2013) have proposed a similar professional consultation role for an expert mental health professional.  But in this blog I will be extending the specificity of describing the role of the “psychologist consultant” in helping the targeted parent obtain an appropriate and competent mental health response to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

This increased specificity in describing the role of the psychologist as a consultant to the targeted parent is made possible by the shift from the Gardnerian PAS model employed by Drs. Bone and Sauber to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” that’s based entirely within standard and established psychological constructs and principles. One of the primary advantages offered by a paradigm shift is that an attachment-based model establishes clearly defined boundaries of professional competence within standard and established constructs of professional psychology.  

Once we establish domains and boundaries of professional knowledge and competence necessary to diagnose and treat this special population of children and families, we can then begin to hold ALL mental health professionals accountable to a defined standard of practice in diagnosis and treatment.

The attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” defines the pathology being evidenced in the family, and in the child’s symptom display, within the established professional constructs of parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology, the role-reversal relationship, the triangulation of the child into the spousal conflict through the formation of a cross-generational coalition with the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent against the targeted parent, and the severe distortion to the child’s expression of attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent.

The nature of the pathology requires that diagnosing and treating mental health professionals possess an advanced level of professional expertise in the following domains of professional knowledge:

1.  The Attachment System

The child’s rejection of a normal-range and affectionally available parent represents a severely pathological distortion to the formation and expression of the child’s attachment system.

As a consequence of the attachment system foundations to the child’s expressed pathology, mental health professionals who are diagnosing and treating the severely pathological distortions to the child’s attachment system must possess an advanced level of professional knowledge and expertise regarding the developmental formation and expression of the attachment system during childhood, including the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma, in order to competently diagnose and treat this type of child and family pathology.

An advanced professional understanding for the reenactment of attachment trauma patterns that are contained within the “internal working models” of the attachment system is crucial to professional expertise and competence in working with this special population of children and families.

2.  Personality Disorder Pathology

The pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” represents the expression of pathogenic parenting practices by a narcissistic and/or borderline personality parent who is inducing severe psychopathology in the child.  The term “pathogenic parenting” is a construct in clinical psychology and child development referring to the creation of severe psychopathology in the child as a result of highly distorted and aberrant parenting practices (patho=pathology; genic=genesis, creation).

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is engaging the child in a pathogenic role-reversal relationship in which the parent is using the child as a “regulatory object” to regulate the emotional and psychological state of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. While a role-reversal relationship will superficially appear to be a hyper-bonded parent-child relationship, it is actually an expression of extreme psychopathology which is highly destructive for the child’s healthy development.

Because narcissistic and borderline personality psychopathology plays such a central role in the formation and expression of the child’s symptoms, mental health professionals involved in diagnosing and treating this type of child and family pathology must possess an advanced level of professional knowledge and expertise in narcissistic and borderline personality processes. This includes an advanced professional expertise in recognizing the presentation of narcissistic and borderline psychopathology in clinical interviews, and in recognizing the expression of narcissistic and borderline psychopathology through a role-reversal relationship with the child, in which the child is used as an external “regulatory object” for the parent’s own pathology.

3.  Delusional Processes

The narcissistic/(borderline) personality structure is extremely fragile and will readily collapse into distorted, and often delusional, perceptions of others.

Since the fragile narcissistic/(borderline) personality structure is prone to collapse into delusional thinking, mental health professionals working with this type of psychopathology within the family must possess a professional expertise in recognizing the characteristic delusional processes surrounding the collapse of the narcissistic and borderline personality structure.  This professional expertise also includes the means by which parental delusional beliefs can be transferred to the child through the child’s role-reversal relationship with the parent.

In a role-reversal relationship, the child is used by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a “regulatory object” for the parent’s emotional and psychological state. This requires that the child surrenders self-authenticity in order to adopt the regulating role for the parent as a continual narcissistic reflection for the parent’s emotional and psychological needs. The child’s role as a “regulatory object” for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is to prevent the collapse of the parent into chaotic displays of emotional and psychological disorganization by stabilizing the fragile self-structure of the parent.

Through the child’s role as the “regulatory object” for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child acquires the delusional perceptions of the narcissistic/(borderline).  The child’s role as the “regulatory object” for the parent’s  psychopathology requires that the child surrenders self-authenticity to the parent in order to become a regulating narcissistic reflection for the emotional and psychological needs of the parent.

Defining the processes of attachment-based “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs establishes a set of clearly defined professional domains of knowledge required for professional competence in the diagnosis and treatment of this special population of children and families.

Evaluation of the Child

The evaluation of the child’s pathology occurs in two professional contexts:

1. Treatment:  When the child enters either individual or family therapy, the treating mental health professional must evaluate the nature, extent, and the cause of the child’s symptom display in order to develop a treatment plan.

This initial treatment evaluation can be either skillful or inadequate based on the professional expertise and competence of the treating therapist.

If the treating therapist lacks professional expertise in the necessary domains of professional knowledge needed to competently diagnose and treat the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation,” then the evaluation of the child will be inadequate, incomplete, and faulty.

Physicians who do not understand cancer should not be diagnosing and treating cancer.

Mental health professionals who do not understand the attachment system and personality disorder pathology should not be treating distortions to the attachment system of the child that are caused by the personality disorder pathology of a parent.

Most therapists treating attachment-based “parental alienation” lack the professional knowledge and expertise necessary to appropriately diagnose and treat the pathology involved. As a result, most therapy provided for the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is inadequate, misguided, and entirely ineffective.

2.  Custody Evaluation: The Court sometimes seeks the input of professional psychology regarding matters of family conflict and child custody. The input of professional psychology is typically structured into a child custody evaluation regarding family processes and parental capacity.

The quality and conclusions of the child custody evaluation can be either sound or faulty based on the professional expertise and competence of the mental health professional conducting the evaluation.

Typical child custody evaluations involving attachment-based “parental alienation” do a fairly thorough job of gathering and reporting on the clinical data, but the clinical interpretations and conclusions based on the clinical data are frequently faulty and incorrect, and the recommendations offered by the child custody evaluation are often inadequate and fundamentally wrong from a treatment perspective.

The reason that so many child custody evaluations get it wrong regarding the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is that the mental health professionals conducting these evaluations often lack the advanced level of professional expertise regarding the attachment system and personality disorder processes that is needed to recognize and understand the nature of the pathology being expressed in attachment-based “parental alienation.”

The absence of professional expertise in mental health professionals conducting child custody evaluations is in three primary areas:

Role-Reversal Relationship. Many child custody evaluators lack the advanced level of professional expertise needed to recognize and understand the severe pathology of the role-reversal relationship, in which the child is used as an external “regulatory object” to regulate the emotional and psychological state of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Narcissistic & Borderline Pathology: Many child custody evaluators avoid assessing for diagnostic labels in the belief that diagnosis is beyond their role as a custody evaluator. They often see their role as assessing “parental capacity,” not parental pathology.  However, diagnostic labels provide an extremely useful function in organizing and interpreting the meaning of clinical data. Diagnostic categories can bring together disparate clinical information into organized constellations of integrated meaning, which then contain important implications for the treatment and resolution of the pathology.  

While some diagnostic categories may not affect parenting capacity, prominent indicators of parental narcissistic and borderline personality traits have extremely important implications regarding the potential for creating child psychopathology. As a consequence of the central and primary role of parental narcissistic and borderline personality processes in the subsequent creation of child psychopathology, a focused evaluation for the presence of parental narcissistic and borderline personality traits should be one of the central and primary functions of a child custody evaluation.

So centrally important is the role of parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology to the creation of subsequent child psychopathology, that an entire section of EVERY child custody report should be dedicated to specifically addressing an analysis of the clinical data surrounding the potential for parental narcissistic and borderline personality pathology.

The Attachment System: The evaluation of a primary disruption to the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward a parent requires that the evaluator possess an advanced level of professional expertise and understanding for the role and functioning of the child’s attachment system, which includes the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma through the reenactment of parental attachment patterns (especially attachment trauma patterns) from the childhood of the parent into the current family relationships.

This includes processes of parental projective identification with the child and the role-reversal use of the child as a “regulatory object” for the parent.

Projective identification involves the parent’s loss of psychological boundaries with the child. In projective identification, the child becomes a psychological extension of the parent, and the parent will subtly induce emotions in the child that actually belong to the parent. For example, an over-anxious parent may induce the child into becoming overly anxious in order to allow the parent to then nurture the child’s anxiety. In nurturing the child’s (subtly induced) anxiety, the parent is actually nurturing his or her own anxiety that is being “held” or contained by the child.

In projective identification, the parent is projecting the parent’s own experience into the child, and in responding to the child’s symptoms the parent is identifying with the child; i.e., projective identification.

Role-reversal relationships are characteristic of a particular pattern of attachment called “disorganized attachment,” and role-reversal relationship are transmitted across generations. Children who experienced a role-reversal relationship with their parents will subsequently grow up to use their own children in role-reversal relationships when they become parents.

Currently, most therapists and child custody evaluators lack the specialized professional knowledge and expertise necessary to adequately and accurately evaluate the pathology surrounding attachment-based “parental alienation.” As a result, the response of mental health professionals to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is often flawed.

Professional ignorance leads to professional incompetence.  The psychopathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality is highly manipulative and exploitative.  Naive mental heath professionals can easily be drawn in by the highly manipulative and exploitative pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. The subtly manipulative and exploitative pathology characteristic of narcissistic and borderline personality dynamics seduces naive and ignorant mental health professionals into becoming allies of the psychopathology.

From professional ignorance and practice beyond the boundaries of their professional competence, many mental health professionals begin to collude with the psychopathology, to the extreme detriment of the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development.

So what do we do…

The solution is to mandate that ONLY those professionals who have the advanced level of professional knowledge and expertise necessary for professionally competent practice with this special population of children and families be allowed to diagnose and treat this special population of children and families.

Professionals who lack the advanced knowledge and expertise in the attachment system, personality pathology (including delusional processes of narcissistic and borderline personality pathology), and the nature of role-reversal relationships, would be prevented by established standards of professional practice from practicing beyond the boundaries of their professional competence.

Actually, this is currently the case.  Professionals who lack the specialized professional knowledge and expertise to competently diagnose and treat the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” already ARE prevented by professional practice standards from diagnosing and treating the attachment system and personality disorder processes associated with attachment-based “parental alienation.”  They just don’t know it yet because the field of professional mental health is still using the old Gardnerian PAS model to define the construct of “parental alienation.”

However, until we are able to achieve a paradigm shift, what do we do in the meantime… before we achieve the solution?

The Consultant Model

Because of my expertise in attachment-based “parental alienation” I am increasingly being asked by targeted parents to provide consultation regarding what they can do. Until we achieve a paradigm shift, there is very little we can do in any specific situation to solve the situation.

We cannot ask the child to expose his or her authenticity until and unless we can first protect the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. The  pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue.

As a result of my consultations with targeted parents I am sometimes asked to serve as an expert witness to the Court regarding the “pathogenic parenting” evidenced in their particular case. In this capacity I usually work for the attorney in reviewing documents, particularly reports from therapists and child custody evaluations.  Based on the information provided to me by the attorney, I will write a report and provide testimony regarding my professional opinions regarding the material I reviewed.

Sometimes the Court appears to be influenced by my report and testimony, other times not.

This model of professional consultation is directed toward the legal system. In order to effectively treat and resolve the child’s symptoms we must first obtain the child’s protective separation from the pathogenic parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  Obtaining the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent requires the cooperation of the Court.

More recently, however, I have also been exploring an alternative consultant model that is focused on the currently dysfunctional mental health response to the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.” In this “psychologist consultant” model (as opposed to the expert witness model), I serve as a consultant for the targeted parent in trying to achieve an appropriate and professionally competent response from the therapist who is involved in treating the family’s pathology, either individually with the child or in “reunification therapy” (there’s no such thing) with the parent and the child.

An analogy to my role would be to purchasing a home where both the home seller AND the home buyer are represented by their own real estate agents.  I’m like the psychology “agent” for the targeted parent in negotiating psychotherapy with the treating therapist.

Targeted parents don’t understand psychopathology, or psychological theories and terminology, or the variety of approaches to psychotherapy that are available.  I do.  I’m a clinical psychologist; psychopathology and psychotherapy are the areas of my professional expertise.

My role as a psychologist consultant to the targeted parent is to interface with the treatment provider to provide information about “areas of clinical concern” that the targeted parent and I are asking the therapist to consider and further evaluate for us.

This consultation role, however, can become sensitive. Many therapists may be put off by the implication that they don’t know what they’re doing. These therapists may become even more closed and unwilling to listen. Other therapists may feel intimidated by having their work monitored. These therapists may withdraw from the case.

There is also a phenomenon called “resistance.” When we push one way the other person pushes back in the opposite direction. If we say “parental alienation” then we will automatically produce a counter-response of “no its not.”  That’s just the nature of resistance.

There’s an interesting explanation of this “backfire effect” on Youtube at 

Video on Backfire Effect

An additional video of interest is on negotiation and anchoring.  This video is at

Video on Anchoring

In negotiation, we anchor our frame of reference to the first information we receive. In attachment based “parental alienation” the first information therapists often receive is from the child, so the therapist’s later interpretation of information is anchored to the child’s characterization of the targeted parent as “abusive.”

What I’m currently exploring as a psychologist consultant for the targeted parent is whether we can anchor the treating therapist to an attachment-based definition of the family processes before the therapist becomes anchored to the trauma reenactment narrative of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent” that is being presented to the therapist by the child and narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

But we need to accomplish this without producing the “backfire effect” explained in the first Youtube video. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. I’ll keep you posted.

If nothing else, it will place the therapist on notice that the actions of the therapist are being monitored by a clinical psychologist. It’s possible that when the therapist learns that I’m monitoring them they may seek out information from my blog and website to lower their anxiety caused by the unknown of me. This would be a good thing. As they become more educated, they become more competent.

The Treatment Plan

Key to achieving competent treatment in the current no-solution environment is to obtain a written treatment plan from the therapist. Most therapists do not develop a treatment plan, written or otherwise. But they should. One of the courses I teach at the graduate level is how to develop a treatment plan.  When I was the Clinical Director for a children’s assessment and treatment center working with foster care children, I always asked the therapists working for me to develop a treatment plan following their initial assessment.

The treatment plan should define:

  • The Case Conceptualization: What does the therapist view as being the cause of the issues?
  • The Treatment Plan: How does the therapist intend to solve the problems identified as the cause of the issues in the case conceptualization?
  • Prognosis & Timeline: How optimistic is the therapist that the issues can be resolved, and how long will it take? Expectation benchmarks for symptom change should be identified at 3-months, 6-months, and 9-months intervals (if therapy is expected to take that long).

As a side-note; therapy for parent-child conflict should achieve a significant resolution of the issues within 6-9 months (without complications from things like autism-spectrum issues that make the problems more treatment resistant and intractable). 

A year for severe problems might be necessary.  But if therapy is taking longer than a year then the case conceptualization needs to be closely examined and serious consideration needs to be given to possibly redefining the case conceptualization and treatment plan.

Naturally, the prognosis and timeline are subject to revision as things proceed, but the treatment plan sets forth a set of expectations and guidelines to which everyone can agree. If things change and the treatment plan needs to be adjusted, then the new factors and the needed alterations to the treatment plan can be discussed.

This is actually an important part of the process for “Informed Consent” to treatment. How can clients give informed consent to treatment if they don’t know what treatment entails?

When someone has a medical disease, the physician describes for the patient what the disease is and what the various treatment implications are.

The physician would also provide a clear description of what treatment would entail. For example, would the cancer require six cycles of chemotherapy over two years?  Or surgery?  Or radiation? If there are alternative forms of treatment, these would also be explained to the patient, along with the physician’s estimates for prognosis and recovery.

This is called the “Informed Consent” process, and is a requirement of professional practice. According to Standard 10.01 of the Ethics Code for the American Psychological Association:

Informed Consent to Therapy
“(a) When obtaining informed consent to therapy as required in Standard 3.10, Informed Consent, psychologists inform clients/patients as early as is feasible in the therapeutic relationship about the nature and anticipated course of therapy”

The general informal guidelines within professional standards of practice are that people have a right to all the relevant information that they need in order to make an informed decision regarding their participation in therapy.

Medical physicians describe the disease and its treatment to their patients as part of the informed consent process, why shouldn’t psychotherapists do the same? Actually, they should. But most don’t.

Why don’t they? The primary reason is that many therapists have no idea what they’re doing. How can they explain to you what they’re going to be doing if they don’t know what they’re doing themselves?

This is where the advice in the first Youtube video on avoiding resistance can be helpful.  Draw out the therapist to increasingly explain what his or her therapy is going to entail. Cultivate the appearance of oh-so-pleasant ignorance.  Don’t assert what truth is, that will just provoke resistance.  Instead ask the therapist what their truth is… and keep asking from your oh-so-pleasant ignorance until things make sense to you. 

Ask the therapist for the treatment plan.

  • What does the therapist see as being the cause of the problem?
  • What’s going to happen in therapy to fix the problem?  How is talking in therapy sessions going to fix the problem?  Find out specifically what the linkage is between what is going to happen in therapy and fixing the problem.
  • Do you, as the parent, need to do something specific to fix the problem?  And if you do this, whatever the therapist says you need to do to fix the problem, then the problem will be fixed?
  • What will the treatment entail?  What’s going to happen in the treatment sessions?  So if treatment sessions do this, whatever the therapist says will happen, then the problem will fixed?
  • How long will it take before the child’s symptoms go away?

We’re not asking for certainty. Of course things will depend on circumstances. But what circumstances? And what is the general expectation?

The incompetent therapist may start to give you voodoo gobblygook about the “need to develop a therapeutic relationship,” and because they’re the professional and you’re not you may accept this gobblygook as if it somehow makes sense.

However, the clinical psychologist who is working as a psychologist consultant for the targeted parent would seek a more complete and coherent description.

Why is a therapeutic relationship important to addressing the cause of the child’s symptoms? How is that exactly going to work, in terms of a “therapeutic relationship” somehow fixing the problem?  So the child is going to come to trust the therapist more… and then what?  Explain it to me.

Is the therapist talking about a Kohutian therapeutic relationship of mirroring, idealizing, and twinship self-object functions? Or perhaps the therapist is talking about a Rogerian therapeutic relationship of self-actualization of the child’s authenticity? Or perhaps the therapist is talking about a psychoanalytic therapeutic relationship called the transference relationship? What does the therapist mean by building the “therapeutic relationship” and how specifically is this going to fix the problem?

Of note is that the therapeutic relationship is also sometimes called the “therapeutic alliance.”  If the child is in a cross-generational coalition with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent against the targeted parent, then in proposing to build a “therapeutic alliance” (i.e., the “therapeutic relationship”) with the child, the therapist is essentially proposing to join the alliance of the child and narcissistic/borderline parent against you.

That doesn’t sound like a good treatment plan.

Or perhaps the therapist doesn’t ’t have a clue as to what they’re doing and they’re simply throwing up a smokescreen of gobblygook “therapy-speak” to hide that they have no idea what they’re doing.

The Danger

The danger, however, is that my working as a psychologist consultant for the targeted parent may simply annoy the therapist into further entrenching into his or her ignorance (the “backfire effect”), or the therapist may become so annoyed with me that they’ll simply quit as the therapist (possibly when they are asked to provide a written treatment plan).

I’m not quite sure yet whether either of those responses are actually bad things though. If the therapist is going to entrench further into his or her ignorance, it’s likely best to know that early rather than after six months or a year of ineffective and pointless therapy. And if the therapist quits when asked to provide a written treatment plan, that too is probably something good to know and deal with early. If the therapist doesn’t want to be held accountable to a treatment plan then it is highly likely the therapist has no clue as to what they’re doing – and that’s why they don’t want to develop a treatment plan.

Your physician will tell you what the disease is and what the treatment entails because your physician knows what they’re doing. Your therapist should do the same… if they know what they’re doing.

If the therapist cannot explain what the treatment plan is in a way that is understandable and makes sense to you, it’s most likely because the therapist has no idea what they’re doing.

When the Therapist Finally “Gets It”

Still, even if the therapist understands the pathology the question still remains, so what do we do about it?

As long as the child remains under the severely distorting pathogenic influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent there is little we can do in terms of treatment.

If we try to treat the child while the child is still under the continuing pathogenic influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, then we will simply rip the child apart psychologically from the conflict created between the goal of effective therapy to restore the child’s healthy authenticity and the continuing obsessive and relentless efforts of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to keep the child pathological.

Turning the child into a psychological battleground because of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s relentless efforts to maintain the child’s psychopathology while therapy seeks to restore the child’s healthy functioning will psychologically destroy the child.

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is essentially playing “chicken” with us. The pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is completely willing to destroy the child.  Are we?  I’m not.  So then the narcissistic/(borderline) parent wins and can continue to create the child’s psychopathology.

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent will do everything in his or her power to maintain the child’s pathology. For the narcissistic/(borderline) parent it is a psychological imperative that the child reject the other parent. The narcissistic/(borderline) parent actually believes that the parenting practices of the targeted parent are “abusive” and place the child in danger. The narcissistic/(borderline) parent is delusional (i.e., an intransigently held, fixed and false belief that is non-responsive to contrary evidence) and will stop at nothing to keep the child pathological.

On a scale of 1-10, the psychopathology of attachment-based “parental alienation” is 15.  It’s off the charts.  Attachment-based “parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue. We must first protect the child. Only then can we treat the pathology.

So even if I am able to alert the therapist to the nature and severity of the pathology, so what. There’s still nothing we can do.

Except perhaps we can avoid six months, a year, or even two years of unproductive and pointless therapy. And perhaps the therapist will write a treatment letter to the judge saying that for the child’s protection the therapist is declining to do therapy until the child is protectively separated from the pathogenic parenting of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery stabilization.

Maybe that would help obtain the necessary period of protective separation… or maybe not. I don’t know, I just don’t know.

Maybe having a psychologist consultant will just result in treating therapists withdrawing from the case. If no therapy is taking place then nothing changes. But nothing changes with ineffective therapy either, so what’s the difference?

The solution is a shift in paradigms.  All of these interim half-measures are not likely to produce a solution.

Still, we do what we can until we achieve a paradigm shift in which ALL therapists who work with this special population of children and families are exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable. At that point; no therapist – anywhere – will treat the child unless the child is first protectively separated from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. When mental health speaks with a single voice, the Court will be able to act with the decisive clarity needed to solve “parental alienation.”

It’s Not Me

I’m just one person. I cannot solve everything. I’m in California. I’m busy with my client caseload. I’m expensive.

I am not sharing this information to seek business. For a variety of reasons I am limiting my professional treatment-related consultation to families in the Los Angeles area.  I’m sharing this model simply to frame what a psychologist treatment-related consultation model might look like.

I’m 60 years old. I’m coming to the end of my professional career. I’ll be wrapping things up soon. It will be up to the next generation of psychologists and therapists to put into place the procedures needed to solve attachment-based “parental alienation.” I’m providing this possible consultant model to them.

Targeted parents need you, as competent mental health therapists, to educate our professional brethren in mental health, therapist-to-therapist… and we need to hold our brethren therapists accountable. Their ignorance should not be allowed to destroy the lives and development of children.  That’s not allowed.

Until we achieve a paradigm shift away from a Gardnerian PAS model over to an attachment-based model for “parental alienation” that will solve “parental alienation” for all targeted parents and all children everywhere, we must find a way to make do with the broken mental health and legal systems as they exist.

From where I sit, the current state of the broken mental health and legal systems won’t allow a solution.  But I’m trying to find something anyway.

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

References

Bone, M.J. and Sauber, R. (2013). The essential role of the mental health consultant in parental alienation cases. In A.J.L. Baker & S.R. Sauber (Eds.) Working with Alienated Children and Families:  A Clinical Guidebook (71-89). New York: Routledge

 

Coping with the Trauma of Parental Alienation

 

Enduring the experience of attachment-based “parental alienation” represents a profound form of trauma inflicted on targeted parents.  This type of chronic psychological trauma differs from what combat veterans face when they develop PTSD, yet the experience of targeted parents who are caught in the nightmare of attachment-based “parental alienation” is a form of trauma.  The technical term for the type of emotional and psychological trauma experienced by targeted parents is “complex trauma.”

It is no coincidence that the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is born in complex trauma from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and that the current processes of attachment-based “parental alienation” are inflicting onto the targeted parent a form of complex trauma. These two features of attachment-based “parental alienation” are definitely related.

It is important for the targeted parent to find ways of coping with the complex trauma of attachment-based “parental alienation.”  This post addresses ways the targeted parent can cope with the severe emotional trauma created by the experience of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

The Trauma Reenactment Narrative

The processes of attachment-based “parental alienation” represent the reenactment of the childhood attachment trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into the current family relationships. The trauma reenactment narrative of attachment-based “parental alienation” represents a false drama created by the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. The trauma-related roles contained within the attachment networks of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent were created during the childhood experiences of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s own relationship trauma with his or her own parent.

The complex developmental trauma experienced by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child was so devastating to the psychological development of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, that this childhood trauma experience led to the development of the narcissistic and borderline personality structures that now drive the distorted family processes called “parental alienation.”  The complex trauma of childhood created the narcissistic and borderline personality traits we now see evidenced in attachment-based “parental alienation.”

The attachment system of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent contains representational networks for the childhood relationship trauma experienced by this parent as a child. These internalized working models of the attachment trauma are contained in the pattern of:

“abusive parent”-“victimized child”-“protective parent” 

These trauma-related roles from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent are now being reenacted in the current family relationships.

“Abusive Parent”: the targeted parent is being assigned the trauma reenactment role as the “abusive parent”

“Victimized Child”: the current child is being induced by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into accepting the trauma reenactment role as the supposedly “victimized child”

“Protective Parent”: the narcissistic/(borderline) parent adopts and conspicuously displays to the child and to others the coveted role as the supposedly “protective parent.”

The trauma reenactment narrative is initiated into the current family relationships by first inducing the child into accepting the role as the “victimized child.” This is a critical initial step in the creation of attachment-based “parental alienation.” 

The moment the child accepts and adopts the “victimized child” role in the trauma reenactment narrative, this automatically defines the targeted parent into the “abusive parent” role. The “victimized child” role automatically imposes the “abusive parent” role onto the targeted parent, independent of any actual behavior of the targeted parent. By adopting the role of the “victimized child,” this automatically defines the targeted parent as being an “abusive parent.” 

The targeted parent is immediately put on the defensive, and must continually try to prove to therapists and others that he or she is not “abusive” of the child.  It doesn’t matter that the parenting practices of the targeted parent are entirely normal-range.  The moment the child is induced by the distorted parenting practices of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into adopting the “victimized child’ role in the trauma reenactment narrative, the “abusive parent” role is immediately imposed upon the targeted parent.

The child’s acceptance of the “victimized child” role also invites and provides the context for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to adopt and conspicuously display to the child and to others the coveted role as the all-wonderful, perfect and idealized, “protective parent.” In a circular process of role-definition, the “protective parent” role being adopted and conspicuously displayed to the child by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent invites the child to then adopt the “victimized child” role, and the “victimized child” role invites the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to adopt the role as the “protective parent.” 

These two roles in the trauma reenactment narrative are mutually supporting.

The processes of attachment-based “parental alienation” essentially involves a false drama created by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as an echo of the childhood trauma that created this parent’s personality pathology. In the narrative of this false drama, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent authentically believes that the targeted parent represents an “abusive” threat to the child, and that the supposedly “victimized child” requires the protection of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

But none of this false drama is true. It is delusional. The parenting of the targeted parent is entirely normal range, and the child is in no danger and doesn’t need any “protection.” It is a false narrative born in the childhood relationship trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The Trauma of the Targeted Parent

In reenacting the childhood attachment trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent (that produced this parent’s personality psychopathology), the themes of trauma become alive and active once again.

Abuse – Victimization – Helplessness – Suffering

These trauma themes from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent are brought to life once more in the trauma reenactment narrative, and are delivered into the experience of the targeted parent.

The psychological trauma of attachment-based “parental alienation” is an abuse inflicted by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent onto the targeted parent (by means of the child). It could almost be considered a form of psychological domestic violence. Once the controversy over the construct of “parental alienation” is resolved, targeted parents should be able to find allies in domestic violence survivors.  Domestic violence and attachment-based “parental alienation” are simply different manifestations of abuse inflicted by a narcissistic personality onto the other spouse.

The trauma themes of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s childhood are being created into the experience of targeted parent. The targeted parent is being made to experience the emotional and psychological abuse, the immense suffering, and the helpless victimization, that was part of the childhood trauma experience of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  It was this childhood trauma experience of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child that created the twisted personality pathology that is now driving the family pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation.”

The suffering of the targeted parent created by the re-initiated and transferred childhood trauma experience of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, is both deep and unending, just as it was for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child. There is no escape. The targeted parent is helpless to make the abuse and suffering end. These are trauma themes being recreated into the experience of the targeted parent, which the targeted parent is made to endure. The childhood trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is alive once more, only this time in the emotional and psychological suffering of targeted parent.

For the targeted parent, attachment-based “parental alienation” represents a “complex trauma” of profound magnitude. Suffering without end – trapped, and helpless.

Coping with the Trauma

The targeted parent must find a way to process and cope with the trauma experience.

In your suffering, you must strive to achieve the triumph of light over the darkness of trauma.  You must find your way out of the trauma experience being inflicted upon you, and into a recovery of your authentic psychological health and balance.

As much as you may want to save your child, you cannot rescue your child from the quicksand by jumping into the quicksand with them. If, in trying to rescue your child from quicksand you jump into the quicksand as well, you will simply both perish.

In order to rescue your child from the quicksand of “parental alienation,” you must have your feet firmly planted on the shore, steady in your own emotional and psychological health, and then extend your hand to retrieve your child.

Even then, your child may not grasp your hand. You will need the support of mental health and the courts, and we’re working on that. For your part, you must strive to find your freedom from the imposed trauma experience. You must strive to find and keep your own emotional and psychological health within the immense emotional trauma of your grief and loss.

The trauma experience captivates the psychology of the targeted parent. The world of the targeted parent revolves entirely around the trauma experience of the family’s pathology. The difficult and challenging relationship with the hostile-rejecting child; the chaos of trying to work with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to schedule visitations; the blatant and repeated disregard of court orders by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent; and the continual intrusions and disruptions by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into the relationship of the targeted parent with the child, continually consume the focus of the targeted parent.

Repeated court dates, lawyers, therapists, custody evaluations, that all occur in the context of continuing parent-child conflict, act to fully captivate the complete psychological involvement of the targeted parent.

And in this upside-down world, the targeted parent is continually being blamed for the child’s rejection, even though the targeted parent did nothing wrong.

“You must have done something wrong if your child doesn’t want to be with you.”

Your beloved child is being taken from you, and no one understands. No one helps.

The emotional and psychological trauma and profound grief of attachment-based “parental alienation” consumes the life and psychology of the targeted parent.

You must find your freedom from this trauma.

The emotional trauma inflicted on the targeted parent is severe, and the grief of the targeted parent is deep. The challenge of the targeted parent is to once more find the light of their joy amidst the darkness of their grief and loss.

We are working to solve mental health, so that mental health will understand and will help you.

Once mental health becomes your ally, we will work to solve the courts, so that the courts too will understand and will help you.

In this process, you can help by taking up the challenge to once more find your emotional health and balance within the trauma of your loss and grief. Your child needs you to have your feet firmly planted on the shore of your own emotional and psychological health and balance in order to help them escape the quicksand of their experience.

That is your challenge.

Finding Happiness

Here are nine ways that targeted parents who are caught in the trauma of attachment-based “parental alienation” can recover and restore their emotional health and balance. The basic ideas for this list are drawn from an article by Belle Beth Cooper in which she cites the various scientifically supported methods for increasing happiness.

1.  Practice Smiling

The physical and emotional systems in the brain are  interconnected. We can create a small dose of any emotion by acting as if we had that emotion. That’s what actors do. They act as if they felt a certain way, and this creates a small dose of that feeling. Then the actor expands this small seed of the emotion into a full experience of the desired emotion.

We smile when we’re happy. But it also works in reverse. We become happier when we smile.

When we smile, we create a small dose of the happy feeling. The physical act of smiling fools the brain:

The brain says, “Why am I smiling? Hmm, I must be happy. Hey emotions, stop slaking off down there and produce some of that happy that you’re supposed to be feeling.”

When we smile we fool the brain into thinking it must be happy, so it then releases a small amount of the brain chemicals for the feeling of happy. It’s not much, maybe just a single point on a 10-point scale. But it’s a start. The more we practice smiling, the easier it becomes to produce the happy, and we begin to create a little more happy each time.

With the brain, “we build what we use.”

When we use a brain network we create structural and chemical changes along the pathways that were used and these changes make the connections in the used networks stronger, more sensitive, and more efficient. This process is called the “canalization” of brain networks (like building “canals” or channels in the brain).

The more we smile, the more we canalize the brain systems for being happy. We essentially groove the happy channel more deeply into our neural networks. Its just like practicing the piano. At first it feels awkward and we’re only able to play “twinkle-twinkle little star,” and even then our playing is slow and halting. Yet as we practice, our playing gradually improves. Soon we’re playing simple songs, and it actually begins to sound like music, sort of. Eventually we’re playing ragtime and Mozart concertos.

Practice smiling. It’s extremely simple to do. Just smile.

Smile often. For no particular reason, just smile. Smile in the car. Smile when you’re alone. Smile at your spouse (but not a creepy smile; a warm and relaxed smile). See if you can get your eyes to smile too.

The more you practice smiling, the easier it becomes to bring forth a feeling of relaxed low-level happy, and the longer it remains.

Smiling is especially useful when something makes us angry. Adding happy to angry softens our anger.  Instead of becoming caught up in anger and frustration, when you smile at the same time as you’re angry, you’ll begin to laugh at the absurdity of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s all-too-predictable crazy. As soon as you see that email from them in your inbox, smile. Instead of the painful wince of “Oh dear God, not again.” you will begin to experience a relaxed and bemused, “Really? Again?”

Practice smiling. A lot. Whenever. For no particular reason. Just smile.

2.  Meditate

Meditation is wonderful. Meditation is the surest way of bringing emotional peace and balance.

There are a wide variety of meditative practices. Try out different types. There are sitting meditations of inner thought. There are moving meditations of integrated flow. There are breathing meditations of relaxation. Try out different ones. Some won’t fit for you, but others might. See if one fits for you.

One of the most common forms of meditation is to simply sit in a quiet area and let go of each thought as it comes. Mind will continually offer sentences, our thoughts, that capture us. This type of meditation is simply the active letting go of being captivated by the thought.

Let the thoughts come… and let them go. Don’t follow them. Just let them go. The next one comes… let it go. The next one come comes… let it go.  Ooops, thoughts can be so tricky, so captivating, and you find you’ve been caught by one and have wound up following a line of thought. That’s okay. When you become aware of it, simply let it go. Then let go of the next thought. The next thought will come, and let it go too. Soon, mind will quiet. Peace arrives.

Another form of meditative practice is to repeat in your mind or out loud certain sounds, called “mantras.’ These sounds quiet the mind.

A particularly wonderful and relaxing form of meditation is to focus on developing a rhythmic flow of breath. The inhales and exhales of your breath become deep and circular. Mind turns off as we flow into our breathing.

There are also physically active forms of meditation, such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These forms of meditation are especially wonderful. They achieve a profound peace through the active integration of personal being with movement and the body.

Sometimes a calming meditative background music helps, and sometimes people prefer quiet. Up to you. Try out different approaches to meditation and see if one works for you. You’ve been through a lot, you deserve to nurture yourself. Valuing yourself enough to give to your “self” the gift of time is tremendously healing.

3.  Spend Time with Friends and Family

The trauma of “parental alienation” can justifiably consume the life focus of targeted parents. The beloved child is being distorted or has been lost entirely. What could be more important than that?

Yet being consumed into the trauma is not healthy. You cannot rescue the child by jumping into the quicksand as well. You must stand on the shore of your own emotional and psychological health so that, when the time comes, you can reach out your hand to rescue the child.

We are working on solving the problems in mental health so that they become your ally. Once mental health becomes your ally, then we can solve the courts so that they too understand and become an ally. Once we have solved the current “bleeding out” of actively occurring “parental alienation,” then we will turn our attention to the adult survivors of childhood “alienation” to see if we can recover these now adult children of “alienation” as well. We’re working on it.

Your challenge is to live into your emotional and psychological health, and not allow yourself to be consumed by the trauma, so that when the time comes you can reach out your hand to recover your child.

We belong in community. We thrive in community. Share your life with friends and family. Arrange dinner parties. Go to movies and plays with friends and family. Join groups, join a church, join an organization. Browse the course catalog of the local college extension program and sign up for a class or activity where you meet other people who share similar interests. Join an adult softball or bowling league. Take salsa dancing, square dancing, line dancing, ballroom dancing, tango. Go on dates. Be with people.

In my professional experience with targeted parents, I have met a number of targeted parents who are successfully remarried to wonderful new life-partners. Maybe it’s something about having made such a horrendous choice in partners the first time that allows the targeted parent to then make a wonderful choice the second time. But for whatever reason, I seem to have met many targeted parents who are now remarried to truly wonderful partners.

However, living in the throes of “parental alienation” can be very hard on these new spouses. These new partners often become so incredibly angry at the destructive maliciousness of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, who is willing to destroy the children of the targeted parent if this will create suffering in the targeted parent. The new spouse loves the kindness and love available from the targeted parent, and it is so very hard on them to watch helplessly as immense pain is inflicted on the person they love.

If you are a targeted parent who has been fortunate enough to find a new and wonderful life partner, recognize and nurture the joy and love that is available in this new relationship. It’s okay to let go of the pain and trauma of the “parental alienation” and to love and laugh with the new life partner. You are not letting go of the child, you are embracing your emotional and psychological health; you are embracing love.

When the time for solutions arrives, you will have created a wonderful nest of a loving homelife that the child will be able to join.

You are always available for your child. We know that. You also have a right to your life.

There is a lot we must do to fix so many things that are wrong in mental health and the legal system. You are doing all you can. It’s okay to also embrace your life while we work to recover your children.

4. Sleep

Make sure you get enough sleep.                                   

Sleep is a basic rhythm of our lives. Disruptions to our sleep create imbalances in the brain chemistry that can lead to increased stress and emotional exhaustion.

One of the most important aspects of achieving balanced sleep is establishing a routine surrounding our sleep. This is called our sleep hygiene.

Make sure your bed is comfortable and use it only for sleeping, not for reading, or watching television, or working on the computer or tablet. Disconnect yourself from television and the computer at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Allow your brain time to relax and get ready for sleep. Brush your teeth, change into your bedclothes, read a book or a magazine in a nice comfortable chair or sofa. Nurture yourself by getting ready for the beautiful relaxation of sleep. Allow yourself to rest before you ask yourself to sleep.

If you find yourself going to bed and then lying awake for a long time, go to bed later. If your desired bedtime is 10:00 but you wind up falling asleep at 11:30, go to bed at 11:15 for two weeks. Once you’re falling asleep relatively quickly after you go to bed, shift your bedtime back fifteen minutes to 11:00 for a couple of weeks. Once you begin to fall asleep relatively quickly at that bedtime for a while, shift your bedtime back another fifteen minutes to 10:45. Gradually… gradually… begin moving your bedtime back to the desired time. Don’t let yourself lay awake in bed.

Also, don’t watch the clock. Think about pleasant things. Develop fantasies of desired vacations and things you’ll do when your ship comes in. Develop visualizations of mountain pastures, calming ocean vistas, streams and forests. Find a “happy place” in your mind’s world and allow this to be your companion at bedtime.

5. Help Others

In his book “The Art of Happiness,” the Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

When we help others, we find our own happiness.

We are designed to live and thrive in community. We become happy when we turn outside of our own selfish needs and give of ourselves to something larger than ourselves. The trauma of “parental alienation” draws you inward into your pain and suffering. Giving to others expands you into life and returns you to the human community.

Live into compassion.  Give to others.  And you will find your happiness.

Two hours a week, give to others. You will be happier.

6. Practice Gratitude

My son is away at college on the East Coast. I am on the West Coast. I see him only rarely and I interact with him infrequently. But I still share in his joy and happiness, even if I don’t know exactly what these joys are, because I know he is living into his life. Even if I am not specifically aware of his day-to-day studies, his friendships, his struggles, and his triumphs, I know he is living into his young adulthood, and I am happy with him.

Even though you may be excluded from the day-to-day knowledge of your child’s experiences, your child is still living into his or her life, and you can still take joy with them in this knowledge, even if you don’t know the specifics.

Your child is bright, and beautiful, and healthy. He or she has a life to live, struggles and triumphs to experience and master. You may not know specifically what they are, but your love shares them as surely as if they were your own. Foster your gratitude for your child’s magnificence, even if the pathology of the other parent seeks to inflict suffering on you through your love for your child. Your child is still wonderful.

Find the thousand things in your life for which you are grateful. Break free from the trauma and reenter the magnificent world that surrounds you. The darkness seeks to injure you, to crush you in the trauma of abuse. Don’t let it. Find the expansive light of life’s riches. Your suffering is real, but it does not need to define you.

Practice gratitude.

7.  Plan a Trip

When we plan a trip, we become happy. Taking the trip can be nice, but we are happiest when we are planning the trip. Planning a trip draws us into life. It gives us something to look forward to with eager anticipation.

The grief and frustration of “parental alienation” traps you into the trauma reenactment. You cannot escape, you are helpless, you must simply endure the emotional and psychological abuse of “parental alienation.” In your helplessness, the trauma themes from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent are being transferred into you. You cannot escape the abuse. You are trapped. You are being abused. This is the trauma.

Fight back. Escape. Get away. Until we achieve the help of mental health there is no solution to the tragedy of attachment-based “parental alienation.  But don’t allow yourself to be trapped by the trauma.  Plan a trip.  Where are you going to go? What are you going to do there? What will you see? What adventures will you have? Get away.

Look forward. Escape from the continual focus on the tragedy. In planning a trip, reawaken joyful anticipation. Get away. With all you’ve been through, you deserve it.

Actually taking the trip can also be fun. But the happiness is actually found in the planning of the trip. Where will you go? What will you do? Escape the trauma.

8.  Go Outside

Nature is healing. Feel the sun on your face. Stare up at the stars in wonder. Surround yourself with trees. Hike in the mountains. Listen to the ocean waves crashing on the shore. Take a nap on a Sunday afternoon by the banks of river or stream. Nature is healing.

Pack a picnic and go to the local park. Take a morning walk or an evening stroll. Sit on your porch and watch the world go by. Be outside.

Isn’t it marvelous how absolutely blue the sky is? And those clouds are so wispy, so puffy, like cotton. Look how many shades of green are in those trees, and the many colors in the fields; the browns, and golds, and blues, and pinks.

Smell the freshness of the trees. The sound of the birds chirping that invites us into the world that surrounds us. In the smell of the ocean and the crashing of the waves we are at peace. Under the night sky and the stars we are home.

9.  Exercise

The emotional and psychological stress of attachment-based “parental alienation” is profound. The type of psychological trauma in attachment-based “parental alienation” is called “complex trauma.” It’s different from the PTSD type of trauma experienced by combat veterans. The PTSD type of trauma involves intense periods of hyper-arousal that cannot be processed by the brain. Complex trauma is not as intense but we are exposed to it for longer.  Complex trauma is an unrelenting stress for days, months, years; exhausting the brain chemistry until there is no psychological coping capacity left.

Stress finds a home in our bodies. Exercise cleanses us of the stress chemicals created by sadness and anger. Not only does exercise cleanse us of the toxic stress chemicals, exercise also releases brain chemicals that feel good. We feel stronger, healthier, and happier when we exercise… and we sleep better.

Exercise is one of the most powerful ways to alleviate stress and feel better.

 Escaping Trauma

 Attachment-based “parental alienation” represents a form of complex trauma inflicted on the targeted parent.  In coping with all of the issues surrounding the pathology of attachment-based “parental alienation,” look to find your emotional and psychological health once more. 

Your challenge is to free yourself from the trauma themes being imposed upon you.  Don’t allow yourself to enter a victim mentality.  Don’t allow yourself to be abused.  Rediscover and live into your life and happiness.  Be with friends.  Love again.  Find activities.  Give to others.  Nurture your emotional health.  Escape the trauma.

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

Understanding the Child’s Experience

I’ve been asked by several targeted parents to describe the child’s experience. I will try.


Your child loves you. Have no doubt of this. Your child loves you more than anything. You are the world to them. Your child loves you very, very much.

But the world surrounding your child is a crazy upside down world of psychopathology.

Living with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent there is no anchor to reality; up is down, the sky is red, then yellow, then green; truth and reality shift with the whims and pathology of the parent. The child has become lost in an Alice in Wonderland world of swirling confusion.

To understand the child’s experience, we must begin by understanding the pathological core beliefs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent who has captured the child’s psychology.

Narcissistic & Borderline Pathology

While on the surface narcissistic and borderline personality presentations appear different, they are simply variations in the outward manifestation of the same underlying core beliefs within the attachment system. These core beliefs are called “schemas” or “internal working models” of attachment. Both the narcissistic and borderline personality types have their foundational origins in the same core beliefs contained within the attachment system.

The attachment system forms patterns of expectations for self- and other-in-relationship. For both the narcissistic and borderline personalities, the core beliefs regarding self- and other-in-relationship are identical:

Core Belief Regarding Self-in-Relationship: “I am fundamentally inadequate as a person”

Core Belief Regarding the Other-in-Relationship: “I will be rejected and abandoned by the other person because of my fundamental inadequacy as a person.”

Both the narcissistic and borderline personalities share this set of fundamental core beliefs within their “internal working models” of attachment. The only difference between the narcissistic and borderline style personalities is how these internal core attachment schemas are manifested.

The borderline-style personality has no established psychological defense against the continual experience of these core beliefs of primal self-inadequacy and fears of abandonment, so that the borderline-style personality is continually collapsing into irrational hostile-aggressive tirades and tearful episodes of supposed victimization.

The narcissistic-style personality, on the other hand, has been able to develop a fragile psychological defense against the direct experience of these core beliefs through a grandiose self-inflation in which the narcissistic-style personality entirely devalues the importance of others as a means to assert self-superiority and suppress fears of abandonment (i.e., “You’re inadequate, I’m wonderful. And I’m abandoning YOU because of YOUR inadequacy”). If this fragile narcissistic veneer is punctured by criticism, however, the narcissistic personality style will collapse into its borderline core of hostile-aggressive disorganization.

Both personalities have an underlying “borderline” core of primal self-inadequacy and fear of abandonment (i.e., attachment expectations for self- and other-in-relationship), and both have narcissistic features of complete self-absorption.  The difference is just that the narcissistic-style personality has been able to establish a fragile narcissistic defense against the direct experience of these underlying vulnerabilities, whereas the borderline personality-style personality has no inner psychological defense against the continual direct experience of these core attachment beliefs.

With this parental pathology in mind, we turn to the child’s experience.

The Grief Response

When the divorce occurred, your child was anxious and confused.

“What does the divorce mean? What’s going to happen?”

When children are anxious, their brain systems motivate them to “socially reference” their parents regarding the meaning of the situation. 

As a healthy parent, you gave your child an appropriately diffuse and balanced understanding regarding the meaning of the divorce.  Which is the right thing to do. 

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent, on the other hand, gave the child an unbalanced and highly distorted perspective about the meaning of the divorce.

The divorce also made the child tremendously sad about the loss of the intact family. Children love both parents, and no matter how much pain and anger was in the spousal relationship, your child still loves both of you, and still wants both of you to be together. But the divorce ended this. The intact family broke up.  This made the child sad.

When the divorce occurred, the child’s inner experience was one of grief and mournful longing for the intact family structure. This is entirely natural and healthy. The child was also anxious about what the divorce meant. What was going to happen?

In a healthy divorce process, our hope would be that the parents would avoid blame and minimize their spousal hostility toward each other so that the child does not become caught in the middle of the spousal conflict.  We want to allow the child to love both parents.

In a healthy divorce process, parents deflect the child’s questions about the spousal relationship and provide the child with calm reassurances that both parents love the child and that everything is going to be okay.

“Mom and dad can’t get along and we’ve decided to get a divorce, which means that mom and dad will be living in separate houses. But we still both love you very much, and we’re still both going to be involved in every part your life and in everything you do. Mom and dad will just being living in separate houses, that’s all. The divorce is between mom and dad, and it’s not about you, it’s about us. We both love you very much, and everything is going to be okay.”

As a loving parent, you did this.

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent did not.

In divorcing the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, you exposed their core vulnerabilities of primal self-inadequacy and fear of abandonment. By divorcing them, you publicly identified them as being an inadequate spouse and you abandoned (rejected) them because of their inadequacy. That’s a direct spot-on hit to their core vulnerabilities.

As a result, the fragile organization of their personality structure collapsed.

In order to reestablish their structural organization, the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent must externalize onto you their own primal self-inadequacy and fears of abandonment. They must make you the inadequate and abandoned person, and they can accomplish this through the child.

By inducing the child into rejecting you, the child’s rejection of you defines YOU as the inadequate parent (person) who is being rejected (abandoned) for YOUR inadequacy as a parent (person).

The child’s rejection of you allows the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to restore their narcissistic defense against the experience of primal self-inadequacy and fears of abandonment that had collapsed with the divorce. The child’s rejection of you allows them to psychologically expel (project) their core beliefs onto you; you’re the inadequate person (parent), and you are being abandoned for your fundamental inadequacy.

So they draw the child into the spousal conflict on their “side” and induce the child’s rejection of you in order to reestablish their psychological defense against the experience of primal self-inadequacy and to protect themselves from their terrible fears of abandonment (“I’m not the abandoned person – you are. The child belongs to me.  The child is not abandoning me.  The child is abandoning you.”)

From the perspective of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, this is all justified. To them, you are the embodiment of evil and you “deserve” to be rejected because of your fundamental inadequacy as a person (which actually represents their own experience of self-inadequacy which is being expelled from them by projecting it onto you).

You’re to Blame

To initiate the child’s rejection of you, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent first blames you for the divorce.

“Your mom is breaking up our family. She’s selfishly thinking only of what she wants, and she’s not considering our family, or what we may want or need.”

“Your dad doesn’t love us anymore. He’s decided to leave our family to start a new family.”

The child is already sad about the break-up of the family, and under the distorting influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent this authentic sadness is twisted into anger and blame directed at you for causing the divorce.

You are trying to keep the child out of the spousal conflict, whereas the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is actively bringing the child into the spousal conflict, actively manipulating the child into taking the “side” of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. You’re the bad person who is causing the divorce, causing the child’s sadness.

Eliciting Criticism

The second phase is eliciting from the child criticisms of you, however small, that are then inflamed and distorted by the response these elicited criticisms receive from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

By responding as if these minor elicited criticisms actually represent severe parental failures on your part, the child is led into falsely believing that these normal-range interactions between you and the child were actually “evidence” of your “abusive” parenting practices toward the child.

Typically, this is framed as your not being sensitive enough to “the child’s needs” (which contains the implied message that you don’t love the child).  The responses of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to these sought-for and elicited child criticisms of you define you as selfish and insensitive toward the child, and the child comes to believe this.

Believing Falsehood

The child experiences an authentic sadness.

First over the loss of the intact family, then at the loss of an affectionally bonded relationship with you. The child loves you and misses you. Once the child’s affectionally bonded relationship with you is disrupted by the distorting influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the loss of an affectionally bonded relationship with you makes the child extremely sad.

The child’s sadness is real and authentic.

However, under the distorting influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child is induced into misinterpreting this authentic sadness as being caused by something bad you’re doing as a parent.

When people do bad things to us, they hurt us.

Something about being with you hurts (in actuality, it’s that the child wants to bond with you and isn’t. It hurts because they miss loving you).  

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent twists the child’s sadness into blame and anger, and the narcissistic/(borderline) parent convinces the child that the source of the child’s hurt is your bad parenting. You’re a bad person, that’s why the child hurts.

This makes sense to the child. When people do bad things to us, it hurts us. The child hurts, so that means you must be doing something bad that is making the child hurt. Initially, this is framed as blaming you for the divorce. Then this is expanded to your not being sensitive enough to what the child feels and needs (i.e., the implied message is that you don’t love the child).

Under the distorting influence of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child falls down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, where up is down, the sky is yellow, and truth is whatever anyone asserts it to be.

Your child loves you very much.  The child is simply lost.

The Role-Reversal Relationship

In healthy parent-child relationships, the child uses the parent as a “regulatory other” for the child’s emotional and psychological experience.

In a role-reversal relationship, the parent uses the child as a “regulatory other” for the parent’s emotional and psychological experience.

The emotional and psychological state of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is unstable.  If the child fails to be who the narcissistic/(borderline) parent wants the child to be, the child is exposed to the collapse of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent into hostility, anger, and rejection of the child.

If, on the other hand, the child can read the inner psychological and emotional needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent and respond in ways to meet those needs, then the child can stabilize the emotional and psychological functioning of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent and prevent this parent’s collapse into disorganization, hostility, and rejection of the child.

In addition, truth and reality are not fixed constructs for the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  For the narcissistic/(borderline) personality, “truth and reality are what I assert them to be.”

So the child is living in a dangerous world where it is vital to continually meet the ever shifting emotional and psychological needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and in which truth and reality are not fixed concepts but are continually changing, defined by the moment-to-moment needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

This creates a tremendous anxiety for the child being with the unstable and psychologically dangerous narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  The child becomes hyper-vigilant for reading the emotional and psychological state of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent and meeting the needs of the parent to stabilize this parent’s emotional and psychological functioning.  This is the role-reversal relationship.  The child is acting as a “regulatory other” for the emotional and psychological state of the parent.

Surrender

When the child surrenders to the will of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child is freed from the tremendous anxiety.  The child’s surrender into being what the narcissistic/(borderline) wants the child to be stabilizes the emotional and psychological functioning of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. As long as the child is who and what the narcissistic/(borderline) parent wants and needs the child to be, the child is safe from the parent’s collapse into hostility and rejection of the child.

Indulgences

And in return for the child’s psychological surrender to the will and needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child is granted indulgences.  With a more narcissistic-style parent (typically, but not always, the pathological father), the child will be granted material indulgences and adult-like privileges.  With the more borderline-style parent (typically, but not always, the pathological mother), the child will be granted affectionate indulgences surrounding their idealized “perfect love” for each other.

But neither type of indulgence is love.  The narcissistic granting of material indulgences and adult-like privileges is actually a form of emotional and psychological neglect and an expression of parental non-involvement.  The borderline granting of hyper-affectionate bonding is actually to meet the borderline-style parent’s needs to be the idealized and totally adored “beloved,” in order to eliminate the parent’s fears of abandonment. 

The granting of indulgences to the child is not about the child, it’s about the parent.  The narcissistic-style parent doesn’t want to be bothered.  The borderline-style parent wants to be the center of the child’s universe, never to be abandoned by the child.

Fusion

So what does the narcissistic/(borderline) parent want from the child? 

They want the child to be a complete narcissistic reflection of the parent’s own psychological state. 

They want the child to be a totally fused reflection of the parent’s own psychological world.

When the child psychologically surrenders the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the child enters a fused psychological state with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  The child surrenders authenticity for psychological fusion. 

This state of psychological fusion actually feels good… somewhat.  It’s like an experience of hyper-intimacy, it’s just that this hyper-intimacy is being purchased at the price of authenticity.  So sometimes the child may actually believe that he or she is sharing a loving relationship of perfect mutual understanding with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent . 

Yet there will always be echoes deep inside the child of loneliness and self-alienation. And there will be the grief and sadness of missing you.  Always there will be the grief and sadness of missing you.

Guilt

But in surrendering to the psychological will and needs of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, your child has betrayed you, betrayed their beloved.

Your child loves you very much.  Your child has betrayed you.  This produces profound guilt.

The child must defend against this tremendous guilt, and they do so by making you “deserve” to be rejected.  It’s your fault.  You don’t love them enough.  You don’t… You didn’t… You never…  It’s your fault.

You “deserve” to be rejected. 

And the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is fully supportive of this interpretation of the child’s rejection of you.  You deserve to be rejected because you’re the inadequate spouse – person – parent, who is being rejected (abandoned) because of your inadequacy as a spouse – person – parent.

You failed to appreciate the narcissistic glory of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  You rejected and abandoned the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  You “deserve” to be punished, you “deserve” to suffer.

In this shared false belief, the child is able to avoid the guilt of betraying you and the pain of losing you.

Your Child Loves You

Your child loves you with all their heart.  You are the world to them.  They are lost.  They are living in a psychologically dangerous world of ever-changing truth and reality.  They must do what it takes to survive in the dangerous psychological world of living with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

We must be able to protectively separate the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent before we can restore the child’s authenticity.

I hope this helps in understanding the child’s experience.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, PSY 18857

You are all in this together

I often receive phone calls and emails from targeted parents asking for my help. I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to targeted parents regarding your situation.


To targeted parents:

You cannot do this alone. 

Unless we solve “parental alienation” for everyone, we can solve it for no one.  You are all in this together.  There can be no solution to any individual family situation until we achieve a solution for ALL families experiencing parental alienation.

No solution exists under the Gardnerian PAS model.  The Gardnerian paradigm has been available for 30 years and it has given us exactly the current situation we have now.  Until the paradigm shifts from a Gardnerian PAS model to an attachment-based model, no solution to your individual family struggle will be available.  There is nothing you can do.  

Once the paradigm shifts from a Gardnerian PAS model to an attachment-based model, the solution becomes immediately available for all parents and children.  Then, and only then, will there be a solution available for your individual situation.

Unless and until we solve “parental alienation” for all families, there will be no solution available for any individual family.  You are all in this together. 

You must come together to fight for all of your children.

Let me explain.

Do you know any therapists in…?

I regularly receive emails and phone calls from targeted parents who ask,

“Do you know any therapists in <name the location> who treat parental alienation?”

This is fundamentally the wrong question.

The child is in a psychological hostage situation. How can we possibly ask the child to expose his or her authenticity if we cannot first protect the child from the certain retaliation that will be inflicted on the child by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?

The child is in a very dangerous psychological situation with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. You, of all people, should know this.

You know how angry and irrational that other parent is, how controlling and demeaning the other parent can be. You were married to them, and you divorced them.  You understand it because you experienced it.

When you were married to the other parent at least the child had you available to provide some protection for the child when the other parent’s pathology was triggered, and during the marriage most of the other parent’s pathology was directed at you so that the child was spared the intensity of a direct assault by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s pathology.

But now, following the divorce, the child is alone with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. You escaped the pathology of the other parent by divorcing this parent, but the child is still trapped.  And you can’t directly protect the child anymore because you’re no longer there; the child is alone now with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.  And the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is directing their spousal anger at you through the child, so the child is now directly in the line of fire.

If the child shows any bonding toward you, any kindness toward you, or is even simply not being rejecting enough of you, not being sufficiently hostile and demeaning toward you, then the child faces the fierce psychological retaliation of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and you know just how crazy and irrational, how angry and hostile, how subtly manipulative and controlling that onslaught can be.

Unless we can first protect the child, how can we ask the child to expose his or her authenticity to the full fury of the pathological onslaught that’s sure to follow from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?

When you ask me if there is a therapist who treats “parental alienation” you are considering only your own needs, your own love for your child, but you are not considering the consequences for the child if we expose the child’s authenticity without being able to protect the child from the searing retaliation that is sure to follow.

I know you love your child.  I know how desperately you miss your child.  But we must first be able to protect the child before we can ask the child to expose his or her authenticity.

The Questions

The appropriate question is,

“Dr. Childress, how can I protect my child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?”

The answer is, you can’t.

Don’t you see that? You cannot protect your child. And if you cannot protect your child then your child has to do whatever is necessary, including rejecting a relationship with you, in order to survive in the psychologically dangerous world in which the child must survive.

In order to protect your child, you must get the court to order a protective separation of the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of the child’s treatment and recovery.

Unless you can get the court to order the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the recovery of the child’s authenticity, then there is nothing that can be done, because you cannot protect your child and the child must do what is necessary to survive in the pathology surrounding the child.

“But Dr. Childress, I’ve tried. I’ve spent a fortune in legal bills, all the money I have and more,  I’ve gone into debt, I’ve borrowed from family, all in an effort to get the court to recognize the parental alienation, and the court doesn’t do anything. They write orders that are never enforced, the other parent simply ignores court orders and the court doesn’t do anything about it.  And they’ve reduced my time with the child to almost nothing.  The court won’t order a protective separation of my child from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.”

“Dr. Childress, how do I get the court to order a protective separation of the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?”

You can’t.

Don’t you see that?  It is so clearly obvious.  Under the current Gardnerian PAS paradigm it is nearly impossible to get the court to order the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The family law system is massively broken. 

Judges don’t understand “parental alienation,” and it is nearly impossible to prove “parental alienation” in court. It takes years and years of legal battling in which the narcissistic/(borderline) parent delays and delays, throwing up roadblocks, allegations of abuse, blatantly disregarding court orders without any consequence, until you’ve spent all your money, you haven’t seen your kids in years, and things have gone from bad to horrible.

You can’t get the court to order a protective separation on your own, you’re not powerful enough. You need an ally. You need mental health to stand by your side and say with decisive clarity to the court that the child is being “alienated” from you by the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and that the child’s healthy development REQUIRES that the child be protectively separated from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the period of treatment as we recover and stabilize the child’s authenticity.

“But Dr. Childress, I’ve tried. I’ve been in therapy for years. We’ve had a child custody evaluation that said the other parent was “alienating” the child but the evaluator still recommended shared custody. We’ve been in reunification therapy and the therapist acts like the distortions the child is saying are true, and the therapist has even asked me to apologize to the child for my past “failures,” when I didn’t do anything wrong. Years of supposed therapy and nothing changes, things actually get worse. And I never get to speak with the child’s individual therapists. No one in mental health is my ally. What can I do?”

“Dr. Childress, how can I convince mental health professionals to be my ally in obtaining the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent?”

You can’t. You’re still not understanding. The mental health response to your family is completely ignorant and incompetent, and the current Gardnerian PAS paradigm allows this professional ignorance and incompetence.

The mental health professionals diagnosing and treating your family are entirely and completely incompetent. They’re plastic surgeons diagnosing and treating cancer. They have no idea what’s wrong and they have even less of an understanding for what to do about it.

The custody evaluation is going to take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars, but the conclusion is (almost) pre-written, joint custody to both parents. Split the difference. Middle of the road. It doesn’t matter what’s actually going on, that’s irrelevant. The answer is going to be to recommend the middle, split the difference, joint custody to both parents (or less custody time to you because the child is saying that the child doesn’t want to be with you).

Therapists are pointless. Individual therapists will simply “validate the child’s feelings” which is essentially validating and colluding with the pathology. And the typical justification for this insane collusion with psychopathology is that they’re “giving the child a safe place to talk about their feelings.” Nonsense. Therapy isn’t a safe place for the alienated child.  After every session (if the narcissistic/(borderline) parent even allows therapy sessions to occur), the child is asked by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to report on what occurred during the therapy session.  Therapy just becomes another place for the child to display to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent the child’s allegiance to the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. We might as well have the narcissistic/(borderline) parent sitting in the supposedly “individual” child therapy sessions.

And psychologically the child is entirely captured by the role-reversal relationship. There is no authentic child present. The child is like a ventriloquist’s puppet, mouthing the words placed there by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

(In the scientific literature, this loss of authenticity is called a “role-reversal” relationship in which the child is being used as a “regulatory object” by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to regulate the emotional and psychological state of this parent.)

Joint parent-child “reunification therapy” is equally as pointless, as I’m sure you’re aware. First off, there is no such thing as “reunification therapy.” This term is used by therapists as a cover which allows the therapist to essentially do anything under the guise of “reunification therapy.”  There is no defined model for what “reunification therapy” is.  The therapist does whatever seems to make sense to the therapist at the moment under the pretense that there is some sort of strategy or approach to restoring the parent-child bond. But there is no strategy or approach, because these therapists have no idea what they’re treating, and they have even less understanding for how to treat the pathology that sits before them.

They’re treating cancer with leeches. Not only don’t they understand what they’re treating, their treatment is positively medieval in its approach so that it has no hope of resolving the severity of the pathology.

Mental health isn’t your ally. They are ignorant, and in their ignorance they are only colluding with, and further entrenching, the pathology.

“So Dr. Childress. What can I do?”

Nothing.

Is There a Solution? No. (and yes).

What you’re facing is a manifestation of the childhood trauma pathology that created the narcissistic/(borderline) pathology of the other parent, which is now being reenacted on you.

In the childhood trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, the narcissistic/(borderline) parent as a child was being psychologically abused by his or her own parent, and there was nothing the narcissistic/(borderline) parent-as-a-child could do back then to escape the abuse. They were powerless to make their suffering stop.

That was the initial trauma that is now being reenacted on you.

You, as the recipient of the trauma reenactment narrative, are being psychologically abused and there is nothing you can do to escape the abuse.

There is no solution for you.

But, there is a solution.

In order to solve this nightmare of “parental alienation” for you, we must solve it for EVERYONE, for ALL targeted parents. When we solve “parental alienation” for ALL targeted parents, then we will solve it for you.

Your individual solution will be found in the collective solution. Until we solve parental alienation for everyone, we can solve it for no one.

So what’s the solution? Mental health MUST become your ally, so that working together we have enough power to protect your child. We start with mental health.

First, we must demand – not seek – we must demand professional competence. We must banish professional ignorance and incompetence.

Gardner’s PAS model won’t allow us to demand professional competence because he proposed a “new syndrome” which has been rejected by establishment mental health for 30 years as lacking in scientifically established foundation. 

The Gardnerian PAS paradigm allows for exactly the professional incompetence we are witnessing.  After 30 years of the failed Gardnerian PAS paradigm that should be patently obvious.  The Gardnerian PAS paradigm is giving us exactly what we have.  So why are we holding onto the Gardnerian PAS paradigm that allows for such extensive professional incompetence?  I have no idea. 

We need a change.

An attachment-based model of “parental alienation” provides this change.

It doesn’t propose a “new syndrome” but instead defines what “parental alienation” is entirely using standard and accepted, scientifically sound and supported, psychological constructs and principles. This redefinition of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established psychological principles and constructs then allows us to define “domains of professional competence” required for treating this “special population” of children and families:

  • Attachment theory
  • Personality disorder dynamics
  • Family systems constructs

We can then require that all mental health professionals diagnosing and treating this “special population” possess the necessary knowledge for competent professional practice.

Then, once we banish ignorance and obtain professional competence, the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” in the child’s symptom display will identify the presence of parental alienation in every case.

Finally, you will have a definitive diagnosis from mental health. And this diagnosis will include the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.57 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

And because we have achieved professional competence, gone will be pointless individual child therapy, gone will be un-defined “reunification therapy.”

Therapy for attachment-based “parental alienation” REQUIRES the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent during the active phase of treatment and recovery stabilization from the role-reversal relationship with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent in which the child is being used as a “regulatory object” by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent for the psychopathology of this parent.

Because we have achieved profession competence, no therapist, ANYWHERE, will treat a case of attachment-based “parental alienation” without first obtaining the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. Mental health will, at last, be your ally.

THEN, we turn back to the court system. When mental health speaks with a single voice, the legal system will be able to act with the decisive clarity necessary to solve parental alienation.

Judges will be presented with a mental health diagnosis of V995.57 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed from ALL mental health professionals involved with your child and family, and no therapist anywhere will treat the child without the court first ordering the child’s protective separation from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

Before we can ask the child to expose his or her authenticity, we MUST first protect the child.

While it is possible that judges may still not order a protective separation, it will be extremely hard for them not to order a protective separation when ALL mental health professionals are giving the child a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.57 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed, and the entire field of professional psychology is saying that the child’s treatment REQUIRES the child’s protective separation from the psychopathology of the allied and supposedly favored narcissistic/(borderline) parent. For a judge to simply disregard all of professional mental health regarding the child’s pathology and treatment needs is going to be very hard for the judge to do.

Once we have a protective separation of the child from the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, then we can restore the child’s authenticity and the child’s loving bond to you.

But we must solve “parental alienation” for ALL families in order to solve it for any one family.

And then, once we have stopped the continual bleeding-out of current “alienation,” we can next turn our focus on the adult-children of “alienation,” the adult survivors of childhood “parental alienation.”

With the media attention we can generate surrounding the solution for current “alienation” we can broaden the focus to include the adult survivors of childhood “parental alienation” so that we can set about healing this nightmare for everyone.  For everyone.

As targeted parents, you are in this together. We cannot solve this for any one family unless we solve it for all families.

We can solve it for all families.

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

Synthesis

I recieved a Comment to my blog that I would like to respond to as a full post.

“Dr Childress, thank you for your generic letters to therapists and the child’s attorney. Have you written a generic correspondence to the judges in these cases?” – Jeff

There’s a problem in writing a generic letter to the Court that I think will be helpful to explain.

My professional background is not as an expert in “parental alienation.” My professional expertise is actually in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with a secondary specialty in early childhood mental health (ages 0-5) which necessarily includes an expertise in the neuro-development of the brain during childhood.

Before entering private practice I served as the Clinical Director for a children’s assessment and treatment center that primarily served children in the foster care system.  My expertise in the attachment system comes from both my background in early childhood mental health, which is the period of active formative processes in the attachment system (although we use the patterns of the attachment system throughout our lives), and from also applying this attachment-related information directly with children in the foster care system who were the victims of parental abuse and neglect that created a variety of severe distortions with their attachment system.

My foundational expertise in ADHD and angry-defiant children focuses on older age children (school-age) and adolescents, although it also has applicability to preschool age children as well. This overlap was particularly prominent in my work at Children’s Hospital of Orange County where I served as the lead clinical psychologist on a collaborative project with the University of California, Irvine’s Child Development Center on the identification and treatment of ADHD in preschool-age children.

I know the impact of child abuse up close and personal. I’ve seen the results of child physical and sexual abuse and severe neglect. I’m not a “parental alienation” expert. I’m a clinical child and family psychologist.

I only ran across “parental alienation” when I entered private practice to begin writing my book solving ADHD and all aspects of parenting generally

And I’m being honest on that, I’ve got the non-medication solution to ADHD (most forms) and to nearly all.. no, I’d say all… parenting issues. These solutions represent the synthesis of my years of work with ADHD and the neuro-development of brain systems during childhood – look what I’ve done with “parental alienation” in a couple of years of focused effort, imagine what I’ve done with ADHD and parenting from a lifetime of effort. Solved it.

But I just can’t get to writing about it because I’m busy solving “parental alienation” first. But the reason I’ve been able to solve “parental alienation” is because I’ve first solved parenting generally, and oppositional-defiant children, and ADHD children, and healthy child development, and all the stuff related to parenting and childhood. I simply applied this knowledge to “parental alienation.”

I’m currently waiting for “parental alienation” to catch up to an attachment-based model and then I’m going to drop down one level deeper for mental health professionals into an understanding of “parental alienation” at some basic neurological levels, and in particular with a brain system called “intersubjectivity.”

For any mental health professionals who are interested in where this is going, read these two articles by Fonagy,

Fonagy, P., Luyten, P., and Strathearn, L. (2011). Borderline personality disorder, mentalization, and the neurobiology of attachment. Infant Mental Health Journal, 32, 47-69.

Fonagy P. & Target M. (2005). Bridging the transmission gap: An end to an important mystery in attachment research? Attachment and Human Development, 7, 333-343.

Fonagy is one of the leading figures in the field of attachment and intersubjectivity.  His work is brilliant.

The problem in writing a generic letter to the judge is, what happens if it is actually the targeted parent who is the narcissistic parent, who may be inflicting emotional, physical, or psychological abuse on the child, or on the other parent through a history of severe domestic violence?

What if the favored parent is authentically trying to protect the child from an emotionally or physically or sexually abusing narcissistic parent, and the narcissistic targeted parent is manipulatively using the allegation of “parental alienation” against the favored parent to nullify the favored parent’s authentic efforts to protect the child from abuse?

What if the narcissistic targeted parent feels “entitled” to possession of the “narcissistic object” of the child and cannot understand why the child wouldn’t want to be with the magnificence of the ideal and perfect narcissistic parent, so that the narcissistic targeted parent is externalizing blame onto the favored normal-range and healthy parent for the child’s reluctance to be with the chronic empathic failures and nullification of the child’s self-authenticity experienced from the narcissistic targeted parent?

I know child abuse up close and personal. I will NOT participate in or collude with the ability of a narcissistic parent to emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abuse the child and then avoid responsibility and nullify the protective efforts of the normal-range and healthy parent by alleging that the child’s allegations are simply a case of “parental alienation.”

The valid concern is that the narcissistic targeted parent will externalize responsibility by alleging “parental alienation,” thereby continuing the child’s exposure to emotional and psychological abuse from profound parental empathic failure and nullification of the child’s self-authenticity, physical and psychological control and intimidation of the child, or active sexual exploitation of the child, and if the child reports the abuse the narcissistic predator simply alleges that it’s a “false allegation” because of “parental alienation.”

In about 20% of the cases that come to me because of my expertise in “parental alienation” it turns out that the targeted parent who is alleging “parental alienation” actually turns out to be the narcissistic parent who is externalizing blame and responsibility for the child’s reluctance to be with the narcissistic parent onto the other parent by alleging “parental alienation” because the narcissistic targeted parent feels “entitled” to possess the child.

The Critics

This is the argument of the critics of “parental alienation.” They are deeply and rightly concerned that the construct of “parental alienation” defined by Gardner is so poorly formed that it will allow narcissistic predatory parents to continue their abuse, including the incestuous sexual abuse of the child and the psychological domination of the child (and spouse) through threats of violence directed toward the child and spouse.

I know child abuse up close and personal. The concerns expressed by the critics of “parental alienation” are entirely valid. The critics aren’t our enemy. And we should not be theirs.

They are absolutely correct in their heartfelt and authentic concerns for the well-being of children and families. As are we.

We should be joined together in a collaborative effort to accurately identify narcissistic parenting (i.e., psychological and other forms of child abuse) in 100% of the cases. We’re not adversaries, the critics and supporters of “parental alienation,” we are fundamental allies.

So why are we divided? Why do we see them as the enemy to be “overcome” and they see us as radicals that presents a “threat” to children and families?

Staff-splitting.

There is a well-established construct in working with borderline personalities referred to as “staff-splitting.”

It’s called a “parallel process” in which arguments and divisions appear in the treatment team as a parallel process of manifesting the splitting dynamic (see Key Concept: Splitting post) inherent to borderline (and narcissistic) personality dynamics.

Remember, narcissistic and borderline personality organizations are simply external variants of an underlying borderline core. They are not two different types of personalities, they are two different expressions of the same type of underlying process.

Staff-splitting is described by one of the foremost experts on borderline personality processes, Marsha Linehan,

“Staff splitting,” as mentioned earlier, is a much-discussed phenomenon in which professionals treating borderline patients begin arguing and fighting about a patient, the treatment plan, or the behavior of the other professionals with the patient… arguments among staff members and differences in points of view, traditionally associated with staff splitting, are seen as failures in synthesis and interpersonal process among the staff rather than as a patient’s problem… Therapist disagreements over a patient are treated as potentially equally valid poles of a dialectic. Thus, the starting point for dialogue is the recognition that a polarity has arisen, together with an implicit (if not explicit) assumption that resolution will require working toward synthesis.” (p. 432)

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: Guilford

Notice the date… 1993. This is not a new concept. It is familiar to everyone who works with borderline personality dynamics.

It is not a coincidence that both sides in the “parental alienation” debate adopt an idealized self-attitude that “we” are the wonderful protectors of children, and that “the other side” is comprised of callous and insensitive people who are unconcerned about child abuse.

Splitting, pure and simple. Polarized extremes of perception in which “we” are idealized and “they” are demonized.

There are no sides. We all want exactly the same thing.

The critics of “parental alienation” aren’t our enemies, and we are not theirs.

All the critics want is to ensure that we protect children from child abuse. That’s entirely reasonable. The concerns expressed by the critics are that the Gardnerian PAS model is too poorly defined so that it allows narcissistic targeted parents to continue their abuse of children by evading protection efforts through alleging “parental alienation.”

That’s an entirely reasonable concern.

So let’s look at the diagnostic criteria for Gardnerian PAS, are they specific enough to ensure that narcissistic targeted parents cannot use the construct of “parental alienation” as a manipulative means to evade our child protection efforts?

Uhhhh, no, actually they’re not. The Gardnerian PAS diagnostic criteria, while possibly accurate for identifying cases of “parental alienation” in which the narcissistic parent is the allied and supposedly favored parent, do not sufficiently differentiate cases when the targeted parent is the narcissistic parent.

Diagnostic criteria must meet standards for “sensitivity” (correctly identifying the presence of something) and “specificity” (not misidentifying other things as being the thing we’re looking for).

The Gardnerian criteria may have sufficient “sensitivity” (and I’m conceding some on the “may” here), but they lack sufficient “specificity.” There is too great a risk that the Gardnerian criteria will be used by narcissistic targeted parents to evade our child protection efforts.

I am not a “parental alienation” expert. I am a clinical psychologist. I know child abuse up close and personal. I will not participate in or collude with the pathology of a narcissistic parent, whether that parent is the allied and supposedly favored parent or whether that parent is the targeted parent.

Over the past several years, I have actually withdrawn from cases of “reunification” because I was unwilling to participate in the restoration of the child’s relationship with a narcissistic targeted parent. So far, I’ve withdrawn from three cases for exactly this reason.  In other cases where this has occurred, I’ve continued my work with an understanding that the reason for the child’s “protest behavior” was not “parental alienation” but instead represented valid child concerns.

If you’re a normal-range parent being falsely accused of “parental alienation” your best chance is probably to come see me. I know what “parental alienation” is, so I also know what it’s not.

And not everything is “parental alienation.” Sometimes the narcissistic parent is the targeted parent.

So I will not write a generic letter to a judge, because the risk is too high that a narcissistic targeted parent might use the letter to evade child protection efforts. I will ask therapists to consider the issues. I will ask minor’s counsels to consider the issues.  Judges decide.

If it is helpful, I will offer my professional expertise to the Court when desired.  I respect the Court.  If I can help the Court produce a decision that will be in the child’s best interests in achieving healthy emotional and psychological development, I would be privileged to do so. But only if my expertise can help the Court make a proper decision in the specific case before it.

Diagnosis

Achieving synthesis in this unnecessary professional debate surrounding “parental alienation” requires listening to the constructive criticism of the other position.  

The critics cited that the Gardnerian PAS model was insufficiently grounded in established psychological principles and constructs. So when I set about developing an actualizable solution to “parental alienation” I went back to the very foundations of the construct.

I first had to work out what the psychological structure of the pathology was.  From this foundational understanding for the psychological structure of “parental alienation,” I then identified key diagnostic features of this structure that would,

1.) Identify “parental alienation” in ALL cases (sensitivity)

2,) Not identify anything else that wasn’t “parental alienation” as being “parental alienation” (specificity)

The three diagnostic indicators for an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” meet this standard.

That’s why ALL THREE of the diagnostic indicators must be present to make the diagnosis of attachment-based “parental alienation.” Any of the three individual diagnostic indicators may be present from other causes, but not ALL THREE. When all three diagnostic indicators are present, the only possible cause is an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation.”

In my post, Diagnostic Indicators and Associated Clinical Signs, notice how many features didn’t make the cut, i.e., all of the associated clinical signs.  All of these features are characteristic of “parental alienation” but they lack sufficient sensitivity or specificity to make the cut into being a formal diagnostic indicator.

That’s the process, the professional rigor, that Gardner should have adopted,

A) Identify the structure of the pathogenic process

B) Determine diagnostic indicators of sufficient sensitivity and specificity based on a foundational understanding for the pathogenic process

Instead, Gardner adopted what I consider to be an intellectually lazy approach of proposing a “new syndrome” without sufficient analysis, and then a proposed set of anecdotal diagnostic features that are inadequate to the task.

Synthesis

We are mental health professionals. You guys, you mental health professionals on both sides who have been engaged in this unnecessary “parental alienation” debate for 30 years, should be really embarrassed that you fell prey to the parallel process of staff-splitting… for 30 years. Oh my gosh. Thirty years.

When I first looked at the debate, it took me about 30 seconds to recognize the splitting.

“We are the wonderful protectors of children”

Whether this statement is made by the Gardnerians or by the critics.

“They are callous and uncaring about the suffering of children”

Whether this statement is made by the Gardnerians or by the critics.

“We are the righteous and noble. They are the enemy to be defeated.”

Again, whether this statement is made by the Gardnerians or by the critics.

Stop it.  Splitting.  Splitting.  Splitting.

“We” are idealized and “they” are demonized. Stop it.

All of you should be really embarrassed. How can you have succumbed to the parallel process of staff-splitting for so long? The only answer I can come up with is ignorance about working with borderline personality processes. Linehan’s identification of staff-splitting is from 1993. Twenty years ago.

If you don’t know about borderline personality processes, I would gently suggest that you may be practicing beyond the boundaries of professional competence if you are working with borderline personality processes.

But enough with my chastisement. The important thing now is to stop it. We are not idealized and they are not the enemy. On both sides of this unnecessary debate. The critics must also stop it. We are not your enemy. We all have the same goal. Protection of children 100% of the time.

Protection of children 100% of the time when the targeted parent is the narcissistic parent.

Protection of children 100% of the time when the supposedly favored parent is the narcissistic parent.

ALL children need to be protected from all forms of child abuse 100% of the time.  There is absolutely no disagreement.  There are no sides.

We need to start listening to a recognized expert in dealing with borderline personality processes, Marsha Linehan:

1.) “The starting point for dialogue is the recognition that a polarity has arisen”

2.) The disagreement represents a “failure of synthesis”

3.) The disagreement is treated as “equally valid poles” in the dialogue

4.) “Resolution will require working toward synthesis.

The critics are rightly concerned that Gardner’s PAS model is too sloppily put together and will expose some child abuse victims to re-victimization.  I’ve seen child abuse up close and personal  That’s a valid concern.

Our concern is that professional incompetence and ignorance results in the acceptance of superficial appearances that leads to a misdiagnosis of the severely pathogenic parenting involved in the child’s role-reversal relationship with a narcissistic/(borderline) parent as representing an authentic display of the child’s rejection of the targeted parent, and that the pathology involved in attachment-based “parental alienation” rises to the level of a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.

From our position advocating for the construct of “parental alienation,” achieving synthesis involves expending the necessary effort to define the construct of “parental alienation” from entirely within standard and established professional constructs, so that we can develop strong diagnostic indicators that are both sensitive AND specific, and that can be used in 100% of the cases to accurately differentiate when the narcissistic parent is the targeted parent and when the narcissistic parent is the supposedly favored parent, so that we can protect 100% of the children 100% of the time.

From the other side, movement toward synthesis represents the acknowledgement that an attachment-based model for the construct of parental alienation represents an accurate description of the clinical phenomenon and warrants a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed when the three diagnostic indicators of attachment-based “parental alienation” are present.  Synthesis.  Solution.

There are no sides. We are all on the same side. I invite the Gardnerians to join us in synthesis. I invite the critics to join us in synthesis. You are not our enemy, and we are not yours. We all want exactly the same thing. To protect children from the abuse inflicted on them by a narcissistic parent.

When mental health speaks with a single voice, we can achieve a solution to “parental alienation.” It is time for a solution.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, PSY 18857