Dr. Childress Well thank you so much. I want to start by thanking California Southern University for this opportunity to talk today. The issues surrounding what has traditionally been defined as parental alienation are extremely tragic family circumstances and to the extent that this talk today might help lead to a resolution of those family tragedies it is much appreciated. Now today, I’m going to be talking about the theoretical underpinnings for a different approach to defining what parental alienation is than what has traditionally offered or described. I have limited time today, only.
About an hour and a half or so and then some questions period. I’m going to limit my discussion today to just those theoretical underpinnings and the theoretical framework and structure for an attachmentbased model to understanding what’s traditionally been defined as parental alienation. I’ll be talking next week at a different seminar for about five hours where I will apply the model then to the diagnosis, to treatment, to the legal setting. I won’t be able to get into those issues today, but if you’re interested on more information along those lines I suggest I have my website, I have a lot of writings.
Up on my website. I also have a blog that you can access and I recommend that. I’ve already got what I believe are some interesting posts up there and I anticipate getting some more very intriguing posts on my blog. To start today regarding an attachmentbased model to parental alienation, I’m going to start by talking about the current or the previous structure that was purposed for understanding parental alienation. The construct of parental alienation is essentially a child initiated cutoff in the child’s relationship with a normal range and affectionally available parent and this typically occurs as part of highconflict.
Parental Alienation An Attachmentbased Model
Divorce. Now in the mid 1980s psychiatrist Richard Gardner proposed a model, he recognized a clinical phenomena having to do with what he called parental alienation and he proposed a model by which it would be identified. He referred to it as Parental Alienation Syndrome. He discussed a set of anecdotal clinical indicators by which it could be recognized and he also went into describing how oftentimes in these situations there are false allegations of child abuse involved in this. His model however has generated a great deal of controversy. First because it moved beyond.
Standard and accepted psychological principles and he proposed this new syndrome of clinical indicators that weren’t really based in any standard or established psychological constructs or principles. Then secondly by purposing that parental alienation could often involve false allegations of child abuse the whole dialogue and discussion with array, away from parenting into child abuse allegations and those sorts of things. It’s generated a lot of controversy. It’s been about thirty years now and it’s still semiaccepted in the professional community. In my view, Gardner’s model of PAS while he did identify a clinical phenomenon, it represents a failed paradigm. It’s a failed legal paradigm.
Because it fails to produce the changes necessary to solve the family problems. Families have to litigate whether or not there’s parental alienation. That can takes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees. If families can’t litigate, then it simply is unsolvable. It’s a failed theoretical paradigm because he too quickly abandoned established psychological constructs and principles and the rigor necessary to define what the clinical phenomenon is within those principles. By doing that, he’s constructed a model that’s founded on the shifting sands of anecdotal clinical indicators.
When we try to leverage his model in the legal system or in the mental health system, the sands shift beneath our feet and the whole structure collapses. We’re not able to leverage the model because it’s not based in established psychological constructs. It’s a failed diagnostic model, because by going to anecdotal clinical indicators rather than established constructs it’s hard to determine whether or not parental alienation exists. There’s according to the current or his model there are degrees of parental alienation. It could be mild or moderate or severe which can be very hard to prove within the legal.
System and there’s a lot of controversy within mental health as to whether it’s alienation or whether it’s really what’s called estrangement which is a problematic construct in itself. It’s a failed therapeutic paradigm because it does not tell us what to do about it. It’s a new thing. Parental alienation syndrome it doesn’t exist within any established constructs. Whereas if we base our understanding within standard, established and accepted psychological principles and constructs, then those constructs lead us to what the therapy is. We can then understand the underlying foundations and resolve the issues because we know what they.
Are. What I have done as I ran into this tragic family circumstance because my background is in parentchild conflict. I deal with the angry, grumpy kids. Kids throwing chairs through the walls, ADHD kinds of family conflicts. That’s what I deal in an everyday sort of way. I recognize what authentic parentchild conflicts looks like. In my private practice when I ran into this parental alienation, it’s fairly easy to recognize inauthentic conflict that’s being induced through family relationships, but when I try to address these issues the controversy surrounding parental alienation syndrome undermine the.
Solution. I set about over the last couple of years of redefining what the construct is from within standard and established principles. An attachmentbased reformulation of parental alienation offers the foundation, a theoretical foundation that’s grounded on the bedrock of established and accepted and scientifically supported principles that we can then use to leverage the legal interventions and to leverage the therapeutic interventions necessary to solve this issue. An attachmentbased model of parental alienation provides the theoretical framework that can bring mental health back together into speaking with a single voice.
As to what it is as opposed to this conflict that currently occurs within the mental health field regarding whether parental alienation even exists and if so how to define it. Let me now turn to defining the theoretical foundations for this alternate paradigm to the Gardner’s model. This is the overall structure of it that I will be explaining throughout this seminar here today. It starts with a disorganized preoccupied attachment of the alienating parent that led the alienating parent to develop personality disorder pathology centering around narcissistic borderline personality dynamics. Now don’t get too hung up on the.
Labels of the categories because increasingly personality disorders are being understood as having their roots in the attachment system. They’re dimensional. They’re not categorical and so don’t get too hung up on the actual labels. More so the labels are just descriptive categories or descriptive shorthand to be able to talk about some of the features. Also Kernberg one of the leading figures in personality disorders recognized that narcissistic and borderline personality dynamics are flip sides of the same coin. Underneath in the attachment system, they’re the same dynamic, but they just have different outward manifestations.
For various reasons. Disorganized preoccupied attachment of the alienating parent during childhood constellated into personality disorder traits, narcissistic and borderline. It also involves an attachment trauma, a relationship trauma embedded in the neurological networks of the narcissistic borderline parent. That trauma is going to be reenacted in the parental alienation. The attachment system mediates both bonding relationships and also the loss of those relationships. When the divorce occurred, we have a reactivation of the alienating parent’s attachment system to mediate that loss experience and so all of those trauma networks having to do with internal working models of attachment also.
Get reactivated. It’s just complex blend of personality disorder dynamics and attachment trauma that then get reenacted in the current family situation. In organizing the theoretical foundations, there are three levels to analysis of what’s going on. It can seem complex at first, but if we look at the different layers of things we can get greater clarity of what’s taking place. At the surface level, there’s a family systems dynamics. I’ll talk about those in a second of what the family system relationships look like. Underneath those and driving those family systems processes are the personality.
Disorder dynamics. Underneath those are the attachment system problems and the attachment trauma. Starting with the family systems level from a family systems theory, families go through transitions. For example, the birth of the first child creates a transition for the family. The growth of the child maturation into school years or into adolescence where we now have an adult, a new adult in the family or the launching of the child into adulthood, all of those periods involve transitions in the family. If a family fails to make a successful transition symptoms emerge.
Well the divorce and dissolution of the marriage represents another transition in the family. That’s where this family from a family systems perspective is having difficulty. They’re not transitioning in the family’s transition, not successfully transitioning to the loss of the marriage. Just because the marriage dissolves doesn’t mean the family dissolves because once you have children, the family remains forever because what’s happening is the family is transitioning from an intact family structure that’s united by the marriage and because of the conflict or drifting apart of the spouses the family transitions to a.
Separated family structure that is now united by the children. The marriage is dissolved, but the family hasn’t. In successful transitions, the parents are able to resolve their conflict and animosity and allow the child to serve their unifying function as the parental roles of mother and father remain even though the spousal roles have ended. In conflicted families though, when the parents cannot resolve their conflict that provides this splitting energy or this conflict energy that’s dividing the family while the child is trying to serve their role uniting the family and so the child can experience.
That inner conflict and we wind up with a whole bunch of symptoms in the child. In some cases, in pathological cases, there’s a split in the relationships, a cutoff in the family relationships and so that the parental relationships mirror the cutoff in the spousal relationships. The person becomes an exhusband as well as an exfather and that’s what parental alienation involves. It’s a cutoff in the family relationships as a means to manage the family conflict in the situation. The reason for the difficulty to drop a little bit down in this, the reason for the difficulty in the family making the transition is because.
There’s an underlying narcissistic personality structure in one of the parents. The narcissist, there’s two features about narcissism that are going to make it difficult for the family to transition. First the narcissistic is character logically unable to experience sadness and grief. That’s just not capable for them. The second is the splitting dynamic that occurs with both narcissistic and borderline personality dynamics. In terms of the narcissist inability to experience grief, Kernberg talks about that. They say, they the narcissist are especially deficient in the genuine feelings of sadness and mournful.
Longing. They’re incapacity for experiencing depressive reactions is a basic feature of their personalities. When abandoned or disappointed by other people, they may show what on the surface looks like depression but which on further examination emerges as anger and resentment loaded with revengeful wishes, rather than real sadness for the loss of the person whom they appreciated. The narcissistic parent is unable to genuinely experience loss and sadness. What happens is they influence the child to interpret the child’s own loss and sadness at the loss of the intact family structure in the same way.
The narcissistic parent is, as anger and resentment towards the other parent. Typically the narcissistic parent frames for the child, it’s the other parent who’s responsible for the divorce. Now we’d like for people to avoid that, but the narcissist doesn’t do that. They engage the child and tell the child it’s the other parent. Meanwhile, the targeted parents says, Well it’s both of us. They don’t give the child a reason. The child adopts the belief system of the narcissistic parent because they’re not hearing any differently that it’s the other parent who was responsible for the divorce.
In that process, the narcissistic parent can influences the child to interpret the child’s authentic grief and sadness as anger and resentment against the other parent. The second feature about the narcissistic borderline parent that inhibits the ability of the family to transition is the splitting dynamic. The splitting to understand its core foundation it’s within the attachment system that is the origins of splitting. What happens in the attachment system in the attachment relationship is the child experiences a parent who is simultaneously both nurturing, activating attachment bonding motivations and frightening,.
Activating avoidance motivations, so a frightening parent, the child seeks to flee from that parent and seek protection with the protective parent who happens to be the frightening parent. The child is caught in this conflict where the parent is simultaneously frightening and the source of nurturance. You have the simultaneous activation of these two bonding motivations. Various studies from Beck et al, Aaron Beck various studies have found that patients with borderline personality disorder are characterized by disorganized attachment representations. Such attachment representations appear to be typical for persons with unresolved childhood.
Traumas especially when parental figures were involved with direct frightening behavior by the parent. Disorganized attachment is to consider to result from an resolvable situation for the child when the parent is at the same time the source of fright as well as a potential haven of safety. What happens for these kids is that because they have both systems activated at the same time, attachment bonding motivations and avoidance motivations, they psychologically split those two motivating systems so that there only one is on at any given time. At a neurological level what’s happening is.
You’re not actually splitting physically, you’re getting an intensive inhibition, cross inhibition. When the attachment bonding motivations are on, they entirely inhibit the avoidance motivations. When the avoidance motivations are on, they entirely inhibit the bonding motivations so that for most of us we can have both systems on at the same time. We can have bonding motivations on and avoidance motivations on and recognize that people are a blend of good and bad. Now if I mostly think you’re good I’m going to get a little halo effect and I’m going to see a lot of good things about you, but I still recognize there’s.
Problems. If I don’t like you I’m going to see a lot of bad things about you, but I’m still going to recognize there’s some good things about you because both systems can be on simultaneously. However for the narcissistic borderline parent or the disorganized attachment, that’s not possible. One system on or the other system on, that’s what we see, a splitting. Either you’re idealized as all wonderful or you’re demonized as all horrible. What the implications for this in the divorce with a narcissistic borderline parent is that they are unable to maintain this ambiguity of relationships.
The exhusband must become the exfather. The exwife must become the exmother. They cannot allow. They just can’t experience the I don’t like you as a spouse, but the child can like you as a parent. That’s not capable for their neurological structure. Additional level of family systems understanding for this process has to do with triangulation of the child. A lot of literature on this, Manucha and Haley Bo and others that when there’s conflict in the family, or in the spousal relationship, sometimes the child is drawn into the spousal conflict. It’s referred to as a triangulation. There’s two types of.
Triangulation that can occur. The first is when the two parents unit against the child. In that case, the child is referred to as the identified patient and the child’s acting out behavior serves to bring the parents together in the coalition against the child and so can oftentimes save a troubled marriage. If it wasn’t for the child acting out, the parents may split up, but the child serves to maintain the marriage. The second type of coalition is referred to as a crossgenerational coalition. This involves a parentchild coalition against the other parent in which the one parent channels their.
Anger at the other parent through the child and so could covertly express their anger towards the other parent and the child. It’s referred to as a crossgenerational coalition. Jay Haley refers to it as a perverse triangle because it’s crossing generational boundaries. The Haley defines what a crossgenerational coalition. The people corresponding to each other in the triangle are not peers, but they’re from a different generation. One is from a different generation than the other two. In the process of their interaction together, the person of one generation forms a coalition with the person of the other generation, so.
The parent forms a coalition with the child. By coalition, it’s meant a process of joint action which is against the third person. The coalition between the two persons is denied. This idea of asking the child in parental alienation is your parent influencing you No. The child is going to say no. The coalition is denied. We know that ahead to time. It’s pointless to ask is the other parent influencing you. It’s going to be denied. That is there is a certain behavior which indicates a coalition which when it is queried will be denied as.
A coalition. In essence, the perverse triangle is one in which the separation of generations is breached in a covert way. When this occurs as a repetitive pattern, the system will be pathological. Now this coalition, the cross generations is extraordinarily destructive. Pat Kerig who talks about the breakdown of the parentchild relationship or the enmeshment of parentchildren the breakdown of appropriate generational boundaries between parents and children significantly increases the risk for emotional abuse. When parentchild boundaries are violated, the implications for developmental psychopathology are significant. Poor boundaries interfere with the child’s capacity to progress through development which as Anna Freud suggested.
Is the defining feature of childhood psychopathology. A theme that appears to be central to the conceptualization of boundary dissolution is the failure to acknowledge the psychological distinctiveness of the child. That is going to be particularly vulnerability to narcissist parents. Kerig goes on to talk about that rather than telling the child directly what to do. Speaker 3 one second, one second. We’re going to inaudible on real good. Sorry about that. You’re good to go. Dr. Childress. rather than telling the child directly what to do or think as does.
The behaviorally controlling the parent the psychologically controlling parent uses indirect hints that respond with guilt induction or withdrawal of love if the child refuses to comply. The narcissistic parent isn’t just controlling the child’s behavior, they’re controlling the child psychologically. In short, an intrusive parent, strives to manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings in such a way that the child’s psyche will conform to the parent’s wishes. In order to carve out an island of safety and responsivity in an unpredictable harsh and depriving parentchild relationship children of highly maladaptive parents may become precocious caregivers who are adept at reading the cues.
And meeting the needs of those around them. The ensuing preoccupied attachment with the parent interferes with the child’s development of important ego functions such as selforganization, affect regulation, emotional object constancy. The child in parental alienation is actually taking care of the alienating parent. What appears to be a bond between the two of them is actually a manifestation of an insecure attachment, a preoccupied attachment where the child is being engaged in a role reversal relationship of being used as what’s called a regulatory object for the psychopathology of the alienating parent. The bonded relationship.
Is not a good thing. It’s not really. It’s not a healthy relationship, although superficially it looks like oh isn’t everything wonderful. Let’s drop down a level to the personality disorder dynamics that are involved. First off there’s an association between narcissistic and borderline personality. Kernberg talks about one subgroup of borderline patients namely the narcissistic personalities seem to have a defensive organization similar to borderline conditions and yet many of them function under much higher psychosocial level. The defensive organization of these patients, the narcissist is quite similar to that of.
A borderline personality in general. What distinguishes many of the patients with narcissistic personalities from the usual borderline patient is their relatively good social functioning, their better impulse control and the capacity for active consistent work in some areas that permits them to partially fulfill their ambitions of greatness and obtaining admiration from others. There’s an association underlying association between narcissistic and borderline processes. As we’ve come to understand the attachment system, we can understand that association much better at the lower level of the attachment system. In addition, the personality disorders go across categories so Millon talks about.
Several personality disorders covary with the narcissistic spectrum, various personality disorders as well as borderline so we see those two show up a lot. Then Beck et al talk about how borderline personalities can be associated with as many as five other different personality structures, so don’t get too hung up on the categories just recognize that there’s an underlying narcissistic borderline personality structure. For the narcissist to talk about what their core dynamics are Beck refer to it as schemas, Bowlby refers to them as internal working models. The failure to be superior or regarded.
As special activates underlying beliefs of inferiority, unimportance or powerlessness and compensatory strategies of selfprotection and selfdefense. The core belief of the narcissist personality is of an inferiority or unimportance. This belief is activated only under certain circumstances and thus may be observed mainly in the response to conditions of selfesteem threat, otherwise the belief is a compensatory attitude of superiority. Until the divorce takes place, these parents may appear fine. Nobody recognizes a narcissist. They’re involved in the community. They’re grandiose. They present well. They’re articulate, maybe even intelligent. It’s when the vulnerability hits, the divorce which is spot on to the.
Inferiority. The parent is being rejected as the spouse. Oh then you get the full display of their narcissistic borderline process. Millon talks about the decompensation of a narcissist. Under conditions of unrelieved adversity and failure, narcissists may decompensate into paranoid disorders. Owing to their excessive use of fantasy mechanisms, they are disposed to misinterpret events and to construct delusional beliefs. Unwilling to accept the constraints on their independence and unable to accept the viewpoints of others, narcissists may isolate themselves from the corrective effects of shared thinking. Alone they may ruminate.
And weave their beliefs into a network of fanciful and totally invalid suspicions. Among narcissists delusions often form after a serious challenge or setback has upset their image of superiority and omnipotence. Can we say divorce They tend to exhibit compensatory grandiosity and jealousy delusions in which they reconstruct reality to match the image in they are unable and unwilling to give up. Delusional systems may also develop as a result of having felt betrayed and humiliated. Again that’s spot on to divorce. Here we may see the rapid unfolding of persecutory delusions and an arrogant grandiosity characterized.
By verbal attacks and bombast. We’re not just talking normal range psychopathology here. There’s an underlying delusional process that’s occurring. I’ll talk about that more as we get into the attachment trauma that takes place. The borderline personality. From Beck et al, the diagnosis of borderline was introduced in the 1930s to explain patients who are on the borderline between neurosis and psychosis. The patients with borderline personality are characterized by hypervigilance, feeling vulnerable in a dangerous world where nobody can be trusted and dichotomous thinking. You’ll see that in parental alienation where the parent feels the other parent is abusive and they get this.
Persecutory idea that there’s a threat or a danger emanating from the other parent. Some traumatic experiences may have taken place at an early age, notably the kind of punishing, abandoning, and rejecting responses of the caregiver that lead to a disorganized attachment. As we drop to the attachment system level in a few minutes one of the fundamental aspects of what’s going on is what’s called the transgenerational transmission of attachment trauma that we have an attachment trauma in the alienating parent that is getting manifested in the alienation dynamic. It’s moving across the family and across generations.
Another feature associated with a borderline personality is what’s referred to as the invalidating environment so Marsha Linehan one of the experts in borderline personality defines the invalidating environment. A defining characteristic of the invalidating environment is the tendency of the family to respond erratically or inappropriately to private experience. In particular, to be insensitive or unresponsive to private experience. Invalidating environments contribute to emotional dysregulation by failing to teach the child to label and modulate arousal, by failing to teach the child tolerate stress and by here’s a the two important ones for parental.
Alienation failing to teach the child to trust his or her own emotional responses as valid interpretation of events and instead actively teaching the child to invalidate his or her own experiences, by making it necessary for the child to scan the environment for cues about how to act and feel. There’s an article or an essay written up on my website having to do with a metaphor of the hostage for kids with parental alienation that describes how that occurs, the invalidation of the child’s selfexperience in the chaotic world of living with the borderline or the very hostile world of living with a narcissistic.
Parent. Fruzzetti, Shenk and Hoffman described the profound effects that the invalidating environment can have on a child. In extremely invalidating environments, parents or caregivers do not teach children to discriminate effectively between what they feel and what the caregivers feel, what the child wants and what the caregiver wants or wants the child to want, what the child thinks and what the caregiver thinks. Now within family systems literature, this is referred to as enmeshment. With a borderline personality or a narcissistic borderline, this is the invalidating environment in which.
The child’s authentic experience is nullified. The narcissistic borderline personality dynamics associated with parental alienation. This diagram looks at that or explains that process. At the top, we have a disorganized attachment system with the alienating parent that produces the personality disorder dynamics, borderline narcissistic or narcissistic primarily with borderline features. The divorce activates both of those personality dynamics and we get an activated borderline and an activated narcissist who’s decompensating in the paranoid persecutory delusions. The invalidating environment off the borderline personality dynamics combines with the persecutory delusions that are coming from the narcissist.
To terminate the child’s attachment bonding motivations towards the other parent. I won’t have time to get into how that quite works today, but in terms of the attachment system, the attachment system evolved because of the selective predation 003437 of children so it’s a predator driven system. When a parent signals that there’s a threat in the environment, the child seeks proximity to the protective parent. If I have a narcissistic borderline parent signaling to the child that the other parent represents a threat to the child, the child’s attachment system will be motivated to flee the threat and seek protective.
Proximity to the parent. That’s essentially what’s happening relative to the attachment system. In addition, the borderline vulnerability having to do with abandonment fears and the narcissistic vulnerability having to do with dysfundamental inadequacy are expelled onto the other parent. I’m not the inadequate parent, you are. I’m not the abandoned parent, you are. It’s the child’s rejection of the other parent serves to projectively displace the personality disorder dynamics onto the other parents. Let’s drop down a level to the attachment system level. At the attachment system level, involves the transgenerational transmission.
Of relationship trauma from the attachment system of the alienating parent to the current attachment system of the child. The child’s attachment system in the current situation represents an inauthentic display of the attachment system. Now my background, I was doing ADHD. That’s my specialty area and over the years I kept tracking younger and younger in the age group to see if we got it early enough, could we solve it, could we cure it. About the mid ’90s I dropped below the age of five and when you do that you have to come.
The other direction up from early childhood up and so I developed a secondary background in early childhood mental health. When you do that you have to become familiar with all the different brain systems because they’re opening up all over the place during early childhood. I have a background in both angry grumpy kids and parentchild conflict as well as early childhood attachment system kinds of stuff. I swore I would never get involved in high conflict divorce. It’s too dangerous. That’s why I chose ADHD. I went into private practice and started to run into some of these kids.
Because there’s a lot of family conflict. I immediately recognized this attachment system of the child’s inauthentic. That’s not the way the attachment system works. It’s not an authentic brain I’m looking at. If you understand how the attachment system works, this is so easy to spot because it’s not authentic and I’ll explain to you the underlying structure of that. The attachment system, first identified by Bowlby back in the ’60s and ’70s is a neurobiologically embedded primary motivational system. It’s akin to the primary motivational systems for hunger and reproduction. It’s a basic motivational.
System. It developed across millions of years of evolution having to do with the selective predation of children. Predators are seeking the old, the weak, and the young. When they’re coming through the grasses, they’re not looking at the adults. They’re looking at the kid. Because of that, the attachment system strongly motivates children’s bonding to parents because children who didn’t bond to parents were eaten by a predator. Mary Ainsworth one of the leading figures in attachment literature and attachment research defines the attachment system. I define an affectional bond as a relatively long enduring.
Tie in which the partner is important as a unique individual and is interchangeable with none other. In an affectional bond, there’s a desire to maintain closeness to the partner. In older children and adults, that closeness may to some extent be sustained over time and distance and during absences but nevertheless there at least an intermediate desire to reestablish proximity and interaction and pleasure often job upon reunion, and explicable separation tends to cause distress and permanent loss would cause grief. Now a couple of things about this quote I want to point out is first it’s to a unique.
Individual, my mother, my father, interchangeable with none other. One of the things you’ll see in parental alienation sometimes is the child will reject the mother and take on the stepmother as the new mother, start calling the stepmother by calling her mother and starting to call the biological mother by her first name or conversely the father and the stepfather. You will see this weird thing. Children don’t do that. You can’t replace people. Ooh the narcissist can. Narcissists are very shallow relationships. The people are interchangeable. The idea that I’ve got the child who’s interchanging people suggests I’ve got a narcissistic parent.
In there that’s influencing the child. The second thing I want to point out about this is that notice Mary Ainsworth talks about attachment system in older children and adults. People think the attachment system is just about early childhood, oh, no, no, no. It’s a primary motivational system throughout our life spans. You can think of it in terms of the language system as a metaphor. The language system, another regulatory system of the brain, develops in early childhood. We call it experience expectant and experience dependent. The brain expects language. It’s experience expectant.
It’s got brain networks already set up to acquire it, but what specific language it learns Russian, German, French is dependent upon what it hears. It’s experience expectant and experience dependent. Now we learn language in early childhood, somewhere been two and six we learn language, but we use language throughout our lifespan. Similarly for the attachment system, the grammar of the attachment system that we learn are called internal working models. We learn expectations for self and other in relationship. We learn that grammar in early childhood, but we use that grammar throughout our lifetimes. The.
Attachment system mediates spousal relationships and it mediates our own relationship when we have children. We use it throughout our life spans. Mary Ainsworth goes on an attachment is an affectional bond and hence the attachment figure is never wholly interchangeable or replaceable by another even though there may be others to whom one is also attached. If you ever see a kid calling a parent by the parent’s first name, that’s weird. That’s not an authentic attachment system. Something is going on. In attachments as in other affectional bonds, there’s a need to maintain proximity,.
Distress upon inexplicable separation, pleasure and joy upon reunion and grief at loss. Now if I have a child who’s rejecting a parent, No I don’t want to be going on visitations with that parent, where is my joy upon reunion. Where did it go It’s not real. I don’t care. Parents can be grumpy parents. I’m sure we’ve all had difficult parents and difficult childhoods and yet we still maintain a bond to that parent. We still want that parents love. Where’s the grief at loss The child is rejecting a relationship with the parent. The attachment system will.
Respond with grief. That’s just the way it works. Where’s the grief Children do not reject parents. Let me run that by you again. Children do not reject parent. Children who rejected parents were eaten by predators. Genes that allowed children to reject patents were selectively removed from the gene pool. Children do not reject parents. The moment you see the child judging a parent and rejecting a parent, that’s not an authentic attachment system. Who rejects parents The other spouse. Husbands reject wives. Wives reject parents so I’ve got parental influence going down to the child and suppressing.
The child’s natural attachment bonding system because I’ve got a child rejecting a parent. Children do not reject parents. Now I deal with angry, grumpy kids all the time. Is it is a parentchild conflict Oh absolutely. Oh big time conflict, but it’s still consistent with an authentic attachment system. In children, children are motivated to bond to parents. When that bonding is interrupted or there’s a barrier to that bonding, children experience grief and mourning. They experience sadness and loss. That grief and mourning produces what’s called protest behavior designed to elicit greater parental involvement to.
Help regulate the child’s distress. Authentic parentchild conflict is actually consistent with the attachment system. The child wants to bond to the parent. There’s some sort of barrier that’s preventing the child from bonding to the parent which produces the protest behavior, there’s your conflict. What we do in psychotherapy is we figure out what the barrier is and remove it and that’s called therapy. What we see in parental alienation though is a detachment behavior. The child actually wants to detach from the parent. That doesn’t happen. There’s a predator out in those grasses that is more than happy to.
Eat the child. Millions of years of evolution have selectively removed detachment behaviors from children’s nervous systems. Don’t kids have problematic parents and stuff Yes and you see characteristic displays. They’re called insecure attachment and it’s insecure avoidance, insecure ambivalent or disorganized attachment. Bowlby talks about all of those distorted relationships are goal directed adjustments. In other words the child wants to form a relationship with a parent, the parenting behavior is somehow distorted so the child distorts in an effort to get as much parental involvement as possible. All of the conflict, all of the difficulty.
Is consistent with the child wanting to bond with the parent but being unable to. We do not see detachment behavior. It just doesn’t happen. Children do not reject parents. They’re eaten by predators if they do. Authentic parentchild conflict results from a barrier and it’s designed to elicit greater parental involvement. What happens in parental alienation is you will see a detachment behavior in which the child is trying to sever the bond which is not authentic to how the attachment system works. It’s not an authentic brain. There are two characteristic features of the.
Attachment system. The first a possessive ownership to the relationship, my mother, my father, my husband, my wife, my son, my daughter. That person belongs to me and I belong to that person, because if I run to any old adult in the community that adult may not protect me from the predator. I have to run to a specific person, my mother to get protection and I protect my son or my daughter. I don’t protect any old kid and so there’s quality of possessive ownership to the relationship. What happens in parental alienation The child is rejecting a parent. That doesn’t happen.
That’s still my mother. Oftentimes, they will take on the stepparent as my mom or my dad, that’s not authentic to how the attachment system works. It doesn’t happen. The second is the grief response that Mary Ainsworth referred to. When an attachment relationship is severed there’s a grief response. In parental alienation where is the child’s grief response The child has separated from a parent. What happened to it That’s a critical feature for understanding what’s going on. The child has a grief response at the loss of the parent, initially at the loss of the entire family structure. The narcissistic.
Parent distorted the child’s grief response into anger and resentment against the other parent. Then the child rejects the other parent and has an additional compound now of a great grief response at the loss of the relationship with the parent. The narcissistic parent distorts that. Your parent is bad. That other parenting is bad, that’s why you hurt because they’re a bad parent. They’re abusive. Every time the child goes on visitations with the targeted parent they want to bond with them but they don’t. It hurts more. Ow it’s.
Something about being with you hurts. I can’t put my finger on it but something hurts. Then when they go back to the alienating parent, there’s no bonding motivation with the targeted parent because they’re not available so their pain goes down. I feel better when I’m with the alienating parent. It hurts more when I’m with the targeted parent. It must be something about you, the targeted parent that is abusive. The narcissistic alienating parent is right. You’re a bad parent. You hurt me, but it’s not true. It’s a misattribution of an authentic grief response that the child is having. If we just.
Straightened that out again and help the child orient to what their authentic experience is, it’s not because you hate the other parent. You actually love them very much and you want to bond with them. You want to get hugs. If you get hugs and bond to that parent all of your pain is going to go away. That’s the therapy for parental alienation in a nutshell. The child’s symptoms in parent alienation are not authentic to how the attachment system, a neurobiologically primary motivational system works. It’s not authentic, but that means.
Anybody who is looking at this a child custody evaluators, treating therapists all of those folks need to understand how the attachment system works. It is fundamental to professional competence working with this special population of children and families that professionals who work with this have to understand, have a pretty competent level of understanding for the attachment system. Let’s drop down into the alienating parent’s attachment system. The psychology of the alienating parent is a scary place to go. With the borderline processes, you have one whole set of things. With the attachment processes, you have a.
Whole new level of understanding for the psychopathology that’s emerging. I find this level the most fascinating. In going back to our diagram here we have the triggering of the personality disorder and then that terminates the child’s attachment bonding motivations, but an additional line coming through the pathology is this attachment trauma in the internal working models of the alienating parent’s attachment system. The attachment system forms these internal working models of relationship expectations for self and other in relationship. These internal working models then coalescent during childhood and adolescence into the personality traits and features. The attachment system.
And its internal working models of relationship mediate the responses both in terms of the formation and the loss of closely bonded emotional relationships. Bowlby talks about this, no variables, it is held, have farreaching effects on personality development than have a children’s experiences with his or her family. For starting during the first months of his relationships with his mother figure and extending through the years of childhood and adolescence in his relationships with both parents and others, he builds up working models of how attachment figures are likely to behave towards him in.
Any of a variety of situations. On those models are based all of his expectations and therefore all of his life’s plans for the rest of his life. Notice again, he’s not talking about early childhood. The attachment system is embedded into us and mediates our relationships throughout our lifespan. What happens with the trauma relationships is the narcissistic and borderline personality processes are the coalesce product of the disorganized preoccupied attachment of the alienating parent. The internal working models for the attachment figures in the alienating parent’s traumatized attachment networks are in the pattern of.
Victimized child who is the alienating parent’s child, abusive parent who’s that attachment avoidance motivation of the disorganized attachment and so the frightening parent that’s the abusive parent internal working models and then the nurturing protective parent who is that split off attachment bonding motivations of the child that now are either cross inhibited so one is either on or one is all off and so in the internal working models of the alienating parent’s attachment system I’ve got two representational networks for the parent, the abusive parent and the nurturing protective parent. That’s my splitting dynamic.
At the divorce, when there’s a divorce, the narcissistic borderline parent’s attachment system activates to mediate the loss experience. Now I have in the brain, I have two sets of representational networks activating. One in the internal working models of the parent’s attachment system and the other for the current people. Look my goodness there’s an actual one to one correspondence there which is what happens. The coactivation within the attachment system of two sets of representational networks, one for the persons in the current family relationship and one set embedded in the internal working models creates a psychological fusion.
Of these two networks. There’s an equivalency between the internal working models and the current people. If you think about the brain, I’ve got the internal working models activating and I’ve got the current people activating at the same time, well they mean the same thing. There’s a loss of differentiation. The activation of the two become equivalent to each other. I have the victimized child, the abusive targeted parent and the protective alienating parent. This is critical to understand how this induction of the alienation occurs. People right now think that the alienating parent bad mouths.
The other parent and don’t say bad things about the other parent. That’s not how it occurs. What the alienating parent does is gets the child to adopt a victimized role. The alienating parent isn’t doing this out of badness. They actually think this stuff. Remember Millon talking about the delusional disorder. They actually believe the other parent is abusive because they’re activating through their trauma networks. That’s the delusional process. The delusional process isn’t just that the parent’s abusive when they’re not. It’s the activation of childhood relationship patterns that are being reenacted.
In current relationships. That’s the psychosis, borderline, the difference between neurotic and psychotic. We have an underlying psychotic process of a reactivation of the trauma networks and reenactment narrative. By getting the child to adopt a victimized child’s stance relative to the other parent, that automatically defines the targeted parent as abusive. The moment you define the targeted parent as abusive then the alienating parent can become the protective parent. This whole reenactment trauma or this reenactment narrative centers on getting the child to be the victim. The moment the child accepts the victim everything.
Else falls into place. This automatically the abusive parent and I now become the protective parent. By becoming the protective parent, the narcissistic borderline parent is able to manage their anxiety around this trauma because they’ve had this traumatized network about the abusive parent and their own and so now it gets activated again, they’re anxious. They’re really anxious plus the anxiety off of the borderline fear of abandonment and the narcissistic inadequacy so they’re just a ball of anxiety, but by displacing the abandonment fears and the inadequacy onto the other parent they’re able to reduce.
Their anxiety, but they’re still left with this trauma anxiety out of the attachment system. By making the other parent the abusive parent so that I become the protective parent of the child, the internal working model of the child and the current child, I can now manage my anxiety. The child has a protector from the abusive parent. It’s a script from long ago that’s just being reenacted, but then they put the child out there as the abusive child. Therapists and everybody go, Oh wow we’re so concerned about.
Abuse maybe the other parent is abusive. We focus on the targeted parent looking at whether or not they’re abusive. The focus goes off the pathological parent. The child is bonded to the patho. Oh you’re my wonderful parent. No, no they’re the best parent in the world, because the child is serving as a narcissistic object for the parent. I need to be the wonderful parent so that child sees me as the wonderful parent and so I’m using the child as a narcissistic object. It’s not an authentic relationship, but it.
Looks close. It looks bonded, and so people just totally miss it. They think that child actually is bonded to the supposedly favored parent and that the other parent, there must be something wrong why else would the child reject the parent. That’s not how the attachment system works. Does the other parent influence you No. Not at all. Because it’s denied. What’s happening the features of this is that rather than responding to the actual people in the current family relationships, the narcissistic borderline parent is responding to and reenacting past childhood relationship trauma. Here we have.
As understanding what is occurring with parental alienation we have three different levels to understanding this. At the core level is the attachment system that creates the personality disorders but also the trauma networks that are being reenacted. Then we have the level of the narcissistic borderline parent who is displacing their own inadequacy and abandonment fears onto the other parent and is distorting the child through the inability to process grief and the splitting dynamic. Then we get up to the top surface level of the family systems level where you have the family being unable to.
Transition from an intact family structure to a separated family structure. To put out or to lay out the dynamics of parental alienation, the divorce activates the attachment system of the alienating parent to mediate the loss experience associated with divorce. The activation of the attachment system activates the childhood trauma in the pattern of abusive parent, victimized child, protective parent. The activation of the attachment system activates the internal working models of attachment that have coalesced into the narcissistic and borderline personality traits. You have the loss experience activates the attachment.
System which activates both the personality disorder traits and the attachment trauma that are embedded in the attachment system. Divorce creates a narcissistic injury that activates the narcissistic personality experience of core selfinadequacy. You’re the inadequate spouse. At the attachment system level, this is the internal working models of selfinrelationship. You’re inadequate. The divorce activates the borderline personality fear of abandonment which at the attachment system level is the expectation of otherinrelationship. You get the activation of the two personality disorder features. Then because of the stress, you get the decompensating narcissistic and.
The persecutory delusions supported by the attachment trauma of the victimized child, abusive parent and then you get the invalidating environment coming off the borderline where the child’s experience is nullified so that the child becomes a reflection of the narcissistic personality. I’m the wonderful parent. You’re the wonderful parent. The activation of the abandonment fear and the narcissist inadequacy. The excessive anxiety that’s activated for the alienating parent that’s associated with a narcissistic inadequacy, the borderline fear of abandonment as well as the attachment trauma that’s embedded in there is misinterpreted or misattributed as representing an actual threat posed by the.
Other parent. The alienating parent authentically experiences an intense anxiety. They’re not making this up. They’re not because they’re a mean person. They actually feel an intense anxiety coming off all of these networks but they misattribute it as an authentic signal of the other parent representing a threat. Now is it a threat to me because I’m a narcissist, no I’m wonderful. They’re no threat to me. What’s the threat then In the attachment system, the threat is to the child. This other parent represents a threat to the child. They’re.
An abusive threat to the child. They reconstruct reality to create that threat. Now how does that actually occur with the kid All they have to do with the kid coming back from a visitation with the other parent is get the kid to adopt the victim’s stance. How did things go with your parent Oh, okay. Oh. The parent goes in drops affect. They indicate to the kid, signal the kid that’s not the right answer. The kid says, Well it was boring. Oh my goodness. They didn’t provide things for you.
To do. Oh, they only get to see you so rarely how come they don’t take care of you better and give you things to do. I can’t believe them. They’re so selfcentered and so selfish. In that, the alienating parent overreacts to what are essentially normal range stuff, but they over react and communicate to the kid that this is somehow abusive parenting that they’re receiving, that they’re not being treated special enough, that’s the narcissist. You’re not being treated so special and they give the kid the themes to which the kid can.
Then the other parent is selfish. The other parent has anger management problems. The kid says, Yeah dad told me to empty the dishwasher and got really upset with me when I didn’t, got really angry and then punished me. Normal range parentchild stuff. Oh, I can’t believe that. He’s having you do his work for him. Oh I can’t believe. He has so little time with you, why doesn’t he just spend his good time with you. Why does he think. Oh he’s so selfish. He has these anger management problems, just like that with me and during.
Our marriage. Now on the surface, is the parent criticizing the other parent No, they’re being wonderful and understanding to the child who is criticizing the other parent. They get to hide behind the child and the child believes that. The child comes to believe I’m the one criticizing the other parent. This parent is just being wonderful and supportive of me. They’re listening to me, so therapists and evaluators who ask the child is the other parent criticizing the other, No I’m the one criticizing. They take responsibility for it, but it’s a distortion coming through, the narcissistic parent, one.
Of the symptoms of narcissism is exploitation. They’re inducing the child’s symptoms and then exploiting the child’s symptoms. One of the great exploitation on this is because the child is symptomatic they can effectively, the narcissistic parent can effectively nullify the rights of the other parent for custody and visitation and nullify court orders because it’s not me. It’s the child. The child refused to get out of the car. What am I supposed to do, drag the child from the car They hide behind the child’s symptoms. Courts don’t sanction children for defying court orders and they won’t sanction the alienating.
Parent because how can you prove it’s the alienating parent causing this to the child. The child is saying I’m doing it. That’s how this whole dynamic emerges. The alienating parent gets the child to adopt the victimization role. The moment the child adopts the victimization role, the other parent is automatically defined as abusive which allows the alienating parent to be the protective parent so you have the trauma networks feeding into the delusional process the persecutory delusions off of this. The internal working models of the alienating parents attachment networks are in the pattern of all bad abusive parent, victimized child.
And all good protective parent and then through the distorting invalidating environment communications coming off of the alienating parent via this whole reenactment to the child is induced into adopting the victim, my child role which automatically defines the other parent as abusive which automatically allows the new parent to become the protective parent. That’s an important feature, that protective parent role because that’s the role that’s allowing this parent to manage their trauma anxiety. You will see that prominently displayed by the narcissistic borderline parent. I’m the protective parent. The abusive will be carried by the child. It’s the child who’s accusing the other one.
Of abusive. Occasionally, the narcissistic borderline parent will toss in a little a little side they were just like that with me and my marriage. I know just how the child feels. They’re offer a little support for the child for doing that, but really the core role is the protective parent. Interesting, a phrase you will often hear with a narcissistic borderline parent in this is I just want what’s best for the child. It sounds wonderful doesn’t it You know what we all want what’s best for the child.
It has the implication, I want what’s best for the child as opposed to the other parent who’s so selfish and just think of their own needs. They just want to be with the child when the child doesn’t want to be with them. They won’t let the child come spend all their time with me, how selfish of them. That’s the underlying message that’s being communicated by I just want what’s best for the child. They’re trying to present as the all wonderful parent. If you get a parent coming in and presenting it’s all wonderful be suspicious.
Sometimes I will use a detective metaphor for clinical psychologists. We come on a crime scene and we gather information, clinical data and then try to figure out what took place. If you look at that metaphor for a detective, imagine a detective going on a murder scene and finding a type written unsigned note that says, My name is Bill Smith. I committed this murder. Would you go, Case solved. I’ve got a confession from Bill Smith. That’d be a pretty lousy detective. If you get a kid coming in saying, I hate.
My other parent, they’re mean to me, it would be a pretty lousy psychiatrist if you just go, Oh okay I guess so. There’s all sorts of complicated dynamics, role reversal relationships, crossgenerational coalitions, reenactment trauma. We need to look much deeper into this. The trauma all of this stuff produces this victimized child, abusive parent reenactment that then suppresses the child’s attachment system. The child sees themselves as victims. The attachment system does not bond to the predator. It bonds to the protective parent. If the alienating parent defines the other parent as the threat, as the predator, it.
Turns off the kid’s attachment system. That’s why we see the inauthentic attachment system. It’s been turned off by defining that parent as the threat or the predator. What you see is the bonding or proximity seeking to the protective parent, the alienating parent. They do not want to leave that parent. Now again if you understand anything about the attachment system secure attachment the child explores the world and it comes back to check in and then goes back out to explore the world, then comes back to check in but.
They engage in normal range exploratory behavior because they are safe from predators. If we’re looking at parental alienation, the child is not engaging in normal range exploratory behavior of forming an independent relationship with the other parent. They’re seeking to maintain continual proximity to the protective parent. That’s an indication of insecure attachment. Yet people look at the relationship and say, Oh look how bonded they are, as if it’s a sign of secure attachment. It’s not. It an insecure attachment. If you understand the attachment system, this stuff just jumps out at you. The way the child.
Is forming because the child has an insecure attachment with a narcissistic borderline parent the way to strengthen that attachment is by forming that coalition that us versus them. Now I’m bonded to the parent because it’s us versus the other parent is a way of managing that insecure attachment. The child’s induced symptomatic rejection of the other parent defines the targeted rejected parent as the inadequate or entirely abandoned parent. You are the bad parent. The narcissistic borderline parent psychologically expels through projected displacement onto the other parent the narcissistic fear of inadequacy and the.
Borderline fear of abandonment. You’re the inadequate parent and person, not me. You’re the abandoned parent person, not me. I’m the ideal all wonderful parent who’ll never be abandoned by the narcissistic object of the child. The child is both serving to bolster the narcissistic defenses that have been challenged by the divorce as well as expelling the anxiety regarding the fear of abandonment and inadequacy onto the other parent. Kernberg talks about the narcissistic object. The need to control the idealized objects to use them in attempts to manipulate and exploit the environment.
And to destroy potential enemies is linked with an inordinate pride in the possession of these perfect objects totally dedicated to the patient. Now he’s talking about narcissistic personality disorders. I think that’s spot on to alienation what’s happening that the child is when the child surrenders to the narcissistic parent and to the belief systems of the nar the child is granted narcissistic indulges. The child is just seen as the oh, you’re the wonderful child because I’m the wonderful parent and aren’t we wonderful. We’re just wonderful in this inaudible.
The idealized object, the parent idealized, narcissistic parent idealizes this wonderful idealized object of the child and uses them in attempts to manipulate and control the environment. I don’t care what the custody order says, you’re not getting custody. I get to possess the kid as a symbol of my victory over you. I’m the better parent, see I’ve got the kid and to destroy potential enemies, the other parent. You didn’t appreciate me for my narcissistic wonderfulness. You deserve to suffer. You deserve it. That’s another feature of the narcissist. It linked the inordinate pride in the possession.
Of the child. I have possession of the child dedicated who’s totally dedicated to me the parent. It’s a very destructive relationship for the child. The issue of parental alienation is not one of child custody. It’s one of child protection. That’s critical that we begin to understand this isn’t a child custody issue. This is a child protection issue. The child is being used in a role reversal relationship with a narcissistic parent to meet the needs of the narcissistic. That’s very destructive to the healthy emotional development of the.
Child. Here’s your full diagram. Here’s the complete process. Disorganized attachment activates a personality disorder, activates a trauma network, feeds into the persecutory delusions and the decompensating, the narcissistic inadequacy and the fear of abandonment are expelled from the narcissistic borderline parent by being projectively displaced onto the other parent. On the back of this there are a set of references. If there’s more information you’re interested about this, I’ve written some stuff on my website about this, applying it to therapy in terms of working with the grief response of the kid, looking at some of the legal implications. If there’s one thing that I would suggest.
As to our approach to an attachment based model of parental alienation is to begin to recognize that these child and family processes are a special population of children and families that requires specialized professional expertise, knowledge and training to effectively diagnose and treat in attachment theory, in personality disorder dynamics and in delusional processes. We need to improve our understanding of this in order to be able to effectively treat it. The other feature is it shows, hopefully this shows if we ground the theory in established constructs it leads to a much greater understanding than simply running around with PAS and Gardner’s.
Model and we just continue to argue about that. Let’s stop arguing about it. Let’s bring mental health together to recognize the psychopathology and then what do we do about it. With that I’ll open myself up for questions from people. Tom Dellner Great thank you so much Dr. Childress, I’ll start with some from the virtual audience and I’ll apologize in advance, there’s no change I’m going to be able to get to all of them. We’ve had almost a hundred questions come in from the virtual audience. Anyway let me get started here. What sort of psychopathology.
Is commonly found in children in which parental alienation occurs and what tends to manifest immediately and what might tend to emerge later on in adulthood Dr. Childress I would use a metaphor of a ventriloquist puppet. The child has lost the authenticity and their selfauthenticity. That’s going to have implications because it’s a transgenerational of attachment trauma, it’s going to have implications for their future marital relationships and for their future relationships with their own kids in which this trauma is being reenacted. I have a post up on my blog. One of the things having.
To do with the source origin of the trauma, one of the things about my work because I work, kind of a brain guy, is there are files within the attachment system, the internal working models or the schemas and as I work with people I’ll ping those files and see what the ripple comes back and start reading what the source code is within those files of the attachment system. What’s distinctive is some of the source code in there, the role reversal relationship, using the child, the cutoff in the child’s.
Relationship is characteristic of sexual abuse victimization. Interestingly, borderline personality disorders are also associated with sexual abuse victimization. I suspect, now I’m not saying that the kid in this current situation was sexually, I want to be very clear on that. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is there was a trauma possibly a sexual abuse trauma that entered the family a generation or two earlier and is rippling through the family. What we see now with alienation is a second or third generation iteration of sexual abuse trauma previously. In terms of the pathology.
That we will see, we will continue to see it ripple through the generations. A little less with each generation as it works its way through, but you will see the role reversal relationships with the current child when they grow up with their kids they’ll use their kids in the role reversal relationship, they’ll probably be spousal difficulties. A lot of times because of the unprocessed grief down the road, you’ll see depressive reactions, possible substance abuse. There’s some in the literature about this that we need to be doing more research about this sort of thing.
At the current situation and this is where I go into the diagnosis of it what you will see in the child symptom display is a characteristic set of five narcissisticborderline personality symptoms. What the child is exhibiting, isn’t oppositional defiant behavior, it’s borderline grandiosity of judging the other parent, a sense of entitlement a haughty and arrogant attitude, a loss of empathy and the splitting dynamic. Actually we got a child who is developing a personality disorder as we watch. That’s the pathology that’s currently going plus the child has a delusional disorder about.
The targeted parent being a bad parent so I’ve got a delusional disorder. I’ve got an attachment system disruptions. I’ve got personality disorder dynamics all from the pathogenic parenting of a narcissistic borderline parent. This is not child custody issues. This is child protection issues. Tom I’ll ask a couple of more from the virtual audience before turning to the in person group. This question has come in articulated a number of different ways but it’s a commonly asked question. A learner notes that he found it very helpful that you tied the narcissistic and borderline features to the attachment.
Model to explain the process and many wondered do you often see parental alienation in the absence of a narcissistic borderline parent Dr. Childress It depends how you define parental alienation. I am defining it as part and parcel of narcissistic borderline personality so no I would not see an attachment based model of parental alienation in the absence of narcissistic borderline personality. Now you may have something else, but it’s not an attachment based model of parental alienation. In doing that we can begin to circumscribe what we’re talking about.
It’s not everything under the sun. It’s about this specific thing. Now what I have seen because personality disorders are dimensional. They can blend across because they’re all embedded in the attachment networks and so they’re not distinct categories. I have seen complex blends. I have seen narcissistic borderline primarily narcissist, narcissistic borderline primarily not borderline, the primarily narcissist tend to men. The primarily borderline tend to be women. They have a different kind of featuristic displays. The borderline display will have a stronger fear of abandonment process. The narcissistic display will have.
More of a grandiose narcissistic object I’m the wonderful parent than revengeful quality. I’ve also seen narcissistic borderline antisocial. That combination is really nasty and it has a domestic violence quality to it where the child is being used as a retaliation against the other parent. I had the dad in that case say, I’m out to destroy the mom. I’m going to bankrupt her. He said that in an interview with me. It’s like wow okay. I’ve seen narcissistic borderline histrionic. The father was so fragile and oh my mother treated me so badly. There’s.
A histrionic quality to that. I’ve seen narcissistic borderline obsessive compulsive, that was with a parent who was very religiously oriented. Again the dad was very critical of the mom for being sinful and leaving the divorce and leaving the rela so he had this very anal retentive obsessive compulsive quality along with the narcis and so there could be a complex blend of personality dynamics. Tom One more. What personality traits or other factors might make a child more or less susceptible to the narcissistic borderline parent and ultimately parental alienation.
Dr. Childress The narcissistic borderline parent is extraordinarily good at what they’re doing. They’re extraordinarily pathological and that pathology can be induced on any old kid. Kids are designed to socially reference parents for meaning construction. Because the child’s brain is immature the brain realizes that. It does not independently attribute meaning as a child because if I as a child attribute meaning to something I could be totally wrong. I can fall off a cliff, get eaten by a tiger, all sorts of bad things. Children are designed to socially reference parents. A lot of studies on that. The child’s.
A little confused, ambiguous situation, they look to their parent. What this mean A divorce in family dissolution, highly ambiguous situation. The child is going to look to the parent. What does this mean They look to the targeted parent and the targeted parent does what we tell them to do which is essentially say, Oh, it’s not about you. They give a vague answer, don’t triangulate the child in. The narcissistic parent says, It’s about the other parent. This is what it means. They were a bad parent. They give them an answer.
The child adopts the answer, plus if the child surrenders to the narcissistic borderline parent they avoid the pathology of that parent. There’s nothing as toxic as a narcissistic rage. Narcissistic anger combines anger and disgust. It’s a very disturbing for a child to see anger and disgust. Borderline anger is this intense flaming anger that’s very chaotic and it’s just out of control. The child wants to avoid that parental anger. By surrendering to the parent they then become the idealized object and they can so it’s a very powerful seductive process. Notice the word seductive again that’s my view it’s.
The ripple, the source code out of sexual abuse some generations before. There’s a seduction of the child. Damian I’m Damian Nathope and my question was to your addressing the evolutionary perspective and evolutionary perspective as I far as I understand for child bonding was actually towards the mother and not towards both things. In fact evolutionary perspective would also say monogamy has never been the common, only a current thing and so evolutionary there wasn’t a guarantee of who the father was or the father being there or the father being a massive role in the child.
In fact, I know that there’s two cultures in South Africa that are the oldest. One fifteen thousand years hasn’t changed, one ten thousand. The haz people they don’t even consider a child to be one family. In fact the whole tribe raises the child, and they’ve done that for fifteen thousand years. The sand people of South Africa, the sand bushmen they actually have a relationship where the parents come and go. The father stays but the mother comes and goes depending on who can support enough food. I was also wondering even in our Western culture is there a multicultural element to this because.
I just hear father and mother, how about if it’s adoption because that wouldn’t be the original birth parents, so would there be no attachment or would it affect your attachments or I also was wondering what if the parents were homosexual and was two females or two males. Dr. Childress Here’s how the attachment system functions. The brain is experience expectant and experience dependent. There are experience expectant areas that are expecting a relationship with a mother figure, expecting a relationship with the father figure. Now is the father, now in addition to being experience expectant.
The brain is experience dependent. The brain expects language, but what language it learns it learns through experience. The attachment system expects the attachment bonds. There will be adults who care for me. A predisposition to male, a predisposition to female because it learns a little bit better, attaches has a biased towards those. Now if it gets an experience of two mothers okay fine. I learned German. I learned German with a Northern Germany European accent. I learned five different accents of Chinese. We can learn dialects. We can learn accents. We can learn from experience dependent. Underneath.
That is an experience expectant. Fundamental to the attachment system and understanding it is that it’s a primary motivational system that promotes child bonding to parents. How that’s actually expressed in any given situation is going to be unique and individual. Now is there a difference between mother and father Yes, in early childhood but now I don’t have the research on this because we’re still early on our process of understanding the attachment system but from my understanding of child development and my experience there’s a stronger bonding that begins to open up for children to parents in the referred called.
The latency years, right around the adopple period and all of the sudden the child goes, Oh there’s dad out here too. There’s more of a predisposition for dads to become involved in Little League Soccer all those sorts of things. Then there’s changes that take place in adolescence and all those. We need to look at a developmental line to things. We need to understand that things are not hardwired into the child’s brain, but to understand the underlying attachment system and how it functions. The other feature that I want to caution about is saying, Oh the child is bonded to the mother and the.
Dad is not all that important so a child who rejects a relationship with the dad isn’t a problem. No that’s a problem. Dads are as important. The fatherdaughter relationship is hugely important. Fatherson relationship hugely important. Just because we think of early childhood as being mostly the mom doesn’t denigrate the roles of dads in lives. Now uncles are important. Other extended family, yes and we get a lot of that. Adoption I think it’s interesting that adoptive kids oftentimes want to go back and find their birth parent. I think that’s just a ripple of the experience expectant.
In them. They know that this is my dad. This is my mom. This is who raised me, so the experience dependent says, I have a mom and dad, but a little bit of the ripple off experience expectant says, I wonder who my bio mom was This has a question about that so it’s complicated. Bonnie Good afternoon or morning. My name is Bonnie Delgado and I’m here with Psychology Eighty I forget. It doesn’t matter. A hypothetical situation, a young girl in a situation that you described say at fourteen stays with the narcissistic parent and totally eliminates.
The other parent in her life, but then in ten years let’s say she comes back but then eliminates the narcissistic parent in her life, and first off is there a realization that happens or a growth in the personality that has actually seen what has happened Then also she may display borderline personality problems and that would come from what you were saying correct Dr. Childress Mmhmm affirmative. One thing of concern for me borderline personalities produce borderline personalities. Narcissists produce narcissists. If we leave a child with a personality disorder parent, there’s a high.
Likelihood that those symptoms are going to come up with the child. Once you allow the cutoff, Bowen as a family system therapist talks about the emotional cutoff and so that’s the construct I would be using. The cutoff in a family relationship is pathological. There’s a problem, and so allowing any cutoff is problematic. In terms of therapy, I want to get rid of those. I want to restore family relationships. I’ve worked with one mother who had schizophrenia. That’s okay. The children love the mom with schizophrenia, stay on her medication and we adjust for it and the child needs to bond.
With the parent. If I’ve got a child with a narcissistic or borderline parent, we want them bonding with that parent. We just want to adjust for the pathology of the parent, so it doesn’t distort the child. One of the influences that can adjust for that is the relationship with the healthy range parent. I want to eliminate all cutoffs. I don’t like cutoffs anywhere. Once there is a cutoff with the targeted parent one of the hurdles you will find to restoring the relationship is the child’s grief response.
Because the child grieves that parent. In normal development, the parent dies and the child grieves. In parental alienation, the child grieves and so psychologically kills the parent in order to process and manage the grief response. If the child reopens that, they’re going to have reopen to all of their sadness and grief. The parent’s dead, I just assume they stay dead because then I don’t have to deal with anything. When you get parental alienation there’s a high likelihood it’s going to be a lifelong thing. Now there is also a development curve that I work with in normal families, adolescents.
And young adulthood. The child goes out into the world and there’s this separation from the family, but typically developmentally around age twentyfive to thirtyfive there’s a reunification and restoration of the relationships so no matter how bad adolescent was when the kid’s thirtyfive they’re having barbecue with the mom and everything is restored and they laugh about what a troubled childhood they had. There is a rhythm to that return after separation. That could possibly play a role in this. The other feature I’ve noticed sometimes is the narcissistic borderline parent is so over.
The top that the child recognizes the pathology. When that happens they just go wow that parent is really pathological and they escape that parent, but oftentimes it’s too insidious and it’s difficult to escape. Tom See if I can articulate this are the dynamics of attachment disorder parental alienation and your role in providing therapy or treatment are those complicated when the parents, when their marriage is still intact, when there’s no intent to divorce Dr. Childress That can happen. Prior to the alienation, you’ll see a lead up into that process. Now going back to established constructs,.
The family is essentially from a family systems perspective, the child is being triangulated into the spousal conflict through a crossgenerational coalition with one parent against the other parent. That’s exceedingly common. That’s no big deal. We see that all the time. From a parental alienation syndrome model, I would say that that’s what that mildtomoderate looks like. It’s negative parental influence that we see all the time, parents have influence on kids and it’s problematic. It crosses a boundary line though when we have a narcissistic borderline parent who begins to really distort the kid. Now we’re.
Looking at severe pathology. That’s where I would draw a dichotomous cutoff. I would look at the symptom display of the child that I’m seeing a specific set of symptoms in the child as serving that cutoff. When it occurs in the family then I’m looking at broadly family systems kind of stuff of a crossgenerational coalition and prior to the divorce, I don’t yet have the full activation of the narcissistic inadequacy and the fear of abandonment because they’re still in the family. That parent or that spouse is still a very problematic spouse.
It may be headed for divorce down the road, but yeah it gets really complex. Bucatta My name is Bucatta Logby. I’m in Psychological Assessment I, Dr. Rich’s class. I want to thank you for such a volume, volume of information that you’ve given us this afternoon. I’m wondering if there would be any influence of extended family. The gentleman had mentioned the African cultural influence. In order to mend it because it sounds like if something is not done it’s just going to be a cycle on and on and on, narcissistic children, narcissistic.
Grandchildren, narcissistic great great grandchildren, where do we stop Should there be an influence coming from the extended family Where thus a child does not see himself as the only, that he’s connected to somebody that it’s just not me alone in the this world I’m old enough. Dr. Childress Under the DSMIV they had a diagnosis of a shared psychotic disorder which is essentially a shared delusional disorder. Under the DSMIV, I would say the child merits the diagnosis of a shared delusional disorder that they have a delusion shared with the parent regarding what they believe these abusive.
Parenting of the other parent that’s essentially normal range. One of the issues around the shared delusional disorder is the isolation of the family. It gets very closed in on itself. There’s no extended networks up. You notice Millon’s quote talks about reject shared thinking and alone they ruminant and create these fanciful beliefs so that isolation quality enhances the pathology within the family. Any embedding into social context is healthy. One of the neurobiologically again is the brain evolved in the context of a tribe where you’re known from birth to death and so over millions of years the human brain expects.
Those relationships. What we understand now from Shore and others is that there’s mirror neurons and things, the brain is actually going into a resonant state with each other. The social brain actually stabilizes my individual brain. When I work with ADHD, one of the problems with my kids with ADHD is they drop out of the social field. I’ve got an isolated brain that goes all over the place and has impulse control problems and it’s all because they’re not being regulated by the other brains. To the extent that we can get the child into.
A social network, then the other brains can help regulate and get rid of the pathology. The problem is the narcissistic parent pulls the child away. The other problem is a narcissistic parent will pull them into their own family of origin which produced the narcissistic parent so I’ve got grandparents with pathology and they all support the pathology and now I’ve got a whole enmeshed what Bowen describes I think as an undifferentiated ego mass. Everybody is just all over here. The other thing that Gardner noted as one of his anecdotal symptoms is that the children of parental alienation reject a relationship.
Not only with the targeted parent but also with the family of the targeted parent. I find that interesting. I haven’t quite figured that one out. It may have something to do with the attachment system but I’ve seen it. They not only reject you. They reject the grandparents or the uncle that they used to have a relationship with. There’s intentional isolation of the child. Yeah, we need to get them back out there. The other feature that I would extend off of that is as therapists we are extended family.
In a tribal context, we’re the tribal elders. You have a problem you bring it to the tribal and so we have an influence, at least my perception as a family systems therapist we have an influence on the child to help balance the child out and say No your targeted parent that’s fine. They took your iPhone away well you were being a little jerk. Parents take away the iPhones. It’s not a big issues. It’s not abusive. They help balance the child out regarding the distortions coming off the other parent. Tom Dellner I’ll try to squeeze in two more.
We had a couple of questions come in regarding in your experience what impact if any does birth order have on what we’re talking about today Dr. Childress It has some. The narcissistic borderline parent is trying to manage their pathology. They’re not and they actually believe what’s going on so they’re not thinking in a malicious way about things. They’re just responding, and so they will target the eldest child. It’s the eldest child that they will go for the rejection and the alienation with. The other two or the other kids in the family will be spared the alienation to start with.
You’ll see the eldest kid reject the parent and they’ll still maintain a relationship with the other two. Gradually over time once this child flips and is fully on board with the psychopathology, then these two will start to flip the other kids down the road, but at least initially it’s just the older kid and the two younger ones remain. That’s one of when I see cases or when I’m assessing cases along this line is how far along is this alienation process. First does the child have some doubt. Is there.
Some ambivalence in the child that’s a good thing or has the child flipped and has a delusional disorder, that’s less good. Then where’s the status of the younger kids in this flipping process gives me a sense of how long it’s been. Tom Dellner I’ve been hanging on to this one for last. A learner writes in she’s been treating a family of three for more than a year. The parents announced in an imminent divorce. The narcissistic favored parent spoke with her in private about testifying in court regarding the poor parenting of the targeted problem parent and ask you to stop therapy.
With that parent. What would your approach be in that situation Dr. Childress No, I need permission from both parents to testify. If I don’t get permi both parents have to understand what my testimony might be. It has to be informed consent. It has to be in the best interest of everybody. There’s a lot of considerations to take into account as a treating therapist going into a court situation. It’s walking a minefield. The other walking a minefield is the idea of making custody recommendations with the therapist. That’s a dangerous minefield. You haven’t evaluated somebody who have been.
In a different role. The therapist needs to be very careful about talking about where the child should go or what the child should do. The challenge with parental alienation is I’ve said before is I don’t see it as a custody issue. I see it as a child protection issue. In my practice, I’ve evolved somewhat on this over time after treating cases and trying to treat cases and stuff is if I see a case of parental alienation, attachment based parental alienation at this point, I would diagnose with the V code of child psychological abuse. I believe that the role reversal relationship.
With a narcissistic borderline parent represents, meets the standard for child psychological abuse. If that’s the case, I’m also a mandated reporter, I’m allowed to report child psychological inaudible, I’m not mandated to report and so it opens up a whole new ball of wax. In addition as I would be called to testify or something, that opens up another ball of wax or can of worms regarding testifying in terms of abuse kinds of things. It gets extraordinarily complicated. My hope is that the therapist in this situation can just take a hands off approach and say, Nope I’m the therapist.
And I’m work with the family and that’s how it is and I work from a family systems perspective and so if the family fragments one of the things I would think about is that transition from an intact family structure to a separated family structure. I’ve found that explaining that to families and to children helps them understand that the family isn’t disappearing. We’re just transitioning. How do we make that transition in the most healthy way for everybody involved The other feature to recognize and this may be where I’ll be going in the next five years or whatever is with the alienating parent,.
They’re not a bad human being, no one is really a bad, they’re a traumatized human being who comes off of their own trauma history and childhood that’s created a personality disorder that annoying and irritating but that is troubling. As mental health professionals, there’s a pull to help them as well. In this situation with a narcissistic or borderline, there’s a tremendous anxiety around the divorce. I’m inadequate and I’m being abandoned and things 014316, and that activates the pathology. Understanding that I want to go in with that parent and rather than just pathologizing or rejecting them I want to go in and see what.
I can do about relaxing that anxiety, relaxing that trauma that they have inside to allow them to permit them to allow the transition of the family into a healthier kind of position. That’s where the parent I hear there saying, they go to the pathology of the cutoff, so cutoff relationships, you’re no longer a spouse and now you have to be an exparent as well. Now they’re saying, You were the therapist for all of us and we need to cut off that relationship, and to address that pathology and say, No, no, no. That’s not healthy,.
And so let’s see what we can do about maintaining this family even as it transitions to a new family structure and so compensating for that. The other interesting thing I’ll just add to that is borderline personality is known for splitting narcissist also has splitting. One of the things that we recognize is as supervisors, as a lot of times as clinical supervisors or as team approaches in therapy is the potential for the infection of the splitting to the supervisory staff and so you get staff splitting. You get a borderline.
Trait supervisee into a supervision group situation and one supervisor will be on the favor of the intern and the other will be hostile to the intern and they’ll start fighting amongst themselves and so you get this parallel process in the supervisory staff to what’s going on to the splitting dynamic. That’s what I believe is occurring quite right now in mental health regarding parental alienation. We have a borderline process. The professional community are all arguing amongst ourselves. Oh, there’s parental alienation. No it’s junk science and we’re fighting that splitting dynamic. As therapists we need to cognizant.
Enough to recognize that and not do that. I’m not going to give a split. I’m not going to do this stuff. We need to stay unified in our approach to the psychopathology and not demonize the psychopathology. We’re treating it and so to maintain that balanced approach for the therapist would be my recommendation. Tom Thank you. Unfortunately we’re just about out of time but before we go a couple of quick items and first and foremost thank you so much Dr. Childress for a fantastic lecture. Dr. Childress Thank you.