Let me tell you a story; one story among many. This is not all the stories, this is just one story.
There once was a mother of four children. A good and kind woman. A God loving woman who attended church regularly with her family. She was a quiet woman, unassuming. She loved her children dearly and they loved her. There were chores around the house that the children helped in completing, laundry, washing dishes, keeping the house picked up. A normal family – or so it seemed.
The father was superficially charming, which is what first attracted the mother to him. He was somewhat distant emotionally when they were dating, but the mother thought this was normal while they were dating, and she felt that they would grow increasingly close after they were married
However, she was wrong. It turned out that the father was actually filled with a deep inner anger, and that his mask of superficial charm was just a cover – a false face he presented to the world. Once they were married, once he had captured her and she could not escape from him, then he was free to unleash his anger on her.
It began gradually, with his constant criticism of her. Nothing she could do was right. There was always something wrong. His criticism increased even more once the children were born. He didn’t seem to care about the children, and he actually seemed to resent the time the mother gave to them. He was jealous of the children, and his criticisms of the mother became more personal and demeaning.
At first the mother tried to defend herself, but this just made his verbal aggression more severe. He called her foul names, degrading and demeaning her, often in front of the children. Eventually the mother found it was best simply not to argue back but to just keep quiet, and to try to move the children away when he became angry and verbally abusive so they wouldn’t hear his verbal degradation of her.
She tried to be a good mother, helping the children with their homework, making sure the children were well-fed and well cared for. But her oldest son was showing troubling signs of defiance of her authority. Sometimes her son would mimic his father’s verbal abuse of her, calling her stupid and saying he didn’t have to listen to her. When the mother brought the eldest son’s increasing defiance up with the father, the father justified the child’s verbal abuse of the mother, saying that she was stupid and didn’t deserve respect.
The son never disrespected the father because the father was such a powerful presence, and his anger was to be feared. He could unleash a withering look of anger and disgust, of pure contempt, that everyone wanted to avoid. And yet when he was pleased with you he could be so charming. He had a charming mask he could put on whenever he wanted, but deep inside was a seething cauldron of anger and rage.
The father generally didn’t show much interest in the family and he was away from home a lot, saying he was working late on various projects. The mother soon became suspicious, and one day she checked his phone and saw romantic text messages to another woman. The mother called the number and confirmed that the father had been having an affair for two years. This was too much for her. The constant verbal abuse and degradation, and now an affair. She could no longer tolerate his continued humiliation. What was even more concerning for her was that her son was beginning to show the same verbal abuse and disrespect of her that was shown by the father. Enough. She decided to divorce the father.
When she confronted him with the affair and that she was going to divorce him, the father became furious. He called her all sorts of foul and degrading names. His contempt and verbal abuse of her became unrelenting. What’s more, he also began to turn the children against her. He told the children that the mother was to blame for the divorce. He told the children that their mother didn’t love them anymore because she had decided to “break up our family.” He told them that she was sinful for breaking God’s commandment to remain married. He told them that she was selfish and only cared about herself, and that’s why she was “breaking up our family” because she no longer loved the children or cared about “our family.”
The mother tried to keep the children out of the divorce and the marital conflict. She never bad-mouthed the father and did not tell the children about their father’s affair.
Whenever the oldest child criticized the mother, the father would agree with the criticism and praise the son as being a “good boy” who saw through his mother’s “lies.” He would turn on the charm with the eldest son, bonding with him in their increasingly shared anger and hatred for the supposedly “stupid” and inadequate mother. The younger children weren’t affected yet. They still loved their mother, but the eldest son became increasingly verbally abusive of his mother, calling her vile and filthy names.
The eldest son then started to work on his younger brothers and sister, seeking to turn them against the mother too. Gradually, one by one the children began to blame her for the divorce and they began to become increasingly defiant and disrespectful toward her, beginning with the eldest son and moving next in birth order to the daughter. The daughter and her older brother began to increasingly show angry contempt and disrespect for their mother, the same disrespectful attitude shown to the mother by the father. The two older children modeled this disrespectful and verbally abusive treatment of their mother for the younger children.
Soon, the oldest two children began saying that they no longer wanted to go on visitations with their mother. The mother cried and told them how much she loved them. She tried to convince them to continue their visitations. They called her stupid and said they hated her, and that she was a liar. It broke her heart. Just a few years prior she and her children had shared a wonderful love. Now her children were so filled with anger and hatred, their father’s anger and hatred. She no longer recognized her precious babies, her dearly loved children.
Gradually, her time with the children was cut to less and less. She no longer saw her two older children, and the younger children she saw only rarely. She was supposed to see them more, there were court orders that she was to see them more, but the father disregarded the court orders whenever the children said they didn’t want to see her – which now seemed to be all the time. The father said he “couldn’t force the children to see their mother.” The father said he was only “listening to what the children wanted” – and that they didn’t want to be with their mother.” The father said that “the children should be allowed to decide” whether or not they wanted to be with the mother – and the children didn’t want to be with their mother.
She had lost her children. A year before the divorce, she was a loving mother of four loving children. Two years after the divorce she was alone. She had no children. The father had essentially killed her children in order to get revenge on her, as his final act of hatred toward her.
So filled with anger and hatred was the father, that he exacted his final revenge on the mother by killing her children. She used to have four beautiful and loving children. Now she had none.
How dare she reject him. He’ll show her. He’ll take her precious children away from her. He will kill her children. That will serve her right for rejecting him. She used to have four loving children, now she has none. That serves her right for rejecting him. So filled with anger, so filled with hatred is the father that he will kill his ex-wife’s children as a means to make her suffer for rejecting him, as a means to get revenge for her leaving him.
What’s more, he also kills the mother of his own children. Once, before the divorce, the children had a deeply loving and available mother. Now, after the divorce, they no longer have a mother. He has taken away the children’s mother from them, taken away her love and caring. All to exact his retaliatory revenge on the mother for her leaving him.
This is the story of this pathology. And the “bystanders” collude with and lend their support to this pathology of the narcissistic-abusive husband in his using the children as his weapons to exact his terrible emotional and psychological abuse onto a loving mother.
When she divorced him he was no longer able to verbally abuse, degrade, and demean her directly, so he turned to the one thing she loved the most, her children, and he used them as his weapons to inflict the most horrible suffering on her, the loss of her beloved children, who he twisted into hateful and angry beings through his own inner hatred and anger.
This is the story of this pathology. And the “bystanders” collude with and lend their support to this pathology of the narcissistic-abusive husband in his using the children as weapons to exact his emotional and psychological abuse onto a loving mother. “We need to listen to what the children want” – “The children should be allowed to decide.”
Not when the children are being manipulated and exploited by the pathology of a narcissistic father who is using the children’s induced and created hatred of their loving and affectionate mother as a means to exact his revenge and continued emotional abuse of the her. This form of pathology is called a “cross-generational coalition” by the renowned family systems therapists Jay Haley and Salvador Minuchin, in which they describe how spousal anger toward the other spouse is diverted through the children – in which the children are used as weapons by one parent to inflict suffering on the other parent.
This is the story of this pathology. The pathology seeks to remain hidden behind the child – “It’s not me, it’s the child” – “We need to listen to what the child wants” – and this pathology seeks allies who accept the superficial presentation created by the manipulative exploitation and narcissistic cruelty of the allied parent.
Our goal is to expose the pathology from behind its veil of concealment. The pathology exists of a narcissistic/borderline parent who is manipulating and exploiting the children to meet the parent’s own emotional and psychological needs.
It is a complicated form of pathology. These children and families warrant the designation as a “special population” requiring specialized professional knowledge and expertise to competently diagnose and treat.
Children have a right to love both parents after a divorce.
Children should never be placed in a position by one parent’s psychopathology of having to choose between their parents. Children have the right to love both parents.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
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