So let’s begin the new year of 2016 with statements of truth and reality.
Narcissistic and borderline personalities exist. They are defined entities in the DSM-5 diagnostic system of the American Psychiatric Association, they are fully described by such preeminent experts in professional psychology as Otto Kernberg, Aaron Beck, Theodore Millon, Marsha Linehan and others, and they are amply researched in the professional literature.
Narcissistic and borderline personalities exist.
The inherent vulnerability of the narcissistic personality is to rejection (called a “narcissistic injury”).
The inherent vulnerability of the borderline personality is to abandonment (diagnostic indicator 1 in the DSM-5).
Divorce, by its very nature, creates a narcissistic injury of rejection for the narcissistic personality spouse, and by its very nature divorce triggers the tremendous abandonment fears of the borderline personality spouse.
The fragile self-organization of the narcissistic and borderline personality will react in characteristic ways in response to the inherent rejection/abandonment of divorce. Both the narcissistic and borderline personalities are known for using other people to meet their own needs. For the narcissistic personality this recognized tendency to use other people is called “exploitation,” for the borderline personality this inherent tendency to use other people is called “manipulation.” Both constructs, of “manipulation” and “exploitation,” are recognized hallmarks of the narcissistic/borderline personality.
Both the narcissistic and borderline personalities have difficulty processing and regulating the emotion of sadness. In his book, “Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism,” the renowned expert in personality disorders, Otto Kernberg, described the characteristic difficulty of the narcissistic personality in processing sadness, grief, and loss:
From Kernberg: “They are especially deficient in genuine feelings of sadness and mournful longing; their 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 a person whom they appreciated.” (Kernberg, 1975, p. 229)
Divorce triggers sadness and loss. For the narcissistic and borderline personality, the experience of sadness and loss is twisted into “anger and resentment, loaded with revengeful wishes” directed toward the rejecting/abandoning spouse. Since the narcissistic/borderline personality can no longer express this “anger and resentment” directly toward the other spouse (since they are now separated and divorced), the narcissistic/borderline parent will “triangulate” the child (manipulate and then exploit the child) into the spousal conflict through the formation of a “cross-generational coalition” against the other parent.
The renowned family systems therapist, Jay Haley, expressly defines the cross-generational coalition of the allied parent with the child and calls it a pathological “perverse triangle,” and the preeminent family systems therapist Salvador Minuchin describes how the spousal anger of the allied parent is diverted through the child by means of the “cross-generational coalition,” so that the child is used by the allied parent to express the spousal “anger and resentment” of the parent toward the other (rejecting and abandoning) spouse.
From Haley: “The people responding to each other in the triangle are not peers, but one of them is of a different generation from 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 against his peer. By ‘coalition’ is meant a process of joint action which is against the third person… The coalition between the two persons is denied. That is, there is 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.” (Haley, 1977, p. 37)
All of this is nothing new. It is all standard clinical psychology. If any mental health professional is treating the ramifications of personality disorder pathology in the family following divorce and is NOT aware of this foundational information, then that mental health professional is ignorant and is likely practicing beyond the boundaries of professional competence in violation of Standard 2.01a of the American Psychological Association. This is all standard and basic information within clinical psychology.
Following divorce, the fragile narcissistic and borderline personality parent will use the child (manipulate and exploit the child) as an external “regulatory object” to stabilize the fragile personality structure of the parent which is threatened with collapse as a result of the narcissistic injury and abandonment by the attachment figure of the other spouse. This will result in “pathogenic parenting” practices in which the allied narcissistic/borderline parent will create severe developmental and psychiatric psychopathology in the child in order to exploit the child’s induced psychopathology to stabilize the fragile psychological state of the parent.
Patho = pathological
Genic = genesis; creation.
Pathogenic parenting is the creation of severe psychopathology in the child through highly aberrant and distorted parenting practices.
The term pathogenic parenting is an established professional construct in both the clinical psychology literature and the developmental psychology literature and is most often used in reference to distortions to the child’s attachment system, since the attachment system NEVER spontaneously dysfunctions, but ONLY dysfunctions in response to pathogenic parenting practices (and the attachment system dysfunctions in characteristic patterns in response to pathogenic parenting practices that have been amply studied and described in the research literature).
For example, the term “pathogenic caregiving” was specifically used in the DSM-IV TR diagnostic system as being the causative agent in the creation of a reactive attachment disorder. The term pathogenic parenting is a defined and established term in clinical psychology referring to parenting practices that are so highly aberrant and distorted that they are producing significant developmental, psychological, and psychiatric psychopathology in the child as evidenced in the child’s symptom display.
The construct of “parental alienation,” on the other hand, is not a defined clinical construct within clinical psychology. It is a term used in the general population to describe a poorly defined set of family dynamics evidenced in a child’s rejection of a relationship with a normal-range and affectionally available parent. The correct professional term for what is called “parental alienation” by the general population is “pathogenic parenting” – i.e., inducing significant psychopathology in the child through highly aberrant and distorted parenting practices.
You will notice that I always put the term “parental alienation” in quotes. This is because I am a clinical psychologist, and as a clinical psychologist this construct is not a defined clinical term. The correct clinical term for the pathology traditionally called “parental alienation” within the general public is pathogenic parenting. In an attachment-based model for the construct of “parental alienation” – which I fully describe in the book Foundations – the child evidences a set of three a-priori predicted symptoms of pathogenic parenting:
1. Attachment System Suppression: A suppression of attachment bonding motivations toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent.
2. Personality Disorder Symptoms: The child evidences five a-priori predicted narcissistic/borderline personality symptoms directed specifically and selectively toward the rejected parent. These five a-priori predicted narcissistic/borderline symptoms in the child’s symptom display represent the “psychological fingerprints” of the interpersonal influence on the child by a narcissistic/borderline parent. Children do not spontaneously develop narcissistic and borderline personality symptom sets absent the influence of the distorted parenting practices of a parent.
3. Delusional Belief: The child evidences an intransigently held, fixed and false belief that is maintained despite contrary evidence (i.e., a delusion) regarding the supposedly “abusive” parental inadequacy of a normal-range and affectionally available parent. This symptom represents the child’s being induced (manipulated) into accepting and expressing the “victimized child” role in the false trauma reenactment narrative of the narcissistic/borderline parent. This trauma reenactment narrative is variously called “the transference” by Sigmund Freud, “internal working models” of attachment by John Bowlby, and “schema” patterns by Aaron Beck.
Creating significant developmental psychopathology (Diagnostic Indicator 1), personality psychopathology (Diagnostic Indicator 2), and psychiatric-delusional psychopathology in the child through the highly aberrant and distorted parenting practices of a narcissistic/borderline parent in order to stabilize the pathology of the parent which was activated by the rejection and abandonment inherent to divorce represents pathogenic parenting – i.e., producing severe psychopathology in the child (Diagnostic Indicators 1, 2, and 3) through highly aberrant and distorted parenting practices.
The technical term for this is called – diagnosis. Using the child’s symptom features to diagnose the cause of the child’s symptoms. Diagnosis.
I am not discussing some vaguely defined construct of “parental alienation” which is used in the general population and general culture. I am discussing pathogenic parenting by a narcissistic/borderline parent in order to stabilize the pathology of the parent in response to the rejection and abandonment inherent to divorce. I am a clinical psychologist. I am discussing the clinical psychology construct of pathogenic parenting by a narcissistic/borderline parent.
Other people in the general population use the imprecise and popular-culture term “parental alienation,” and I continue to use this popular-culture term so as to avoid overly confusing the discourse. I would, however, very much welcome if we could transition to the more proper clinical construct of pathogenic parenting – inducing significant psychopathology in the child through highly aberrant and distorted parenting practices. I strongly believe that changing to the more accurate clinical terminology of pathogenic parenting would greatly improve the clarity of discussion surrounding this form of child and family pathology.
Inducing severe developmental psychopathology (Diagnostic Indicator 1), personality disorder psychopathology (Diagnostic Indicator 2), and psychiatric-delusional psychopathology (Diagnostic Indicator 3) in a child through highly aberrant and distorted parenting practices in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent warrants the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.
To argue otherwise is to argue that it is acceptable parenting practice to induce severe developmental psychopathology, personality disorder psychopathology, and delusional psychiatric psychopathology in a child in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent.
In all cases of child abuse, our first and foremost responsibility is one of child protection. In all cases of child abuse, physical child abuse, sexual child abuse, and psychological child abuse, we must first ensure the child’s protection by protectively separating the child from the abusive parent. We do this for physical child abuse. We do this for sexual child abuse. We do this for psychological child abuse. We must first protect the child from the abusive parent.
We then treat the child for the psychological and emotional consequences of the abuse, and before re-exposing the child to the abusive parent we ensure that the child will not once more be re-exposed to the abuse. This typically means that the abusive parent has received therapy to understand the personal psychological cause of the prior abuse and that this parent has achieved insight into the reasons for the prior abuse and has sufficient self-regulation to discontinue the child abuse. This is true for physical child abuse, this is true for sexual child abuse, and this is true for psychological child abuse.
We never abandon a child to child abuse. We do not abandon a child to physical child abuse. We do not abandon a child to sexual child abuse. We do not abandon a child to psychological child abuse. It is our obligation to protect 100% of children from all forms of child abuse, physical, sexual, and psychological.
Narcissistic and borderline personalities exist. In response to the inherent rejection and abandonment associated with divorce these narcissistic and borderline parents will induce significant developmental psychopathology in the child (Diagnostic Indicator 1), personality disorder psychopathology in the child (Diagnostic Indicator 2), and psychiatric-delusional psychopathology in the child (Diagnostic Indicator 3). When the three definitive diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting – pathogenic parenting – by an allied narcissistic/borderline parent are evidenced in the child’s symptom display, the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed is warranted and a child protection response is needed.
To argue otherwise is to argue in favor of abandoning children to the ongoing psychological abuse inflicted on the child by the psychopathology of the narcissistic/borderline personality parent.
Pathogenic parenting. Creation of severe psychopathology in the child through highly aberrant and distorted parenting practices.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857