Posted in Parental Alienation & Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Fighting Parental Alienation

Dr. Childress likens the Parental Alienation dynamic to a puppet show where the audience invariably addresses the puppet, without even noticing the puppet-master who is pulling the strings.  Friends and family members, even well-educated mental health and legal professionals take the child’s claims at face value, and remain ignorant to the psychological damage that is really taking place.

Of course, there is much more to the psychology of Parental Alienation than what I have attempted to describe here.  I encourage you to do your own reading.  See recommended resources below.

Why do alienating parents have such an obsessive need to bash and badmouth the targeted parent?  Why do they seem so driven to remove the targeted parent from the lives of the children?  How is it that a child can be convinced to hate and reject a parent they used to love so deeply?  What is the psychology underlying the Parental Alienation dynamic?

Why alienating parents alienate

Most alienating parents have traits of borderline/narcissistic personality disorder–traits which likely originate from their own traumatic childhood.  As a result, alienating parents regard people with whom they are close as “love objects” that belong to them, and to them alone.  They are emotionally insecure about relationships in general, and they are driven by overwhelming fears of rejection and abandonment.
As their adult love relationship falls apart, alienating parents cling to their children in unhealthy ways.  They do everything they can to ensure that their remaining “love objects” (the children) will not betray them by having affections for the rejected, “targeted” parent.

Alienating parents also engage in black-and-white thinking.  They see themselves as a victim, and they see their ex-spouse as their persecutor.  They see themselves as the all-good parent, and they see their ex-spouse as being all-bad.  They convincingly portray these false images to the children, to friends and family members, and even to mental health and legal professionals.   Alienating parents are believed, and seldom questioned, because of the passion and earnestness with which they tell their lies and distortions.  They are able to hide their distorted thinking from the outside world, and present themselves as confident and caring parents, because it is only in the context of intimate relationships, where their fears of rejection and abandonment are triggered, that the abnormal behaviors and distorted thinking become manifest.  This is part of what makes Parental Alienation so difficult to recognize and treat.

Alienating parents are unable to “share” the affections of their children after a divorce.  They are highly motivated to erase the targeted parent from the children’s lives, and they are relentless in their efforts to do so.

Why children reject the targeted parent

In Parental Alienation 101, I described some of the tactics utilized by alienating parents to destroy the targeted parent’s relationships with the children.  But why do these tactics work?  Aren’t children smarter than that?

Dr. Craig Childress, a licensed clinical child psychologist, describes an experiment performed in the 1980’s.   Researchers took baby rhesus monkeys and put them in a cage.  The researchers then placed a rubber snake into the cage.  The baby monkeys showed absolutely no fear.  They had never seen a snake before and had no reason to fear it.  The researchers then placed the baby monkeys into a cage with their mother. This time, when the snake was introduced, the mother reacted wildly, showing tremendous fear.  The baby monkey mimicked the mother’s behavior almost immediately.  From then on, whether the mother was present or not, the babies showed the same fear response to the snake.
Dr. Childress then goes on to describe how humans are likewise programmed to feel the emotions of others.  There are actually neurons in our brain called “mirror neurons” that have this purpose.  Dr. Childress writes:

The mirror neuron system allows us to feel what other people feel as if we were having the experience ourselves.   It is this “psychological connection” system that allows us to feel what the actors feel when we watch a movie.  We feel their sadness, their joy, their terror, as if we were having the experience ourselves, using our own emotional system to feel the experience of the actors.

Yet, when we are watching a movie we never lose awareness that what is happening on the screen is not actually happening to us, even if it feels that way.  It is exactly this distinction that is lost in the Parental Alienation dynamic.  The emotions of the alienating parent are not only felt by the child, they become reality for the child.  If the alienating parent expresses anger or fear, the child does not just empathize with the alienating parent; she internalizes the anger or fear, and makes it her own.  The child is taught to never think for herself.  It is very much like being in a cult.

This unhealthyinterconnected emotional state is further reinforced by frequent cues from the alienating parent.  Sometimes the cues are obvious (e.g. a fear response), and sometimes the cues are subtler.  Again Dr. Childress writes:

For example, say the child returns from a visitation with the other parent and is asked about the visit by the [alienating] parent. If the child responds with a positive report, such as “I had a great time,” the [alienating] parent responds with a sad dejected state… Conversely, if the child reports a negative experience with the other parent, which would be consistent with what the [alienating] parent desires, such as “it was awful, I didn’t like it,” the [alienating] parent responds with nurturing support, “Oh, I’m so sorry sweetie. I know how hard the other parent can be to get along with.  You poor thing.”  [This] forms a joint psychological experience with the child, and results in a burst of positive brain chemicals that feel good.  “I belong, I’m accepted, I’m understood.”
The child finds herself in an impossible situation.  She still loves the targeted parent, but the negative psychological consequences from the alienating, “favored” parent are even more powerful.  She fears being rejected and emotionally banished just as the targeted parent has been rejected.  And so, the child enmeshes herself with the favored parent.  It’s a matter of self-preservation.  It’s a form of trauma bonding.  It’s similar to the way a kidnap victim bonds with her kidnappers–i.e. Stockholm Syndrome.


Attachment-Based-Model-Parental-Alienation-Foundations, Craig Childress, Psy.D.

Divorce Poison, Dr. Richard Warshak

Co-parenting With a Toxic Ex, Dr. Amy JL Baker

Posted in Parental Alienation & Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Legal: “Psychological Fingerprints”

In the child’s presentation as a “victim,” our attention is drawn to the puppet and away from the puppet master.  And if the targeted parent tries to expose the controlling influence on the child that is being exercised by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, then the targeted parent is accused of “not taking responsibility” for his or her supposedly bad parenting practices.  The focus remains on the puppet show, and away from the puppet master.  It’s the perfect manipulative control.

Inducing the child into adopting the “victim” role (supposedly occurring at the hands of the “abusive” parenting of the targeted parent) allows the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to then adopt and display as the coveted and narcissistically desired “all wonderful” and “protective” parent.  And the false roles within this artificially constructed drama are readily believed by the susceptible.

The appearance of bonding between the child and the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is NOT a sign of a positive parent-child relationship, but is instead a symptom of severe psychopathology called a role-reversal relationship, with its source in the pathogenic parenting of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent.

The narcissistic/(borderline) parent draws “narcissistic supply” as the “all-wonderful” perfect parent from the child’s induced  surrender to the psychological control of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and the apparent bonding is actually a very pathological role-reversal relationship in which the child is being used to meet the psychological needs of the narcissistic/borderline parent. Continue reading “Legal: “Psychological Fingerprints””

Posted in Parental Alienation & Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Untangling a web – and the thread didn’t break | the alienation experience

The limits of a judge’s power

The VOC link opened up a welcome and a shared sorrow about this public apology of a case.

SM: This article is so upsetting. The catalogue of failures of services. To have to say to a parent, dad in this case, ‘yes, we know you are a good parent, but you still can’t have access to them because they have been told so many lies they actually HATE you” ⧣ParentalAlienation

Early on SP and NCn had this exchange about the power and limits of what a judge could order. Click on NCn’s link here to read more of it.

SP: So. What would you have done? How much physical force do you think it’s appropriate to exert on children?

NCn: Would you leave a child in the care of someone you knew to be sexually abusing them? The horrific life long outcome for children of PA is as damaging.

SP: No, and that is a fair point. But at the moment the apparatus of the State WILL get behind a child who is sexually abused. Emotional abuse is much more difficult to deal with as in every other respect the parent is a ‘good’ one and the children refuse to leave. I do not doubt that the impact of such emotional abuse has life long consequences every bit as severe as sexual abuse. But its like boiling a frog. By the time everyone has woken up to the fact it is happening, damage is done and is entrenched. What the court system needs is more time and more judges to have quicker finding of fact hearings and then a will to act much more quickly. An end to this desperately naive hope that the abusing parent will ‘shift’. I think they rarely do.

NCn: (1) Agree with your summing up, but more than just time is needed. It’s accuracy and proper investigation into why a child is unjustifiably rejecting another parent. Cafcass are assigned 25 hrs per case. Most of that goes on report writing, travel, court appearances.
(2) Often only 1 hour is given to a telephone interview with traumatised parent of which their trauma is held against them and so indirect contact is recommended during proceedings which can take months. By which time, as you agree, entrenchment is too deep.
(3) My initial reaction was to your wording of your original text. Parents are trying to survive the worst grief and ambiguous loss and it came across as dismissive and sarky. Grieving a living a child is beyond anyone’s comprehension and yes! The Judge should have done more.
(4) Why was this Mother not in contempt of breaking the Order when so many others are often arrested due to false allegations?

Continue reading “Untangling a web – and the thread didn’t break | the alienation experience”

Posted in Parental Alienation & Narcissistic Personality Disorder

When Children Lie and Why They Lie: The Shared Psychotic Delusion in Parental Alienation – Karen Woodall

I have a particular interest in case of shared psychotic delusional disorder, because I have worked with a number of children who have experienced it and I have seen first hand the manner in which these children lie and I have begun through this experience to understand why they lie. I have also begun recently, through my research, to more deeply understand the line over which the child crosses when they no longer know they are lying. A child in this state of mind becomes very ‘infectious’ because they become very convincing, even when their stories are monstrously and manifestly untrue. This is because, in my view, the lies they tell interact with the unconscious beliefs of those around them, causing those who hear the tales being told to suspend their rational faculties and along with that their disbelief

Continue reading “When Children Lie and Why They Lie: The Shared Psychotic Delusion in Parental Alienation – Karen Woodall”