An alienating parent often shows either narcissistic or borderline tendencies.
Narcissistic individuals tend to be self-absorbed, and most centrally, they show deficits in their ability to listen to others’ differing perspectives. Instead, they hyper-focus on what they themselves want, think, feel, and believe—without taking others’ desires and ideas into consideration.
An alienating parent who is higher in narcissism may aim to use the children as weapons or pawns in his/her battle to “destroy” the other parent. These individuals often claim to be protecting the children against the “evil” other. However, by using the children in their perpetual fight to hurt the other parent, they often show little consideration for what is in the best interests of the child.
Typically, kids benefit by the presence of both parents. They do not benefit—and indeed can be harmed—when one of their parents portrays the other in a relentlessly negative light. Similarly, they are often harmed by parents who fight their way through divorce and post-divorce. They are harmed when parents put them in the middle of their power battles. They are harmed when a parent uses them to accomplish their own angry agenda, ignoring the needs of the children.
In addition to getting emotionally aroused too often, and too intensely, people with this disorder often have difficulty self-soothing. As a result, their distress tends to be longer-lasting than the distress that most people experience. In this regard, they have deficits in emotional resilience, or the ability to recover after feeling frustrated or disappointed. They may become at risk, therefore, for developing a victim self-image, blaming others for whatever goes wrong—which, in turn, may enable them to victimize others: “I’m a victim; therefore, I have a right to victimize you.”
Some elements of borderline disorders may become evident in the way that certain alienating parents twist reality. When these individuals are higher in borderline tendencies, they often offer exaggerated accusations against the other parent—accusations that may, in fact, be projections of their own negative attributes (calling the other parent “selfish,” for instance, when they themselves actually demonstrate more selfish behavior).