Parents capable of inflicting the pain and the cruelty of alienating their own children from their other parent almost always display symptoms of one or more personality disorders. Narcissistic Personality Disorder appears to be both the most prevalent affliction and the most dangerous. But, alienators frequently have also been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, Psychopathy, and Sociopathy.
But, is the existence of a emotional disorder in and of itself sufficient to cause a parent to inflict such damage on the very people they presumably love. Not every divorced parent with a disorder declares war on the ex-spouse and undertakes a no-prisoners strategy to destroy their ex. The children who become alienated during the process are just “casualties of war.” This total lack of empathy is consistent with these disorders but the rage experienced by a narcissist or sociopath is just as likely to express itself through violence as through a carefully designed psychological campaign of destruction. And, not all children are susceptible to alienation. So, under what circumstances can one parent successfully foster the hate that their children develop for the targeted parent.
When I was fighting to keep my youngest daughter I turned for help to a number of professionals– psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, child advocates, college professors, and lawyers. It did not take long for me to realize that these professionals were not very knowledgeable about the problem, the courts didn’t care, and several either were totally ignorant or tried to convince me that my daughter was just going through the typical emotional stages experienced by all teen-age girls as they passed through puberty.
I turned to a close psychologist friend. She actually was familiar with everything we discussed but when asked “how does he do it” her response was “I just don’t know.” Unfortunately, this seems to be the mantra of the professionals. They understand the emotional disorders and, to some extent, they understand Parental Alienation. But, they do not understand the actual dynamic involved.
I have come to the conclusion that their failure is due to the way they view and analyze the situation. They tend to look at the problem simply as a manifestation of the individual’s disorder. But, this is not enough. I am not a psychologist or a social worker but I am convinced that the alienation process can succeed only if there is a convergence of emotional disorders, traits, and the relational circumstances inherent between the parent and children. These are my thoughts and conclusions about how the alienation process actually works.
Parental Alienation first and foremost requires a parent with a personality or emotional disorder identified above and elsewhere on the site. There must be a pathological fear of abandonment as well as the lack of empathy and the need and ability to manipulate and dominate others.The alienator may have a “splitting” personality which is a disorder that tends to deny them the ability to hold opposing thoughts, feelings, or beliefs about others. Splitting is very common in people with borderline personality disorder (BPD), and it leads people with BPD to view themselves and others as either all good or all bad. They have difficulty synthesizing their feelings into one cohesive whole. In Parental Alienation the alienator convinces the child victims that they are “all good” while the target is “all bad.”
The child must have a close, loving, and trusting relationship with the alienator parent. The child must also be malleable. If there has been or continues to be conflict between the child and the targeted parent the alienator parent will find it much easier to win the child’s loyalty while convincing him/her that the target is bad and does not love the child. The alienator eventually is mistakenly portrayed as the loving, caring, and even fun parent. In this sense the child is successfully “brainwashed”
as defined and explained elsewhere.
||The children should have psychological profiles that would indicate vulnerability to something similar to “Stockholm Syndrome.” This, in itself might be an emotional disorder.
||At some point alienated children’s emotional development is stunted, they become an appendage of the alienator and become complicit in the process. They adopt and parrot the alienator and display disdain and hatred for the targeted parent. Like hostages suffering from Stockholm Syndrome they identify and align themselves with the very person who has abused them. They are the product of the alienator’s aggression, manipulation, intimidation, message repetition, lying, brainwashing, and who knows what else.
In 1985 the psychiatrist, Richard Gardner
, developed the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome to describe alienation when the child-victim becomes an active participant in the denigration of the targeted parent. The DSM-5 has not accepted Gardner’s definition but they do accept that alienation does exist. And, it is generally recognized that the alienator parent has one or more emotional disorders.
So, this background information is all fine and good but it still doesn’t answer the question: “What is the trait, factor, element, or circumstance that actually enables one parent to so utterly destroy the other? Hate and opportunity are relevant but not the answer. In fact, I have been unable to find an answer in the literature or from human experts. So, I have developed my own theory. It is “Charismatic Authority.”
If you are a targeted parent your relationship with your ex-spouse has probably devolved to the point of mutual hatred. You likely see him/her as a dirt bag and are totally unable to accept that your ex has any redeeming value and most certainly not any charisma. But, remember that you married that person and you made children together. What you probably did not know that your spouse was even then burdened with an emotional disorder. So, at some point in the past you felt your significant other possessed some semblance of charisma as we use the term today. I use the word “today” because it has a somewhat different meaning than in the past. So, keep reading.
The great German sociologist, Max Weber, coined the term “Charismatic Authority.” He did not particularly consider the term “charisma” in the positive light that we do today. Until his use of the term it had religious overtones and even when he applied more secular connotations there was still the implication that the charismatic leader somehow derived the quality from a spiritual source.
Weber viewed charisma as a certain quality of an individual’s personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least exceptional powers or qualities. These qualities are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin. Charismatic individuals are considered exemplary and on the basis of these exemplary characteristics the individual is treated as a leader.
Power is legitimized on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers.
All power rests entirely with the leader.
Charismatic Authority Today
Charisma is an undefined, intangible, and irrational personal quality that defines the relationship between a leader and followers. It is one of those things that may be difficult or impossible to define but most of us recognize it when we see it. It is very personal in the sense that what seems charismatic to one person may have no such effect on another. So, charismatic leadership really is defined by the followers. Still, most charismatic leaders attract followers to whom they appear very eloquent and with whom they are able to communicate on a deep, emotional level. They are able to stimulate strong emotions in their followers. These traits are not uncommon in narcissists, sociopaths, borderlines, and others with emotional disorders. Some of history’s most famous and infamous leaders were highly charismatic, were afflicted with a personality disorder, and were able to evoke deep emotional responses in huge numbers of followers.
Shrink It Down To Family Size
Now, take a deep breadth and for a minute try to step away from the toxic relationship with your former spouse. Consider “charismatic authority” on a smaller scale against a backdrop of your bitter divorce. It makes sense that charisma is the elusive quality that enables one parent to alienate children against the target.
It is important to accept and understand that charisma is totally in the mind and perceptions of the followers. Children of any divorce are fragile and especially so in a toxic split where they are receiving very different messages from each parent. They are very vulnerable to a parent with an emotional disorder that can reach them at a visceral level and enable them to make sense of their dysfunctional world. And, bringing order to their chaotic lives may require in their minds the rejection of the “other” parent. If the parent has a personality disorder the risk of alienation increases exponentially.
Parents naturally command a level of “charismatic authority” in relationship with their children. The children depend on their leadership and direction, hold them in the highest esteem, and elevate them to exalted positions whether or not the parents earns such reverence. Most importantly, children depend on and trust their parents as they struggle to find their own path through life. In a normal, stable household both parents enjoy “charismatic authority” but when the relationship disintegrates a parent with an emotional disorder may use their natural prestige to betray the children and use them as tools against the ex-spouse.
It is well understood that many symptoms displayed by people with various personality disorders correlate to dysfunctional parents who will sacrifice their children as they employ a strategy of parental alienation. Less understood is the mechanism used to accomplish the goal. The concept of “charismatic authority” is like a bonding agent that binds elements and enables one parent to alienate the other from their children. The charismatic element is a natural and powerful manifestation of the parent-child relationship but is likely to be undetectable to outsiders. Most parents would not mis-use their charismatic relationship with their children but the alienator most likely has a personality disorder that enables them to use the children to successfully avenge their perceived mistreatment by the targeted parent.