Research repeatedly finds that typical highly-dissociated (“fragmented”) people were subjected to extreme neglect, abuse, abandonment, or other trauma as young children. Their nurturance deprivations were profound. The great majority of us don’t have anywhere close to this degree of personality splitting – and do have some.
Parent Alienation Syndrome occurs when individuals who have certain psychological characteristics manage internal conflict or pain by transforming psychological pain into interpersonal conflict. Divorcing parents often experience humiliation, loss of self-esteem, guilt, ambivalence, fear, abandonment anxiety, jealousy, or intense anger. These normal but very painful emotions must be managed. Usually people in crisis rely on characteristic relationship styles and pain management techniques. The Team has found alienating parents to have the following characteristics:
1. A narcissistic or paranoid orientation to interactions and relationships with others, usually as the result of a personality disorder.(2) Both narcissistic and paranoid relationships are maintained by identification, rather than mutual appreciation and enjoyment of differences as well as similarities. Perfectionism and intolerance of personal flaws in self or others have deleterious effects on relationships. When others disagree, narcissistic and paranoid people feel abandoned, betrayed, and often rageful.
2. Reliance on defenses against psychological pain that result in externalizing unwanted or unacceptable feelings, ideas, attitudes, and responsibility for misfortunes so that more painful internal conflict is transformed into less painful interpersonal conflict. Examples of such defenses are phobias, projection, “splitting,” or obsessive preoccupation with the shortcomings of others in order to obscure from self and others the individual’s own shortcomings. “Splitting” results when feelings, judgments, or characteristics are polarized into opposite, exhaustive, and mutually exclusive categories (such as all good or all bad, right or wrong, love or hate, victim or perpetrator), then are assigned or directed separately to self and other. (I am good, you are bad.) The need for such defenses arises because alienating parents have little or no tolerance for internal conflict or even normal ambivalence. The interpersonal result of such defenses is intense interpersonal conflict.(3)
3. Evidence of an abnormal grieving process such that there is a preponderance of anger and an absence of sadness in reaction to the loss of the marital partner
4. A family history in which there is an absence of awareness of normal ambivalence and conflict about parents, enmeshment, or failure to differentiate and emancipate from parents; or a family culture in which “splitting” or externalizing is a prominent feature. Some alienating parents were raised in families in which there is unresolved or unacknowledged grief as the result of traumatic losses or of severe but unacknowledged emotional deprivation, usually in the form of absence of empathy. More frequently, alienating parents were favorite children or were overly indulged or idealized as children.
If we were to get into the mind of the alienator we would find some very sick and disorganized psychopathology. (typically a narcissistic/borderline and for men accompanied by psychopathy and a persecutory delusional system, for women a narcissistic/borderline and/or histrionic features). These people, both men and, women, were arrested at a very early stage of development. There are no/weak boundaries, impoverished ego strength, weak impulse control and reduced and sometimes delusional reality testing. Their path through life often carries that of a persecutory delusion-that is, they are the victim of a punishing parent and then an evil spouse and world. To them, everything is everyone else’s fault; they take no ownership for their behavior unless it glorifies them. In fact, the rules that exist apply to everyone but them and following an illegal path is not unusual, especially in cases where psychopathy occurs (typically more in men). The typical dynamic is that of the narcissist/borderline where their sense of entitlement governs their behavior- a sense that is really to counteract the deep feelings of low self-esteem, unworthiness and, powerlessness.
Narcissists, being remarkably resistant in treatment, are often unable to “get it” and cannot see what helping professional, judges and authority figures during the divorce are telling them: they are right and everyone else is wrong. Their need to vindicate themselves and see themselves as the perfect parent is a strong survival issue and they will go to any lengths to do that, even it means hurting the child in the process.
That said, these parents who pretend to be perfect show themselves in the legal system. They ask for more visitation, sometimes 100% visitation (finding any reason for the child not to visit), ask the child to testify (“hear my child, hear me”), cut off communication and show no co-parenting, cooperation and accountability with the targeted parent yet firmly adhere to the notion that they strongly encouraged visitation and the child refused.
One parent even sent the judge texts where he attempted to turn the child away (who was not yet turned away) that had harsh denigrating language about the other parent; in this case, the delusional system was so strong that he was even unable to see that this would work against him. There is no end to their mission. Unfortunately, this is not a custody issue but a child protective issue; it is an issue of child abuse. https://drbarbarawinter.com/2015/03/01/parental-alienation-2-when-your-child-turns-away-inside-the-mind-of-the-alienator/
Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy ® publishes empirical research on the psychological effects of trauma. The journal is intended to be a forum for an interdisciplinary discussion on trauma, blending science, theory, practice, and policy.
The journal publishes empirical research on a wide range of trauma-related topics, including
- Psychological treatments and effects
- Promotion of education about effects of and treatment for trauma
- Assessment and diagnosis of trauma
- Pathophysiology of trauma reactions
- Health services (delivery of services to trauma populations)
- Epidemiological studies and risk factor studies
- Neuroimaging studies
- Trauma and cultural competence
The journal publishes articles that use experimental and correlational methods and qualitative analyses, if applicable.
All research reports should reflect methodologically rigorous designs that aim to significantly enhance the field’s understanding of trauma. Such reports should be based on good theoretical foundations and integrate theory and data. Manuscripts should be of sufficient length to ensure theoretical and methodological competence. Continue reading “Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy “
“I’m tired of your bullshit. All this time, you made everything about you. It’s always about you. You played the victim and were negative all the time. You’re selfish and toxic!”
I was utterly shocked. His words felt like hundreds of daggers being stabbed into my chest and twisted. My heart stopped and I painfully gasped.
I was too numb. I couldn’t run to him and ask him to stay.
He blocked me on social media. Blocked my phone number. I couldn’t reach him. He hated me so much, he moved away not long after that.
For days, I obsessed over the last things he said to me. It took me a while to realize the truth: that he was right.
I was exactly what he said.
The whole time, I had mentally abused him, manipulated his emotions, made him feel guilty of things that weren’t his fault.
The fault was all mine.
Over the last several decades there has been significant growth in the understanding of the neurobiological basis of fear. At the center of the fear circuitry is the amygdala. The amygdala mediates processes such as the detection of emotionally arousing and/or salient stimuli.47 Additional regions (eg, nucleus accumbens, hippocampus, some prefrontal regions, etc) form a neural network involved in the perception of threat, fear learning, and fear expression.48 These areas individually mediate symptoms of fear and collectively act to produce an integrated fear response. Our nuanced understanding of this complex neural network results from imaging (eg, during fear conditioning studies), physiological (eg, skin conductance, eye-blink response), and psychopharmacological studies that not only enhance the mechanistic understanding of fear but also highlight the role of fearrelated dysfunction in the generation and maintenance of various forms of psychopathology.
Failure to properly regulate fear responses is central to specific phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and some Axis II disorders (ie, fear of separation and loss of support in dependent personality disorder (DPD) of abandonment in borderline personality disorder (BPD), and of criticism, disapproval, and rejection in avoidant personality disorder (APD).6 While some disorders are largely associated with hyperviglance and an over-reactive fear response (eg, anxiety disorders and BPD), others are related to deficient fear reactivity (eg, psychopathy). Studies on the relationship between fear and narcissism have been sparse, both at a phenotypic and mechanism level. One study of individuals with narcissistic traits, as measured by the Narcissism Personality Inventory (NPI)49 reported that they display diminished electrodermal reactivity to aversive stimuli,50 indicating weak responses to punishment or aversive cues.
Despite the limited research directly examining fear and narcissism, there are studies of other related conditions with relevance to pathological narcissism that highlight the importance of fear in the expression of psychopathology. Specifically, the role of fear in psychopathy-related disinhibition has been the focus of studies for decades. NPD and psychopathy are considered to be overlapping constructs, both expressing symptoms of grandiosity, compromised empathic functioning, and callousness. In fact, Kernberg2 suggested that narcissism might be the core of psychopathy.51–53 Psychopathic individuals generally display an inability to form genuine relationships; limited (ie, grandiose) affective processing, especially with respect to anticipatory anxiety and remorse; an impulsive behavioral style involving a general failure to evaluate anticipated actions and inhibit the inappropriate ones; and a chronic antisocial lifestyle that entails great costs to society as well as for the affected individual.54 While both affective and behavioral characteristics are important elements of psychopathy, the affective deficits have traditionally been considered to be the root cause of the psychopath’s problems. Continue reading “Fear, narcissism, and neuroscience”
Unfortunately the legal situation which many divorce agreements mandate is open-ended. Certainly, when both parties to a divorce are reasonably well-balanced, it is entirely fitting for the settlement to be flexible enough to incorporate changing financial circumstances, child-care capabilities, and visitation rights. When, however, one party to the divorce is an emotional terrorist, then both the confrontational divorce procedure and the resultant open-ended divorce settlement provide infinite opportunity for the courts, lawyers, and the entire battery of psychologists called in for evaluations, to be used as the terrorist’s weapons. In these cases, the court and the divorce procedure provide no boundaries for the terrorist; instead they allow the terrorist to continue to behave boundlessly.
For this reason, when dealing with a terrorist, it is best for the divorce procedure and final decree to be as swift, as final, as absolute, as unequivocal as possible. Every practitioner or attorney handling divorces is familiar with clients described as “litigious.” [ “Tar baby” is a popular term among Colorado lawyers.] Only when “litigiousness” is seen as a manifestation of terrorism can the course to swift and precise legal settlement be steered.
To limit the terrorist’s feelings of omnipotence, there are many effective measures. The guiding principle, as in the handling of political terrorists, must be: “There is no negotiating with terrorists.” Endless telephone calls, conversations, confrontation, trial “get-back-togethers,” correspondence, visitations, gestures of appeasement, and efforts to placate the terrorist’s demands, all serve to reinforce the terrorist’s belief that she is accomplishing something. Only determined resolution in the face of terrorism shows the terrorist that her power is limited.
Furthermore, for anyone dealing directly with the terrorist, reassurances, “ego boosts,” and consolations are lamentably counterproductive. Mrs. Roberts soon found for herself a feminist therapist staunchly supporting the erroneous belief “All feelings (and therefore behaviors) are valid.” Mrs. Roberts is told by this therapist that she has a right to feel and to behave in any manner she chooses, in callous disregard for the devastation inflicted upon the children. Such reassurances serve only to fortify the terrorist’s already pathological, solipsistic, and eternally self-justifying perspective.
If wishing to undertake the second sphere of disarming a terrorist — personal intervention with the terrorist herself — the therapist must be prepared to be straight, honest and very direct. In my own dealings with women as terrorists, I have found on occasion that one quite simply can point out to the terrorist, “You are behaving like a terrorist. This is what you are doing. This is how you are being destructive. This is the destruction you are heading towards,” and the terrorist, seeing themselves clearly for the first time, might be encouraged to reconsider their behavior. More commonly, however, extremely deep therapy is required. For the terrorist’s behavior to change, there must first be a solid and fundamental change within the terrorist’s physiological constitution.
Usually it is only by an in-depth excavation and resolution of early childhood pain that the terrorist can begin to gain a real, true, and level-headed perception of her own current situation. Direct intervention with a terrorist — like all forms of therapeutic intervention — can hope to achieve change only if the individual concerned wishes to change and possesses that vital yet ineffable quality: the will to health. When the will to health is lacking, there can be no change. If the terrorist cannot or will not change, one can only help the other family members to be resolute, be strong, and, whenever possible, be distant. Continue reading “Divorcing the emotional terrorist”
I will not describe here in any detail the types of childhood that tend to create the subsequent terrorist. I will say, however, that invariably the terrorist’s childhood, once understood, can be seen as violent (emotionally and/or physically). Also invariably, the terrorist can be regarded as a “violence prone” individual. I define a violence prone woman as a woman who, while complaining that she is the innocent victim of the malice and aggression of all other relationships in her life, is in fact a victim of her own violence and aggression. A violent and painful childhood tends to create in the child an addiction to violence and to pain (an addiction on all levels: the emotional, the physical, the intellectual, the neurochemical), an addiction that then compels the individual to recreate situations and relationships characterized by further violence, further danger, further suffering, further pain. Thus, it is primarily the residual pain from childhood — and only secondarily the pain of the terrorist’s current familial situation — that serves as the terrorist’s motivating impetus. There is something pathological about the terrorist’s motivation, for it is based not so much on reality as on a twisting, a distortion, a reshaping of reality.
Because the emotional terrorist is a violence-prone individual, addicted to violence, the terrorist’s actions must be understood as the actions of an addict. When the family was together, the terrorist found fulfillment for any number of unhealthy appetites and addictions. When that family then dissolves, the terrorist behaves with all the desperation, all the obsession, all the single-minded determination of any addict facing or suffering withdrawal.
The single-mindedness, the one-sidedness of feeling, is perhaps the most important shibboleth of the emotional terrorist. Furthermore, the extent of this one-sidedness is, for the practitioner, perhaps the greatest measure and indicator of how extreme the terrorist’s actions are capable of becoming.
Any person suffering an unhappy family situation, or the dissolution of a marriage or relationship, will feel some pain and desperation. A relatively well-balanced person, however, will be not only aware of their own distress but also sensitive, in some degree, to the suffering of the other family members. For example, reasonably well-balanced parents, when facing divorce, will be most concerned with their children’s emotional well-being, even beyond their own grief. Not so the emotional terrorist.
To the family terrorist, there is only one wronged, one sufferer, only one person in pain, and this person is the terrorist herself. The terrorist has no empathy and feels only her own pain. In this manner, the terrorist’s capacity for feeling is narcissistic, solipsistic, and in fact pathological.
Again, I will not attempt here to detail the factors in childhood that lead to the creation of an emotional terrorist. What is evident, however, in the terrorist’s limited or nonexistent ability to recognize other people’s feelings, is that the terrorist’s emotions and awareness, at crucial stages of childhood development, were stunted from reaching beyond the boundaries of self, due to a multiplicity of reasons. Later, the adult terrorist went on to make a relationship that was, on some level, no true relationship, but a reenactment of childhood pains, scenarios, situations, and “scripts.” Throughout the relationship, the solipsistic terrorist did not behave genuinely in response to the emotions of other family members but self-servingly used them as props for the recreation of the terrorist’s programme. And when that relationship finally faces dissolution, the terrorist is aware only of her own pain and outrage and, feeling no empathy for other family members, will proceed single-mindedly in pursuit of her goal, whether that goal is reunion, ruin, or revenge. The terrorist’s perspective is tempered by little or no objectivity. Instead the terrorist lives in a self-contained world of purely subjective pain and anger.
Because conscience consists so largely of the awareness of other people’s feelings as well as of one’s own, the emotional terrorist’s behavior often can be described to be virtually without conscience. In this lack of conscience lies the dangerous potential of the true terrorist, and again the degree of conscience in evidence is a useful measure in my work to anticipate the terrorist’s destructiveness.
An additional factor, making the terrorist so dangerous, is the fact that the terrorist, while in positively monomaniacal pursuit of her goal, feels fueled by a sense of omnipotence. Perhaps it is true that one imagines oneself omnipotent when, in truth, one is in a position of impotence (as in the case of losing one’s familial control through dissolution). Whatever the source of the sensation of omnipotence, the terrorist believes herself to be unstoppable, and unbound by the constraints or conscience or empathy, believes that no cost (cost, either to the terrorist or to other family members) is too great to pay toward the achievement of the goal.
The terrorist, and the terrorist’s actions, know no bounds. (The estimation of the extent of the terrorist’s “boundlessness” presents the greatest challenge to my work). Intent only to achieve the goal (perhaps “hell-bent” is the most accurate descriptive phrase) the terrorist will take such measures as: stalking a spouse or ex-spouse, physically assaulting the spouse or the spouse’s new partners, telephoning all mutual friends and business associates of the spouse in an effort to ruin the spouse’s reputation, pressing fabricated criminal charges against the spouse (including alleged battery and child molestation), staging intentionally unsuccessful suicide attempts for the purpose of manipulation, snatching children from the spouse’s care and custody, vandalizing the spouse’s property, murdering the spouse and/or the children as an act of revenge. Continue reading “A “violence prone” individual”
The potential for family terrorism may rest dormant for many years, emerging in its full might only under certain circumstances. I found that in many cases it is the dissolution, or threatened dissolution, of the family that calls to the fore the terrorist’s destructiveness. It is essential to understand that prior to dissolution, the potential terrorist plays a role in the family that is by no means passive. The terrorist is the family member whose moods reign supreme in the family, whose whims and actions determine the emotional climate of the household. In this setting, the terrorist could be described as the family tyrant, for within the family, this individual maintains the control and power over the other members’ emotions.
The family of the emotional terrorist well may be characterized as violent, incestuous, dysfunctional, and unhappy, but it is the terrorist or tyrant who is primarily responsible for initiating conflict, imposing histrionic outbursts upon otherwise calm situations, or (more subtly and invisibly) quietly manipulating other family members into uproar through guilt, cunning taunts, and barely perceptive provocations. (The quiet manipulative terrorist usually is the most undetected terrorist. Through the subtle creation of perpetual turmoil, this terrorist may virtually drive other family members to alcoholism, to drug-addiction, to explosive behavior, to suicide. The other family members, therefore, are often misperceived as the ‘family problem’ and the hidden terrorist as the saintly woman who “puts up with it all.”)
While the family remains together, however miserable that “togetherness” might be, the terrorist maintains her power. However, it is often the separation of the family that promises to rend the terrorist’s domain and consequently to lessen her power. Family dissolution, therefore, often is the time when the terrorist feels most threatened and most alone, and, because of that, most dangerous.
In this position of fear, the family terrorist sets out to achieve a specific goal. There are many possible goals for the terrorist, including: reuniting the family once again, or ensuring that the children (if there are children in the relationship) remain under the terrorist’s control, or actively destroying the terrorist’s spouse (or ex-spouse) emotionally, physically, and financially.
To take an extreme parable, when it was evident to Adolph Hitler that winning the War was an absolute impossibility, he ordered his remaining troops to destroy Berlin: If he no longer could rule, then he felt it best for his empire to share in his own personal destruction. Similarly, the family terrorist, losing or having lost supremacy, may endeavor to bring about the ruin (and, in some extreme cases, the death) of other family members.
The family terrorist, like the political terrorist, is motivated by the pursuit of a goal. In attempting to “disarm” the family terrorist, it is vital that the practitioner begin intervention by trying to recognize and understand the terrorist’s goal.
The source of the terrorist’s goal as in the case of the political terrorist, usually can be understood to spring from some “legitimate” grievance. The grievance’s legitimacy may be regarded in terms of justified feeling of outrage in response to an actual injustice or injury, or the legitimacy may exist solely in the mind of the terrorist. Whether this legitimacy be real or imagined, the grievance starts as the impetus for the terrorist’s motivation. One hallmark of an emotional terrorist is that this motivation tends to be obsessional by nature.
Whence this obsession? Why this overwhelmingly powerful drive? In many cases, that which the terrorist believes to be the grievance against the spouse actually has very little to do with the spouse. Although the terrorist may be consciously aware only of the spouse’s alleged offense, the pain of this offense (real or imagined) is invariably an echo of the past, a mirrored recreation of some painful situation in the terrorist’s childhood. Continue reading “The Emotional Terrorist by Erin Pizzey”