Attachment is controlling. Love is freeing.

When you are attached to someone, because you desire to spend so much time around them in order to feel good, you might realize that you are using controlling behavior in order to do so. For example, this shows up a lot in unhealthy attachments as one person in the relationship convincing the person they are attached to not to hang out with their friends, or their family, and instead to hang out with them, and this is where we often see a lot of manipulation. I don’t even think this manipulation is something most are aware of, but it’s there, because an attached person wants the focus on you and you only. This is really unhealthy behavior, and it shows that you are definitely not in love with them. You are trying to control someone, and you wouldn’t do this if you really cared about them and their feelings.


In this role-reversal dynamic, the following roles are identified:
  • Pathogenic parent: The parent who psychologically manipulates the child to devalue and discard the targeted parent.
  • Targeted child: The child within a family system who has been singled out for the attention of the pathogenic parent.
  • Targeted parent: The normal-range and affectionately available parent; the “victim” in the story. This is the parent who is scapegoated.

This type of parental alienation incorporates elements of Murray Bowen’s family systems theory, which is based on the dynamics between people in systems.

Bowen believed the family unit was the basic starting point for explaining human behavior.

Bowen believed the family unit was the basic starting point for explaining human behavior. His premise was that “individual behavior seemed determined less by individual choice and more by the individual’s relationship context.” He believed each family member derives their identity from their involvement within the family’s relationship system.

Attachment-based parental alienation

Attachment-based parental alienation is a complex and potentially harmful dynamic whereby a parent manipulates their children to avoid, reject, and disdain their other parent. It can be viewed as a symptom of the narcissistic paradigm and is often of clinical concern regarding the child’s healthy development.


Parental alienation may involve the following symptoms and manifestations:

  • The suppression of the normal-range functioning of the child’s attachment system.
  • A role-reversal relationship in which the child is being used to meet the emotional and psychological needs of a parent (the allied and favored parent).
  • Symptoms of narcissistic and/or borderline personality may also be present in the child and can also of extreme clinical concern for their healthy development.
  • Symptoms in the child can only be the product of “pathogenic parenting” practices and cannot emerge spontaneously or for unrelated mental health reasons.

The Dissociative Continuum

In the face of persisting threat, the infant or young child will activate other
neurophysiological and functional responses. This involves activation of dissociative adaptations.

Dissociation is a broad descriptive term that includes a variety of mental mechanism involved in disengaging from the external world and attending to stimuli in the internal world. This can involve distraction, avoidance, numbing, daydreaming, fugue, fantasy, derealization, depersonalization and, in the extreme, fainting or catatonia.

In our experiences with young children and infants, the predominant adaptive responses during the trauma are dissociative.

Children exposed to chronic violence may report a variety of dissociative experiences.
Children describe going to a ‘different place’, assuming the persona of superheroes or animals, a sense of ‘watching a movie that I was in’ or ‘just floating’ – classic depersonalization and derealization responses. Observers will report these children as numb, robotic, non-reactive, “day dreaming”, “acting like he was not there”, staring off in a glazed look.

Younger children are more likely to use dissociative adaptations. Immobilization, inescapability or pain will increase the dissociative components of the stress response patterns at any age.

Types of attachment

Approximately 15% of infants in low psychosocial risk and as many as 82% of those in high-risk situations do not use any of the three organized strategies for dealing with stress and negative emotion (9). These children have disorganized attachment. One recently identified pathway to children’s disorganized attachment includes children’s exposure to specific forms of distorted parenting and unusual caregiver behaviours that are ‘atypical’ (10,11). Atypical caregiver behaviours, also referred to as “frightening, frightened, dissociated, sexualized or otherwise atypical” (10), are aberrant behaviours displayed by caregivers during interactions with their children that are not limited to when the child is distressed. There is evidence to suggest that caregivers who display atypical behaviours often have a history of unresolved mourning or unresolved emotional, physical or sexual trauma, or are otherwise traumatized (eg, post-traumatic stress disorder or the traumatized victim of domestic violence) (12).


Parents play many different roles in the lives of their children, including teacher, playmate, disciplinarian, caregiver and attachment figure. Of all these roles, their role as an attachment figure is one of the most important in predicting the child’s later social and emotional outcome (13).

Attachment is one specific and circumscribed aspect of the relationship between a child and caregiver that is involved with making the child safe, secure and protected (4). The purpose of attachment is not to play with or entertain the child (this would be the role of the parent as a playmate), feed the child (this would be the role of the parent as a caregiver), set limits for the child (this would be the role of the parent as a disciplinarian) or teach the child new skills (this would be the role of the parent as a teacher). Attachment is where the child uses the primary caregiver as a secure base from which to explore and, when necessary, as a haven of safety and a source of comfort (5).

Attachment is not ‘bonding’. ‘Bonding’ was a concept developed by Klaus and Kennell (6) who implied that parent-child ‘bonding’ depended on skin-to-skin contact during an early critical period. This concept of ‘bonding’ was proven to be erroneous and to have nothing to do with attachment. Unfortunately, many professionals and nonprofessionals continue to use the terms ‘attachment’ and ‘bonding’ interchangeably. When asked what ‘secure attachment’ looks like, many professionals and nonprofessionals describe a ‘picture’ of a contented six-month-old infant being breastfed by their mother who is in a contented mood; they also often erroneously imply that breastfeeding per se promotes secure attachment. Others picture ‘secure attachment’ between a nine-year-old boy and his father as the father and son throw a ball in the backyard, go on a fishing trip or engage in some other activity. Unfortunately, these ‘pictures’ have little, if anything, to do with attachment, they are involved with other parental roles (eg, their role as a caregiver in the case of the breastfeeding mother and as a playmate in the case of the father and son playing catch in the backyard). One might ask why the distinction between attachment and ‘bonding’ matters. The answer may lie in the fact that ‘bonding’ has not been shown to predict any aspect of child outcome, whereas attachment is a powerful predictor of a child’s later social and emotional outcome.


In 1951, a researcher by the name of John Bowlby suggested that parental
deprivation within the first 5 years of life would in turn affect the child‘s development in
negative ways, ultimately resulting in the child becoming an ―affectionless character‖ as
well as a delinquent (Bowlby, 1951; Farrington, 2007). Bowlby also suggested that
avoidantly attached children learn to express anger derived from their experiences of
having unresponsive or intrusive parental figures, displacing the resulting anger at unmet
needs outwardly towards their environment (Bowlby, 1973; Deklyen & Greenberg,
2008). Between the 1960s and the 1970s, Mary Ainsworth began doing research on
children‘s attachment to the adult figures in their lives. Through this research, she
devised the concept of the ―secure base‖ and from this also devised three distinct
attachment patterns in infants: secure attachment, avoidant attachment and anxious
attachment (Bretherton, 1992). Because of the nature of attachment, which is a direct
result of a parental figure‘s interactions with the child, using the pre-established
difference between sociopathy and psychopathology, it is presumed that attachment
styles may have causal effect on a sociopathic outcome rather than a psychopathic

Attachment Theory and Parental Alienation | Ludwig Lowenstein –

 Following an acrimonious divorce or separation, arguments are  frequently presented as to why a child should not be with a non-resident parent. The custodial parent, whether a father or amother, uses the concept of a child being attached to himself or herself and therefore this should prevent the child from having actual or reasonable contact with the absent parent. This view is based on antagonism between the former partners rather than the importance of the attachment theory being relevant. The attach-ment theory is also used to discredit the intentions of the noncusto-dial parent. This is especially the case for the younger child. Witholder children this is not likely to be as relevant. The history of the development of the attachment theory commencing with Bowlby and Ainsworth is presented, and the counterarguments are also presented. Attachment to the mother is obviously important initially but attachment to the father is equally important to the child and such bonding is likely to lead to positive emotional and behavioral development. It is therefore argued that both fathers and mothers have an important role to play and are, or should be,responsible for the rearing of children. The acrimony between the couple should not be considered as relevant as it is, in fact, the real reason why attachment theory is used against a nonresident parent

Parental Alienation Terminology

History of terminology – Professionals may use the term parental alienation or incorporate Dr. Childress’s terms AB parenting or pathogenic parenting. Notably, the nomenclature is an issue addressed over the years.

Previous names include:

• Alienated child: Kelly and Johnston, 2001 (The alienated child)
• Child alienation: Stahl (n.d.)
• Malicious parent syndrome: Turkat,1999 (titled initially malicious mother syndrome)
• Pathological alienation: Warshak, 2006
• Parental alienation disorder: Bernet, 2010

Attachment – Who Makes the Diagnosis?

Basically ‘attachment’ is a theory developed by psychologists to explain how a child interacts with the adults looking after him or her. If a child has a healthy attachment, this means the child can be confident that the adults will respond to the child’s needs, for example if he is hungry, tired or frightened, the adult caregiver will respond to meet his needs or reassure and comfort him.

This gives the child confidence to explore his environment and develop a good sense of self-esteem. This will help the child grow up to be a happy and functioning adult.

If a child can’t rely on his carers to look after him and respond consistently, this has been noted to have potentially very serious and damaging consequences for the adult that child will become. If adults are seriously inconsistent or unresponsive in their behaviour to the child, he may become very anxious as he is not able to predict how the adults around him will act; the child may even give up trying to get his needs met.

So Its clearly an issue of interest; unsurprisingly as it often takes centre stage in discussions about children’s welfare in care proceedings.  In this post I will look at at more particular question – who are the people the court rely on to give evidence about attachment?

I am grateful to everyone who took the time out to consider my question – there is clearly a lot to think about and I am increasingly concerned that the knowledge base of the lawyers may not be sufficient to allow us to navigate this area with ease.