To be the targeted parent of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) is traumatic. The type of trauma is called “Complex Trauma,” and the form of complex trauma is called “traumatic grief.”
To the targeted parents, I am a clinical psychologist. What you are experiencing is a form of Complex Trauma called “traumatic grief.”
When I meet with targeted parents for consultations, I often end the consultation by providing encouragement to the targeted parent to find areas for self-nurture to address their complex trauma and traumatic grief. The analogy I use is that if your child is in quicksand, it doesn’t help for you to jump into the quicksand after them, because then you’re both in trouble. The targeted parent needs to stand on the solid ground of your own emotional and psychological health and to throw your child a rope that your child can use to pull himself or herself out.
Will your child grab the rope? Probably not. Your child has to live with the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent. Your child has to do what they have to do to survive in that upside-down and psychologically dangerous world of their narcissistic/(borderline) parent. Until we are able to first protect the child, we cannot ask the child to reveal their authenticity. We must first protect the child.
It doesn’t help if you jump in the quicksand too. Your psychological trauma is real. It’s a form of complex trauma called “traumatic grief.” It is a central feature of the pathogen that is creating the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” (AB-PA). I’ve read the “source code” of the pathology, the information structures of the attachment system that create the pathology, and the complex trauma of traumatic grief is embedded in the source code of the pathogen.
One of the core guiding features of the information structures that create this pathology is the creation of traumatic grief in the targeted-rejected parent. That’s what the information structures of this pathogenic agent in the attachment system are designed to do, they create the complex trauma of traumatic grief in the targeted parent. Let me explain.
In the Wikipedia article I cite above, notice the linkage of Complex Trauma to both attachment-related pathology (disorganized attachment) and borderline personality pathology.
The childhood origins of attachment-based “parental alienation” (AB-PA) are in the disorganized attachment – the attachment trauma – of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent (“disorganized attachment” is a defined and researched category of “insecure attachment”; see for example, Main & Hesse, 1990; Lyons-Ruth, Bronfman, & Parsons, 1999).
And disorganized attachment in childhood is at the core of the later development of borderline personality pathology:
“Various studies have found that patients with BPD are characterized by disorganized attachment representations (Fonagy et al., 1996; Patrick et al, 1994). Such attachment representations appear to be typical for persons with unresolved childhood traumas, especially when parental figures were involved, with direct, frightening behavior by the parent. Disorganized attachment is considered to result from an unresolvable situation for the child when ‘the parent is at the same time the source of fright as well as the potential haven of safety’ (van IJzendoorn, Schuengel, & Bakermans-Kranburg, 1999, p. 226).” (Beck, et al, 2004, p. 191)
Notice that I always link the narcissistic and borderline personality of the allied pathogenic parent in AB-PA using the term “narcissistic/(borderline)” parent, embedding the term “(borderline)” in parenthesis. This is to make the point that the narcissistic personality has a borderline core. These personality pathology styles are simply differing outward manifestations of an identical underlying core attachment pathology.
“One subgroup of borderline patients, namely, the narcissistic personalities… seem to have a defensive organization similar to borderline conditions, and yet many of them function on a much better psychosocial level.” (Kernberg, 1975, p. xiii)
“Most of these patients [i.e., narcissistic] present an underlying borderline personality organization.” (Kernberg, 1975, p. 16)
Kernberg, O.F. (1975). Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism.. New York: Aronson.
There is a diagram of the attachment-related pathology of AB-PA on my website:
Work your way from the bottom of this diagram to the top along two separate but interrelated lines. The inside description is the personality disorder line of disordered mourning and the pathological processing of sadness and grief, the outside lines are the attachment related lines, that leads to the trauma reenactment narrative.
Now look again to the description of Complex Trauma in Wikipedia. Notice the association of Complex Trauma with both disorganized attachment and borderline personality pathology (narcissistic personality pathology is less studied in the research literature because the narcissistic personality rarely if ever presents for therapy).
The childhood disorganized attachment of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent constellated during the adolescent and early adulthood developmental periods into the personality pathology of the narcissistic-borderline parent that drives the current “parental alienation” process (AB-PA).
Whether the manifestation of the underlying attachment trauma assumes a more narcissistic-style or borderline-style of expression depends on how the narcissistic/(borderline) parent-as-a-child responded to and coped with the childhood attachment trauma. A disorganized attachment with avoidant overtones leads to a more narcissistic style of personality presentation in which loving attachment relationships are devalued. A disorganized attachment with strongly anxious-ambivalent overtones in which a child tries to maintain an attachment bond to a frightening and dangerous parent (Beck et al., 2004), leads to a more borderline-style presentation of chaotic and hyper-expressive mood swings (called “protest behavior”) and continual fears of abandonment.
At the core of both personalities is a profound inner emptiness – a vacancy of being. The borderline style personality experiences this profound emptiness nearly all the time, and much of the relationship effort by a borderline-style personality is designed to fill the core emptiness of their being. The borderline-style personalty engages in frantic efforts to continually remain the center of attention, seeking constant reassurances of being loved. Any real or imagined slights that suggest that the borderline personality might not be loved result in excessively angry displays of vitriol and victimization directed toward the failing attachment figure.
Think of the borderline-style personalty as emerging from a child who is trying to form an attachment bond to an unstable frightening and dangerous parent, yet a parent who is nevertheless also a source of nurture. Even when an attachment bond can be formed, it is fragile and the child is exceedingly anxious and hyper-vigilant for signs of abandonment that can signal the emergence of the frightening, dangerous, and rejecting parental attachment figure.
The narcissistic personality, on the other hand, results from a child who chooses a different approach to coping with a frightening-rejecting parent. In the formation of the narcissistic-style personality, the child chooses safety over intimacy. The child dismisses the importance of forming an attachment bond to the frightening-rejecting parent (called an “avoidant” attachment style). The narcissistic-style personality sacrifices intimacy for safety.
But sacrificing intimacy with the attachment figure of the parent creates a core emptiness in the self-experience of the child. The psychological intimacy with our parents that the rest of us experienced as children established in us a core inner sense of our healthy narcissism; that we are fundamentally valued and valuable people. This didn’t occur in the childhood of the narcissistic personality. In avoiding intimacy with the dangerous-rejecting attachment figure, the core sense of self as being valued and valuable did not get established. Instead an artificial pathological narcissism developed of fragile over-inflated self-grandiosity and self-importance that is not rooted in an authentic belief in one’s true core value.
Just like with the borderline personality, at the core of the narcissistic personality is a fundamental inner emptiness of being. The difference is that by adopting a narcissistic defense of grandiose self-importance in which other people, and intimate relationships with other people, are devalued, the narcissistic personality is able to develop a slightly greater stability in functioning – as long as the person can maintain the narcissistic veneer of self-value.
However, if the narcissistic defense is penetrated by criticism or rejection – especially by rejection – which exposes the core self-inadequacy of the narcissistic personalty (called a “narcissistic injury”), then the narcissistic personality will collapse into it’s borderline core of profound inner emptiness. When rejected, the narcissistic personality responds with rageful and demeaning attacks on the other person (called “narcissistic rage”) in order to reestablish the narcissistic defense of grandiose self-importance by devaluing the importance of the other person (“I’m not the inadequate person; YOU are.”)
AB-PA and Complex Trauma
The origin of the attachment-based pathology of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) is to be found in the childhood attachment trauma of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, who is then transferring this childhood trauma into the current family relationships, a process mediated by the personality disorder pathology of this parent that is itself a product of this parent’s childhood attachment trauma.
In the pathology of “parental alienation” (AB-PA), the complex developmental trauma from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, that has become frozen into the pathological personality structure of this parent, is being transmitted to you, the targeted-rejected parent, in the form of “traumatic grief.” You, the targeted-rejected parent, are being made to hold the complex trauma that was the childhood experience of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.
At the core of this complex trauma is the pathological processing of sadness, grief, and loss of the attachment figure:
- The parent in the childhood of the current narcissistic/(borderline) parent;
- The spousal attachment figure in the divorce;
- The beloved child of the targeted parent in “parental alienation.”
The organizing central theme of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) is pathological mourning. The pathological processing of sadness, grief, and loss.
I’ve read the “source code” of this pathogen (I’ve read the content and process of its information structures). I know what it is and I know how functions. Once we’ve solved this pathology and bring this family nightmare to an end, I’ll begin to unpack the deeper levels of this pathology for my professional colleagues. But for now, let me simply identify what is occurring for you, the parent who is being targeted for rejection by this severe and horrific form of trans-generational attachment pathology.
The overall attachment-related pathology is called “pathological mourning” (Bowlby, 1980).
“The deactivation of attachment behavior is a key feature of certain common variants of pathological mourning.” (Bowlby, 1980, p. 70)
Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and Loss: Vol. 3. Loss: Sadness and Depression. NY: Basic Books.
You, the targeted parent are being locked into a FALSE trauma reenactment narrative of “abusive parent”/”victimized child”/”protective parent.”
In locking you into this FALSE trauma reenactment narrative of the complex trauma from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, you are being made to hold the complex trauma – you have become the repository, the receptacle, holding the complex trauma. The complex trauma from the childhood of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is being created in you. The form of the complex trauma is called, “traumatic grief.”
The core of the “parental alienation” pathology is the disordered processing of sadness, grief, and loss. The primary case of the “pathological mourning” is the narcissistic/(borderline) parent, who is translating feeling of sadness and “mournful longing” surrounding the divorce into “anger and resentment, loaded with resentful wishes”:
“They [narcissists] are especially deficient in genuine feelings of sadness and mournful longing; their incapacity for experiencing depressive reactions is a basic feature of their personalities. When abandoned or disappointed by other people they may show what on the surface looks like depression, but which on further examination emerges as anger and resentment, loaded with revengeful wishes, rather than real sadness for the loss of a person whom they appreciated.” (Kernberg, 1975,p. 229)
Kernberg, O.F. (1975). Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. New York: Aronson.
The pathogenic parenting practices of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent are then transferring this parent’s own disordered mourning onto the child, creating the pathology of the child’s rejection of a normal-range and affectionally available parent.
Through the child’s rejection of a loving and beloved parent, the targeted parent is made to hold the complex trauma at the core of the pathology in the form of traumatic grief surrounding the loss of their beloved child.
All targeted parents have been psychologically brutalized by the complex trauma of traumatic grief. In surviving this trauma until the time when we obtain professional competence from professional psychology, you need to take a lot of active steps to process and metabolize the trauma.
You are not a bad parent. You’re a good parent. I know this. You know this. It is a FALSE trauma reenactment narrative being created surrounding you.
Take care of yourself physically to process the trauma. Trauma becomes embedded in our physical structures. Exercise. Eat well and healthy.
It’s okay to be happy. The traumatic grief can be consuming, and you might feel guilty if you actually achieve moments and times of happiness. It’s okay for you to be happy. You love your children. Your grief is real. So is your happiness with a new spouse or in activities you enjoy. You need to find happiness and enjoyment in order to process the traumatic grief. It’s okay to be happy.
If you find yourself obsessing about the trauma you’re experiencing, journal about it. Get it out of you and onto paper. I’ll have more to say later about the potential role of journaling in processing your trauma.
Know this, you are not alone. There are others who are going through the same thing and who understand. I understand. We are working to solve this and to bring your authentic and beautiful children back to you. You are not alone.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., Davis, D.D., & Associates (2004). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. (2nd edition). New York: Guilford.
Lyons-Ruth, K., Bronfman, E. & Parsons, E. (1999). Maternal frightened, frightening, or atypical behavior and disorganized infant attachment patterns. In J. Vondra & D. Barnett (Eds.) Atypical patterns of infant attachment: Theory, research, and current directions. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 64, (3, Serial No. 258).
Main, M., & Hesse, E. (1990). Parents’ unresolved traumatic experiences are related to infant disorganized attachment status: Is frightened and/or frightening parental behavior the linking mechanism? In M.T. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti, & E.M. Cummings (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years: Theory, research, and intervention (pp. 161–182). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
I’m a little reluctant to share this with you, because I’m tipping my hand to the pathogen. But I think that as we move forward it will be important to recognize allies of the pathology. So I’m going to fill you in on a little secret that I know but the pathogen doesn’t.
The pathogen is a set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain that create both the personality pathology of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent, and also the attachment-related pathology of pathological mourning (Bowlby) that’s called “parental alienation” in the general culture (attachment-based parental alienation; AB-PA).
These damaged information structures in the attachment system of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent were created many years ago in the childhood attachment trauma of this parent, and these damaged information structures are distorting this parent’s processing of sadness, grief, and loss surrounding the divorce.
In turn, these same damaged information structures are leading the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to distort the child’s processing of sadness grief and loss surrounding divorce through the manipulative and psychologically controlling parenting practices of this parent.
“The deactivation of attachment behavior is a key feature of certain common variants of pathological mourning.” (Bowlby, 1980, p. 70)
“Disturbances of personality, which include a bias to respond to loss with disordered mourning, are seen as the outcome of one or more deviations in development that can originate or grow worse during any of the years of infancy, childhood and adolescence.” (Bowlby, 1980, p. 217)
This pathogenic agent – this pathogen, consists of the damaged information structures in the attachment system of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent that are creating both the personality disorder pathology of the parent AND the attachment system suppression of the child toward the normal-range and affectionally available targeted parent.
Think of it like a computer virus. The brain is an information processing system, like a computer. The attachment system is the “software program” of the brain that governs all aspects of love and bonding throughout the lifespan, including grief and loss.
The childhood attachment trauma experienced by the narcissistic/(borderline) parent created a coherent set of damaged information structures in the attachment system (the pathogenic agent; the “computer virus” in the “software program” of the attachment system) that led to this parent’s development of narcissistic and/or borderline personality pathology.
This “computer virus” (the pathogenic agent in the attachment networks) is then being “downloaded” (transferred to the child’s attachment networks) through the aberrant and distorted parenting of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent – parenting practices surrounding the pathological processing of sadness, grief, and loss that are being created by the “computer virus” (the damaged information structures) in the narcissistic/(borderline) parent’s attachment networks.
Within this “computer virus” analogy, the damaged information structures essentially represent the “source code” for the “computer virus” – for the pathogenic agent that is creating the personality disorder pathology in the parent and the aberrant attachment suppression in the child toward the normal-range and affectionally available targeted-rejected parent.
I have spent the last decade uncovering the “source code” of this pathogenic agent – i.e., the exact nature of the damaged information structures in the attachment system that are being transmitted across generations.
As a result, I’ve read the “source code” of this “computer virus” in the “software program” for love and bonding (the attachment system) that is being trans-generationally transmitted from the narcissistic/(borderline) parent to the child, causing the child’s attachment bonding networks to “crash” relative to a normal-range and affectionally available targeted parent.
I call the “source code” the “meme-structure” of the pathogen, drawing on the work of Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene.
Because I’ve read the “source code” for this pathogenic agent, I understand its characteristic modes of presentation and manifestation. I know how this pathogenic structure is going to respond in any given circumstance. Once I had worked out and “read the source code” of the pathogenic agent, I then set about constructing the sterile (non-Gardnerian) anti-pathogenic agent by which this specific set of damaged information structures in the attachment system can be reliably located and identified (Foundations and the three definitive diagnostic indicators of AB-PA).
The three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA will – 100% of the time – identify this particular set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the child, that are being transmitted by the pathogenic parenting of the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent through the same set of damaged information structures of this parent’s attachment networks (the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma; mediated by pathological mourning and the personality pathology of the allied parent).
No other pathology in all of mental health will create this specific pattern of these three diagnostic indicators – all three at the same time – other than the pathogenic agent I describe in Foundations. I defy any mental health professional to describe any route that produces these three symptom features in the child’s symptom display other than the AB-PA model I describe in Foundations.
I know this pathogen inside-out and five ways to Sunday. I know what it does. I know how it does it. And I know what it is going to do. I’ve read the “source code” of the damaged information structures that create this attachment-related pathogenic agent – this “computer virus” in the attachment networks of the brain.
Pathological mourning: “The deactivation of attachment behavior is a key feature of certain common variants of pathological mourning.” (Bowlby, 1980, p. 70)
Allies and Counter-Transference
So I want to share with you now a little bit of that “source code” – a little bit of the pathogen’s meme-structure by which a brain that contains the “source code” of the pathogen – the damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain – can be recognized. This is important because it is the shared “source code” between attachment networks that accounts for the particularly characteristic feature of this pathology of developing “allies” in enacting the pathology – called “flying monkeys” in popular culture – and called “counter-transference” when describing a mental health ally of the pathology.
The characteristic set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of these allies (the “source code” of the pathogenic “computer virus” in their attachment networks) is being triggered by the false trauma reenactment narrative presentation of the “abusive parent”/victimized child”/”protective parent.” The activated attachment-trauma “source code” in the attachment networks of the ally then join in supporting the false trauma reenactment narrative in order to vicariously work through this person’s own childhood attachment trauma by becoming the “protective other” in the reenactment narrative, in exactly the same way that the narcissistic/(borderline) parent is working through his or her own attachment trauma by adopting the coveted role as the “protective parent” in the trauma reenactment narrative.
I challenge any mental health professional to offer an explanation for the phenomena of the “flying monkey” associated with narcissistic abuse. I can 100% explain this phenomenon because I have read the “source code” of this particular pathogenic agent. I know what it is. I know how it functions. I know what it is going to do in response to any given situation.
To all mental health professionals: This is an attachment trauma reenactment pathology (transference). Be very-very careful of your own counter-transference issues that can become activated with this specific form of attachment-related pathology. The issue of counter-transference becomes an incredibly important reason for requiring specialized professional knowledge and expertise in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of this specific form of attachment-related pathology.
The risks of unconscious activation of counter-transference issues with the mental health professional, that then result in the mental health professional becoming an unwitting ally of the pathology and unconsciously colluding with the enactment of the false trauma reenactment narrative, are extremely high with this particular type of attachment-related pathology.
Inhibited Reasoning Networks
I have read the meme-structures of this pathogenic agent.
Over the course of my professional career I have worked with all the various forms of child and family pathology, ADHD, autism-spectrum disorders, angry-aggressive families, child abuse and trauma. The pathology of “parental alienation” is one of the cruelest and most vicious pathologies I have ever encountered. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s also stupid as sin.
The damaged information structures in the attachment system that create this pathology turn off (inhibit) the areas of the brain responsible for rational reasoning and logic. A brain that’s infected with the damaged information structures in the attachment system that creates this form of pathology can’t reason. The reasoning systems of the brain that contains these damaged information structures in the attachment system are being turned off.
So while the pathogen is incredibly dangerous – it’s also stupid as sin. It cannot reason. A brain containing this pathogenic agent – this set of damaged information structures in the attachment system – cannot reason. Seriously. Frontal lobe reasoning systems are turned off by this set of damaged information structures in the attachment system.
It has to do with the need of these damaged attachment structures to create a subjectively defined reality of its own false-but-emotionally-needed creation. For the narcissistic and borderline personality, “Truth and reality are whatever I assert them to be.” If the narcissistic/(borderline) personality needs truth and reality to be different than they actually are, they simply assert an alternate truth, an alternate reality – “alternate facts,” if you will.
Narcissistic/(Borderline) Parent: “Truth and reality are what I assert them to be.”
But in order to do that, in order to create a subjectively defined artificial reality, these damaged information structures in the attachment system must turn off – they must inhibit – the logical reasoning systems of the brain that would otherwise hold the person accountable to actual truth and actual reality. The brain that contains this set of damaged information structures in the attachment system cannot reason. This pathogen is incredibly dangerous, but it’s stupid as sin.
That’s why this pathology thrives in ignorance. It seeks allies in ignorant people, and it survives because of the continued profound professional ignorance and incompetence in mental health. Our enemy is ignorance. And our weapon is knowledge.
This pathology is currently thriving in the profound professional ignorance throughout metal health that is allowing the pathogen to remain hidden and unseen. And let me tell you, the level of professional ignorance and incompetence out there is appalling.
The profound level of professional ignorance and incompetence in diagnosis is little more than “voodoo assessment” – rattle some beads, recite some incantations, and read the entrails of a goat, and the methodology of child custody evaluations is no more reliable that a monkey throwing darts at a dartboard (no inter-rater reliability; no operational definitions; no established validity – construct, criterion, predictive, content, nothing – to the conclusions and recommendations reached by child custody evaluations). The current level of professional ignorance and incompetence out there is positively medieval – “Bring me the leeches, we need to bleed the patient.” Medieval… positively medieval.
Monty Python: The Witch
In this environment of profound professional ignorance and incompetence, the reasoning-impaired pathogenic agent has full latitude to enact its pathology.
When threatened with exposure, the pathogen attacks the threat with great viciousness in order to take the focus of attention off of the pathogen – off of the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality – and place the person who is threatening to expose the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) personality on the defensive. The meme-structures of the pathogenic agent – the “source code” of this “computer virus” in the attachment system – seeks to keep the focus of attention on the other person by making a barrage of allegations, the wilder the better.
One of the preeminent authorities on personality pathology, Theodore Millon, author of the “gold standard” in personality disorder assessment: the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory, Forth Edition (MCMI-IV), explicitly describes this feature:
From Millon: “Rarely physically abusive, anger among narcissists usually takes the form of oral vituperation and argumentativeness. This may be seen in a flow of irrational and caustic comments in which others are upbraided and denounced as stupid and beneath contempt. These onslaughts usually have little objective justification, are often colored by delusions, and may be directed in a wild, hit-or-miss fashion in which the narcissist lashes out at those who have failed to acknowledge the exalted status in which he or she demands to be seen.” (Millon, 2011, pp. 408).
In these attacks, the reasoning systems of the brain are being inhibited. This accounts for the “irrational” and “wild, hit-or-miss” nature of these attacks. The brain containing this particular set of damaged information structures cannot form a reasoned line of argument so it just throws out every possible attack – rational or not – and sees which one takes hold, which one gains some traction. And whichever attack or allegation gains traction, that’s the one if follows up with.
This pathogen is incredibly dangerous, but it’s stupid as sin. It cannot reason.
So as we move forward in the solution the pathogen is going to activate its allies, at the general level of “flying monkeys” and at the level of mental health professionals who are captivated by their own countertransference issues. When these attacks from the allies of the pathology occur, notice that they will be absent the capacity for reasoned argument. Their critiques and lines of argument will be absent rational thought.
At first, these allies will simply try to apply the same arguments used against Gardnerian PAS to disable the threat to exposure posed by AB-PA. These allies will be unable to recognize that AB-PA is an entirely different model of the pathology and that the arguments used against Gardnerian PAS don’t apply to AB-PA. The brain containing the damaged information structures cannot apply reasoning. It will simply replicate prior critiques that had gained traction in prior situations.
The most obvious will be the “peer reviewed research” critique applied to AB-PA. The “peer reviewed research” critique was relevant to Gardnerian PAS because Gardner was proposing a new form of pathology – a “new syndrome.” The issue of research support is relevant for a proposal of an entirely “new form of pathology” that’s unique in all of mental health.
However, the “peer reviewed research” critique does not apply to AB-PA because AB-PA is not proposing a new form of pathology and the constructs of AB-PA (the attachment system, personality disorder pathology, family systems therapy) have already received substantial support in the peer-reviewed research literature. AB-PA is not a new “theory” – it’s diagnosis. Diagnosis is the application of standard and established constructs and principles (that have already received substantial peer reviewed research support) to a set of symptoms. Diagnosis.
Diagnosis is never “peer reviewed.” That’s just… irrational. It is an irrational critique.
The other initial line of attack that will be employed by the allies of the pathology will be that AB-PA is simply equivalent to Gardnerian PAS “using different words,” and they will then try to apply the same tired arguments about Gardnerian PAS to AB-PA.
This line of attack will fail to recognize the absolutely huge and substantial differences between Gardnerian PAS and AB-PA. “Different words” have different meaning. The argument that the statement, “the sun shines” is identical to the statement, “I like oatmeal” just using “different words” is… irrational. The brain containing these damaged information structures in the attachment system shuts down the logic and reasoning systems of the brain.
Why will these allies simply ignore the substantial differences between Gardnerian PAS and AB-PA? Because the brain containing this set of damaged information structures in the attachment system can’t reason, and because it can’t reason – because its rational reasoning systems are shut down – it cannot comprehend what AB-PA is saying. The brain containing these damaged information structures in the attachment networks understands two words, “parental alienation.” Beyond that, nope.
Calling the Shot
I feel like a batter in baseball who’s pointing to the left field wall and calling my shot.
Going forward, we will see three types of mental health response:
1.) Authentic: This will be a reasoned and rational reaction to AB-PA. These mental health professionals will 100% understand the pathology, they will apply the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA, and they will diagnose the pathology as V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.
If there is a rational and reasoned critique regarding the content of AB-PA, I am more than happy to engage in a professional-level discussion of this critique. But there is not going to be one. Why? Because AB-PA is a 100% accurate description of the pathology and is fully supported by a substantial amount of scientific research. AB-PA is true.
2.) Ignorant: These mental health professionals will not read, they will not learn, and they will remain stubbornly entrenched in their ignorance and incompetence (“if she weighs the same as a duck, she’s a witch”). The structure of their response will be, “I know what I’m doing. Don’t tell me what to do.” There’s no changing ignorance because ignorance doesn’t want to change. Ignorance enjoys its sloth.
3.) Ally: These mental health professionals will level irrational criticisms against AB-PA based in Gardnerian PAS, they will be completely unable to engage in reasoned discussion, and yet they will maintain an obsessive fixation on continuing to simply assert their false statements over-and-over without modification based on contrary information (“truth and reality are what I assert them to be”). By the way, the obsessive fixation quality is another of the meme-structures of this pathogenic agent. It’s an anxiety management feature that originates from the reactivated childhood trauma-anxiety of this pathology.
This pathogen is incredibly dangerous, but it’s also stupid as sin. I’m a little trepidatious about exposing this about the pathogen, because it continues to be incredibly dangerous until we have it fully exposed, and because I don’t want to tip too much of my hand just yet. But because the pathogen shuts off the rational reasoning systems of the brain, even if I tell it that it’s stupid as sin I don’t think it can use that information. It can’t become un-stupid. It’s a neurologically imposed impossibility.
It might become more dangerous as it feels itself being cornered with exposure. But this pathogen is already the most dangerous pathology on the planet (at its core structure, it’s an incest/sex abuse pathogen), so I can’t image how it could become more dangerous than it already is.
So I figured I’d alert everyone about what’s coming because we’re beginning to more fully enter a phase in the solution of bringing knowledge to the mental health system. This pathology thrives in ignorance. Knowledge is our weapon. Through knowledge we shine the light of truth onto the lies and hidden manipulation and psychological control of the child by the pathology of the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.
Ignorance is our enemy. Knowledge is our weapon.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
I have just posted two new handouts to my website (www.drcachildress.org), up at the top of the “Parental Alienation” section.
The first one (Legislative Changes: Child Psychological Abuse) describes the rationale for proposed changes to mandated child abuse reporting laws in a letter format from me that targeted parents can provide to their state representatives.
The second handout (Description of Disordered Mourning Pathology) is a description of the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” from the attachment perspective of pathological mourning – linking this construct to the personality disorder pathology of the parent. This description also links to the construct of pathogenic parenting, and leads to the identification of the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA and the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.
The Legislative Change letter is a fully stand-alone handout. The Pathological Mourning Description handout can be a helpful supportive handout, and might also be a helpful handout for mental health professionals.
The biggest challenge we face is the profound level of ignorance and incompetence in professional mental health surrounding the assessment and diagnosis of this attachment related/personality disorder related pathology. Achieving professional competence is key to the solution. Professional expertise would be nice (and is the ultimate goal), but at this point I’ll accept just basic levels of competence.
That’s what the legislative front in our battle for your children is trying to achieve. In seeking a definition of Child Psychological Abuse in the mandated child abuse reporting laws, we are seeking to send a clear message to all of professional psychology (including child protective services) that this pathology exists, and that all mental health professionals need to be able to competently assess and diagnose the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” – child psychological abuse.
Professional competence is also what we’re trying to achieve on the APA front in our fight for your children.
On the APA front, we’re seeking two things from the APA. First, a simple acknowledgement that the pathology exists, call it pathogenic parenting, call it the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma, call it pathological mourning, call in a cross-generational coalition, call it “parental alienation,” call it Bob for all I care, just formally acknowledge that this attachment-related family pathology surrounding divorce exists. It exists.
Second, because of the interwoven complexity of this form of family pathology, we want the APA to acknowledge that these children and families – your children and families – represent a “special population” who require specialized professional knowledge and expertise to competently assess, diagnose, and treat – “special population.”
That’s all we want from the APA. Acknowledge that the pathology exists and require professional competence in its assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.
In the meantime, while we wait for the APA to live into its standards for professional competence (Standard 2.01a of the APA ethics code), we are also turning to state legislators, asking them to protect children from the psychological child abuse of pathogenic parenting – “parental alienation” – AB-PA.
The winds of change are coming. We will not stop until all of your children are back in your arms.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
By the way, just by way of information, I like the construct of “erased families” as an informal description of the pathology – and I find the meme of “erased families” to be an extremely powerful graphic image. At a semi-formal level, I like the construct of “obstructed bonding” as a description of the pathology construct. It carries the fundamental construct without the historical baggage of “parental alienation.” At the professional level, I like the constructs of “pathological mourning” and “cross-generational coalition” as the formal mental health constructs for defining the pathology. At the child abuse protection level, the construct is pathogenic parenting. At the level of professional expertise, we should be talking about the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma.
Informal: Erased families
Semi-formal: Obstructed bonding
Professional: Cross-generational coalition & pathological mourning
Professional Expertise: Trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma
Child Abuse Protection: Pathogenic Parenting
Full Model: AB-PA
But we can call it Bob for all I care. Just so long as it stops.
Dallas – April 29
The Parental Alienation Symposium: Solutions for Professionals and Families to be held in Dallas on April 29th is just weeks away. I’m excited to be invited to speak at this Symposium.
I want to take a moment to describe what I’ll be talking about at the April 29th Symposium in Dallas.
Most professional conference presentations on “parental alienation” are simply echo chamber discussions from “experts” about how damaging “parental alienation” is to children and families, and lamenting the failure of the mental health system and legal system to address this horrific family nightmare.
In my view, this is a given. “Parental alienation” is bad and the mental health and legal systems are not adequately addressing the pathology. Yeah. Done.
I will not waste your time by lamenting what is – or more accurately, what has been – the problem. The title for this Symposium is Solutions for Professionals and Families, and that’s exactly what I plan to discuss… Solutions. So bring your notebooks.
I plan to discuss what to do to solve the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” surrounding divorce – specific and actionable. My talks will be addressed equally to mental health professionals, including CPS social workers, parents, and legal professionals. I’m ready.
The time to end “parental alienation” is now. Now.
In my opening keynote talk I will only briefly address the structure of AB-PA. Hopefully everyone will be familiar with the structure of AB-PA. Read Foundations. I’m going to figure that most people in the audience will be somewhat familiar with AB-PA so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the structure of the AB-PA model.
I plan to highlight one aspect of the family systems component that I haven’t emphasized previously, I will emphasize a couple of features at the personality disorder level, and I will touch on the trauma reenactment narrative, specifically highlighting the anxiety management features of the corrective changes to the original childhood trauma.
The point of these highlights will be directed toward mental health and legal professionals in the audience to identify specific characteristic features by which attachment-based “parental alienation” can be recognized and identified. I just want to highlight a couple of key features for mental health and legal professionals.
I will then turn to describing the three broad fronts of our battle to achieve professional competence in mental health assessment and diagnosis of the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation”:
1.) The APA Front: Our efforts to change the APA position statement on “parental alienation” and the call for the APA to convene a high-level conference of experts who will produce a white paper on the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” surrounding divorce;
2.) The Legislative Front: The legislative efforts that are underway to amend mandated child abuse reporting laws to include specific reference to child psychological abuse (citing the three symptoms of AB-PA), consistent with the identification of Child Psychological Abuse as a diagnostic entity in the DSM-5 diagnostic system (V995.51);
3.) Case-by-Case Competence Front: Professional-to-professional consultation and the approach of targeted parents holding individual mental health professionals accountable for professional competence, one-by-one, in order to obtain professional competence in the assessment and diagnosis of the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation.”
I will then address the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of attachment-based “parental alienation.” Most of this portion of my talk will be spent describing a structured cost-effective approach to assessment that can reliably identify the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation.” This section of my talk will be focused primarily toward mental health professionals, but both targeted parents and legal professionals will benefit greatly from understanding the assessment approach needed from mental health.
I am going to close my keynote address with an announcement that I believe is of substantial significance and that will hopefully produce substantial ripples into solving the pathology of “parental alienation” for all children and families.
The Afternoon Talk
In the afternoon, I have second talk. In this talk I’m going to start with the diagnostic features of AB-PA, but I’m only briefly going to mention the three diagnostic indicators. Again, I figure that most attendees will be familiar with the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA.
On April 29th, I’m not going to spend much time going over the basic stuff. Solutions – what we need to do now to solve “parental alienation.” Now. That’s what I’m going to focus on.
So instead of talking about the three diagnostic indicators, I’m going to focus more on describing the AB-PA origins of the 12 Associated Clinical Signs and their role in diagnosis. I haven’t discussed the 12 Associated Clinical Signs so far because I didn’t want people to get confused on the diagnosis: three diagnostic indicators. Three. That’s all.
But the 12 Associated Clinical Signs are exceedingly helpful. This section of my talk will be for mental health professionals, custody evaluators, CPS social workers, and legal professionals, such as guardians ad litem and minor’s counsel, as an aid to recognizing the pathology. This is going to be a nice, full, and rich discussion of identification and diagnosis.
I’m then going to turn to describing what targeted parents can do to interrupt and potentially prevent – to the extent possible – the pathology of “parental alienation” from taking hold with the child while we wait for professional competence to develop and be evidenced in the mental health system.
The current level of professional ignorance and incompetence in professional mental health is profound. In this portion of my talk I’ll be addressing what parents can do in the meantime, while we wait for professional competence to develop.
I will then turn to a discussion of a simple school-based intervention that could significantly help all children who are adjusting to divorce, but particularly children who are enduring a high-conflict divorce situation with their parents. Schools face a difficult challenge when the parents are in a high-conflict divorce. There is a simple step that schools could take that would be immensely helpful in stabilizing the children’s emotional and psychological functioning while their parents go through divorce, especially high-conflict divorce. So I’ll talk about that.
I’m then going to conclude my afternoon talk with a discussion of treatment-related issues. I will discuss what treatment entails and I will tie the previous discussions of assessment and diagnosis to treatment. This will lead to a comprehensive framework for assessing, diagnosing, and treating the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” surrounding divorce – from assessment, through diagnosis, to treatment and resolution. This concluding section of my talks will help mental health professionals understand their role in resolving the pathology of “parental alienation” in high-conflict divorce, and will help legal professionals understand the various options they have available for solving the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation.”
April 29th – Dallas – I’m ready.
And that’s just my part. You also get Dorcy and some other very knowledgable people, Rod McCall, Shelbie Michaels, Rebecca Bradley, Eric Ransleben, covering all the aspects of this family pathology, from the parent’s perspective to the therapist’s, from the school-related issues to legal issues. A full smorgasbord of knowledge. And Dorcy, she’s one smart lady. Gonna be good stuff.
Boston: June 1
Then, June 1 in Boston, Dorcy and I are going to present at the annual AFCC Convention. More good stuff.
I’m going to cover material on assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of AB-PA; and then Dorcy and I are going to unpack the High Road protocol at a professional level of analysis, explaining why it works and how it achieves the success it does. Gonna be fun.
You wanna know how the High Road protocol achieves the success it does? We’re going to explain it at a professional level of analysis.
Look, if you follow my work you’ll know that I am NOT afraid to speak truth to power. And I can be blunt and very direct in my critiques.
If Dorcy and the High Road workshop didn’t work, I would be both direct and scathing in my critique and analysis. I don’t mince words when it comes to protecting children and professional competence.
So it should mean something that I have reviewed the High Road protocol, that I understand exactly how it works, and that I have watched Dorcy in action running the High Road workshop, and I am providing the High Road protocol with my full and unqualified endorsement as an effective remedy for the attachment-related pathology of AB-PA.
You wanna know why? June 1, Boston. I’ll explain exactly why.
The week before this presentation to the AFCC, Dorcy is going to be speaking at the International Conference on Shared Parenting. She’s scheduled to speak on the same day as my son’s birthday and he lives in D.C., so I’m going to be down in D.C. that day to be with my son on his 23rd birthday (woo hoo), otherwise I would 100% be at Dorcy’s talk. She’s one smart lady.
And on May 31 from 10:00 to 12:00, the day before Dorcy and I present to the AFCC, I’ve been invited by Representative Chris Walsh of the Massachusetts State Legislature to present a briefing on grandparent alienation. The pathology of “parental alienation” affects everyone in the family, as the documentary Erasing Family so poignantly illustrates. Grandparents are an integral part of children’s lives, and grandparent lovin’ is often the best kind of lovin’ a kid can receive – all the good stuff of being loved bunches and bunches, with not so much of the grumpy discipline stuff.
The attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” devastates entire families. Each child belongs to two families, and these families are part of the very fabric of the child. To lose an entire side of the family is to lose an entire half of one’s identity. So on May 31 from 10-12 I’ll be presenting a briefing on grandparent alienation at the request of Representative Walsh. Thank you Representative Walsh for the invitation.
There’s a lot coming up, starting April 29 in Dallas at the Parental Alienation Symposium: Solutions for Professionals and Families
The winds of change are coming. We will not stop until all of your children – all of them – are back in your arms again.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, PSY 18857
A parent in North Carolina, James Ricker (Blog: http://www.beyondparentalalienation.com) contacted me to let me know about his work in North Carolina to change the child abuse reporting laws there. He would like to share his wisdom and support with other parents – both in North Carolina and in other states – who may also be interested in pursuing a legislative solution to “parental alienation.”
The goal of legislative solutions is to achieve professional competence in the mental health assessment and diagnosis of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) as representing a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed. This DSM-5 diagnosis will set into motion a series of actions that will ultimately lead to the solution for all children and all families.
The Legislative Solution Approach
The biggest obstacle we face in solving “parental alienation” is the rampant professional incompetence in mental health surrounding the assessment and diagnosis of “parental alienation” (AB-PA).
Yes, I know the legal system is broken. But the key to fixing the broken legal system is to first fix the broken mental health system. Once we fix the broken mental health system surrounding “parental alienation” (AB-PA), then mental health professionals will speak to the court with a single clear voice (a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed) that will allow the legal system to act with the decisive clarity necessary to solve “parental alienation” (AB-PA).
What’s more, once all mental health professionals begin assessing and accurately diagnosing “parental alienation” (AB-PA) as a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, we will then shift our focus to obtaining an appropriate child protection response from Child Protective Services. Ultimately, the solution will be found in a collaboration of the mental health system and Child Protective Services. First things first. Step by step.
By seeking relatively minor, but important, changes in the child abuse reporting laws (such as the proposed legislation in Florida; HB 1279: Child Psychological Abuse and SB 1432: Child Psychological Abuse – thank you Representative Antone and Senator Torres), a clear message is sent to all mental health professionals regarding their professional obligations to appropriately assess and accurately diagnose the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” (AB-PA), and to file a mandated child abuse report with CPS when a confirmed DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse is made.
These relatively minor, but important, changes to the mandated child abuse reporting laws will also provide clear legislative guidance to CPS agencies regarding their obligations to similarly protect children from the psychological child abuse of “parental alienation” (AB-PA).
Note: This approach is ONLY available if you use an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA). The Gardnerian PAS model does NOT provide this solution because the Gardnerian PAS model is too imprecise in its definition of “parental alienation” and remains controversial in professional psychology.
We cannot hold mental health professionals accountable to Gardnerian PAS. We can hold mental health professionals accountable to an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” (AB-PA). The solution is through an attachment-based model of “parental alienation.” That’s exactly what AB-PA is designed to achieve.
I’ve heard that Susan Remus has coined the phrase, “pure Childress.” While I don’t want to make this about me, it’s not about me it’s about your children, the idea is absolutely correct. Pure AB-PA – will solve this pathology.
AB-PA, an attachment-based model of “parental alienation,” leads us out of professional incompetence and returns us to the path of established professional constructs and principles. The Gardnerian PAS model just leads us back down into the quagmire of rampant professional incompetence. In order to achieve the solution, we must remain 100% grounded in established psychological principles and constructs of professional psychology – as described in AB-PA and Foundations.
Legislative Efforts in North Carolina and Other States
In his efforts to create legislative change, James Ricker has met with many of the state legislators in North Carolina and he reports receiving a positive response. He could also use some additional support from other parents, attorneys, and mental health professionals in North Carolina who recognize the problem of “parental alienation” and want to see it stop. If there are other parents, attorneys, and mental health professionals in North Carolina who are interested in working with James on achieving a legislative solution, you can contact him at: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, Mr. Ricker has offered to provide consultation and support to parents working in other states to achieve a legislative solution to “parental alienation” in their states.
I asked James if there was something he wanted to say in my blog, and here is some sage counsel and advice from him regarding working toward a legislative solution. He begins briefly with his story, one I’m sure is familiar to many parents. What his experience leads him to is the crucial understanding that all parents must work for each other in order to solve this for all children and all parents, not just for your child alone. That’s the key; working for each other and for each others’ children.
This pathology seeks to keep you alone and helpless. In coming together to work for each other, you will achieve the solution for all children and all families.
Here’s Mr. Ricker’s advice and counsel:
I separated from my ex-wife about 2 1/2 years ago. So far, I have been cleared of four false allegations, three of them sexual abuse and one of providing an unsafe environment for my child. The last investigation lasted two months and my child did not see their father at all. Both CPS and the police found the allegations unwarranted, and even though CPS reported that “the mother has been attempting to alienate the minor child from their father” and told my ex that if she did not stop coaching our child she risked our child being removed from the home, my child still resides with their mother about 95% of the time, 6 months later. My child has not had a single overnight with their father in over 2 years based on the first uninvestigated allegation. I’ve just about spent myself into financial oblivion paying for therapists, evaluators and what legal help I’ve been able to afford. I am just starting reunification therapy with a court ordered therapist, who miraculously had a copy of “Foundations” (Dr. Childress’s book) on her bookshelf and says she will be focused on getting my child and I back into a relationship. I don’t know what that means, and for sure I recognize that even though this situation is better than many, it defies logic to me that my child remains in the care of their abuser even after it is clear they are being manipulated. The knowledge I have gained through learning about AB-PA and the support from others that has shown up, as well as my focus on being present for my child during the times we are together have been very helpful.
But I can’t go through this knowing what I know without doing everything I can to try and prevent it from happening to others. I had to find a way to direct my energy and make a difference.
I am currently speaking with several legislators about amending the child abuse reporting law in North Carolina, similar to what Suz Remus has been doing in Fla. In fact, she and I communicate regularly and support each other. I find having support is invaluable. I want to offer support and materials to anyone who is trying to do something similar and am looking for anyone in NC—especially legal and mental health professionals who would be willing to contact the legislature and voice your support of this approach. I can tell you who the major players in the legislature are to save the months it took me to figure it out. 🙂
Here are tips I have learned along the way:
- Believe it or not, changing a law is not impossible. Laws are created and changed based on the efforts of single individuals all the time. I have a good friend who did it after she was sexually assaulted but because of the statute of limitations she could not press charges against her assailant when he was found.
One incredibly driven person, who could have let something like that destroy her, instead channeled that energy into being the driving force to change the law in her state so that it can never again happen. She has since helped change a second law at the state level as well.
- I think the biggest issue is that people believe they can’t do something like help change a law. They are so devastated by what is happening that they do exactly what the pathogenic parent wants them to do—feel helpless and alone.
Here are some of the things my friend (frankly I call her a heroine) told me about embarking on something like this as well as my own experience so far:
- Get to the point quickly and clearly. People are busy. The time for emotional reactions is not in a legislator’s office. Legislators cannot legislate feelings. I have templates of materials I have been giving to them which have been getting very positive reactions. Contact me (email@example.com) if you’d like samples.
- Appreciate everyone you’re talking to. While you want to speak with representatives, never underestimate the influence of assistants and interns, and anyone else you may meet along the way.
- This is not about you. It’s about changing the situation for others. If you try and do something like this solely because you are trying to save your own child it will come across. While you’ll likely get sympathy, it’s not likely you’ll get much beyond that.
- Legislative bodies are comprised of individual people. Make one connection at a time. A bonfire can start from a single match. Be the match.
- Be polite, but be persistent. You know this issue is important to you, probably more important than anything else. But the people you’re speaking with can get 5, 10, or even more issues put in front of them every day. Make a positive impression then remind them you’re there.
- Send a handwritten thank you note. No one sends letters or cards anymore. They make a big impression. Send one to any Legislative Assistants as well as Legislators you meet with.
Thank you James, for the gift of your wisdom and for your efforts to help all of the children and families who are caught in this horrible family tragedy.
The children of AB-PA are caught in the extremely difficult situation of having to live with the fragile and dangerous parenting of a narcissistic/(borderline) parent. They’re doing what they have to do in order to psychologically survive with the narcissistic/(borderline) parent.
We cannot ask the children to reveal their authenticity until we are able to protect them from the psychological retaliation that is sure to follow if the child reveals his or her love and authenticity toward the now targeted-rejected parent.
“Parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue. We must first be able to protect the child.
That’s the truth that legislative efforts are trying to address directly. This is fundamentally a child protection issue, and recognizing that fact is key to achieving the solution. It is not simply a matter of “bad parenting” by the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent, it is psychologically abusive parenting.
Thank you to all the parents and grandparents, the aunts and uncles, cousins and family, thank you to all the recovered children for your voices, thank you to all the mental health professionals, all the legal professionals, all the legislators, and everyone in the media who are seeking to protect the children from the psychological child abuse of “parental alienation.” Thank you.
We will not stop until all of your children are back in your arms once more.
“Parental alienation” is not a child custody issue, it is a child protection issue.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
In my younger days I used to go backpacking in the Sierras. I’d load up my pack with a couple of weeks of food and gear, leave my car at the trailhead, and begin my hike up endless switchbacks into the mountains.
I wasn’t in the best of shape physically, not bad, but just not a tiger either; and those switchbacks into the mountains were tough, with a full pack, by myself, with me carrying all the gear – food, stove, fuel, tent, pots and pans, etc. – it was tough. But I learned something valuable. You can accomplish anything if you just don’t stop.
There were points where I was so exhausted that I would just look down at my feet, willing each foot, one after the other, to just take one more step, just one more step, just one more step…
And you know what? If I just didn’t stop, then I would at last find myself in the backcountry; beautiful mountain lakes, majestic peaks, wonderous stars… wonderful-wonderful.
You can accomplish anything in life if you just don’t stop.
Solving “Parental Alienation”
When I first encountered the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” it was so absolutely horrific, and the mental health and legal system responses were so incredibly broken, that I simply had to do something to make it stop. So I set about analyzing what the problem was, and then I began working out what the solution needed to be.
Once I had the path laid out that led all the way to the solution, I then set about creating that solution – AB-PA is that solution.
A foundational premise of the solution is that any solution that requires targeted parents to prove “parental alienation” in court is no solution at all. The core of the solution is therefore to be found in the mental health system, not the legal system.
Gardner took everyone off the established path of professional psychology by proposing that a child rejecting a normal-range parent following divorce represented an entirely unique new form of pathology – a “new syndrome” – that was supposedly identifiable by an equally unique new set of symptom identifiers, symptoms that are unlike any other symptoms in all of mental health, symptoms that are unique to this new form of pathology alone, symptoms that Gardner simply made up.
In proposing a “new syndrome,” Gardner led everyone off the path of professionally established practice. In proposing a unique “new syndrome,” Gardner skipped the crucial step of diagnosis – i.e., the application of standard and established psychological constructs and principles to a set of symptoms. Instead he opted for the diagnostically lazy – and professionally inappropriate – approach of simply proposing an entirely “new form of pathology” unique in all of mental health – a “new syndrome.”
In doing so, Gardner led everyone off the path of established professional practice and into the overgrowth and brambles, and ultimately into the swamp and quagmires of professional incompetence. The Gardnerian model of PAS leads directly to the rampant professional incompetence in mental health that currently surrounds us. I could explain in detail why this is, but I can do it much more succinctly: Scoreboard.
Thirty years of the Gardnerian PAS model has given us exactly the situation we have right now. This situation, the current situation, is the product of 30 years of Gardnerian PAS.
What we have right now, the profound professional incompetence, the massively broken mental health system response, and the massively broken legal system response to this attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce is exactly what Gardnerian PAS leads us to. Thirty years of Gardnerian PAS and this is the result. Scoreboard.
So, recognizing this, the solution I have been leading us toward is to put us back on the path of established professional psychology by defining the attachment-related pathology of a child rejecting a normal-range parent following divorce (what is typically called “parental alienation”) from entirely – entirely – within standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology.
That’s called diagnosis.
I returned to the step that Gardner skipped – diagnosis – and I applied standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology to the set of symptoms.
AB-PA leads us out of the swamps and undergrowth and puts us back onto the established path of professional practice.
We can now demand professional competence in standard and established domains of professional psychology.
The Attachment System: The characteristic functioning and dysfunctioning of the attachment system;
Personality Disorder Pathology: Recognition of personality disorder pathology and its effects on family relationships following divorce;
Family Systems Therapy: The established constructs of family systems therapy; triangulation, cross-generational coalition; emotional cutoffs.
We can now demand professional competence in the assessment of standard and established forms of fully accepted pathology.
Diagnostic indicator 1: Attachment system suppression toward a normal-range and affectionally available parent;
Diagnostic indicator 2: Specific narcissistic personality disorder traits in the child’s symptom display;
Diagnostic indicator 3: An encapsulated persecutory delusion regarding the child’s supposed “victimization” by the normal-range parenting of the targeted-rejected parent.
We can now demand professional competence in diagnosis:
Pathogenic parenting (i.e., parenting that is so aberrant and distorted that it is creating psychopathology in the child) that creates significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed.
And we can now define the parameters of appropriate professional treatment:
In ALL cases of child abuse – physical child abuse, sexual child abuse, and psychological child abuse – the required professional response is to protect the child.
In ALL cases of child abuse – physical child abuse, sexual child abuse, and psychological child abuse – the appropriate professional response is to protectively separate the child from the abusive parent, and then to treat the impact of the abuse on the child in order to restore the child’s normal-range and healthy development. Then, when the child’s normal-range and healthy development has been recovered and stabilized, the child is reintroduced to the formerly abusive parent with sufficient safeguards to ensure that the child abuse does not resume.
During the protective separation period, the abusive parent is typically required to obtain individual therapy to gain and demonstrate insight into the causes of the prior child abuse, and the level of insight gained and demonstrated by the formerly abusive parent is typically used as an indicator for the degree of safeguards needed to ensure the continued protection of the child.
This is the standard approach of professional psychology to physical child abuse. This is the standard approach of professional psychology to sexual child abuse. This is the standard approach of professional psychology to psychological child abuse.
Assessment leads to diagnosis. Diagnosis guides treatment.
Climbing the mountain that’s ahead of us to achieve the solution offered by AB-PA will take a whole lot of effort because we’re leading the entire mental health system out of the brambles and undergrowth of poorly defined constructs and back onto the established path of professional psychology. The level of professional ignorance and incompetence currently out there is profound.
Our efforts are made even more difficult by the entrenched recalcitrance of the Gardnerian PAS “experts” to leave the swamp and undergrowth of professional incompetence created by the Gardnerian model of PAS.
It has become abundantly evident that the Gardnerian PAS “experts” have a personal agenda of seeking to remain “experts” in “parental alienation,” even if that means it takes longer to achieve the solution. To put it bluntly, they would rather remain “experts” in “parental alienation” than solve “parental alienation.”
AB-PA offers an immediate solution. Yet if they switch to an AB-PA model then they cease to be “experts.” Tough choice. Even more problematic for them, is that the moment AB-PA solves “parental alienation” they will immediately become irrelevant – “parental alienation” is solved. The entire “heroic struggle” of their “valiant rebel alliance” against the “evil empire” of professional psychology will vanish… poof… all gone. Everything’s solved.
I suspect that these “experts” are going to feel very disoriented for a while, once “parental alienation” is solved using AB-PA. They’re going to have to find an entirely new focus for their professional careers. Wow. That would be disorienting. That’s why they hate me. I’m disrupting their comfy world by having the temerity to actually solve “parental alienation” surrounding high-conflict divorce.
So in their effort to remain relevant, you’ll hear them pontificating about what criteria makes for a true and bonafide “parental alienation” expert (them, of course); and you’ll hear about how (after 30 years of Gardnerian PAS) they’ve now suddenly developed new treatment approaches; and you’ll hear about how they’re offering “consultation” for targeted parents from their expertise and “training” for therapists in “parental alienation,” all from a Gardnerian perspective of course… all in an effort to retain their status as “experts.”
But you will know the tree by its fruit. Are they advocating for and using the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA that provide an immediate solution to the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation” (assessment – diagnosis – treatment), or are they continuing to use the eight failed symptoms of Gardnerian PAS that have no linkage to any established form of pathology in all of mental health, and that lead to the rampant professional incompetence that currently surrounds us?
You will know the tree by its fruit; and you will know the intent of the professional by the diagnostic indicators the professional uses.
One of the things I learned from backpacking is the central importance of the map. You plan your route through the mountains using the map and you follow the map during your trek in order to reach your destination.
The Gardnerian PAS model has NO map for a solution. Gardnerian PAS gives us nothing but more of the same.
For several years now I have been asking the Gardnerians to lay out their map for a solution using the Gardnerian PAS model. Crickets. Nothing. They have no map to a solution, just more of the same. Garnerian experts, please, tell us, how will Gardnerian PAS lead to a solution? What’s the map to a solution using Gardnerian PAS?
AB-PA offers a clear path to the solution. Come close everyone, gather ’round and look at this, let me show you the map of AB-PA:
Assessment leads to diagnosis. Diagnosis guides treatment.
Any solution that requires targeted parents to prove “parental alienation” in court is no solution at all. With AB-PA, the solution is entirely within the mental health system.
With AB-PA the mental health professional assesses for three standard symptoms that are fully established symptoms in mental health; and when the three symptoms are present, the mental health professional makes the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed based on the presence of the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting in the child’s symptom display.
When the mental health professional makes the DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed, this then activates the mental health professional’s “duty to protect” – a standard and fully recognized obligation of all mental health professionals. The mental health professional can discharge his or her “duty to protect” by filing a child abuse report with Child Protective Services, consistent with mandated child abuse reporting laws.
CPS social workers can then apply the same diagnostic criteria that were used by the mental health professional in identifying child psychological abuse, and the CPS investigators will reach the same diagnostic finding of confirmed child psychological abuse. We will now have two independently made confirmed diagnoses of child psychological abuse.
Child Protective Services can then exercise their legal mandate to protect the child by protectively separating the child from the abusive parent – consistent with the mental health response to all forms of child abuse – and place the child in “kinship care” with the normal-range and affectionally available targeted parent. Knowledgeable and competent therapists can then treat the child for the effects of the prior psychological abuse in order to restore the child’s normal-range and healthy development.
Once the child’s normal-range and healthy development has been recovered and stabilized, then the child can be reintroduced to the formerly abusive parent with sufficient safeguards to ensure that this parent’s psychological abuse of the child does not resume.
See the map? We need to go around these three peaks over here, we’ll cross this pass to travel down this valley, and we’ll reach our destination – Solution. See the map?
But just because we know where we’re going on the map, doesn’t mean we’re there yet. There’s still a lot of the path to travel. And it’s exhausting, I know… you’re weighed down with grief and trauma. You just wish we were there right now. Sometimes it gets so exhausting that all we can do is just look at our feet, one foot forward, then the other.
But this I know… we will, with absolute 100% certainty, reach the destination – we will absolutely achieve the solution – because we just won’t stop. We will be relentless. We have truth and love on our side; and we just won’t stop.
AB-PA will, with 100% certainty, lead to the solution. I’ve shown you the map. We will not stop until all of your beloved children – all of them – are back in your arms.
Returning to the Established Path
The time has come to return to the path of established professional psychology, to climb out of the mud and undergrowth, to scramble up the hillside, and return to the path of established professional psychology.
The Gardnerian PAS experts have decided to remain behind. They’ve decided to remain in the quagmire and undergrowth of Gardnerian PAS because they don’t want to give up their coveted roles as “experts.” We cannot wait any longer for them. We’re going to have to leave them behind. They have decided that they won’t be coming with us. They have chosen not to be your allies in creating the solution. If they insist that they are your allies, ask them to show you their map.
You will know the tree by its fruit; the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA that are grounded in established psychological constructs and principles, or the eight symptom indicators of Gardnerian PAS that lead to professional incompetence, controversy, and the current quagmire of no solution whatsoever. You will know the tree by its fruit.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, PSY 18857
Inspired by the recent legislation filed in Florida (HB-1279 & SB-1432) that seeks to amend the child abuse reporting laws to specifically reference psychological child abuse as defined by the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA, I recently had a parent contact me requesting my help in making similar legislative changes in New York.
I thought my response to this parent might be more broadly helpful to other parents who are interested in pursuing this legislative solution approach to the attachment-related pathology of “parental alienation,” so I am posting my response to this parent to my blog.
As I indicate in my opening sentence to this parent – I am a psychologist, not an attorney. My comments are as a psychologist familiar with the pathology. Nor am I a lobbyist familiar with the workings of state legislatures. I’m a private practice psychologist in Southern California. But to the extent that my input as a psychologist is helpful…
Let me be clear, I am a psychologist, not a lawyer. So my input on this is as a psychologist, not a lawyer.
You’ll want to identify your specific state representative and your state senator and start with them. If your state representative or state senator agrees to take on the bill, they’ll probably bump you over to a staff member and you’ll be working with the staff member during the process.
Each state’s mandated reporting laws will be different, so the remedy to each state’s reporting laws will be different – yet the remedy will essentially revolve around the same theme of adding to the reporting law specific terminology that identifies the three diagnostic indicators of pathogenic parenting as warranting a diagnosis of child psychological abuse (or emotional abuse).
You will want to research the New York child abuse reporting laws more thoroughly than I did, but I did a quick google search and I believe a primary relevant law would be:
New York Family Court Act § 1012 Definitions
When used in this article and unless the specific context indicates otherwise:
(h) “Impairment of emotional health” and “impairment of mental or emotional condition” includes a state of substantially impaired or diminished psychological or intellectual functioning in relation to, but not limited to, such factors as failure to thrive, control of aggressive or self-destructive impulses, ability to think and reason, or acting out or misbehavior, including incorrigibility, ungovernability or habitual truancy; provided, however, that such impairment must be clearly attributable to the unwillingness or inability of the respondent to exercise a minimum degree of care toward the child.
This particular law appears to cover the court’s removal of a child from an abusive parent, not mandated reporting (which appears to be covered by Social Services Law Section 412), but the Family Court Act would seem to be the primary statute that needs amendment.
The Family Court Act covers “parental alienation” under such terms as:
“control of aggressive… impulses”
“ability to think and reason”
“acting out or misbehavior”
The problem comes from the phrase,
“provided, however, that such impairment must be clearly attributable to the unwillingness or inability of the respondent to exercise a minimum degree of care toward the child”
This is the phrase that the allied narcissistic/(borderline) parent will use to undermine the reporting by claiming that the child’s symptoms are the product of the poor parenting of the targeted-rejected parent.
Option 1: Amending the Definition of “Impairment of emotional health”
One approach to this would be to add a statement to Section (h) to specifically identify the terms “pathogenic caregiving” and the three diagnostic indicators as also representing “impairment of emotional health.” This added sentence might be something like:
Pathogenic caregiving that creates significant developmental pathology, personality disorder pathology, and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child as diagnosed by a mental health professional would represent “impairment of emotional health” under this statute.
The term “pathogenic caregiving” establishes that it is the parenting practices of the parent that are causing the child’s symptoms, so it covers that element of the law. Since the three diagnostic indicators represent additional symptoms and since they follow the prior list, this sets these three symptoms apart from the other symptoms as an additional definition of “impairment of emotional health.” The phrase “as diagnosed by a mental health professional” is because these three symptoms are established forms of mental health pathology that are the domain of mental health assessment and diagnosis. Our goal is to encourage mental health professionals to assess and diagnose this form of attachment-related pathology. The addition of that sentence would solve things.
Furthermore, simply indicating these three symptoms clearly references an AB-PA definition of “parental alienation” so that all mental health professionals will become knowledgeable of AB-PA and their reporting obligations under the mandated reporting statute, thereby ending professional ignorance and incompetence.
Option 2: New Section for Psychological Abuse
An alternative approach would be the addition of an entirely separate sub-section regarding psychological abuse (rather than simply modifying the definition of “impairment of emotional health”). This would have the additional clarity of organizing the effort around a specific construct; psychological child abuse. The term “psychological abuse” would then become synonymous with the construct of “parental alienation” without having to make a directly explicit linkage.
The addition of the construct of “psychological abuse” would be supported by its inclusion in the DSM-5 as a diagnostic entity – V995.51 (p. 719). Since the diagnosis of Child Psychological Abuse is an established category in the DSM-5 but is not referenced and defined by the New York statutes, this provides the rationale for a new section specifically defining and referencing Child Psychological Abuse for mandated reporting purposes.
I think this represents an exceedingly strong argument for an amendment regarding the construct of “psychological abuse” – it would seemingly add distinctive clarity to the amendment effort (i.e., a law protecting children from psychological child abuse – a recognized DSM-5 pathology) – it would provide a clear conceptual linkage between “parental alienation” and child psychological abuse – and it would give the bill’s sponsor a feather in the cap feel-good type of legislation to protect children without ever having to get into the controversy of “parental alienation.”
In this case, a new definition sub-section would be added following the definition of “impairment of emotional health”
New York Family Court Act § 1012 Definitions
When used in this article and unless the specific context indicates otherwise:
(i) “psychological abuse” includes but is not limited to, pathogenic caregiving that creates significant developmental pathology, personality disorder pathology, and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child as diagnosed by a mental health professional.
Then the term “psychological abuse” would need to be added to the definition of “abused child” used earlier in the statute:
(e) “Abused child” means a child less than eighteen years of age whose parent or other person legally responsible for his care
(i) inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon such child physical injury by other than accidental means which causes or creates a substantial risk of death, or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted impairment of physical or emotional health or psychological abuse, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ, or
(ii) creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of physical injury to such child by other than accidental means which would be likely to cause death or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted impairment of physical or emotional health or psychological abuse, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ, or
You’ll want to read the surrounding Sections of New York Family Court Act (§ 1011: Purpose) to see if there are any additional tweaks that would need to be addressed.
Of the two alternatives (Option 1: adding a few words to the existing definition of “impairment of emotional health,” or Option 2: creating a new and distinct sub-section covering psychological child abuse, I’d probably recommend Option 2: proposing a new section for psychological child abuse. Either approach will effectively solve the pathology of “parental alienation.” The separate subsection for psychological child abuse approach just offers greater clarity of focus.
Mandated Reporting Laws
In addition to what I just described, there also appear to be a set of laws governing the mandated reporting of child abuse. It appears that the mandated reporting of child abuse in New York is addressed by Social Services Law Section 412. This law defines “abused child” by referencing the Family Court Act, so changes to the Family Court Act that address definitions of child abuse would then seemingly roll over to cover the mandated reporting of child abuse as well.
SOS – Social Services
Article 6 – CHILDREN
Title 6- (411 – 428) CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES
412 – General definitions
1. An abused child means a child under eighteen year of age and who is defined as an abused child by the family court act;
So, based on my reading of New York law, and I’m a psychologist not an attorney, the Family Court Act is where you want to focus. Think this over, read the relevant laws, identify your state representative and state senator, and decide if you want to go with the minor wording change to “impairment of emotional health” or whether you want to go for the addition of a sub-section defining “psychological abuse.” If you have any allies, talk it over with them.
Then, if you want a letter from me supporting a proposed legislative change to the Family Court Act as I’ve outlined above, email me back and I’ll put something together for you.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857