You Don't Have To Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater

Healthy skepticism encourages us to check our assumptions, recognize the limitations of our methods, and proceed thoughtfully. Skepticism and controversy about “parental alienation” still remains an obstacle to resolving this family crisis in family court. Social science researchers and advocate have spend decades trying to get the concept and the language validated by mainstream health, science, and family law. It is time that we need to examine our own assumptions, limitations and proceed thoughtfully.

When all efforts to get society, especially the mental health and legal professionals to recognize “parental alienation” as a legitimate crisis have failed, then the problem is not on “them;" it is on us.   How can we expect "them" to adopt a concept when we ourselves don't even have a common definition? 

Regardless of the inherent controversy with the term “parental alienation”,  it is short sighted to think that the mental health and legal professions are going to fully embrace a problem that doesn't have a clear, stable definition.  Is it a dynamic?  Is it a mental illness?  Is it child abuse?  No one, outside of our elite little PA community is going to take us seriously until we resolve the confusion about what “parental alienation” is by explaining it simply in language they already know.

A year ago, a member of the Parental Alienation Study Group (PASG), proposed a far-reaching position statement to its members for adoption.  The position statement strongly supported using more widely accepted and less controversial language.  The position statement recognized that the failure with "parental alienation" was more about the words than it was about the actual dysfunctional family.

Adopting this position statement (or an amended version) could have brought this international group of authors and researches in line with the largest, most powerful organizations and agencies in the United States who are working to change the outcomes for families struggling with narcissistic/borderline abuse.  PASG could then network with established change agents such as;  Adverse Childhood Experiences, trauma informed health and legal workers, Child Protective Services, domestic violence advocates, the National Education Association, the APA, and a plethora of others, all fighting to stop this type of horrific interpersonal trauma by a narcissistic/borderline parent.

The biggest problem with shifting the paradigm of "parental alienation" is is that many of us are so traumatized that we can't differentiate relevant from irrelevant information.   We understand and use these words so much that they have become relevant to us-- but only us.

We need to be able to communicate with the rest of our country, but we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater!   Simply put,  “parental alienation” is not the whole enchilada, but a set of abusive strategies (or a pattern of abusive behaviors) that a narcissistic/borderline parent uses to devalue and discard the other parent from the family.

 This is a subtle but significant difference.  The abusive acts of a narcissistic/borderline parent abusive cannot be separated from the abuser's personality disorder or their reenactment of childhood trauma.  The average parent doesn't all of the sudden become a masterful psychological manipulator and exploiter with no empathy who wants to destroy the other "targeted" parent. 

Below is a diagram of the chronology of how attachment trauma impacts the development of narcissistic/borderline personality disorder and how that disorder plays out in family situations.  The hallmark of these parents is that they are psychologically abusive to every member of their family and close friends.  They also like to escalate conflict.  Many of these families breakdown under this unrelenting stress. 

Narcissistic/borderline parents internalize separation and/or divorce as acute abandonment. This stress triggers them to reenact their childhood trauma based which is based on their distorted and disorganized memories stored in a part of the brain's attachment system called the internal working model.  In this reenactment, the abuser casts the targeted parent in the role of the abuser and he or she takes on the persona of the healthy or protective parent.

Reenactment never ends for the disturbed parent.  He or she will always see the targeted parent as the abusive parent and engage in and escalate psychological (emotional and verbal) abusive strategies such as triangulating the child into the a cross-generational coalition against the targeted parent.

timeline PA.jpg


The sooner we stop calling post separation domestic violence and child psychological abuse “parental alienation”, the sooner we can engage in meaningful and effective intervention and prevention in a systemic and comprehensive public health plan.

But this is up to us.








Paying For Services By the Hour

When we go to a doctor he or she assesses our condition.   If and only if the doctor gathers enough evidence to substantiate a diagnosis will one be made.   Doctors tell us what they think the problem is and why.   They also consider the best route of treatment to eliminate the problem.   We pay for the examination, diagnosis and treatment plan.   I think that is fair, we are paying for the service.   The majority of doctors will tell us to come back if the problem is not gone in 10-14 days and it is amazing the number of doctors who will follow up to check on our progress.   This is because medical doctors are committed to helping us reach the goal of getting better.  They make careful, thoughtful decisions and stand accountable for their judgments and actions.   I call these health providers "professionals". 

Unfortunately, there are other vocations that also call themselves professionals but do not make the mark, in my opinion.    Based on the collective experience of targeted parents; lawyers, judges, therapists and social workers treat us  the opposite way that we expect to be treated by "professionals".  

Targeted parents regularly seek lawyers and mental health providers to help us resolve the greatest tragedy of our lives and the lives of our children.   However, practitioners in both of these domains seem to have a lot of baggage in the way of being a true professional.  Unlike professionals who provide a helping service, legal and mental health providers do not practice in such a way that they appear interested in the quality of the services they provide or whether or not they resolve our problem.  

When working with either of these groups, targeted parents report that they don't appear to know what they are doing.    This would account for their unusual payment structure.  Rather than rely on their knowledge and skills to provide a valuable service for which we gladly pay,  they require us to pay them for their presence.  That is to say, lawyers and therapists are paid on an hourly rate regardless of what they do or don't do, independent of whether they help us or hurt us.  What seems to be missing in both situations is that people in these domains don't understand the problem or know what to do about it.    And most targeted parents don't ask.   

People who hide the fact that they don't know what they are doing are not professionals.  Not that all professionals know everything, quite the contrary, but true professionals will tell us the limits of their competence and offer to learn, collaborate with others, listen to what we say and take official documents seriously.  True professionals will tell us if they disagree with us and recuse themselves it they think that they can not be of service.   True professionals invest in a positive outcome and feel some responsibility to actually help us once they enter into a contract for service.  On the other hand, lawyers and mental health providers don't contract for service, after all, they don't know what to do or how long it will take them or what the outcome will be.  There isn't any way that they want to be beheld accountable for anything.    So what are we paying for? 

Well let's look at what we get for our out of pocket expenses.   We get misdiagnosed, misunderstood and minimized .    We get delays, discrimination and distress.  We get blamed, bullied and bankruptcy. 

We really need to have higher expectations

of those who we hire to help us save our children. 

We must have professionals who are trauma informed.  

Question to lawyer or mental health provider: Are you trauma informed?


Answer. I don't think I understand what you mean.

Response.  Wow, you would if you were worth the powder to blow you up (my mother's saying).  Isn't your profession part of the solution to the single greatest public health threat in this country?   My child has an ACE score of 6-8+.   The other mental ill parent is controlling the family, psychologically abusing us,  emotionally neglecting us, he or she is responsible for my child's loss of a parent (ME) and I am the only resiliency factor he or she has.  The mentally ill parent is lawless and teaching the same to my child by not following court orders, lying to authorities, etc.

How is it possible for you to help my family if you can't recognize complex interpersonal trauma from a narcissistic/borderline partner?  

If I hire you and you don't have and knowledge or experience with ACEs and you're not trauma informed, you will hurt us even worse!  In fact, you will become part of the problem that perpetuates the most severe and damaging type of abuse - psychological abuse!

Ok,  you get the point.  Regardless of their credentials, every mental health provider MUST assess, diagnose and design and plan for appropriate treatment to resolve the diagnosed problem.   A treatment plan MUST assess the impact of trauma and where it is coming from or the problem will never be solved.  

Demand that your therapist and your court is trauma informed!


Part 2 Symptoms or Diagnoses?

 May 12th, 2016, part 2. 

What my husband told me as I lay on the couch, reeling from the excessive medications and being shut off from the world was, “I like it when you are down, then I have all the control.”  I knew then that I needed a miracle.  

And I got three!

My disability had a fully favorable award, but that certainly was not a miracle.  I was enrolled in Medicare, which compared to the benefits I was getting at work, was absolutely not a miracle.  My supposed intelligent, heavily published, psychiatrist didn’t take Medicare so I had to find a new psychiatrist. This was the first miracle!  Interestingly, this doctor eventually had to have a liver transplant.  Apparently, he was taking as many of the medications as he prescribed for his patients. 

Only one psychiatrist in all of Green Bay would see Medicare patients.  It was minor miracle that I got into see anyone at all.  His name was Dr. Ashraf Ahmed and he was my second miracle.   This brilliant doctor immediately knew that I wasn’t bipolar and gradually took me off of all of the weird medications.  Once he got me back to my “better” self, Dr. Ahmed kindly he told me that I would never recover fully if I didn’t leave my husband.  He and I kept track of my mental health status and the quality of the relationship between my husband and me.  There was a direct correlation.  The more abusive my husband was with me, the more depressed and anxious I became.

Dr. Ahmed knew that my depression and anxiety wasn’t caused primarily because

it ran in my family;  he and I both knew that my depression and anxiety was caused

primarily because my husband wanted to run my family.

For the next couple of years I went to a Divorcecare program and tried to leave my husband, but even with Dr. Ahmed’s continual coaching and compassion, I didn’t have the courage.  Then, the third miracle came.   It was the holiday season, my absolutely favorite time of year, until I got married.  Eventually I learned to hate Christmas as much as my husband.  It was the day after Christmas in 2006 and my husband was in a particularly foul holiday mood.  He started punching in a wall swearing about me.  Then he got the kids out of bed and had them help him.  Both were young, but had taken Karate lessons and my husband encouraged them to hit and kick the wall while he instructed them.  “This is what you do when you marry the wrong woman!” he told them. I called the police. 

I didn’t know that they would handcuff him and take him to jail and  I also didn’t know that they would restrain him from having any contact with the kids and me.  This reprieve was the third miracle.  It gave me the chance that I needed to file for divorce.  During this short time I was walking on air.  I never realized that I had been living under his constant oppressive manipulation and control until he was gone.  When he left our home my depression and anxiety went with him.

We Need To Get To The CAUSE!

Yes, depression and anxiety run in my family and these were written down as my primary diagnoses.   But, Dr. Ahmed knew that these were just symptoms of a deeper, darker cause; psychological abuse.  We experience the same traumatic abuse that our children do; psychological abuse.  Your mental health care provider needs to recognize the causes, not the symptoms. 

Engaging in therapy with our children to eliminate our ex-partner’s abuse is really illogical.  We are NOT responsible for any part of our children’s rejection and neither are they. 

Yes, we are an emotional mess, and 

Yes, we are angry, confused and desperate, and

Yes, we might lash out in moments of intolerable pain, and 

YES we are traumatized by psychological abuse by our narcissistic/borderline ex-partner! 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Yes, our children have suppressed their attachment to us, and

Yes, our children behave with those horrible narcissistic/borderline traits, and

Yes, our children bought into our ex-partners’ delusion that we are awful parents, and

YES, they are being traumatized by child psychological abuse by the other parent!

What to Do?

The next time you are in therapy with(or without) your child(ren), make sure you know the diagnosis and why it was made.  In our cases, depression, anxiety, ADHD and PTSD are all symptoms of a traumatizing home life.  A traumatizing home life that you and your children are constantly being exposed to.  The Diagnosis is psychological abuse (both child and ex-partner). You need protective separation to resolve all of the symptoms.  Let your therapist or psychologist know the diagnosis.  Give them this article.  Have them contact us (  They are probably members of the APA.