custody

What's Working and What Is Not

Dear Friends,

There are so many opportunities for us in the ACEs, trauma informed, and resilience building movement, that I decided the most efficient and effective way for us to get our powerful scientific based message out to all those who can help us end the nightmare of narcissistic abuse, is to publish a book.  So, I am taking a 2-month sabbatical from running the Alliance (including the face book and LinkedIn pages) to write.

 

But before I do, I wanted to up date you on:

What’s working and what is not.

What’s Not Working?—The same things that never worked.

 

 Some targeted parents are still trying to prove “parental alienation” in family court.  GRRRRR.  Please remember that there aren’t any States with statutes that define “parental alienation” let alone have made it a crime.  A lawyer would have to prove “it” by case law- Good Luck with that, Perry Mason.

 I’ve had contact with a few lawyers and GALs who know that one parent is using alienation strategies to discard the TP, but that’s as far as they get.  Even if they get past the obstacles of trying to prove something that most legal professionals have strongly held misconceptions about, there are no laws or protocols to take it to the next level. 

Usually the courts think that the next level is therapy for the child and TP.  We know where that goes-- No protective separation---No reunification.  Therapy further harms the child and further traumatizes the TP.  In addition,  children who express strong desires about placement with one parent, intimidate Judges and GALs.  They are afraid that the children will be too traumatized if they transfer custody from the abusive parent to the TP and they will be held accountable.

What IS Working.

1. Using an advocate.  Advocates can be another parent, friend, sibling, spiritual leader, therapist, a coach or anyone who is willing to help you manage the stress of being re-traumatized by Family Court and Child Protective Services.  It is very hard for targeted parents to effectively manage their own high conflict cases even with all that we know about the circumstances and people.  

2. Designing a plan.  Targeted parents do not have the luxury to “wait and see” what will happen in the next court hearing.  I can almost guarantee it won’t be good.

The abuser is spending 24/7 planning how to execute the next attack, the next step to devalue you and the final phases of discarding you.  He or she has been in the drivers seat since the beginning.  And don’t give credit to the lawyers,  your ex-partner calls the shots.

Plan to take the offensive. Use your advocate. Your lawyer will not take the lead and fix this. Family law professionals do not understand child development, attachment systems, personality disorders or trauma.  We cannot teach them all of this, we must lead them through what needs to be done.

3.  File contempt every time your ex violates a court order (including child support).  The only way the court will “see” the narcissistic/borderline traits will be if you show them.  You want the conflict to be between the abuser and the Judge; not between the two of you.  It won’t take long for the court to see that he/she has no respect for authority and will not comply or cooperate with anything that supports your relationships with your children. This is abuse!

4. Convince the GAL or your lawyer to request psychological evaluations for both of you, as soon as possible.  Use an independent clinic that is competent is diagnosing personality disorders. These objective mental health professionals are pretty easy to find.  Do not use custody evaluators; they work for the court and will not diagnose the personality disorder or work on your behalf once the evaluation is complete.

When the diagnosis comes back with the personality disorder, be prepared to push the court to involve CPS.  If they won’t, you will need to file an abuse report on your own.  It doesn’t cost anything but your persistence.

5. File Child Psychological Maltreatment (also called psychological abuse and neglect, emotional and/or mental abuse and neglect) with your local Child Protective Service Agency.  Child Psychological Maltreatment is the most prevalent and damaging type of child abuse.  And although it co-occurs with physical and sexual abuse it is a formidable type of abuse on its own. Narcissistic/borderline personality disordered parents are psychologically abusive to their children and (ex) partners 24/7. 

These are not custody cases they are abuse cases.

6. Make your concerns about child abuse and neglect known to anyone and everyone.   Otherwise, it looks like you don’t care and you could ultimately be charged with neglect       (I’ve seen it happen)!

7. Keep processing your trauma and elevating to new levels of healing. There is a plethora of information available on the best ways to treat trauma, but you can’t do it alone.  Work with a trauma informed therapist and do your homework.  

8. Become a trauma expert by getting familiar with the ACES, trauma informed and resiliency movements.  They are really very easy to understand and the most powerful agency we have. 

Our children have ACE scores of 8+.  This precisely defines what is at stake.  If a psychologically abused child is not removed from a narcissistic/borderline abuser and isn’t allowed to rekindle the attachment with the healthy parent,  he or she will be at extreme risk for developing self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, promiscuity and criminal or antisocial lifestyles.  These adverse experiences in turn trigger the onset of the most common chronic diseases and a premature death.

 

Until I blog Again,

Kay

 

 

 

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. When skepticism and controversy about a concept or label still remains as an obstacle, after decades of work to validate it in the eyes of mainstream science, then the validity of the skepticism must be examined.

 

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When all efforts to get society, especially the mental health and legal professional to recognize parental alienation as a legitimate crisis in science and health 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 cannot even define it?     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. 

Recently, a member of the Parental Alienation Study Group (PASG), proposed a far reaching position statement to its members for their feedback and adoption.  The position statement strongly supports using more widely accepted and less controversial terms like "coercive control" and "child psychological abuse" in place of “parental alienation”; recognizing that the controversy about "parental alienation" is more about the term than about the actual phenomenon.

Adopting this position statement (or an amended version) could bring this international group of authors and researches in line with the largest, most powerful organizations and agencies in the world working to change the outcomes for families struggling with child psychological abuse.  PASG could then network with established change agents such as; childhood attachment trauma, psychological maltreatment,   domestic violence association, developmental and personality psychology and a plethora of others, all fighting to stop psychological abuse.

The biggest problem associated with shifting our perception is that many of us are invested and comfortable with using this term.  But, we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater!  Simply put,  parental alienation is not the whole enchilada but a specific set of abusive strategiesor a pattern of abusive behaviors by one parent to alienate children from their other parent. 

Parental Alienation is a set of abusive strategies (or a pattern of abusive behaviors) that a narcissistic/borderline parent uses to exile the other parent from their children’s lives.

It is a subtle but significant difference.  The abusive acts of alienating a parentcannot be separated from the abuser's reenactment of their childhood trauma, or their narcissistic/borderline personality disorder.  

  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 abusive to their family and escalate conflict whenever possible. Most of these families breakdown under the unrelenting stress, which triggers the unstable parent to reenact his or her childhood trauma based on distorted and disorganized memories stored in their internal working model.   During this reenactment period the narcissistic/borderline parent engages in and escalates specific strategies meant to alienate a child from his or her parent.  

       

 

 

 

 The sooner we stop calling psychological abuse parental alienation, the sooner we can engage in meaningful and effective intervention and prevention.

But this is up to us.

 

 

 

 

Courts That Care?

As we begin to talk about trauma, I thought it would be good to re-post this blog from last February.  The newest addition in the library section of this website now contains the protocol manual being used for family courts to become trauma informed.   Every targeted parent in family court must be aware of the official, professional movement to make family courts trauma informed and use their personal cases as avenues to protect their children while pushing the movement forward.    We are traumatized and our children are traumatized.  We need courts that are trauma informed! 

According to the protocol manual for developing trauma informed courts, "Juvenile and family judges and courts are in a unique position to promote healing and prevent future trauma.  In 2013, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) undertook development of a court trauma consultation protocol in response to an increase in requests for assistance from courts seeking to become trauma-informed. the NCJFCJ and organizations such as the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) have an extensive history of providing training and technical assistance to courts on traumatic stress."

Published February 10, 2016

Recently, The Honorable Marshall Murray, a respected and experienced Circuit Court Judge in Milwaukee County, co-authored a blog with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) in which he sounded more like a caring parent than a Judge.  It was the first time I heard a Judge express sadness at seeing so many abused children in his court.  It was also the first time I had heard anyone defend judges for being concerned that courts make the right decisions in cases involving abuse.

“One of the most important duties for any court system

is to ensure that youth in the community

are protected.” 

                                         -Judge Marshall Murray (2016)

One point that Judge Murray discusses is that in order for judges to make the right decisions when ruling on cases involving children and youth, they must be able to recognize how trauma affects behavior. He specifically mentioned trauma from emotional and verbal abuse, recognizing that psychological maltreatment (emotional abuse and neglect) is the most prevalent and damaging type of child abuse, causing a lifetime of problems for these victims.  The blog that Judge Murray wrote focuses on teen dating violence, but I found that his sentiments reflected a fundamental problem for Judges presiding over high conflict custody cases in family courts.

For decades, Family Court Judges have misinterpreted the expression of trauma in most of the high conflict custody cases.  This misinterpretation continues to lead Family Court Judges to make inaccurate assumptions about the parents and children.  Their mistaken assumptions are the basis for placing children with the abusive parent.  Thus, Family Courts directly contribute to severe adverse childhood experiences and the escalation of intimate partner violence.  The travesty of Family Courts abandoning children to their abusive parent is so common that it appears as if the Judges are intentionally colluding with the abusers.  As it stands today, a Family Court Judge could throw a dart at both parents in high conflict custody disputes, and at least then, they would make the right decision at least 50% of the time.   

It is hard to imagine that Family Court Judges care about families, abuse or even the job they do because I see no indication that family courts are trying to improve their longstanding abysmal record of making family situations worse for the “high conflict” families they serve.  As a self-regulating profession, this lack of care, due process or competence is inexcusable and begs external oversight if not remedied.

While the majority of families can manage custody issues without assertive court intervention, a significant and growing population of parents cannot.  These “high conflict” custody cases take up a disproportional amount of family court dockets because one parent has a personality disorder in which he or she is manipulating the court and escalating conflict.  All the while, he or she continues to psychologically abuse the family causing extreme ongoing chaos and stress.  In the pure sense, these cases aren’t “custody” cases; they are cases of child abuse and domestic violence and need immediate court ordered protection.

High conflict custody cases have been particularly troublesome for family court because the origin and nature of the problem lies in the abusive relational pathology of a narcissistic and /or borderline personality disordered parent who is a master at manipulation and exploitation.   By the time the family gets to court, the abuser has seriously wounded the children and the non-abusive parent and they present with extreme and misleading symptoms of trauma.  Comparatively, the abuser appears calm and confident as if he or she were innocent.

To add more confusion to the decision, narcissistic and/or borderline personality disordered parents have a well-developed social persona where they can mirror appropriate responses appearing sincere, charming and caring.  The abusive parent stays hidden behind this persona while covertly escalating conflict, exploiting the expressed trauma of the non-abusive parent and the children, making false allegations of abuse or fitness, manipulating the Judiciary, sabotaging treatment plans and lying through their teeth.  

Narcissistic and/or borderline parents will not admit that they have a personality disorder, even if they have been diagnosed, however once Family Court Judges are cued into looking for a handful of specific personality disorder traits, they will see that narcissistic/borderline abusers present as predictable as a March snowstorm in Wisconsin, and are just as easy to spot. 

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Family court judges are not psychologist, nor should they be.  However, the fact remains that family courts have become the roosting site for narcissistic and/or borderline personality disordered parents and they are manipulating the court into making decisions that are extremely harmful to children and the non-abusive parent.  Assertive court intervention is necessary because these abusers cannot and will not change or follow any orders by the court unless the court will enforce sanctions for violations.   

The good news is that under a caring family court judge, trained to recognize the psychological manipulation of a narcissistic/borderline abuser and to spot trauma, family courts can stop being part of the problem of child abuse and domestic violence and become a big part of THE solution.  If these high conflict abuse cases can be stopped when they get to family court, the children and parents can recover and learn how to protect themselves from being psychologically abused so that the children can still have a relationship with both parents.  Just as important, Family Courts can lead the way in breaking the cycle of narcissistic/borderline abuse by preventing it from being expressed in the next generation of families who are lucky enough to have found their way into a court that is concerned about making the right decisions.






Nothing Baffling About Psychological Abuse

The most common and harmful type of child abuse is psychological maltreatment (emotional abuse and neglect).   Decades of research confirm that parents who thwart their children’s emotional and psychological needs cause long term problems equal to and often worse than physical and/or sexual abuse.  Psychological maltreatment is described in two ways.  One description focuses on the parent’s abusive behaviors such as; terrorizing, exploiting and rejecting.  The other way to describe child psychological maltreatment is in terms of the symptoms a child displays when being psychologically abused or neglected.  

Some authors argue that there are mild or moderate degrees of emotional  abuse, but these cases fall below the threshold of psychological maltreatment.  Mild or moderate cases of emotional abuse can be treated as dysfunctional parenting problems.  Psychological maltreatment on the other hand is characterized by chronic, severe, and escalating patterns of psychological abuse that puts the child at risk of psychological harm.

 A growing number of parents who have been linked to psychological abuse display relationally abusive narcissistic/borderline traits.  These parents are very reactive under relenting stress.   Typically, they are unable to transition through the divorce process they escalate their abusive behaviors toward the other (targeted) parent.  Ultimately, the abuser wants to drive the targeted parent out of the children’s lives.   The harm this causes every psychologically abused child (and the targeted parent) is extreme and it is widespread.  Harman and Biringrin (2016) and other authorities estimate that the number of families struggling under this emotional assault could be as many as 22 million.   There is an immediate need to break the cycle of narcissistic/borderline psychological abuse, one family at a time.

Despite the urgent need for intervention in cases of psychological maltreatment, child and family welfare courts and agencies seriously underreport. under investigate, and rarely intervene in these cases.  In the article, Unseen Wounds (Spinazolla, 2014) the authors  suggest that child welfare professionals may be baffled by the “covert” and “insidious” nature of psychological abuse and that those who are responsible to prevent and intervene for the children, may adopt an apathetic or helpless attitude.   As pathetic as this sounds, it may be true.   The problem of stopping child psychological abuse would seem insurmountable,  IF social workers, mental health providers and the courts focused on the abuser only.   Obviously, investigators cannot get behind closed doors to personally witness what any abusive parent is doing.    No one “sees” these acts, except for the (ex) partner who is often not given much support or credibility, and the traumatized child, who should not be re-traumatized by having to testifying against either of his or her parents.  

 

 

However, if social workers, mental health providers and the courts used the evidence presented by psychologically abused children in the same way they do for physically and sexually abused children, these professionals would realize that there is nothing covert, insidious or baffling about psychological maltreatment.   In fact, a physically or sexually abusive parent and their victim may be able to hide scars or bruises, or make up stories about how the child fell or had an accident, but psychologically maltreated children cannot cover up their symptoms with clothes or lies.  In fact, these cases are much easier to identify, locate, intervene, and provide treatment for than physical and/or sexual abuse cases, because severely psychologically abused children act out so outrageously that the family draws attention.

Identifying a severely psychologically abused child is as easy as opening your eyes.  The child will conspicuously and reliably display three (3) profoundly abnormal and delusional symptoms when relating to both parents inside and outside of court.  Anyone with a little training can learn to identify the indicators of psychological abuse, as defined by the state statutes and the DSM-V.  The icing on the cake is that the child will hyper bond or enmesh with the abuser against the other parent, leaving no doubt as to which parent is the perpetrator.

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Locating psychologically abusive parents is as easy and going down to the court  house.  Due to the abusers’ patterns of narcissistic/borderline traits and their need to escalate conflict, these families can be found in protracted contested custody cases, filling family court dockets across America.   There is not another crime where the perpetrator walks right in through the court doors.  

Intervention and treatment for these psychologically abused children is fairly simple.  The non-abusive parent and abused children need a time of protective separation from the abuser for psycho-educational healing and reuniting.  In addition, each family member needs to learn how to recognize and prevent further psychological abuse.   The family is monitored to ensure that that treatment is effective and preventive measures are put in place, thus breaking the cycle of narcissistic/borderline psychological abuse, one family at a time.

 

I'm working on linking the full documents described in these blogs.  Anyone know square space?   Kay

 

 

 

Harman PhD, Jennifer; Biringen PhD, Zeynep (2016-01-03). Parents Acting Badly: How Institutions and Societies Promote the Alienation of Children from Their Loving Families (Kindle Locations 522-523).  . Kindle Edition.

Spinazzola, J., Hodgdon, H., Ford, J.,…Kisiel C., (2014). Unseen wounds: The contribution of psychological maltreatment to child and adolescent mental health and risk outcomes.  Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 6, 518-828. doi.org/10.1037/a0037766

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Family Courts Fail.

Ever since Gardner made the first connections between parental alienation and custody, relational, and situational (divorce) issues, cases like ours of child psychological abuse by narcissistic/borderline partners have been doomed to fail in family court.  And as long as we continue to connect child psychological abuse with custody, cases like ours will continue to fail in family court.   

We shouldn’t be the least bit surprised that family courts consistently get our cases wrong or that they appear so out of touch with the seriousness or reality that child psychological abuse is so harmful.  They shouldn’t even have primary jurisdiction. 

It has been said that family courts often fail because of their adversarial nature but in our cases, the reason that family courts fail is because they focus on resolving family disputes.  The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), an organization of practitioners, researchers, teachers and policymakers that set the tone for family courts state that their mission is to improve “the lives of children and families through the resolution of family conflict.”  This is an honorable intent given that most people are hardwired to build, maintain and repair disruptions in their family relationships, MOST people.  Just not the ones we chose to marry and/or have children with.

 Whether they have been officially diagnosed or not, our (ex) partners display fixed narcissistic/borderline personality disorder traits, which make them emotionally deficient and abusive partners and parents.  During infancy and childhood, our ex-partners were deprived of the warmth and attention they needed to develop the ability to emotionally connect with others on a deep and meaningful level.  They have never been able to love, care or empathize, which is how they can abuse those closest to them without guilt, regret, remorse or grief.  In my opinion, only a parent with some type of emotional/mental deficiency can abuse their children.  This deficiency also makes them think that they aren’t doing anything wrong and therefore do not feel the need to participate in any type of family resolution efforts or change anything that they are doing.  

 In essence, taking our child psychological abuse cases to family court under the heading of custody and/or parental alienation is like bowling down the wrong alley; nothing we do counts. 

Why are we trying to manage child psychological

abuse cases in family court?

Child psychological abuse is not a dispute between the two parents (except that one parent is healthy and is trying to stop it).  Think of how absurd it would be if Family Court handled sexual abuse in the same way it handles psychological abuse. For this example I am going to use the pronoun “he.”

 A mother alleges that the father is sexually abusing their child.  Family court wants the parents to “work this out” because they are both play a role in the conflict where one parent wants the abuse to stop and the other parent doesn’t.  The court spends months or years deliberating on every new accusation that the abuser throws out to distract the court from looking in his direction; while he continues to sexually abuse the child.  Then, because neither parent will compromise, family court starts shuffling them off to mediation, family counseling, and co-parenting classes to help them work out their conflict issue for the sake of the child.

 Society would never tolerate this kind of blatant harm to come to a child.  The only reason society tolerates child psychological abuse, which is much more prevalent and damaging to children than sexual abuse, is because no one brings these cases forward. If society knew the harm that was being done to our children because of psychological child abuse and if they knew the 3 clinical symptoms, it would stop. 

 Child psychological abuse needs to be handled in the same way that our court system handles physical and sexual abuse.  Juvenile court not family court, decides whether children have been abused or neglected, as defined by State law.   Then they order services and monitor cases to ensure that interventions are effective.  Juvenile Court uses the expertise of CPS caseworkers, psychologists, mental health professionals, physicians, domestic violence specialists, educators, child development specialists and others to understand why the abuse or neglect occurred and why it necessitated court intervention.

 Gardner put a great deal of distance between the problem of child psychological abuse and the solution by calling it parental alienation and implying it was a family court problem involving custody.  We perpetuate that mistake by continuing to take our child psychological abuse cases to family court under “custody issues.”

 

The day we stop calling child psychological abuse

“parental alienation” and start calling it

child psychological abuse,

is the day the scales tip in our direction.