high conflict divorce

The ACE Cluster in High Conflict Family Court

What Oprah said on 60 minutes that will help end family court trauma.

Adverse Childhood Experience (ACES) cluster around the underlying pathology of the parent who displays abusive patterns of behavior such as a lack of empathy, and someone who exploits others for personal gain. 

1. Living with a mentally impaired parent

2. Witnessing domestic violence in the form of coercive control.

3. Psychological/emotional abuse

4. Psychological/emotional neglect

5. High-conflict family court

6. Loss of a parent from estrangement.

Please comment below and be sure to join the National Alliance for Targeted Parents www.targetedparent.com.

 

Don't Call It Parent Alienation, Call It Trauma

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There is only one way to reform family courts and that is for the federal government to expect them to

be trauma-informed. 

High-conflict family court is more than one parent brainwashing a child to reject the targeted parent.  High-conflict family court is a cesspool of deadly trauma.  It is the synergy of the top sources of trauma in this country; parental mental illness, domestic violence and child psychological/emotional abuse. 

1. Parental Mental Illness - one parent abuses and neglects his or her family due to their narcissistic and/or borderline personality disorder traits. 

2. Domestic Violence - the mentally impaired parent uses coercive control  to terrify the targeted parent into not exposing his or her abusive behaviors.

3. Child Psychological/emotional abuse and neglect is also called psychological maltreatment.  This along with living with a mentally impaired parent, witnessing domestic violence, high-conflict divorce (that goes on for years), and losing a parent due to alienation, adds up to an ACE score of 6+ out of the top 10 Adverse Childhood Experience. 

On top of this, our children's only chance of recovery from trauma is through the loving safety of the targeted parent, who has been distanced, if not all together erased from the child's life by the erroneous decisions and judgments by those "professionals" in high-conflict family court.

The bottom line is that excessive trauma is prolonged and escalated by high-conflict family court and becomes deadly to our children. 

Children of high-conflict family court disputes develop mental and physical health problems that include, but are not limited to:

depression, anxiety, relational problems, including transmitting the trauma to the next generation (trauma reenactment), self-destructive behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse, and are at a 5000% increased risk for suicide, and educational and occupational problems. They also are at a high risk for developing cancer, heart and lung disease and dying 20 years earlier than without family court trauma.

Attachment Trauma Reenactment

The following are my interpretations of the chronological timeline of a narcissistic/borderline parent.  I made this 5 minute video a while ago, but I didn't like it, so I never worked on the additional modules.   It is still accurate though so take what you like and leave the rest.

Over time I've tweaked the timeline and separated out adolescence because that is the time a personality disorder becomes fixed, and so many adolescence are involved in these cases. 

This is an enlargement of the development of a narcissistic/borderline personality disorder.

You can see the integration of traits from both types.

This is the a visual of my proposed definition of

"parental alienation." 

APA Responds With Respect and Enthusiasm

We were delighted to receive a confirmation from the American Psychological Association's (APA) Committee on Children, Youth & Families (CYF) that our petition had their full attention.  What really made me smile was that they immediately realized that the crisis we experience day and night can not be handled by their committee alone.  CYF bumped our petition up to their parent board, The Board on the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI), who determined that our petition has strong practice implications.  And indeed it does!

 BAPPI is considering forming a joint working group with the Practice Directorate but there are others who need to be represented on the work group in order to get all the pieces together.  The following diagram is not perfectly accurate, but illustrates how fragmented and complex our issue is.  However it also illustrates the power of collaboration, which is highly valued by the APA.

This diagram only illustrates the point that our issue is complex.

 

The NATP is not a polished, well-funded lobbying organization, or celebrities or even folks with any clout or influence.  On the contrary; we are parents who have been abused, tormented, marginalized and re-victimized by every system in place that claims to advocate for the best interest of children and families.  Even so, we never stopped trying to find a way to protect our children from our narcissistic/borderline ex-partners who have caused so much pain and suffering.  

Now, for the first time in the history of this nationwide travesty, one of the world’s most powerful organizations, the APA has heard our collective voice and responded swiftly with respect and compassion.  

Chills just ran down my spine as I re-read that last sentence.  I know this means that we are just at the starting gate, but my dear long suffering and heroic targeted parents, we are

AT the starting gate

and it’s only April.

We didn't start this war on families in American, but we will finish it. We still need to get as many of us in one place as possible, so PLEASE Join Us!  Submit you name and email in the red and black box at the bottom of this or any page of our website www.targetedparent.com.  

 

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.

The War At Home

The War At Home

Anyone who marries or is in a relationship with a person who shows signs of having a narcissistic or borderline personality disorder is vulnerable to experience parental alienation.  Personality disorders are not gender specific and that means that neither alienators nor targeted parents represent any specific gender.  

It’s a war like no other.  Everything we love and cherish is being taken away from us.   It is a war for our homes and in our home.   Targeted parents didn’t start it, they don’t want to be a part of it, but we are the only ones fighting it.  

It always makes me roll my eyes when I get a sense of how much our government spends to protect our county.  Our children are the very heart of our country.  Protecting our children was the reason homeland security was created.   Yet, terrorists in the form of alienators find sanctuary hiding in 22 million homes, methodically dismantling the family structure and causing mental and emotional harm to children and healthy parents.  If they are not stopped, there will be nothing left of this country to fight for.

It is easy to blame our ex-partners because they are calling the shots, but have enlisted soldiers to do the dirty work so they can remain safe and warm, behind closed doors.   One of the biggest problems with fighting this war is that targeted parents continue to fight on the alienators’ turf.  We are drawn out into hostile territory to defend ourselves against longstanding misconceptionsand biases that sanction and support the enemies in our midst. 

Dr. Richard Warshak (2015) clearly identified 10 extremely harmful false assumptions (gender and parenting biases) that legal and mental health professionals hold about our families.  He also pointed out that these professionals hang on to these erroneous thoughts, contrary to 30 years of empirical research.  Even Dr. Daniel Siegel admitted in an article in Family Court Review, that he understands that there are neurobiological research that demonstrate a gender difference that can influence attachment in early infancy, but he very honestly states; “I just cannot get myself to take those findings seriously because of my own experience as a father…” (p519). 1  

Targeted parents are just as guilty of falling into the trap of sociocultural biases as Dan Siegel.  I’m just as vulnerable.  When Joe Barrow starting posting videos of alienated children I contacted him because I thought he was being biased against women.  In every video, the alienator was a mother, and I was upset.  I had heard that alienation was NOT gender specific, but I didn’t really believe it.  The alienator in my life was a man and the majority of people who have joined the National Alliance for Targeted Parents have been women.  Even so, I was wrong, this really isn’t a war of gender.  Targeted men and women need to enlist in our army, and join the NATP because we are at war and we need all the fighters we can get.

 

1Siegel, D., (2011). Family law and the neuroscience of attachment, part II. Family Court Review,   49, 519.

Warshak, R. A. (2015, June 22). Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies That Compromise Decisions in Court and in Therapy. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance onlinepublication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pro0000031