When dealing with the alienation process, I believe there are four steps that need to be taken.
1. Rescue — The alienating parent has significant psychopathology that is centered around a narcissistically organized Personality Disorder. The alienating parent is transmitting this psychopathology to the child, who is expressing the alienating parent’s psychopathology through the hostile rejection-abandonment of the other parent.
This is called “pathogenic parenting;” i.e., parenting that is so highly problematic and destructive that it is creating a psychopathology in the children.
When there is pathogenic parenting (by the alienating parent), the first step is to rescue the child from the psychopathology of the alienating parent. The child needs to be immediately separated from the psychopathology of the alienating parent and returned to the care of the psychologically healthier parent, or as a transition, to the care of a family member (such as a grandparent) of the psychologically healthier parent.
This requires the involvement of the court to order this child protection directive. The court must recognize the degree of psychopathology in the alienating parent and the extremely destructive impact that the pathogenic parenting is having on the emotional and psychological development of the child.
The recognition by the court will require that the mental health profession recognizes and diagnoses the degree of psychopathology with the alienating parent so that the mental health need to rescue the child from the pathogenic parenting of the alienating parent can be professionally documented for the court to consider.
2. Recovery — The second step it to recover the authenticity of the child. The authentic child deeply loves the rejected-abandoned parent, and the authentic child wants to express this love and receive the love of the rejected-abandoned parent in return.
However, the interpersonal and psychological control processes of the narcissistically organized pathology of the alienating parent is warping the psychology of the child into rejecting and abandoning the beloved parent. The second step is to recover the authentic child through challenging the false constructions of meaning related to the rejected-abandoned parent (such as the false belief that this parent was in any way abusive and therefore deserves to be rejected), and to support the child’s recovery of his or her authentic experience of deep love for the rejected parent.
Appropriate individual child psychotherapy and parent-child psychotherapy involving the child and the rejected-abandoned parent can be very helpful at this stage. However, for psychotherapy to be effective, the child must be separated from the psychologically dominating-controlling influence of the psychopathology of the alienating parent for the duration of the recovery and restoration phases.
3. Restoration — As the authentic child is recovered, the parent-child relationship between the child and the formerly rejected-abandoned parent needs to be healed, re-balanced, and stabilized. All of the Personality Disorder psychopathology of the alienating parent that has been transferred to and is being expressed by the child needs to be treated and resolved, including the child’s display of:
o Borderline Personality Disorder features of splitting into the all-good idealized parent and all-bad rejected parent;
o Narcissistic Personality Disorder features of lack of empathy;
o Narcissistic Personality Disorder grandiosity;
o Narcissistic Personality Disorder features of entitlement;
o Borderline Personality Disorder features of emotional instability;
o Borderline Personality Disorder features of anger dyscontrol;
4. Re-unification — Once the authentic child has been recovered and the authentically loving and affectionate relationship between the child and the once rejected-abandoned parent has been restored, then the child and alienating parent can begin the process of their re-unification following the enforced separation that was necessary to treat the effects of the pathogenic parent on the child.
Currently, “re-unification therapy” is typically enacted between the between the child and the rejected-abandoned parent. This is the wrong focus and will be ineffective as long as the child is not separated from the influence and psychological control of the alienating-pathological parent. Re-unification therapy should be between the child and the alienating parent following their enforced separation, and the re-introduction of the psychopathology of the alienating parent should occur only after the successful restoration of the parent-child relationship with the rejected-abandoned parent.
During the re-unification process of the child with the alienating-pathological parent, the child’s behavior and relationship with the formerly rejected-abandoned parent should receive careful monitoring to ensure that the child’s symptoms do not return as a result of the re-introduction of the psychopathology and pathogenic parenting of the alienating parent.
If the child’s symptoms return, then an additional period of separation of the child from the pathogenic parenting, and treatment of the child to recover authenticity, needs to be enacted.
This whole process will require the active support of the court, which will require the identification and diagnosis of the pathogenic parenting of the alienating parent by mental health professionals. Within current mental health and legal frameworks, both of these support structures are only sometimes available, and typically only in the most extreme of pathogenic parenting situations.
The longer the children remain under the influence and psychological control of the psychopathology and pathogenic parenting of the alienating parent, the greater the psychological damage being inflicted on the children.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.