Local marriage and family therapist Dr. Dahlia Berkovitz says parents who engage in alienating behavior often have attachment issues that are triggered by the divorce. The alienating parent most likely also has a personality disorder such as narcissism and/or borderline personality disorder.
“The alienating parent connects in an inappropriate way, talking to the children about things that are none of their business,” Berkovitz said. “Children don’t have the same capacity to process things as adults do.”
The scientific name for this behavior pattern is attachment-based parental alienation, a term used by Dr. Craig Childress, a California-based psychologist and leading expert in the treatment of children who are victims of this dynamic. Childress calls it “a form of pathogenic parenting, which is a clinical term for parenting behavior so aberrant and distorted that it creates psychopathology in a child.”
According to Childress, parental alienation indicates a role reversal of a normal, healthy parent-child relationship. Instead of serving as a “regulatory other,” which involves providing stability and meeting the child’s emotional and psychological needs, the alienating parent (pathogen) uses the child (or children) to meet their own needs, violating boundaries and damaging the child’s development to a significant degree.
“It needs to be fixed; too many children are suffering,” Berkovitz said.
Childress and other experts who advocate for improved diagnosis and treatment of these children are optimistic about a new bill before the Florida legislature this month that amends the mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse to include “child psychological abuse,” including parental alienation.
The bill also requires licensed psychologists to partake in continuing education in the area of psychological child abuse “including, but not limited to, abuse through the use of manipulation or parental alienation.”
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