Richard Gardner, Father of “Parental Alienation,” in His Own Words

* Works cited are listed at the end of the article. The perverted, unscientific, contrary-to-medical-fact positions taken by Richard Gardner MD and marketed to an amoral legal and judicial system have become the driving forces undermining the prosecution of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of children through the US court system. Gardner’s functionally psychotic theories […]

The post Richard Gardner, Father of “Parental Alienation,” in His Own Words first appeared on Foundation for Child Victims of the Family Courts.

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Someone is Mentally Ill, an Addict, or an Abuser: The Vastly Different Response in Family Court and in Life: Essay by Barry Goldstein

Does an Expert Witness Need to Speak with all Parties?

By Barry Goldstein

During our training to teach batterer classes, we often discussed the fact that much of domestic violence is counterintuitive.  One would expect abusers to deny and minimize their abusive behavior, and they do.  One would also expect alleged victims to exaggerate or even make up false reports of DV.  Instead, it is very common for victims to minimize his abuse; take more responsibility than she deserves; and make excuses for him.  Most court professionals are not DV experts and would not even consider the very different responses from victims and abusers.

We have heard lawyers and judges question whether a DV expert should be allowed to testify if they haven’t interviewed both parties and possibly any children.  This mistake is based on the standard practice of evaluators speaking with everyone.  It is also based on a fundamental failure to understand domestic violence.  The Saunders Study is the leading research about the DV knowledge of court professionals.  It found courts should use a multi-disciplinary approach to DV custody cases.  Nevertheless, courts routinely listen to evaluators who failed to consult a DV expert and are without the DV knowledge Saunders found to be necessary.

In the real world, professionals routinely make important judgments about DV without speaking to the alleged abuser.  Doctors, therapists and DV advocates often calculate a child’s ACE score based on what the safe parent tells them.  They have found this to be highly accurate because the research confirms women rarely make deliberate false reports of abuse, particularly in the context of contested custody cases.  Similarly, advocates and law enforcement routinely use lethality or danger assessments based on the reports of the alleged victims.  These practices have proven to be helpful and accurate.  Of course, if these assessments lead to criminal charges or other court action, the alleged abuser is certainly given the opportunity to respond.

Courts Need DV Expertise

There is now a specialized body of domestic violence knowledge and research that was not available when custody courts developed their response to DV cases.  This information is critical if courts are to be effective in recognizing and responding to DV.  Saunders found court professionals need more than generalized DV knowledge.  They need knowledge in very specific topics that include screening for DV, risk assessment, post-separation violence and the impact of DV on children.  Saunders found most evaluators and other court professionals do not have this specific knowledge.  When courts attempt to make decisions in possible DV cases without the necessary DV knowledge the results are often catastrophic and frequently ruin children’s lives.

There are four parts to proper screening for DV.  The first part is to avoid non-probative factors that are often used to discredit true reports of abuse.  Common examples include the alleged victim leaves and returns, she fails to follow through on a request for a restraining order, she doesn’t have police or medical records.  These are common responses of victims for safety and other good reasons.  Another related mistake is treating an alleged abuser’s good behavior in public, including testimonials from friends, family, and colleagues as if that tells us anything about his private behavior.  In the batterer classes I taught, the men usually acted respectfully, and we were trained to understand this tells us nothing about his behavior in private.  In many cases, professionals observe an alleged abuser interacting with the children.  When they don’t show any fear, the untrained observer assumes this means he cannot be abusive.  The children understand he would not hurt them in front of witnesses, so it is safe to play with a father they still love.  The fact courts continue to discredit abuse reports based on non-probative factors demonstrates the need for a DV expert.

The second factor is simply to determine which parent is afraid of the other.  Sometimes victims challenge their abuser during litigation.  They are afraid of him but find the courage because they are trying to protect their children. When an alleged victim accepts clearly inadequate child support, this is often because she is afraid of his response if she demanded what the law requires.  Context is important, including the relative size and strength of the parties in determining the fear issue.

Most custody cases, like any litigation are settled more or less amicably.  The problem is the 3.8% of cases that require trial and often much more.  Although courts often use a high conflict approach, 75-90% of these cases are really domestic violence involving the worst abusers.  This does not mean they committed the most severe assaults, but rather he believes she has no right to leave and so he is entitled to do whatever is necessary to regain the control he believes he is entitled to and punish the mother for leaving.  Courts cannot make decisions based on statistics but should look to his actions to understand his motive.

Most parents would sacrifice their resources and preferences to benefit their children.  Accordingly, it makes sense to look to see if the father is making such sacrifices or alternatively refusing to do so.  Is the father refusing to pay child support and other child related needs or making it difficult to collect?  Is he interfering with the child’s communication with the mother?   Is he blocking therapy and other decisions that would benefit the child?  Saunders found abusive fathers use decision-making to block anything the mother wants and especially therapy because the child might reveal his abuse.  Is the father uncooperative with socialization and activities that would benefit the child?  Does the father engage in unnecessary and harmful litigation tactics?  Is he trying to gain an unfair advantage by imposing high litigation and other expenses on the mother?  Is the father willing to spend more to deprive the mother or child of something than the issue would cost him?  I had an extreme example in one case where the father canceled health insurance for the children that was fully paid by his employer.  The court treated it as an economic issue rather than proof the father was deliberately trying to hurt the mother and children.  An abuser is not likely to engage in all these bad practices but looking at the totality of the circumstances can help the court determine whether the father’s priority is the well-being of the children.

The final part to screening for DV is looking for the pattern of abuse.  Courts tend to focus on incidents, and that is needed for evidence, but in DV cases, it is not just that the abuser committed some incidents, but it is who he is, what he believes, and all designed to impose his will.  The pattern would include all the tactics the abuser used during the relationship and since.  This emphasizes that most DV is neither physical nor illegal.  The tactics often also include emotional, verbal, economic, and litigation abuse as well as isolating and monitoring tactics.  Including all the tactics makes more evidence available and helps courts recognize his motives.  The fact that his tactics continued after the separation demonstrates he has not changed.  Some professionals assume the end of the relationship ends his abuse, but the research found only accountability and monitoring are effective in changing abusers’ behavior.  When courts minimize or overlook abusive behavior, it serves to encourage these harmful tactics.  This is not beneficial for the children.

Risk Assessment is central to the work of DV advocates because if we can’t keep the victim safe, nothing else matters.  It is hard to believe courts haven’t made this a similar priority to protect children.  The Center for Judicial Excellence keeps records of children involved in contested custody who were murdered, mostly by abusive fathers.  Since 2008 they have found over 860 child murders.  

There are specific behaviors associated with higher risk of lethality.  These circumstances include strangulation; hitting a woman while pregnant; hurting animals; threats of murder, suicide, or kidnapping; access to guns; stalking; and the belief she has no right to leave.  I have reviewed over 1000 child custody evaluations and never saw an evaluator reference the lethality risk associated with these allegations.  The failure to focus on risk assessment results in denying and minimizing the risk from abusers.

Post-separation violence refers to two types of risks courts rarely consider.  In contested custody, fathers who had limited involvement in childcare during the relationship suddenly seek custody or shared parenting as a tactic to gain access to the victim and punish her for leaving.  Saunders found abusive fathers sometimes use visitation exchanges to harass or even assault the mother.  Abusers may use meetings or communications to try to resume the relationship or just have sex.  This might be misunderstood as romantic, but it reveals the motive for seeking custody.  Abusive litigation tactics and economic abuse are often a continuation of the father’s DV once he no longer has regular access.  Even worse, many abusers recognize the best way to hurt a mother is to hurt her children.

Abusers do not commit DV because of anything the mother said or did.  Rather, his behavior is based on his sense of entitlement and belief as the man he has the “right” to make the decisions.  This means he is likely to abuse future partners.  If he is given custody or unprotected visitation, the children are likely to witness more DV and that would prevent them from healing so they will suffer the awful consequences of exposure to multiple adverse childhood experiences.

The ACE (adverse childhood experiences) Research is peer-reviewed medical studies from the CDC.  It provides the answer to Saunders question about the impact of DV on children and goes to the essence of the best interests of children.  ACE found that children exposed to DV, or child abuse will live shorter lives and suffer a lifetime of health and social problems.  Most of the harm is not caused by any immediate physical injuries, but from the fear and stress abusers cause.  Without ACE, courts routinely minimize the harm from DV or child abuse and are deprived of the most important information.

ACE tells us that many common court practices work poorly for the children the courts are obligated to protect.  These mistakes include: refusing to consider older abuse; assuming a very young child could not be harmed by DV because they would not understand what occurred; failing to allow enough time to learn the full context and patterns; using approaches that demand the child just get over it; high conflict approaches; using shared parenting in cases where children have multiple ACEs; using unscientific alienation theories; failure to give serious consideration to supervised visitation; and failure to focus on how to reduce the fear and stress on children.

Avoiding Outdated Practices

Saunders found custody courts need to use a multi-disciplinary approach in cases where there may be domestic violence.  This means courts benefit from hearing DV experts when determining if there is DV as well as best responses.  It is puzzling why judges or lawyers could believe a DV expert must speak with an alleged abuser to provide useful information while there would be no question a party’s therapist can testify after only working with their client.  The mistake is probably based on familiarity with standard evaluator practices and a misguided sense of fairness.  

As DV expert witnesses, we often hear the alleged abuser’s voice through evaluation reports, GAL reports, court transcripts, and messages like texts or emails.  The attorneys who complain we did not speak to their clients would never have allowed us to speak with them.  Even without us speaking to the alleged abuser, the court will hear his side of the story because he will be given an opportunity to present a case.  In contrast, when courts rely on an evaluator without the needed DV expertise, the court never hears the vital DV information discussed above.  Even when there is no evaluation in a case, the judge and lawyers are relying on the many evaluations they have read in other cases that fail to consider important DV expertise.  In other words, courts will always have an opportunity to hear from both parties, but only with a DV expert can the court consider the type of life saving information described earlier.

There is a history and context that undermine the adoption of needed reforms.  Present practices, particularly concerning evaluations in DV custody cases were developed at a time when no research was available.  The popular assumption was that DV was caused by mental illness or substance abuse.  This led courts to turn to mental health professionals as if they were the experts in DV.  They are experts in psychology and mental illness, and this can be helpful particularly when there are mental health issues in addition to the DV.  Further research proved mental illness and substance abuse reduce inhibitions, so DV is more severe, but does not cause DV.  Saunders established that evaluators do not have the necessary DV expertise, but courts have been slow to use the multi-disciplinary approach needed to protect children.

At the same time, DV is about control, including financial control.  This means most of the financial resources favor abusive fathers, so courts have heard much more biased misinformation that favors abusers.  Most lawyers do not have DV expertise and many refuse or discourage presentation of DV information because they believe judges don’t want to hear them.  This is precisely the scientific research and DV expertise courts will miss without testimony from a DV expert.

There is something terribly wrong when an alienation theory based on no research, but the belief sex between adults and children can be acceptable continues to have more influence on custody courts than ACE and Saunders that are peer-reviewed scientific research from the CDC and National Institute of Justice.  The alienation theories were twice rejected by the American Psychiatric Association because there is no research to support it.  The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges seeks to train other judges about ACE and Saunders because without this vital research courts routinely deny or minimize true reports of abuse AND RUIN CHILDREN’S LIVES.

As DV experts, we can provide custody courts with knowledge of important scientific research, DV dynamics, gender bias, child sexual abuse, batterer narratives, and the importance of context.  This knowledge proves many standard court practices are harming children.  If we don’t speak to an alleged abuser, the courts will get his side of the story anyway, but if courts don’t hear from DV experts, as the research recommends, courts will never hear the information needed to keep precious children healthy, safe, and alive.

Barry Goldstein is a domestic violence author, speaker, advocate and expert witness. He is the author of six books concerning domestic violence and child custody. Barry is the author of the Safe Child Act which is a comprehensive plan based on current scientific research that can fix the broken court system and make family courts safe for children.

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stage development

The Narcissists Pathological Relationship Agenda

You think you have found the love of your life….. but they turned out to be your BIGGEST mistake!

The Narcissists Pathological Relationship Agenda (NPRA) is a pattern of behaviour which is evident is the majority of their relationships, including the one with their children.  Once you identify this pattern, you can superimpose it on every single relationship the narcissist has ever been in and make predictions about future relationships and how to protect your children.

Let’s unpack some of the elements of the NPRA.

 

Agenda

 

This relates to something the narcissist considers important and wants to achieve or solve.  In relationship terms this is primarily an unmet need from childhood, an dysfunctional schema or generational trauma.

 

Pathological

 

The behaviours which a narcissist cannot control due to their pathology such as projection or narcissistic rage.  The behaviours are a maladaptive efforts to self regulate. 

 

Relationship

 

Narcissists are by nature interpersonally exploitative and this manifests from the disorganised attachment style which has taught them that people cannot be trusted to meet their needs and so they need to use others by whatever means necessary to get their needs met.  It is why there is a push/pull dynamic to these relationships.  Narcissists desperately shift and change tactics in an attempt to meet their unmet needs, creating confusion for the partner who finds their their efforts, which previously had been wanted and welcomed, are suddenly cause for anger and criticism.  They want someone else to meet their unmet need but don’t trust them to and so will often have a “back up plan” or take control in order to try to force you to meet their need.

stage development

Unmet Needs

We all have unmet needs from childhood.  Many psychologists believe our unmet needs are our purpose, our own unique pathway to healing.  Unfortunately for narcissists, their disorganised attachment means they are unable to go within to meet those needs and instead seek external resources.

  

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows the levels of needs all human beings have met and unmet, depending upon our experience.  For narcissists, their unmet needs are usually psychological needs and although their attempts to meet those needs might appear more sophisticated, at their core they often come down to being about belongingness (an aspect of attachment) and love.

Dysfunctional Schema

 

Schemas relate to the basic emotional needs of a child and are broad, pervasive themes regarding oneself and one’s relationship with others.  When these emotional needs are unmet, dysfunctional schemas can develop. The 18 schemes are:

 

Emotional Deprivation:
The belief and expectation that your primary needs will never be met. The sense that no one will nurture, care for, guide, protect or empathize with you.

Abandonment:
The belief and expectation that others will leave, that others are unreliable, that relationships are fragile, that loss is inevitable, and that you will ultimately wind up alone.

Mistrust/Abuse:
The belief that others are abusive, manipulative, selfish, or looking to hurt or use you. Others are not to be trusted.

Defectiveness:
The belief that you are flawed, damaged or unlovable, and you will thereby be rejected.

Social Isolation: The pervasive sense of aloneness, coupled with a feeling of alienation.

Vulnerability:
The sense that the world is a dangerous place, that disaster can happen at any time, and that you will be overwhelmed by the challenges that lie ahead.

Dependence/Incompetence:
The belief that you are unable to effectively make your own decisions, that your judgment is questionable, and that you need to rely on others to help get you through day-to-day responsibilities.

Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self:
The sense that you do not have an identity or “individuated self” that is separate from one or more significant others.

Failure:
The expectation that you will fail, or belief that you cannot perform well enough.

Subjugation:
The belief that you must submit to the control of others, or else punishment or rejection will be forthcoming.

Self-Sacrifice:
The belief that you should voluntarily give up of your own needs for the sake of others, usually to a point which is excessive.

Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking:
The sense that approval, attention and recognition are far more important than genuine self-expression and being true to oneself.

Emotional Inhibition:
The belief that you must control your self-expression or others will reject or criticize you.

Negativity/Pessimism:
The pervasive belief that the negative aspects of life outweigh the positive, along with negative expectations for the future.

Unrelenting Standards:
The belief that you need to be the best, always striving for perfection or to avoid mistakes.

Punitiveness:
The belief that people should be harshly punished for their mistakes or shortcomings.

Entitlement/Grandiosity:
The sense that you are special or more important than others, and that you do not have to follow the rules like other people even though it may have a negative effect on others. Also can manifest in an exaggerated focus on superiority for the purpose of having power or control.

Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline:
The sense that you cannot accomplish your goals, especially if the process contains boring, repetitive, or frustrating aspects. Also, that you cannot resist acting upon impulses that lead to detrimental results.

Generational Trauma

 

Trauma can be passed down from generation to generation in our cells, our beliefs, our behaviours and our culture.  The symptoms of generational trauma may include hypervigilance, a sense of a shortened future, mistrust, aloofness, high anxiety, depression, panic attacks, nightmares, insomnia, a sensitive fight or flight response, and issues with self-esteem and self-confidence.

Self-Regulation

 

When a child grows up with a parent who isn’t able to self-regulate, it can result in a disorganised attachment because a secure attachment is formed through consistent co-regulation with the caregiver, which leads to the child being able to self-regulate.  

 

Narcissists are unable to self regulate due to the breakdown of this system in childhood and so seeks out others to regulate for them (not co-regulation).  Their partner (and even children) become “regulatory objects” to them, a thermostat by which the partner regulates their own emotions in order to regulate the narcissists emotions.

NPRA

 

Now let’s piece all this together to create the NPRA so that you can predict future behaviours. 

 

I will state at this point though that most narcissists have one or two dominant NPRA’s but multiple agendas will appear at times of extreme stress.

 

Common NPRA include sex, money, success, admiration. The key to knowing if it is unmet is that despite appearing to have what they claim to want, it will never be enough and will remain unmet and so narcissist pathologically pursues it (affairs, stealing/fraud, taking the credit for others success, centre of attention).

 

Inconsistencies include demands faithfulness but cheats, spends money on self but is extremely frugal with others.

 

Clues to NPRA are their career choice, sexual history, attitude to money, need for attention.

 

Example 

 

Job is police officer (thinks can heal generational trauma of not being protected by protecting others, fits their schema of punitiveness and vulnerability, and meet their unmet need of safety).

 

Pathological behaviours can include:

 

  • neglecting safety of family in pursuit of recognition of protection of others
  • attempting to control every aspect of their environment (including people in it) to feel safe

 

NPRA is to create a false sense of safety but in reality they are unable to meet this need and so keep repeating the same unsafe patterns, refusing to show any vulnerability and seeing it as a weakness in others, and punishing others who do not make them feel safe or who express not feeling safe with them.

 

Example

 

Sexual history is promiscuity and failed relationships (unmet need for love and to belong, dysfunctional schema of enmeshment and abandonment, generational trauma of grandparent’s affairs).

 

Pathological behaviours include:

 

  • unsafe/risky sex
  • cycling through relationships quickly
  • affairs
  • uses sex to “make up” after arguments, to reward good behaviour or punish “bad” behaviour by withholding 

 

NPRA is to force “love” through sex.  They will measure the quality of a relationship by the frequency, nature and quality of the sex, creating an environment where consent becomes coerced because you know the consequences for not agreeing.

 

Predicting Future Behaviour

 

If you have just started dating someone and you have concerns, narcissists will reveal their agenda early on in the relationships as they will talk a lot about it and derive great pleasure from it or become angry/jealous about it.  They will also tell you in how they describe their previous relationships including the one with their family, particularly parents.  Listen and watch!

 

If you are in a relationship with someone who you suspect might be narcissistic please know that it is not your job to save them.  If they keep repeating the same behaviour and refuse to change, know that this is their NPRA and unless you can surrender to “groundhog day” existence of the same issues coming up again and again, GET OUT!

 

If you are co-parenting with a narcissist, identify the NPRA and in particular the underlying unmet needs, dysfunctional schemas and generational trauma, and help your child to build emotional security and resilience in these areas so they won’t be as susceptible to the pathological behaviours.  To protect them in the long term, heal your own attachment wounds and recognise when you are dysregulated and have the tools to regulate yourself.  This will create an environment where you can co-regulate with your child, leading them to be able to self-regulate which reduces the risk of them becoming a “regulatory object”.  We offer numerous treatment options for PTSD (which inhibits your to self regulate) as well as the Circle of Security Parenting Course, which is attachment based.

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Narcissistic Families – Hidden In Plain Sight

Narcissistic Families – Hidden In Plain Sight

Narcissistic families do a very good job of looking “normal” to the outside world.  But inside they are full of self-loathing, hurt, anger, anxiety and pain.

The impact of having a narcissistic family of origin can last a lifetime and reveal itself in relationships, behaviours, thoughts and feelings. 

This guide will reveal the truth behind the curtain of narcissistic families with the aim of helping:

  • Individuals who have experienced a narcissistic family of origin
  • Those who have escaped a narcissistic family (either through birth or marriage) but are struggling with comprehending their reality
  • Those who are attempting to co-parenting with a narcissist and have concerns about their child repeating these same damaging patterns
  • Anyone who is going to court against a narcissist and is looking for more understanding and the correct terminology to use when explaining the situation to professionals
  • Anyone with an interest in understanding narcissistic families 

Types of Narcissist

There are many different terms used to describe narcissists (cerebral, somatic, overt and covert, malignant) but I think these labels sum up the behaviours much clearer.

  1. The toxic narcissist

A toxic narcissist “continually causes drama in others’ lives at the very least and causes pain and destruction at the very worst,” says clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD. If someone in your life has caused more extreme issues, like gotten you fired from your job, physically abused you, or led to the end of a relationship, they may be a toxic narcissist as well.

  1. The psychopathic narcissist

A psychopath is an unstable, aggressive person, and these traits also show up in the psychopathic narcissist. A psychopathic narcissist, which is a type of toxic narcissist, will often be violent and show no remorse for their behavior. 

  1. The closet narcissist

This one can be trickier to spot than other types of narcissists because the person isn’t always obvious about their disorder. However they demonstrate the main characteristics of narcissism including feeling entitled, constantly needing other people to admire them, being preoccupied with success, being jealous of other people, and lacking empathy for others.

“They’re a bit more codependent,” says psychotherapist Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, LMFT. “They often try to pretend that they’re really selfless, but like to associate themselves with someone that they admire and ride their coattails.”

  1. The exhibitionist narcissist

The exhibitionist narcissist is on the opposite end of the narcissism spectrum from the closet narcissist. This person takes advantage of other people and is often haughty and arrogant. They’re also blatant about their self-centered behavior.  They love to be centre of attention and become angry if they are not.

  1. The bullying narcissist

This person combines two terrible traits: bullying and self-absorption. Bullying narcissists build themselves up by bringing others down. They’re often fixated on winning and will mock or threaten others to get their way. They ultimately get joy from making other people feel bad, small, or unworthy. 

  1. The seducer narcissist

They will often seem to admire or fawn over you, only to write you off once they no longer have a use for you. 

In my opinion, most narcissists can display elements of each of these but one will be their default character.

Characteristics of Narcissists

The likelihood is that very few people will know someone who has clinically diagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder because narcissists will rarely seek help for their behaviours.  They are often diagnosed with other disorders which mask the true condition.  However, I do feel it is important that you know what the official diagnostic criteria is so that we can look at how it presents in families:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements) 

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love 

(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions) 

(4) requires excessive admiration 

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations 

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends 

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others 

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her 

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

NPD in the family context:

  1. Will expect everyone to bow down to them in the family.  Has high behavioural expectations of the children. Wants everyone to think they are the perfect parent so will push the child into presenting as perfect which can cause a child great anxiety and make them very fearful of mistakes
  2. Can totally distort reality for the whole family by becoming fixated on what they “should” be doing or being. Children will often overhear their children lie to other people and this can be very confusing when the narcissist (and school/nursery and society in general) have a zero tolerance on lying.  The child will struggle to organise their morality as it is one rule for the narcissist and another for everyone else.
  3. The narcissist may over exaggerate the child’s skill or experience in order for the narcissist to achieve their own aim of feeling special.  This can set the child up for disappointment, failure and rejection which the narcissist will then punish them for “making them look bad”
  4. Narcissists will ruin special occasions, including their own children’s birthdays to make themselves centre of attention.  Parties can be extravagant to show off and have everyone tell them what amazing parents they are for going to so much trouble. They will often exert themselves into situations which are none of their business because they feel they have the power to influence (grandiose sense of self) and then take all the credit (even if they did very little or even made it worse)
  5. Narcissists expect everyone to do as they say.  The rule by fear and neglect.  If family members disobey them they are punished either with rage or silence and others learn to do as they are told.  
  6. Everyone is a commodity to the narcissist including their own children.  They will parade them to gain attention from others but ignore them when they do not serve them.  This is very confusing to children who need stability and consistency from their parents.  Children will also witness lots of changes in people who are around the narcissist.  They make and break relationships really easily so children learn not to become too attached to anyone.
  7. To the narcissist, the only feelings that matter are their own.  Their mood becomes the mood of the whole family.  Everyone learns to respond and sooth the narcissist.  In a healthy parent-child relationship, the parent soothes the child but when a parent lacks empathy it is the child who soothes the parent, teaching the child their feelings are not important and making it difficult for them to recognise their own feelings as they are so enmeshed with the narcissists.
  8. The narcissist doesn’t trust anyone and so have a very persecutory view of life.  Coupled with their grandiose sense of self and their belief they are entitled, when they see others with things they want or deem of value they become very jealous and can make accusations as to how someone made that achievement.  They will even accuse their own children of lying, cheating or stealing from them. 
  9. A narcissistic parent looks down on everyone and is quick to criticise.  They will compare their children to themselves and others to belittle their achievements.  

There are some additional behaviours which are common for narcissists to exhibit:

Projection – the narcissist will tell the child they are feeling something which they are not which can cause long term identity issues as they are unsure what their own feelings feel like

Conditioning through punishment and reward – children of narcissists tend to seek out vulnerable relationships because they have been conditioned to seek out punishment and reward for their behaviours in order to get the attention they need

Triangulation – we will be covering this more shortly but essentially narcissists will use their children to get around someone’s boundaries

Idealise and devalue – children of narcissists cycle through being idealised and devalued on a daily basis as they try to meet the expectations of the narcissist.  We will explore this more later

Fear – PTSD and developmental trauma is common in children of narcissists.  Their bodies become addicted to the stress hormones and this can cause long term damage to their brain.

Create anxiety – children of narcissists never know where they stand with a narcissistic parent because the narcissist has a disorganised attachment style (more on this later) which creates extreme anxiety as they are unsure how to behave to get their own needs met

Gaslighting – one of the narcissists favourite tools is to distort reality so that they can then control it and they do that by constantly changing the goals posts, denying what was said and making the child question what they saw, heard and felt.  It contributes to PTSD, anxiety and long term mental health problems

Emotionally unstable – the narcissist does not have the skills to regulate their own emotions and so they rely upon others (either a spouse or their children) to soothe them. Children quickly learn to spot the signs of dysregulation and how to appease their parent.  Walking on eggshells contributes to PTSD, anxiety and long term mental health problems

Alienation and isolation – narcissistic families have secrets which they must keep at all costs. This means relationships are superficial and children’s friendships have to be approved by the narcissist.  If anyone disobeys the narcissist or doesn’t meet their expectations they are cut off completely.  Children learn by observing the price of disobedience.  Read more about Attachment Based Parental Alienation here.

Common Themes

Narcissistic families follow a pattern of behaviour and are almost identical in every narcissistic family.  Understanding these themes can help you to move out of the dynamic and into a healthier relationship.

Triangles

We all know narcissists love to triangulate.   Well they will do it with their own children as well as everyone else.   

Triangles service three main purposes for the narcissist:

  1. They get to abuse boundaries
  2. They keep everyone in set roles designated by the narcissist
  3. They can be used to ostracise anyone who doesn’t play by their rules

Families will often not communicate directly with one another but through other family members.  No one knows who they can trust and this is all purposefully directed by the narcissist to ensure that they remain in control. This also covertly sends the message to everyone that “you are not good enough” because they do not feel valued by anyone. 

Another use of the triangle for the narcissist is that they create a very clear hierachy with them firmly established at the top of the tree.  Even the spouse is below them and can often be replaced by a child.  The narcissist will involve children in parental arguments and encourage them to align with them. This achieves three things:

  • Gives the child power they are not emotionally or cognitively capable of understanding and dealing with
  • Pushing the other parent out of the adult position, taking away their authority and putting them into a position of being controlled
  • Making it easier for emotional cutoff to occur

The narcissist is always ready for the relationship to end and so creating this hierachy and involving the children, means they are ready for the emotional cutoff which comes at the end of a relationship.  They will then initiate something known as a role reversal.

This reverse is achieved through a range of behaviours by the narcissistic parent. Firstly, the child becomes the regulatory object for the parent which means that they respond to the emotions of the parent (as the ex spouse used to).  The child learns to read the parent’s emotions and responds accordingly to prevent them from completely dysregulating through anger, rage or withdrawal.  

The child has been conditioned to know that this is the only way to keep the attachment in tact, which they are desperately clinging on to for survival.  The narcissistic parent will punish the child when they don’t meet their needs and reward them when they do. Regular repetition of these behaviours ensures the role-reversal relationship is permanent.   

The final part of ensuring the hierarchy is reversed, is for the child to completely align themselves with the narcissistic parent which is achieved by creating an “understanding of shared grievances” against the other parent.  For example, the child picks up a picture of the other parent and the narcissistic parent gets really mad.  The child puts the picture in a drawer and the narcissistic parent buys them a new toy.  They then push that to evoking criticism of the targeted parent using the same conditioning techniques.  The child may say they had a good time with the other parent and the narcissist lashes out and tells them they are so ungrateful for all that they do for them.  So the child mentions they had a disagreement and the narcissistic parent gives them a hug and tells them that they understand how angry and controlling the targeted parent can be.  The child quickly learns that to regulate the narcissistic parent’s emotions and get their own needs met, they simply need to criticise the other parent.  This is pushed and pushed until the child rejects the parent, believing it is their own choice.  This reduces the anxiety for the parent which in turn reduces the anxiety for the child. At this point the ex spouse is alienated from their own children and the child has lost a loving and healthy parent.

Another triangle at play is the drama, or Karpman, triangle.  This is not only playing out in this scenario but is often the basis of the trauma reenactment.

The narcissist will pull the children into the triangle to play whichever role is remaining.  If the narcissist has decided they are the victim today, the spouse must be the abuser so the narcissist will encourage the child to take their side and “gang up” on the other parent.  If the narcissist chooses to be the rescuer, they can accuse either their spouse or the child as the other roles.  The narcissist will accuse the child of being abusive towards the spouse or another child so that they can “rescue them” and manipulate the relationship to win their affection and look like a hero. The narcissist will only ever play the part of the hero or the victim.

Unfortunately the impact on the child is that they take on all three roles in this triangle and learn that relationships are about drama and manipulation.  Leading them to seek out abusive partners themselves in adulthood.

Co-narcissism

All members of a narcissistic family can become co-narcissistic because the personality, opinions and feelings of the narcissist are dominant amongst family members.  Everyone is conditioned to think the same and there is very little individualisation within narcissistic families.  It is very cult-like. As adults, members struggle with their own identity and often seek validation from others and can be people-pleasures. 

Fabricated Illness 

Many narcissists use either their own “illness” or the children’s “illness” to control public perception of them, ensure they can act the martyr, create a co-dependency amongst family members and use guilt to control everyone. Being mislabelled as having an illness is extremely confusing for a child who feels fine but is constantly being told they are X, Y and Z.  It also teaches them that deception and manipulation can get you sympathy and attention which is a foundation for narcissistic behaviour in adulthood. 

Parentification

Narcissists have no understanding of child development and so will expect their children to do things which they simply are not capable of due to their age.  Narcissistic parents will criticise their children for not doing what they want them to, even though they do not have the capacity to do it, which leaves the children feeling they are a failure and letting the parent down in some way.  

They will also expect the child to take care of them.  This may be physically but is usually emotionally.  Everyone in the family has responsibility for managing the narcissists emotions but for very young children this impacts brain development, especially around emotional processing, because they children learn about emotions from their parents helping them to understand and process them but with narcissists, it is the child who has to help the parent. 

Generational Trauma

Trauma gets passed down from generation to generation until someone decides to do the work and heal the wounds.  We learn how to interact, have relationships, view ourselves and the world from our early experiences.  Life with a narcissistic parent means the overriding theme is trauma.  Trauma creates long term damage to the brain and this impacts how we interact with the world.  If you grow up seeing power, control and manipulation, you tend to attract the same types of relationships as adults.  Helping yourself or your child to heal that trauma can break the cycle.

Discard

Everyone is a commodity to a narcissist including their own children.  The moment they are of no use to them, they will discard them.  This can be hard for a child to understand and they will often internalise guilt and shame, thinking they must have done something wrong and they weren’t good enough.

Family Roles

Golden Child

Scapegoat

Conforms to avoid rejection, criticism and shame

Presents as being a high achiever, follows the rules, seeks approval from others, very responsible

Inside they feel guilt, hurt and inadequate

Are the emotional punch bag for the family

Presents as being hostile, defiant, rule breaker, in trouble

Inside they feel rejected, hurt, guilty, jealous and angry

 

Mascot

Victim

Often the family clown whose role is to make others happy

They present as immature, fragile, cute, hyperactive and distracted

Inside they are fearful, anxious and insecure

They are dependent upon the family

They present as hostile, manipulative, aggressive or self pitying, blameful, charming and having rigid values

Inside they feel shame, guilt, fear, pain and hurt

 

Read more about the family roles in our blog Pedastal Or Pit

Overcoming parental narcissism

Establish firm boundaries

Be clear on what you will and won’t tolerate.  Practice grey rock techniques and saying no.  You have been conditioned to do as you are told and to obey.  You know that not doing so will result in rage, silence or smear campaigns.  You have to make peace with the consequences.

Structure in all settings can provide children with a safe, predictable, and secure buffer from insidious psychological damage. The emotional roller coaster a narcissistic parent perpetrates can be even more detrimental to a child’s healthy ego-development than overt abuse.

Nurture your inner child

You didn’t get the parents you deserved. You can’t change that.  But you can give yourself what your younger self needed. Be kind to yourself.  Love yourself unconditionally.  

Unleash your superhero

What happened to you isn’t fair but staying in the victim mentality gives the narcissist all the power so it’s time to realise you are more powerful than you think.  You are in control of your own life.  You decide what you do on a day to day basis, you get to create your own future. Set yourself some clear goals of how you want your life to look.  

Help your child to feel strong by giving them choices at home.  Help them decide what they want out of the relationship with their parent and support them whatever they decide. 

Reduce your contact

It is OK to put yourself first and only speak to your family on your terms.  Your well-being is your responsibility and priority. Limit the length of phone calls, decide what topics you will or won’t talk about.  Have an exit plan if you go to visit.

The narcissist will use contact with their child to control you.  It is triangulation. Ensure that call times (including length of call) and methods (who calls who, what app is used) are included in your parenting plan.  You do not have to be present.  If your child isn’t old enough to make the call, you can start the call and leave them to it.

Learn, teach and model social/emotional intelligence 

If your parent was a narcissist, you may struggle with your emotions.  Take the time to really FEEL your emotions. Don’t be afraid of them.  Notice where they are in your body and understand that all emotions have a purpose.  

Give lots of praise and examples of the behaviours you want to see in your child.  I recommend family meetings and rules to help them develop problem solving skills.  Encourage them to label their own emotions through what they feel and sense in their own body. Narcissists project which can make emotions confusing for children.  Also make sure you let them know how you are feeling so that they can see what a healthy expression of emotions looks like. 

Nurture your child’s unique qualities and independence

Narcissists are self centred and they see their children as extensions of themselves.  This can present as both egotistical admiration and self hatred depending on their mood. Help your child to see themselves as an individual by encouraging them to know their own likes, dislikes, wants and needs. Narcissistic families are often enmeshed so nurturing their independence is so important in helping them to differentiate themselves from their parent.  It will protect them from being used and abused in the future.

Helping other to understand

If your friends and family (or even professionals) are struggling to understand the dynamics of your family, here are some examples of narcissistic parents from films:

  • Mother from Tangled
  • Stepmother from Ever After A Cinderella Story
  • Mommy dearest
  • Holy hell – family dynamics 
  • Shameless  – father
  • Rachel Getting Married
  • Marvellous Mrs Maisel
  • Ordinary people 

 

If you recognise your own childhood in this post and are struggling to make sense of it or are unsure how to recover, our adult narcissist specialist therapist Rachel can help you unpick your emotions and create a healthier narrative for your life moving forward.  Book a free consultation to see how she can support you moving forward.

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Narcissistic Abuse Cycle

Narcissistic Tactics

Most narcissists appear to follow some kind of scriptbook as their behaviours follow a similar pattern.

It starts with lovebombing

When you meet they make you feel like you are the most important person in the universe.  You become addicted to this highs of being adored and cared for.  They are perfect.  Or so they seem….

Then comes the devaluing stage

It begins to feel like all the things they used to love about you suddenly annoys them.  You jump through all their hoops but it never feels enough.  You worry they are losing interest but when you ask them about it they accuse you of being needy or clingy.

Finally it’s the discard

Love turns to hate and you are the worst person on the planet.  Or so it feels.  You beg and plead to talk and try to work things out but they are emotionally cut off.   

It feels like hell!  Worse than anything you have ever felt before and you convince yourself it is because they were the love of your life.  You can’t stop thinking about them and want them back so badly.  But they ignore or mock you.

Until…..

One day, just as you begin to feel better, they reach out.  They want to talk or they miss you.  It’s the hoovering stage!

If you go back it doesn’t take long before you are devalued again and you can’t understand why they bothered getting in touch.  It’s was all about control, knowing they could get you back.  If you stay they make your life miserable but having felt how awful it was last time you are reluctant to go through it again.  If you leave, you will face smear campaigns and flying  monkey’s, false allegations, blame and retaliation. 

This push-pull dynamic creates a trauma bond and can trigger codependency

It leaves you confused, angry, distraught and empty.  Nothing will ever be the same again.  But it can get better.  You can recover and even go on to thrive. Trust us, we have been there!

If you are recovering from narcissistic abuse and would like some one:one support, book in for a consultation with our narcissistic abuse recovery specialist Janine to see how she can support you with your recovery

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parental alienation

Attachment Based Approach To Parental Alienation

A distraught divorced mother reports that when her formerly loving daughter returns from contact with her father, the child treats her with disrespect and hostility. 
 
A divorced father of a 12-year-old boy (who lives primarily with his mother) says that his son insists that he does not want any contact with his father: “If I have to see him even in a therapy session I will hurt myself!” 
 
Parental alienation may seem obvious in these cases. Yet many experts will confirm that recognising potential alienation, correctly diagnosing it, and providing treatment for this phenomenon can prove challenging to the point that many if not most professionals get it wrong.
 
Recognised earlier but first given a name in the 1980s by child psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner, parental alienation occurs when an alienating parent turns a child against a targeted (alienated) parent via deprecating innuendos (often based on projection), name-calling (“he’s a nitwit”), exaggeratedly negative reports of minor mishaps, and false accusations.
 
Alienated children parrot the alienating parent’s excessively negative views of the targeted parent, expressing these as their own much as cult followers parrot the beliefs of a cult leader. 
 
Gardner detailed 8 characteristics of an alienated child, plus criteria for distinguishing between mild, moderate, and severe presentations. The result is a child’s unwarranted hostility (mild alienation), resistance to parenting time (moderate alienation), and/or severance of contact (severe alienation) with the targeted parent.   Amy Baker explains these three levels further as follows:
 
Mild Parental Alienation: Refers to cases in which the child objects to and criticizes the targeted parent, but yet enjoys the presence of the targeted parent once time passes or when the location is no longer in close proximity to the alienating parent.
 
Moderate Parental Alienation: Refers to cases in which all eight primary manifestations of PA are likely to be present and each is more advanced than in mild cases, but less pervasive than in severe cases. Children will usually go with the targeted parent after expressing and demonstrating significant reluctance. Also, moderately alienated children will express consistent negative feelings toward the targeted parent whether or not the alienating parent is present. Although these children may enjoy the time they spend with the targeted parent, they will not admit this in the presence of the alienating parent.
 
Severe Parental Alienation: Severe cases of alienation are differentiated from mild and moderate cases by the extent of the child’s rejection and degree of negativity in the attitudes and behavior toward the targeted parent. Severely alienated children have little if anything positive to say about the targeted parent and often rewrite the history of their relationship with the targeted parent. They seem content to avoid all contact with the targeted parent, may reject an entire branch of their extended family, and often threaten to defy court-ordered parenting plans that schedule them to be under the care of the targeted parent
 
Attachment Based Approach
 
Whilst I appreciate the work of Dr Baker and use her guidelines myself, in terms of the mechanisms of what is referred to as Parental Alienation, I prefer the work of Dr Craig Childress, an American Psychiatrist.
 
He uses an attachment based model to diagnose and treat the symptoms, which he has also redefined.
 
His approach fitted perfectly with my own experience and the second I started reading “Foundations” it explained everything we had experienced.  I have since used his model to train my own team as well as other mental health professionals as it uses recognisable theories and established models.

parental alienation

Parental Alienation Schematic (Childress 2013)
 
The alienating parent’s disorganised preoccupied attachment coalesced during childhood into narcissistic and borderline personality disorder traits that are reactivated during the divorce.  The alienating parent’s activated personality disorder dynamics then produce distorted relationship and communication processes with the child that induce the suppression of the child’s attachment bonding motivations toward the targeted parent.
 
The child’s symptomatic rejection-abandonment of the targeted parent serves to protectively displace the alienating parent’s own fears of inadequacy and abandonment onto the targeted parent.
 
The child’s symptomatic rejection-abandonment of the targeted parent automatically define the targeted parent as the fundamentally inadequate and entirely abandoned parent, as opposed to the definition of the alienating personality disordered parent created by the child’s symptomatic expressions of hyper-bonding as representing the ideal, perfect and never to be abandoned parent.
 
(Childress 2013)
 
The Nurturing Coach works with parents affected by alienation fitting this description.  We understand the schematic and we also understand that parents with NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) and BPD (borderline personality disorder) are highly manipulative and convincing.  They present with:
 
  • delusional false beliefs
  • absence of empathy
  • grandiose presentation
  • disregard of court orders
  • antisocial features including a pattern of violating the rights of others
  • borderline features of splitting into all-good and all-bad
  • borderline features of emotional instability and behavioural impulsivity
 
We also understand that children will present with:
 
  • severely disrupted attachment bonding or inauthentic attachment presentation involving the selective rejection-abandonment of the “normal-range” parent while remainder of attachment presentation is normal range
  • evidence of the splitting dynamic expressed through the child’s differential relationship with parents involving an excessive idealisation of the pathogenic parent and excessive rejection-abandonment of “normal-range” parent
  • evidence of shared delusional processes involving the child’s expression of false persecutory belief’s about the “normal-range” parent
  • evidence in the child’s symptom display of the transmission of personality disorder features from the pathogenic parent possibly including:narcissistic/antisocial absence of empathy
  • narcissistic sense of entitlement
  • narcissistic grandiosity expressed as the child’s expectation and assertion of an elevated status in the family authority hierarchy above the “normal-range” parent
  • borderline episodic emotional instability and volatility involving intense and inappropriate anger
  • antisocial conduct disorder features possibly involving runaway behaviour and defiance of court orders
 
 
The importance of having someone who understands
 
Parental alienation and personality disorders are a complex field and one in which many people, who mean well, can end up making things worse.  Amy Baker says:
 
The field is counter-intuitive because the human brain is hard-wired to commit certain types of systematic cognitive errors that are particularly common in parental alienation cases
 
The first error professionals make is taking first impressions as being personality traits rather than situational responses to trauma (both of this situation and the abusive relationship).  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is common amongst targeted parents and the symptoms can present as very chaotic, aggressive, unstable and highly anxious or even paranoid.  So many times I speak to parents who are in a state of heightened anxiety and I have to be honest with them about how they are coming across.  Our programme Get Court Ready will help you to prepare yourself to overcome this initial hurdle and make a true and accurate first impression which will reduce the likelihood of bias at this stage.
 
The second mistake is that an enmeshed parent-child relationship can look, to someone who doesn’t understand the dynamics, like a very healthy parent-child bond.  I have read many reports from Cafcass commenting on the “close bond” between parent and child when in fact it was indicative of a very harmful psychological condition where the personal boundaries of the child have been completely overridden by the parent to the point where they become co-narcissistic.  This can be extremely hard for the targeted parent to explain to professionals without sounding like they are paranoid.  Our Get Court Ready programme can help you to use the correct terminology and present it in the language the court is used to in order for it to be understood and acknowledged.  As an ex child protection social worker I can help you navigate this.
 
The third main error is the explanation given by the alienating parent, that you were abusive and so the child is afraid of you, sounds so plausible that they believe it.  And having witnessed alienating children’s behaviour first hand, I can testify that it looks very real too.  That can be really hard for professionals, who have child protection as their sole responsibility, to overlook.  However, the facts are that abused children do the opposite of what would be “expected”.  They align with their abuser due to a biological need to attach themselves to their caregiver.  To not form that attachment would be suicide to them.  This is a biological mechanism which has existed since the dawn of humans.  Small humans needed to attach to another human in order to survive.  Despite all of our evolutionary breakthrough’s in other areas, this safety feature survived and so any situation where a child is rejecting a parent indicates a suppression of that attachment system and needs expert intervention to address. It is why I always recommend a psychological evaluation is carried out as soon as this symptom is identified in the child’s behaviour.  If you are still in contact with your child I recommend our parenting book “Help! My child is being used as a weapon”.
 
I want you to see from reading this page that you are not alone, we do understand and we are here to help.  If you would like to discuss anything you have read or book in for a free consultation, click the button below.

Support Services

Parental Alienation

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Emotional Support

Parental Alienation is soul destroying, confusing and emotionally overwhelming.  In order to stay strong for yourself and the children, you need to take care of your mental well-being.  This is where our therapists can help:

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Strategy Guidance

Legal advice can only get you so far with alienation cases, you need someone who understands the tactics alienators use so that you can avoid falling into their traps and curate your evidence to reveal the true abuser.  Strategy calls will help you:

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3 Ways therapy could save you thousands when divorcing a narcissistic ex

3 Ways therapy could save you thousands when divorcing a narcissistic ex

Therapy may seem like a luxury when facing spiraling costs divorcing a narcissistic ex.  You have legal fees to pay, you have to survive on one income now, your ex might be playing hardball with finances. Therapy might feel like a luxury you simply cannot afford.  But what if I told you that therapy was a necessity which could actually save you  money in the long run?  Bear with me as I present my argument.

 

Divorce or separation isn’t a head only issue.  It involves your heart and your emotions.  In fact in these situations, your emotions are likely to be the ones pulling the strings and if you don’t have a strategy for regaining control or at least managing them, you are going to be dancing to someone else’s tune.  So let’s take a look at how your emotions can cost you money.

Stress

According to the Life Change Index Scale (aka The Stress Test) divorce is second only to the death of a spouse in terms of stressful life events.  I would add separation to that as in our modern world cohabitation and child-rearing together are akin to marriage and therefore separation is akin to divorce.  Divorce is the second most stressful thing you will EVER go through.  That is huge and should not be underestimated. 

Stress is a powerful force within our bodies.  It wreaks havoc in our brains, nervous system, digestion, cardiovascular/pulmonary/reproductive systems – you name it, stress damages it.  This impacts your immune system and can lead to serious illness and even death.  In studies by John Hopkins Medicine, stress can increase the likelihood of strokes and heart attacks by 20%.  

 

So what does this mean for your wallet?

 

The most obvious is that illness can lead to time off work which can severely impact your earnings so reducing stress levels is essential for maintaining your current income levels.

 

From a divorce perspective, if you are involving representation, you are going to have increased stress levels simply by being part of the process.  Sharing the details of your failing marriage to a virtual stranger is stressful.  No denying it.  It affects your ability to communicate, think logically and regulate your emotions.  All skills which you need in order to clearly and credibly evidence your case.

 

How therapy can help?

 

Stress was a big one for me.  My body held it and I became chronically ill as a result, meaning I couldn’t work anymore and my relationship suffered as well.  I wasn’t sleeping and my emotions were always just under the surface waiting to bubble out.  I am a crier, even when I am mad, it comes out as tears, and this became a lot for my partner to deal with.  He felt responsible and couldn’t fix it.  I became withdrawn because I didn’t want to make him feel guilty.  The gap between us grew and grew.  Being able to talk about a professional who wasn’t involved in our situation, who didn’t have any personal invested interest in my thoughts or feelings, was such a relief.  It gave me space to unpack the billions of thoughts racing round my head and express my emotions in a safe space.  This release helped both my physical and emotional health.  

 

Therapy isn’t about fixing the problem, it is about talking it through with an engaged, non-judgemental and compassionate audience.  Stress can’t survive in those environments.  

 

One of our clients said:

“Before our sessions, I felt stressed all the time. I couldn’t think straight and was dreading the next court hearing. After just the first session though I felt so much calmer. I was able to communicate my concerns and not be triggered by my ex”.

Father dealing with narcissistic ex

Having that support saved our client from the errors caused by stress which could have cost him an entire hearing.  Being able to communicate effectively meant that he appeared more credible and didn’t fall into any “traps” set by his ex and their representation, who were relying upon his emotional reactivity to “prove” their narrative.  Saving him not only more anguish and stress but also hundreds if not thousands of pounds needed to halt the momentum and correct the course of the process.

Unsure if you are stressed?

 

Ask yourself these questions:

 

In the past month how often have you 

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Reflect upon your answers.  How do you think these feelings are impacting you in the process?  How might they be misinterpreted?  What would that cost you?  

For specialist support to help you manage your stress, speak to one of our therapists

Trauma

When I talk about trauma, most people initially deny it because they have a view of trauma as being some huge, life changing, catastrophic event like a war or car crash.  The truth is, toxic relationships and divorce can be traumatic.  Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.”  Going to the solicitors can be traumatic!  Court is definitely traumatic.  Talking to an ex who you thought you were going to love and be with forever only to find out that it was all a lie is traumatic.  Losing the love of your life is traumatic.  The whole experience of divorce and needing a child arrangement order is traumatic and acknowledging that helps to get you the right support.

 

Trauma, like stress, is dangerous especially when left unresolved.

It is easy to see why these behaviours can be problematic in Family Court.  Fear can make us lash out – mislabeled as abusive.  Avoidance can make us look cold and uncaring – mislabeled as neglectful.

 

Trauma also impacts brain functioning.  It impairs your cognitive and emotional processing centres in the brain leaving you in survival mode.  Logic, decision making and rational thinking are paused.  You are emotionally reactive making you vulnerable to manipulation.  

 

One of the biggest issues my clients experience in Family Court is how their own presentation has impacted their case.  They didn’t recognise the effect trauma was having on them and entered court assuming they would be protected.  In the majority of cases though, the opposite happened.  Leaving them frustrated and fearful.  Which retriggered their trauma and added to the false narrative.  For many clients, this ended up costing them thousands of pounds and only once they had learnt to manage their emotions and bring their brain back “online”, were they able to make any real progress.

 

The good news is that trauma is treatable.  Even PTSD and complex PTSD (the consistent exposure to traumatic events over a significant period of time) can be treated in months rather than years.  Having this support BEFORE you enter the process means you will be able to think clearly, express yourself calmly and confidently and therefore you and your evidence will be seen as credible.

 

It’s why we include the Neural-resilience Toolkit with our Get Court Ready course – to give you the tools you need to manage your symptoms before and during the process.  Ensuring your own trauma doesn’t get used against you.

Transgenerational Trauma

One final “cost” that I would like to highlight is that by getting emotional support alongside your legal support, you are protecting your children from inheriting your trauma.

Parents we work with who are affected by PTSD identify many symptoms which impair their ability to parent as they would like to.  One parent told us they felt:

 

“Anxiety, feeling at capacity so that small things feel like big deal, difficulty hearing/listening to kids and being able to comprehend, short attention span, not feeling good enough, really hard on myself, forgetful, brain gets stuck /frozen mid sentence, panic when accusations from nex, sensitive to noise when stressed, sometimes overreact to normal kid noises and behavior, worry that I’m causing damage to the kids.”

 

These symptoms impact the parent-child attachment and the security of the relationship, leaving you vulnerable to alienation and coercive control.  Getting support and treatment could cost you so much more than money.

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Can you identify trauma in your own family of origin?  What impact has that had on your life choices?  What impact might it be having on your current situation?

For specialist support to help you recover from trauma and break generational cycles, speak to one of our therapists

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child custody

What is Parental Alienation?

child custody

Parental alienation is often a concern during high-conflict divorces and child custody matters. It is not present in every case, and it can be very difficult to recognize with certainty even when it is actually occurring. One reason alienation can be so difficult to recognize is that the offending behavior typically occurs when the other parent is not around.

There may be attempts by one parent to remove the other parent from the child’s life. This can occur through loyalty games with the child, or making the child choose between parents in various ways. In other circumstances, a parent may discourage or insist that the child not speak of the other parent. This can lead to attempts to limit contact with the other parent by legal means or otherwise. In worst-case scenarios, parents have encouraged children to lie or misrepresent matters regarding the other parent. Depending on the facts and circumstances, this can have tremendous and lasting negative consequences not only on the other parent, but also the child.

The motivating factors for the alienating parent’s actions are numerous. The parent may want revenge against the other parent due to unresolved feelings of rejection or wrongdoing. Acts of alienation may stem from fear of losing the child. Some mothers may feel they have a greater right to the child as a result of pregnancy or childbirth.

Alienation may also occur even after long periods of successful co-parenting. This may stem from jealousy when a new partner comes into the other parent’s life. A genuine belief of being the better parent, or a self-righteous attitude may also lead to acts of alienation. Identifying and recognizing the motivation behind the alienation may be important to correcting the problem for the benefit of the child and both parents.

Although concerns of parental alienation are present in many divorces and child custody matters, it is not present in every case. Divorces can be extremely stressful and emotional on both parties. Sometimes parents are unaware of how their own activities impact children. One parent may believe that alienation is occurring when in reality, one or both parents’ activities are negatively impacting their children unintentionally. Children may blame another parent for the divorce occurring even when the other parent has not prompted them to do so. It is important to look critically at all the facts and circumstances, including one’s own actions, to determine how to best improve difficult family circumstances.

Parental alienation and related issues may be present before, during or after a divorce or child custody matter. If you believe alienation is at issue with your child, it is important to discuss this with a family law attorney.

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Someone is Mentally Ill, an Addict, or an Abuser: The Vastly Different Response in Family Court and in Life: Essay by Barry Goldstein

“Shared Parenting” Places Ideology Over Children

by Barry Goldstein

Just as custody courts developed responses for domestic violence at a time when no research was available, early proponents of shared parenting sought to experiment when there was no research about shared parenting. Initially, parents seeking shared parenting did so voluntarily, in situations where they were able to communicate and cooperate. There is now legitimate research that found co-parenting benefits children only under the best circumstances. This requires the arrangement to be voluntary; an ability to communicate; neither parent is afraid of the other; and they live nearby. There is other legitimate research that found shared parenting is harmful to children because of the constant disruptions. There is no valid research supporting shared parenting without the necessary favorable circumstances. Unfortunately, this is a mistake courts frequently make.

Most custody cases, like other litigation, are settled more or less amicably. The problem is the 3.8% of cases that require trial and often much more. Court professionals have been taught to use a high conflict approach that assumes the parents are angry with each other and acting out in ways that harm the children. The research found 75-90% of these cases are really domestic violence cases that involve the most dangerous abusers. These are men who believe she has no right to leave, and who seek to use custody disputes to regain control. These are the last cases where shared parenting should be considered, but courts that have been slow to integrate important scientific research or use a multi-disciplinary approach, have trouble recognizing abuse in these cases. The use of shared parenting increases the bias to minimize or deny abuse in order for the case to be eligible for co-parenting.

The use of shared parenting has been encouraged and promoted by three groups based on their preferences and personal benefits, divorced from the well-being of children. Male supremacist groups support shared parenting because otherwise the safe, protective mother would have a strong advantage. Court professionals promote shared parenting because it creates the need for lucrative services, particularly to help hostile parties communicate. Court officials like shared parenting because they must respond to overcrowded dockets, and believe shared parenting is the only compromise both parties can be pressured to accept. In domestic violence cases, the abuser would never agree to anything reasonable, so they need to pressure and sometimes threaten the victim to settle cases. In my articles, I often need to explain problems that occurred after victims were pressured to accept co-parenting with their abuser.

Shared Parenting was Never Intended for Domestic Violence Cases

Most people, including court professionals, are unaware custody courts are having severe problems trying to respond to cases involving domestic violence or child abuse. Many protective mothers believe the courts are corrupt because the decisions and process are so unfair and catastrophic. While there is corruption with the cottage industry, courts are making harmful decisions because of their failure to use evidence-based research and unintended bias. Court officials would vehemently deny the system works poorly, but the factors that influence courts demonstrate their denials are wrong.

There is something undeniably wrong with a system in which a theory based on no research; but only the belief that sex between adults and children can be acceptable; and twice rejected by the American Psychiatric Association because of the lack of supporting research; has more influence over courts than two studies from the most credible sources, that go to the essence of what courts need to decide in custody cases involving possible domestic violence or child abuse.

Domestic violence is about control, including financial control. This means that in most contested cases the abuser controls most of the financial assets. Unscientific alienation theories were concocted and continue to be used to help cottage industry professionals make large incomes helping abusive fathers. The cottage industry lobbied to include alienation in the DSM which is the compendium of all valid mental health diagnoses. I am not aware of any other court that continues to consider a theory twice rejected by the leading professional association.

The ACE (adverse childhood experiences) Studies are peer-reviewed medical research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ACE found that children exposed to domestic violence, child abuse and other traumas will live shorter lives and face a lifetime of health and social problems. Most of the harm is not from any immediate physical injuries, but from living with the fear and stress abusers cause. Clearly, this knowledge goes to the essence of the well-being of children.

The Saunders Study is peer-reviewed scientific research from the National Institute of Justice in the US Justice Department. Saunders found court professionals need knowledge of specific subjects that include screening for domestic violence, risk assessment, post-separation violence and the impact of DV on children. Professionals without this knowledge tend to focus on the myth that mothers frequently make false reports and unscientific alienation theories. These mistaken approaches lead to recommendations and decisions that harm children. Saunders recommends a multi-disciplinary approach that would include experts in domestic violence and child abuse when those subjects are important to the custody decision.

I think it is significant that ACE is used by medical doctors to diagnose and treat patients, by therapists to treat patients, by schools to help traumatized students, and by health officials to improve public health. In contrast, the only purpose of alienation theories is to help abusive fathers gain custody. Without ACE, courts inevitably minimize domestic violence and child abuse and without Saunders, courts rely on the wrong experts and so disbelieve true reports of abuse. ACE and Saunders demonstrate that many standard court practices are mistaken. This is not neutral in the sense it applies to both parents. All the mistakes from failing to consider ACE and Saunders tilt courts in favor of abusive fathers and towards risking children. Significantly, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges seeks to train other judges about ACE and Saunders.

The research differs on whether shared parenting is helpful or harmful in cases involving two good and loving parents. Decisions in these cases are less consequential because either parent or both parents will do their best for their children. Cases involving possible domestic violence or child abuse are very different. I interviewed medical doctors working with the ACE Research for my Quincy book. I asked them the most important question for courts to consider in these cases. When a child has been exposed to multiple ACEs, is there something we can do to save the child from the awful consequences? We can save these children, but standard court practices, particularly when promoting shared parenting prevent the responses the doctors said are necessary to save children from the awful consequences. Saunders found abusers use decision-making to block needed treatment and especially therapy because they are afraid the child will reveal his abuse. When courts require unprotected visitation without requiring the abuser to change his behavior, the child cannot heal and is doomed to a shorter, less healthy life. These contested cases are often the last chance to save the child.

Stop Using Shared Parenting in Abuse Cases

The combination of high conflict approaches and shared parenting is dangerous and too often deadly. High conflict creates a false equivalency between victims and abusers. Courts typically immediately demand co-parenting and take risks before they have time to consider the evidence of abuse or the critical context. Many court professionals immediately start promoting and pressuring for shared parenting. Victims are routinely punished if they object to cooperating with their abusers. Victim’s lawyers often tell clients not to raise abuse issues and not to object to dangerous arrangements. This results in courts making harmful decisions without ever learning about the history of abuse. This approach also serves to silence children who are exposed to the abuser. In the process, the importance of primary attachment is minimized and in some cases breast feeding is short-circuited to make sure the abuser has a “fair” amount of the child’s time.

Court professionals have repeatedly been told that children do better with both parents in their lives. This is true but is based on having two safe and loving parents. This is often not true in contested custody cases. Children need their primary attachment figure more than the other parent and the safe parent more than the abuser. When children have two good parents, they certainly benefit from a relationship with both parents. There is no valid research that children do better with 50-50 than say 70-30 or some other division.

The original idea behind shared parenting was made in total good faith. Unfortunately, it is often used for harmful purposes that bad-faith actors seek to hide. Male supremacist groups promote shared parenting as a first step towards taking children from their best parent. This is based on the ideology of “father’s rights” and a strong desire to avoid child support. The use of shared parenting often limits the needed inquiry about the history of abuse.

The biggest problem with shared parenting is that it is routinely used in inappropriate cases. Saunders found it should never be used in domestic violence cases. Even in the rare instances that a mother makes a false report, this is not the kind of case where parties are able to communicate effectively. Shared parenting was never meant for abuse cases, but with present outdated practices, courts are destroying children’s lives to promote an ideology and sense of entitlement.

Courts and legislatures need to address the failure of custody courts to integrate evidence-based research and consider the specialized expertise about domestic violence and child abuse that would help courts avoid dangerous mistakes. Until the present problems with the courts’ approach to the most consequential cases can be fixed, the last thing legislatures should focus on is expanding co-parenting arrangements that are already dangerously overused.

Some legislatures have recognized the serious problems discussed in this article. They have passed piecemeal solutions that would help children if they were properly implemented. The problem is that judges are often comfortable with familiar outdated practices and defensive about their mistakes. Repeatedly, we have seen courts work around instead of with the piecemeal reforms. Legislatures that want to protect the children in their states must support comprehensive legislation to create needed reforms. The legislation should specifically tell courts to stop using the outdated practices that harm children. The legislation must make the health and safety of children the first priority. The use of the word health requires courts to use the ACE Research because otherwise judges cannot recognize the full range of health risks. The legislation must promote the integration of important research like ACE and Saunders. The legislation must promote a multi-disciplinary approach that Saunders recommends. The legislation should provide for an early hearing limited to abuse issues to avoid distraction with less important issues and tactics. The legislation must also provide training in domestic violence as recommended in Saunders for judges and preferably other court professionals. The legislative solution is called the Safe Child Act. It is the comprehensive solution to court decisions that too often take away our children’s last chance for a full and healthy life. When legislators are ready to respond to the custody court crisis, it is much better for them to finally solve the problem rather than make it worse by further expanding shared parenting that is already overused.

Barry Goldstein is a domestic violence author, speaker, advocate and expert witness. He is the author of six books concerning domestic violence and child custody. Barry is the author of the Safe Child Act which is a comprehensive plan based on current scientific research that can fix the broken court system and make family courts safe for children.

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Someone is Mentally Ill, an Addict, or an Abuser: The Vastly Different Response in Family Court and in Life: Essay by Barry Goldstein

Dear Judge Responding to DV Custody Cases

by Barry Goldstein

Dear Judge,
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges seeks to train other judges about important scientific research like ACE (adverse childhood experiences) and Saunders. We now have a specialized body of research and knowledge about domestic violence and child abuse that can help courts recognize true reports of abuse and craft responses that help protect children.

The purpose of this letter is to ask the court to be open to considering the research and avoid standard approaches the research demonstrates work poorly in domestic violence custody cases. Most custody cases are settled more or less amicably. The problem is the 3.8% of all cases that require trial and often much more. The research shows that 75-90% of contested custody are really domestic violence cases. These cases involve abusers who believe she has no right to leave, and they are often willing to hurt the child to protect their “rights.”

Many present practices were developed over 40 years ago at a time when little research about DV was available. It was based on the assumption that DV is caused by mental illness or substance abuse. The research demonstrates these assumptions were wrong, but courts have been slow to modify the practices. Mental health professionals are experts in psychology and mental illness but not DV or child abuse. Every year, 58,000 children are sent for custody or unprotected visitation with dangerous abusers and since 2008, The Center for Judicial Excellence found over 850 children involved in contested custody have been murdered, mostly by abusive fathers.

ACE is peer-reviewed medical research from the CDC. ACE found that children exposed to DV, child abuse and other traumas will live shorter lives and face a lifetime of health and social problems. Most of the harm is not from any immediate physical injuries, but from the fear and stress abusers cause. This means practices that minimize older abuse; limit inquiries to physical abuse; assume the end of the relationship ends the risk; or ask children to just get over it have no chance to work.

Contested custody cases are usually the last chance to save children from the awful consequences. Medical doctors say children exposed to multiple ACEs can avoid the harm, but it requires two responses standard court practices prevent. The children will need medical treatment and therapy to respond to problems as they develop and to reduce the fear and stress. This means the safe parent must control health decisions because abusers use decision-making to block anything the mother wants and particularly to prevent or undermine therapy because the child might reveal his abuse. Shared parenting in these cases ends the child’s chance for a full and healthy life.

The second response the doctors say is needed is that the children cannot be exposed to more abuse or situations that renew the fear and stress. This means any visitation must be supervised until the abuser changes his behavior. When courts rush to resume or continue normal visitation without requiring fundamental changes by the abuser, courts take away the child’s chance for a full and healthy life. Fundamentally, without ACE, courts inevitably minimize the harm from DV and child abuse and err on the side of risking children.

The Saunders Study is peer-reviewed scientific research from the National Institute of Justice in the US Justice Department. The purpose was to review the domestic violence knowledge of judges, lawyers and especially evaluators. Saunders found court professionals need more than generalized knowledge about DV. They need knowledge about specific subjects that include screening for DV, risk assessment, post-separation violence and the impact of DV on children. Professionals without this specific knowledge tend to focus on the myth that mothers frequently make false reports and unscientific alienation theories. This leads to recommendations and decisions that harm children. Most evaluators fail to screen for domestic violence in an effective way and judges and lawyers have spent their careers influenced by evaluator’s misinformation about DV and child abuse. As a result, Saunders found most court professionals do not have the specific DV information they need for DV custody cases. DV advocates have more of the specific DV information courts need than judges, lawyers, or evaluators. This makes sense because they are the only profession to work full time on domestic violence prevention and safety. Saunders recommends courts use a multi-disciplinary approach that would include DV and child abuse experts when this is important to the case. Without Saunders, courts routinely rely on the wrong professionals for DV cases and so often disbelieve true reports of abuse.

The first part of screening for DV is to avoid discrediting true reports based on non-probative factors. Common examples include: the mother left an alleged abuser, but returned; she sought a protective order, but didn’t follow-up; she has no police or medical reports; the professional failed to differentiate between an abuser’s public and private behavior; the child appears to be doing well on the surface; and a child shows no fear interacting with the alleged abuser in front of a professional. These are all common responses for safety and other reasons and tell us nothing about the validity of reports about abuse.

Instead, courts should consider which parent is afraid of the other parent. Courts should consider the motives of the alleged abuser. Is there evidence that the purpose of his tactics is to maintain power and control; coerce the victim to do what the abuser wants and based on the belief that the man has the right to make the decisions? The court should then look for the pattern of coercive and controlling behaviors. Most DV is neither physical nor illegal. This means there is much more evidence of DV available when we know what to look for. Common tactics include emotional, psychological, economic, litigation and physical abuse, plus stalking, monitoring, isolating and similar tactics.

Risk assessment refers to the fact that there are many common DV tactics that are associated with increased risk of lethality. These tactics should be taken even more seriously. Examples include strangulation, assaulting a woman while pregnant; hurting animals; forced or pressured sex; threats of murder, suicide, or kidnapping; stalking; access to guns; and the belief she has no right to leave. I have reviewed over 1000 evaluations and have never seen an evaluator report something like, “the mother alleges the father strangled her, and if this is true it raises serious concerns of potential lethality.” This failure is a common example of minimizing the risk from an abuser.

There are two parts to post-separation violence and neither have to involve physical violence. DV custody cases usually involve abusers using custody to regain control over the victim and punish her for leaving. Saunders found abusers sometimes use exchanges to harass or even assault their victims. More commonly, we see economic and litigation abuse as part of the cases. Courts often dismiss the issue as typical to litigation, but it means the abuser has not changed.

Significantly, abusers do not hurt their victims because of anything she said or did. This means they are likely to abuse future partners. If they already have a new partner, he is likely to treat her well because he needs her testimony, but eventually will resume his abusive tactics. This means children will witness more DV and therefore cannot heal.

At least 40 states and many judicial districts have created court-sponsored studies of gender bias. They have used a variety of methods over four decades but have found widespread bias against women litigants. Common examples include holding women to a higher standard of proof, giving mothers less credibility, and blaming the victim for her normal reaction to the father’s abuse. This is a difficult problem to overcome because gender bias is usually unintentional and subconscious. At the same time the needed discussions are discouraged because of the risk that reporting gender bias may result in defensiveness or even retaliation. The Meier Study from the National Institute of Justice found courts have made little progress in overcoming gender bias. A good way to check for gender bias is to ask how a situation would have played out if the genders were reversed.

Sexist alienation theories were deliberately developed to help abusive fathers gain custody. Richard Gardner and the cottage industry of lawyers and mental health professionals needed an approach to justify changing custody from safe, protective mothers who are the primary attachment figures to abusive fathers who often had little involvement in childcare during the relationship. Gardner concocted Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) for this purpose based on no research, but only his personal experience, beliefs, and bias. This included many public statements that sex between adults and children can be acceptable. I don’t believe judges would have wanted to be associated with this theory if they were aware of the heinous basis for its creation. DV is about control, including financial control. This means in most contested custody cases, the abusive father controls most of the financial resources. The cottage industry developed for these financial reasons and the financial incentive has contributed to custody courts receiving frequent and aggressive misinformation, particularly about alienation.

Gardner sought to include PAS in the DSM-IV which is the compendium of all valid mental health diagnoses. The American Psychiatric Association rejected it because there is no scientific research to support alienation. PAS developed a deserved bad reputation, particularly that it clearly is not a syndrome, and Gardner committed suicide. The cottage industry sought to continue using PAS but wrote articles offering a slightly milder version and used different names such as alienation, parental alienation, or gatekeeping. The cottage industry and male supremacist groups lobbied aggressively to include unscientific alienation theories in the DSM-V which is the present compendium. It was again rejected because there is still no valid research to support the theory. I am not aware of any other court that continues to rely on a theory that has been twice rejected by the leading professional association.

There is an interesting finding in the Meier Study. They found that when courts believe a father is being alienated, this provides a strong boost for the father and helps them gain custody. When the court believes the mother is alienated, it has no effect on the outcome. This means unscientific alienation theories are being applied in a gender biased manner that violates due process and equal protection. What is really happening is that in our still sexist society, mothers continue to provide most of the childcare and therefore have a stronger relationship with their children. Court professionals are less worried about the mothers’ relationship and so pay less attention to alienating behavior by fathers. This is another example of unintentional gender bias.

Some judges have suggested they don’t need research because common sense tells us that parents do make negative statements about each other. This is true, even in intact families. This approach would be acceptable if the courts didn’t then accept the rest of unscientific alienation theories. These theories assume a bad relationship with the father could only be caused by alienating behavior. More likely causes include DV, child abuse, limited involvement, or other bad parenting practices. The theories seek to ASSUME alienation based on speculation about what the mother must be saying. The father rarely has personal knowledge of what is said in the privacy of the mother’s home but are often allowed to speculate. The findings rejecting unscientific alienation theories from the DSM-V means it is caused by bad behavior rather than mental illness. This means that mental health professionals, and especially the cottage industry have no special expertise to inform the court. The alienation theories assume alienation creates the worst possible harm to children. In intact families, negative statements rarely have long-lasting effects. A false statement against one parent is more likely to hurt the relationship with the parent making the false statement. ACE demonstrates that domestic violence and child abuse have far more harmful consequences. There is no valid research that demonstrates the harm from alienation because there is no standard definition of alienation. The purported research, based on the original bogus PAS finds harm to children that is more likely caused by DV and child abuse. Indeed, Gardner assumed that almost all reports of abuse by mothers or children are false. Objective research like the Bala Study found mothers in contested custody cases make deliberate false reports less than 2% of the time.

A recent decision by the Oregon Psychology Board is particularly helpful in understanding the use of unscientific alienation theories in custody courts. A custody evaluator used other language in the DSM-V to claim alienation is supported in the DSM-V. This is false because it was specifically rejected despite aggressive lobbying. The evaluator was disciplined for diagnosing something that doesn’t exist (in the DSM-V). Hopefully more cottage industry professionals will face accountability and stop poisoning custody courts with their biased theories.

The reliance on unscientific alienation theories has done enormous harm to children, but also to the reputation of family courts. It is outrageous that an unscientific theory, twice rejected by the American Psychiatric Association has more influence in the courts than ACE and Saunders that are peer-reviewed scientific research from highly credible sources. ACE is used in many areas of society to benefit individuals. It is used by medical doctors to diagnose and treat patients; therapists to treat patients; schools to help traumatized students and public health officials to support reductions in diseases and social problems. ACE is often compared to the Surgeon General’s Report linking smoking and cancer. Both studies can be used to discourage harmful behavior (smoking, DV and child abuse) and in doing so save millions of lives and trillions of dollars. In contrast, unscientific alienation theories are only used to help abusive fathers gain custody.

The parent who provides most of the childcare in the first two years of a child’s life is and always will be the primary attachment figure. In most cases this parent is the one the children turn to when they need assistance; the primary parent is usually the better parent based on more practice and knows the children’s providers as well as their needs and strengths. Denying children, a normal relationship with their primary attachment figures increases the risk of depression, low self-esteem, and suicide. The importance of primary attachment is often minimized by custody courts in part because of gender bias.

There is a section in the Saunders Study about harmful outcome cases. These are extreme decisions in which the alleged abuser receives custody and a safe, protective mother who is the primary attachment figure is limited to supervised or no visitation. Saunders found harmful outcome cases are ALWAYS wrong and based on the use of flawed practices. The reason they are always wrong is the harm from denying children a normal relationship with their primary parent is greater than any benefit the court thought it was providing. In most cases, the flaws used by the court resulted in an arrangement that is the opposite of what works best for children.

Context is critically important in recognizing domestic violence. Courts often miss the context in an attempt to save time because of crowded dockets. Decontextualizing is a common abuser tactic. They seek to start the story immediately after their abuse and simply describe the victim’s response. At early hearings, courts often limit the discussion to the immediate issue and in doing so miss the long history of abuse. Arbitrary time limits for presenting a case are not neutral as they are intended. Victims need more time to explain the context and explain (as in this letter) that many standard practices favor abusers. The alleged abuser need only deny the alleged abuse and encourage courts to maintain the biased practices.

In the typical DV custody case, the father wanted the mother to provide most of the childcare during the relationship. In any other court, this would properly be understood as an admission by the father that the mother is a good parent, or else he would have sought a different arrangement. When the mother seeks to leave her abuser and report his abuse, fathers often retaliate by seeking custody and claiming the mother is suddenly unfit. They often claim the mother is mentally ill and/or alienating. What are the chances a mother suddenly becomes unfit because the relationship ended, and she reported his abuse? In the real world the chances are close to zero, but custody courts that fail to use current scientific research, rely on professionals without the needed DV expertise and miss the context often make this unlikely finding.

Conclusion

The use of shared parenting has pushed the court towards an ideological approach and away from the best interests of children. This was one of the purposes of the male supremacist groups that have pushed for equal parenting. There is a legitimate argument for shared parenting in cases with two good and safe parents. This was never intended for use in DV custody cases. The most favorable research for shared parenting says it can be beneficial for children when both parents want shared parenting; the parents can communicate effectively; neither parent is afraid of the other and they live nearby. This does not apply to DV custody cases. Saunders found shared parenting is never appropriate in DV custody cases.

One of the problems with “high conflict” approaches is that it immediately pushes the parents for co-parenting even though in most cases it would be a mistake. High conflict creates a false equivalency between a safe, protective mother who is the primary attachment figure and an abusive father. In many cases, victims are punished for trying to protect their children and the desire to save court time is substituted for the desire to keep children safe.

ACE and Saunders demonstrate that many standard court practices and many standard evaluation practices are harmful to children. The resultant mistakes are not neutral in the sense that they apply equally to both parents. All the mistakes caused by a failure to use current scientific research help abusive fathers and place children in additional risk. Practices that minimize the harm from DV and child abuse and make it harder for courts to recognize true reports of abuse are harmful to children.

Expert witnesses are the only witnesses allowed to give their opinions. Family courts rarely differentiate between subjective and objective opinions. Subjective opinions work great for the experts, particularly from the cottage industry because they just have to say what they believe or what supports their client. Cottage industry professionals do not have the specific knowledge Saunders says is needed and are biased in favor of abusive fathers. They should never be permitted to serve as neutral professionals. The subjective opinions are often contradicted by the research the experts fail to consider. Objective opinions are much more useful for courts because it is evidence-based information that focuses on what works best for children.

Dr. Vincent Felitti, lead author of the original ACE Study believes prevention is the most important use for his research, especially in Family Court. This research is so exciting because it can be used to reduce cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, crime and many other health and social problems. It is especially important for courts to use this knowledge in cases that are likely to be the last chance to save children from the awful consequences of exposure to multiple ACEs.

Barry Goldstein is a domestic violence author, speaker, advocate and expert witness. He is the author of six books concerning domestic violence and child custody. Barry is the author of the Safe Child Act which is a comprehensive plan based on current scientific research that can fix the broken court system and make family courts safe for children.

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