Domestic & psychological abuse laws – ancient and modern

Parental Alienation has been increasingly recognised to be one of several patterns of harmful coercive abuse. Based in Scotland in the UK, I’ve wondered about how the new domestic or psychological abuse laws apply to Parental Alienation (PA).

The law and the science

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The film ‘The Children Act’ (2017) based on Ian McEwan’s book (2014)

In my view, it makes more sense to tackle the generic actual matter of psychological harm being done than to follow an exhausting indirect dog-leg of proving in court that PA Syndrome exists. In some countries there is a specific law against PA. Once PA is proven, then harm is taken to be present. Why not prove the harm from the start?

Nevertheless there has been a huge focus on showing that PA is a real pattern – which can now be comprehensively evidenced, by the way. That is valuable in many ways, and one reason for doing that work has been because family courts in the USA insist on a scientific basis for anything argued in them. It may not be a coincidence that the USA is one of the few countries that have not signed up to the UN’s universal declaration of human rights. Elsewhere, the UN rights of the child helps underpin a focus on the welfare of the child, so you don’t need such dog-leg logic.

Scotland has its own version of the England and Wales Law. I think there are subtle differences in the ‘test’ and the ‘mens rea’ for this new offence. But the general aims are the same.

And now I’ve been asked to present to a forensic / psychiatric group. So I thought I’d better brush up on my limited knowledge. I write this post in the hope that those who know better will comment below to help my ignorance. Thanks.

Then, just as I’ve publicly given up hope on the usefulness for children and families of the typical adversarial family law system everywhere – I said so at a recent conference in Stockholm… I said: Typewriters cannot juggle – I’ve learned more about a family law system that does juggle! It’s not new. Judge Jurgen Rudolph and colleagues began their revolution in 1979.

The Cochem Consensus Model

Avskilda barn Blog with Ursula Kodjoe on Cochem (click for that)

I heard about Cochem years ago. But only now and at long last can I be fully inspired through discovering some English language accounts. It is now called the Consensus Model. Ursula Kodjoe presented at the same PASG Nordic’s recent conference in Stockholm as I presented at.

The Consensus Model goes a long long way to correct the many faults of family law systems elsewhere. Share my excitement! Read more here: Ursula Kodjoe’s summary, a fuller description by a Portuguese judge and a Youtube of Ursula’s presentation in Stockholm Aug 2018.

The inspiration from the Consensus Model is in how a much better integrated collaborative system can more promptly and gracefully separate out the families where there is no need to get caught up in long soap opera wrangling in court about risk, and at the same time handle and coordinate the assessment and help for all the families that need it. That is, the Consensus system does not, for high dispute separated families and their children, require any fancy new laws. The Consensus approach firmly asserts at he start of their efficiently focused legal process the expectations that are decided at the very end of a long adversarial type of court process. Meanwhile back in the muddy field of emotional abuse:

Broad spectrum for new laws

As I head for new ways to divert this issue from the courts, I’m still interested in how the new UK domestic and psychological abuse laws could and should apply. And I’m interested not just because of separated families where the children are being harmed, but also across the board for all kinds of harmful coercive relationships as well – for high control groups, cults, extremist terrorist groups, etc. Families are affected by these high control groups too. But the general legal view is that ‘They’re adults, it’s their choice’ and (for high control groups that claim to be religions) ‘We reserve the right to religious freedom’.

“Alienation”

My recent presentations point out that the core of all relationships that take you in and cut you off is the same. I suggest this core pattern could well be called: Alienation. See my Sutherland Lecture.

And so it is no surprise that (in that lecture) I can show that the Scottish new law describes the exact same pattern of harmful coercive relationship pattern that the law restricts only to couples and ex-couples.

Points from the English law

Studying the English law, I note with sad amusement the struggle between the gender ideological view – they’re the ones to give due credit for levering these new laws into place – and the over-riding need for laws to try to be gender neutral. (In case you didn’t know, Parental Alienation happens in any gender pattern including same sex relationships. Attachment science explains it far better than gender does, though of course gender affects your experience of it.) And I’m able to confirm again, from the English law, the broad spectrum view of the commonality of harmful coercive relationships.

The English law confirms what I say about it being a terrible shame that less powerful victim groups don’t get an equal opportunity, have their voices drowned out by the powerful voice of the women’s lobby (so only two cheers for them!), and end up not getting access to the benefits of the new laws which seem to fit so closely to the often worse predicament of these other victims of harmful coercion.

However I didn’t realise an obvious exclusion: children and young people. Du-uh! This, of course, excludes most PA cases from benefiting from the new laws. Why are they excluded? Because harmful coercive control or emotional abuse of children (under 16) is already covered (in England) by the Children and Young People Act of 1933. Now that Act was passed 85 years ago! Of course I should have said “supposed to be covered” there, since tackling emotional abuse is most noticeable by its absence. Those few who have tried to get a robust act together haven’t got far, have they?! It’s very rare for anyone to be charged with emotional abuse of their child.

Getting ’emotional abuse’ fit for purpose

In my lecture, I make some further points about this absence and about making it do some work for us:

  • Emotional abuse is the key to all abuse: it’s the one we should know most about since it is what makes the other more concrete abuses so abusive.
  • Emotional abuse seems to have been poorly defined – usually it is defined tautologically by its harmful effects.
  • Better definition also helps to limit the popular usage of the term to include anything upsetting.

  • For it to be abusive requires that the harmful behaviour be systematic, sustained and entrapping.
  • And of course we know that long-used ‘authoritative’ guidelines build in a gender-based ideology – it’s all down to bad men and patriarchy – not from the far better Attachment-based approach.
  • Finally a good definition of emotional abuse gives you again the same core pattern as there is in all relationships that take you in and cut you off.

Anyway, we now see PA as harmful coercive emotional abuse of children and young people. So, if we were to rely on the psychological abuse laws, ancient and modern, we’re stymied because the new laws don’t apply because of the old laws that should. And the old laws don’t apply because no one has made them apply over many decades.

So, while their parents get a new legal protection from psychological abuse, the harm to the children of PA and other serious separation patterns, the children’s welfare – which is what everyone says is paramount – is actually nowhere near being attended to. And that never-ending painful gap leaves us campaigning about all kinds of partial misdirected ideological (eg gender-) based aspects that miss the point and confuse the picture and the decisions.

All of which confirms my other interest in urgently finding other ways that are more likely to sort the problem out better than through complicated and yet longer-winded legalities of proving psychological abuse.

Any good news?

APSAC definition via Amy J Baker

The good news? Well, there will always be cases that go all the way through to full proof in courts. So someone needs to be ready for that. And there’s every reason – including the courts – to firm up the science and laws of psychological abuse.

As usual, Amy J Baker is taking us in the right direction. She is active in the American association of professionals who study child abuse –  APSAC. She uses their three-part definition of what the USA calls psychological maltreatment. I look at that definition too in my presentation.

What could the PA world in the UK do with its forking law on psychological abuse?  85 years late, we could warm up and use the laws that are there already about children. I haven’t got the energy to go into that old 1933 English law and see what it would take to warm it up again. I invite others to have a go if you know how. On the whole, I suspect it might be hard to overcome 85 years of inertia. Hence my alternative choice of direction:

A Scottish solution?

In Scotland, and with the benefit of years of working on this question along with several inspiring discussions recently, I’m involved in trying to develop some new ideas to influence the Scottish Government’s review of the 1995 Children (Scotland) Act. You can see something of what I’ve said publicly as The Shame of Scotland’s Family Courts. That shows the incompetence of the present system. The new ideas could provide solutions!

One new idea shapes up a different kind of strategy to divert the risk assessment of abuse away from lawyers and courts early on in the process. This should quickly resolve misplaced risk concerns so that parents can get on with making arrangements for their children. And it should equally send a child and family to the right hands if there is valid concern of risk that does need assessment and help. This diversion has many benefits, but most especially, it can only be better than the family being taken in – and cut off! – and dragged out and messed up by the well-meaning but oh-so-slow-and-random machinations of our family court system. … Watch this space!!

Nick Child, Edinburgh

About Nick Child

Retired child and family shrink and family therapist living, working and playing in Edinburgh.

14 comments

  1. The world is getting closer to recognizing that advocates for children and families must embrace the established hard science constructs that drive the dysfunctional and harmful family dynamics of what many people call parental alienation, Parental alienation isn’t a construct in and of itself. It is, as you say, a strategy of coercive abuse. Family systems research clearly identifies this type of pathogenic abuse as triangulation, in which the abuser coerces a child, usually a teenager into aligning with him or her in a cross-generational coalition against the targeted parent. It is so clear. The research further describes how the targeted parent becomes severely traumatized by the psychological/emotional abuse by being “cut off” from his or her family and the child suffers from developmental trauma by enmeshing with the abuser.

    The problem has been that professionals are baffled by how to identify psychological abuse because they focus on the perpetrator’s behaviors rather than the victim’s wounds. Targeted parents develop complex PTSD and children suppress their secure attachment to their healthy parent. It doesn’t get more obvious than that!

    Most states in the US have laws against psychological or emotional abuse. In Wisconsin, it is easy to apply because the statutes describe that emotional or mental harm is demonstrated when there is a “substantial and observable change in a child’s emotional response that is outside the normal range for his or her age or stage of development.” Suppressing a secure attachment is outside the normal range for any child at any age or stage of development and is painfully obvious.

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  2. Hi Noah in mind. Thanks for your interest and comment. I certainly get that you are pissed at the present system. But I don’t follow the details well. I’m sorry about that. It may because you are speaking from a US context or just about your own particular experiences, but I don’t follow or understand quite what it is you’re saying. I wonder if you could have another go, please, at explaining what you want to say so that it gets the point across more clearly? Thanks. Nick

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  3. Very interesting article. I have taken you up on the offer of inviting comments/contributions. As an alienated parent and an experienced mental health nurse in the UK, I also believe the ‘taking away’ of assessment of risk from lawyers and judges should work as a triage type safeguarding approach. For example at the first mention of contact-denial, emotional abuse, parental alienation – or whatever terms or behaviours we decide upon as being within the spectrum of emotional abuse/PA – we should immediately go down an early intervention Social Worker AND Mental Health Practitioner route.

    This would be a: Joint visit by both these professionals. Leading to a: Joint professional decision as to the severity of the contact-denial/PA if any at all. If mild to moderate, this then remains within the remit of Social Work = support provided to parent behaviong negatively about other parent in eyes of children (in these cases the mental health practitioner would have done an informal mental health assessment of the parent and come to a clinical decision that their behaviours can, with support be modified)

    On the other hand if during any initial joint decision, the Mental Health Practitioner, during the informal mental health assessment is presented with a parent that is indicative of someone with potential relevant personality traits, there then is a risk of the parent not being able to be supported to modify their behaviour. A further. more thorough thorough assessment is undertaken. If the risks of personality traits are confirmed then this would indicate, at a much earlier stage that this would invariably turn into a severe case of PA, due to the presenting negative personality traits of the already contact-denying/alienating parent.

    In cases such as this the Judge should then become the parent by proxy, with the severely alienating parent just taken out of the equation and not allowed to run circles around CPS/Cafcass/Judge etc. Statistically speaking severe cases of PA will involve the alienating parent presenting with some kind of personality traits. As such we treat the abuser and the associated abuse to the children and targeted parent within the context of mental health.

    My rationale is that: Cafcass/CPS Social Workers are a) unable to identify and assess for personality disorders, b) even if this becomes apparent 6-12 months later, Social Workers don’t know what to do and more importantly the damage has already been done.

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  4. Alienated Parent

    The case of Christie Blatchford is one of PA driving a parent to suicide.

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    • Alienated Parent

      Readers might note that Parental Alienation/suicide victim Jeremey A. was being put through his second severe alienation in life. It is noted in this article that he was first shunned/alienated as a teen, by his Jehovah’s Witness family (here is an example of the Bigger Picture of Alienation, as in cults). It is worth stressing that Parental Alienation is intergenerational. It does not stop with the targeted parent and their children; it will infect any future generations as well. Victims may be attacked by alienation from their family-of-origin, and then again by a spouse in later years, as was the case in this tragic story. Once is bad enough. Surviving this horror again is stretching the human spirit to a breaking point.

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  5. Alienated Parent

    Hello,

    I think something vital to keep in mind here is that alienating parents who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are going to be projecting their own mental instability and delusions onto the chosen target. This causes a very strong smokescreen effect to those outside the family drama. It provides a whole posse of enablers who believe the NPD delusions, and are quite willing to act on them.

    This is yet another manipulation that throws onlookers off the scent. Remember that most of all, NPD is about mind games.

    Individuals with NPD will very often be claiming that the targeted spouse/parent is actually the “crazy one,” and they will have set up the false allegations before the targeted parent even suspects anything is amiss. NPD-types believe in beating their targets to the punch! They are experts at seeding propaganda and Doublethink. See “gaslighting.”

    A targeted parent can suddenly find themselves falsely sectioned to a mental health facility by a pathologically Narcissistic spouse making wild claims in an Academy Award performance, in whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt. In the meantime, said NPD spouse/parent may well set up every other available mental health support in the community to gain supposed support for him/her self and any children involved, claiming victim status. In other words, they set the false scene against their innocent target, and then once mental health workers and counselors have been talked into believing a faux version of what is actually happening within the family, it is like moving a mountain to convince them to see that the reality of the family situation is precisely the opposite. They have enormous difficulty imagining the reality-defying tricks and tactics of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. People in general also tend to believe the initial version of any drama they are talked in to; they would have to admit they had been duped in the first place if they subsequently switch to the opposite version. This is how con-artists make a good living.

    A major part of the damage is done to the targeted spouse and children because of this hocus pocus. The NPD-type projects their own craziness onto someone else, and then convinces the world of it. And these individuals can be very, very convincing, though they are speaking not a word of the truth. We have all heard of the charismatic types…..the talent is in drawing others into their delusions. This, unfortunately, often includes mental health professionals, who then double the damage. Worst are the well-meaning charities offering counseling to spouses and children in supposedly abusive situations; they are staffed by volunteers with big hearts who sit there open-mouthed while the deceitful pathological Narcissist shovels in the dirt. And then the children are give “counseling” for having had to deal with the targeted parent’s so-called abuse.

    The delusional scene is set. The targeted parent is left in upside-down land, even by the professionals and organizations meant to help them.

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  6. Alienated Parent

    Lest we be too quick to believe the Swedes are ahead of the rest of us here, let me recommend “The Strange Case of Thomas Quick,” by Dan Josefsson. It is a masterfully written expose of the fairly recent case which almost brought down the entire Swedish legal system. It had to do with a pathologically Narcissistic Stockholm Psychotherapist, and the astonishing hold she had on the professionals in both the mental health and legal field in that country. Let me simply say that incredible delusions ran rampant, for many years, and that no one noticed. In fact, major resources were expended in order to support these delusions.

    When NPD is involved, I am never surprised at such a turn of events. It is con artistry par excellence. Even those who should know better, do not.

    So how is your average social worker going to get to the bottom of it when an NPD-type parent tries to pull the wool over his/her eyes?

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  7. The Nordic nations, including Sweden, may be exceptional in many ways, but they suffer all the same things the rest of the world does in terms of PA in family courts. Hence the conference last August in Stockholm at which I spoke.

    In regard to the widespread use of personality disorder labels, I generally avoid using them. I’ll have a short go at explaining why.

    PD labels obviously have a broad signposting use – they’re one way to talk about general patterns of disturbed functioning. But I don’t see much constructive value or understanding in the use of PD labels in this PA field. In particular, the individualistic description (required by DSM and ICD) doesn’t do justice to the relational nature and context of what happens. For an example of a relational understanding of PD, read Alexandra Stein’s book on how it’s done in totalist organisations. She goes beyond the label to an Attachment understanding.

    In social media exchanges, the PD labels are (understandably) mostly being used as blunt weapons. They seem to be more superficially scientific words, but they are still being used as ammunition to attack our adversaries. Most often the PD labels are, in my view, being used to stand in for and supplement more straightforward destructive expressions of hurt, rage, injustice, blame, attack and revenge. That’s understandable, as I say, for those who are suffering those things. But it’s not what these labels were intended to be used for.

    The PD labels don’t (in themselves) have any power that I know of (in a UK context) in competent professional assessments of particular cases, in courts, nor in scientific debates. Their definition can be a useful shorthand for a list of typical behaviours a person does. But otherwise the definition is tautological. … A person does X, Y and Z. So they’ve got a PD. What is a PD? It’s a person who does X Y and Z. That doesn’t tell you much more than you already know about a particular person nor about the category in general. It may be a stage on the way to knowing more – there are some speculative theories but it’s better to look at behaviour X, Y and Z in the context of a case and skilled knowledge of principles of psychology and relationships.

    PD labels are part of a categorical system that is intended to help professionals understand and treat people suffering named disorders. They are not in themselves any kind of confirmation that a crime has been committed nor that the person is a criminal. The crime is the crime, the behaviour is the behaviour. It’s better to focus on that. And PD labels don’t have much mileage (that I know of), as general categories, as evidence, nor as indicators for disposal or treatment.

    So I prefer to go beyond these labels to what is going on for the individuals involved. I do that even for more accepted labels like PA and Emotional Abuse. In my view and experience, that’s what professionals and legal systems, competent or not, want to do with each case. So it’s best to go beyond the labels for those reasons too.

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    • I have to disagree with the fact that you do not distinguish between a “label” and a diagnosis. In family court, PA and emotional abuse are very difficult to prove. In these cases, the court is basing their decisions mostly on “he said, she said”, which is open to individual interpretation, unlike the empirically based science of high-conflict personality disorders. Family courts need to know if either parent has an untreated mental health impairment with enduring and harmful patterns of behaviors. Psychological evaluations and parenting capacity assessments made by psychologists who are competent in diagnosing and treating personality disorders not only provide concrete evidence of the necessity of child protection but also are the basis for effective and efficient intervention which treats the underlying pathology that is causing both domestic and child abuse.

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  8. Alienated Parent

    I, too, have to rather vehemently disagree with the “We do not label” approach. As far as I am able to determine, the admonition against “labelling” began twenty or so years ago as another of those tiresome “social justice warrior” dictates to everyone else. Virtue-signaling. I always react to such developments as a matter of “Please do not shove your religion down my throat.” The social/cultural Left-wing has as many supposed sins and moral attributes to pin on the rest of us as the medieval Catholic Church, and they are certainly not shy in their missionary zeal. All of a sudden, in the 1990s, the new attribute of any supposedly upstanding and aware individual was that they did not “label” anyone. Oddly, this dictate attempted to take out an entire function of language…..which is to note patterns/similarities in this world, then supply a descriptive term for such. As Orwell noted in “1984,” without appropriate words, whole regions of thought cease to exist. Indeed. I think that is the point.

    As Targetedmom stated succinctly, there is the whole consideration of diagnoses, and how medical hands would be collectively thrown in the air without being able to provide these. Certain legal proceedings would also fail to appropriately conclude. Or rather, patients’ hands might be collectively thrown in the air. They want answers. They want validation. How is an ailment to be treated without confirming its identity first? I think the main issue is that we pursue the CORRECT diagnosis/label, reflecting the true nature of the condition. The problem is in any mis-diagnosis, as opposed to providing a name for the ailment per se.

    There are countless personal stories relayed over the internet of individuals who suffered the unusual and tremendous grief of being the targets of pathologically Narcissistic behaviour from close others (because such behaviour does tend to appear mainly in close relationships due to its Attachment-Disorder nature, the better to hide it). Most of these victims profess to having been unaware of exactly what was happening, or rather, how and why this strange behaviour was happening. To explain it to those unaware of such behaviour patterns brought no sympathy/help/relief, but instead, confirmation that these victims did not know what they were talking about…..the Narcissist’s dream (calling the target “crazy”).

    The Eureka!! moment for many sufferers of Narcissistic Abuse (for that is the term describing the very specific kind of suffering experienced by the targets of NPD-types) very often arrived when they discovered through internet resources or through recent trade paperbacks that others were experiencing the identical odd and destructive behaviour from family members or spouses, and that there was an actual name to this behavior. THAT was a defining moment in many lives previously blighted by Narcissistic Abuse (and no…..that is not another useless “label.”) Having a name to put to the cause of their suffering was an immense step forward. Validation. A term to plug into the search engines and find page after page of similar personal stories. Knowing the “label,” Nick, was empowerment-plus.

    You speak of PA behaviour coming from Attachment issues. I agree. Insecure Attachment of particular types is suggested by several experts to be the cause of Narcissistic/Borderline Personality Disorder, so I do not see why there is anything to quibble about in that sense. I think the best term is “Attachment-based Parental Alienation,” acted out against vulnerable target individuals by those with Narcissistic/Borderline Personality Disorder. Why is that hard to accept? We know that PA behaviour is not within normal range. Why not try to give it a very specific name, based on readily accepted concepts in the field?

    I am not a medical professional as you are, but I have an excellent graduate education and professional skills that might be summed up thus: 1) I am a very keen observer 2) When committed to awareness, my observations become anecdotes (the plural of anecdote is DATA) 3) I subsequently amass an enormous amount of data (or, whatever amount is available) on the given subject 4) I sift the data through my mind, and out pop the patterns 5) Patterns lead to algorithms 6) With any luck, algorithms may lead to answers, or at least to further appropriate avenues of enquiry.

    In terms of particular personal experiences long existent in my life, I have been amassing data and sifting it for patterns over several decades now. In other words, what in blazes was going on in my family? It was not just your average dysfunction. As a grad student eons ago, I became well-versed with the work of C.G. Jung and his followers, of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, of Salvador Minuchin (Family Systems), and others in that league. I read all of the Alice Miller books immediately upon publication. Later, I delved into the work of Marsha Linehan and Peter Fonagy, and more recently Alexandra Stein. Yet still, it was not until that “label” of Narcissistic Personality Disorder began to be described in real terms on the internet, by real sufferers of Narcissistic Abuse, that I fell off my chair and said, “That’s it!!!”

    The academic literature can lack the human component. The Attachment Disorders were always described as being the result of truly terrible deprivations/abuses in childhood, not found in your average home. Not so at all, it turns out. It transpired that Attachment Disorders could indeed be found in your average home, whether through epigenetically-inherited trauma, or through an enormously kind-hearted Co-dependent/Empath parent who had no sense of personal self with which to validate her child. Attachment Disorders are not simply the result of severe abuse. They can be found in the nicest families. Who knew?

    Yes Nick…..Narcissistic Personality Disorder is indeed the result of an Attachment Disorder. It is one type of such disorders. I still fail to see why you will not use the NPD term, when it is describing a form of Attachment Disorder. I agree that the DSM criteria/description for Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not specific enough. Quite vague, actually. If you really want to understand this condition, read several dozen personal stories on several dozen unrelated websites, of correspondents who have suffered Narcissistic Abuse. Then, I daresay you will understand it. You will no doubt pick up the very specific patterns too. Most targets say afterwards that in reading the stories of others in their situation it is as if the various pathological Narcissists all acted from a secret NPD manual, known only to them. If you understand what to look for, you cannot miss it. And yes…..good literature is full of such accounts too. Various writers over the ages could not fail to pick up on NPD and Narcissistic Abuse if their lives had been touched with it at all.

    And so, now that I have dragged on……I imagine you realize how much I shake my head at this “We do not label” dictate. Absolutely the wrong way to go, in my humble opinion. You lock targeted sufferers into a land in which there is no language to explain what they have experienced, nor to communicate it, nor to be taken seriously. That means the Parental Alienation community and cause goes backwards.

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  9. Thanks for the further comments.

    As happens in shortened online discussion of complex nuanced issues especially between strangers from different parts of the world, misunderstandings burgeon. … I was not ‘dictating’ anything to anyone. I can see and accept that many sufferers and professionals use labels as a rare certainty in making what seems like solid scientific-sounding sense (eg in online discussions) of what they’ve been through.

    I was explaining how – given my interest in prevention and how we are to make poor systems improve – I’ve not yet discovered how the kind of personal certainty about how to describe and explain these terrible patterns (as AP describes above) translates into the arenas where decisions are made over particular cases and (if possible) in general policy or laws. Please give me some more objective references on the usefulness of diagnostic labels like ‘NPD’ in policy and in decision-making about cases.

    I entirely agree that these ideas make personal more informal sense to sufferers and me of what happens. But I don’t see them working in our systems – in the UK at least.

    Rather than go over (and over and over) a long ‘he said she said’ debate here, let me pick out the points you make that I entirely agree with and repeat where the limits are of the power of some labels:

    Target Mom: “Psychological evaluations and parenting capacity assessments made by psychologists who are competent in diagnosing and treating personality disorders not only provide concrete evidence of the necessity of child protection but also are the basis for effective and efficient intervention which treats the underlying pathology that is causing both domestic and child abuse.” Absolutely agreed. Rightly or wrongly, in the UK, I do see those competent assessments made that can guide courts and by drawing on knowledge and principles about personality, Attachment etc. I don’t see that competence hinging on declaring diagnoses like NPD that lead to interventions that are treated as concretely as medical diagnoses and treatments. You have to go beyond those labels in that context. Attachment approaches are good ways to go beyond and unpack the details of harm and of the functioning summarised by the PD labels. It’s the detail that matters in that context, not the ultimate authority of a diagnostic label.

    Alienated Parent: “Having a name to put to the cause of their suffering was an immense step forward. Validation. A term to plug into the search engines and find page after page of similar personal stories. Knowing the “label,” Nick, was empowerment-plus.” Absolutely agreed. That’s why I’ve put so much time and work into this blog. But it’s also why I want to make sure my full intelligence is brought to bear on what anyone in the world reads here.

    So, yes, I have read and I do have the understanding about narcissistic personality and Attachment science etc that helps lots at that informal level. I can accept that ‘NPD’ is a common label for the same territory and gives a greater sense of truth when its got capital letters as well. What I want to know, please – preferably in a UK context that I’m most concerned with – is work that shows how the specific concrete notion of ‘NPD’ as a diagnosis has been useful on its own for a court or an intervention, as useful as if it was the equivalent of a medical diagnosis like ‘Appendicitis’.

    Many thanks!

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  10. Alienated Parent

    Hello Nick,

    A few thoughts on that. One, a large proportion of those parents who find themselves being forced to present in Family Court in Canada — the country I am familiar with — do so without legal representation, simply because they can afford none. Or they once could, but the dog & pony show blathers on, and their bank accounts run dry. This fact alone leaves them being treated with contempt. The legal system wishes to see its own supported, after all….and it certainly shows. I have read internal lawyer magazines with articles overtly saying that contempt is what such self-represented individuals deserve for the audacity of putting good lawyers out of their healthy livings. And judges were first lawyers…do recall. It has always seemed odious to me that protecting one’s rights in a democracy comes with an enormous price tag. It is a luxury, in other words, affordable to few. Legal Aid is exceedingly limited, and their hearts are rarely in it. The resources a parent may have available to raise a child/children, to provide the basics as well as future post-secondary education, are utterly depleted in these Family Court proceedings. Taking from the mouths of babes. So even if you win, you lose. I find that astonishing. You may win back partial custody of your own child, but you might also have lost the house in which to shelter them.

    In cases of Parental Alienation (PA), where the alienating parent is behaving out of the patterns known to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), they actually believe their own lies and projections. Therefore, they come across very calmly and smoothly. The targeted parent, having been to Hell and back again via chronic abuse and gaslighting and the worst kind of betrayal by a previously trusted partner — not to mention the atrocity of having their own children turned against them — is more likely to be showing symptoms of complex PTSD. In a courtroom, the alienating parent will be seen behaving in a manner which, on the surface, is judged to be calm/cool/collected, and therefore supposedly more credible. The true victims are treated disdainfully as people who may dissolve into emotion (understandably), or whose accurate claims cannot be backed up by expert witness testimony. Presenting the actual truth, in a court setting, is a very costly venture. The targeted parent certainly has the truth on their side, but to be able to package it according to court demands is an immense challenge available to the few.

    Even if the poor beleaguered parent can indeed afford the $300+ hr., legal professionals who understand the Parental Alienation situation enough to argue it factually and coherently are very thin on the ground. Brian Ludmer might be said to be one of the few such in this country, and he is located in one particular city. Fly him to Halifax, or Vancouver each time? You might as well declare bankruptcy and give up. Jeremey A. in the Christie Blatchford National Post article I provided decided upon just that course of action, and worse. Family Court puts targeted parents up against the wall, in front of the firing squad.

    The scenario would unfold like this. A self-represented targeted parent — knowing Attachment Disorder literature — attempts to explain this to the judge, in five minutes or less. The judge sneers contempt from the bench, hiding their own utter ignorance of clinical psychology. Most unfortunately, those persons who are set to officially judge others are woefully ignorant in anything but the actual game of Law. That fact astonishes me. They are used to having so-called expert witnesses provide them with all the other bits. Of course, expert witnesses may have their biases — may even contradict one another in any given field — but judges tend to demand them for backside-covering reasons. An intelligent, well-informed but self-represented target parent does not provide the judge with the same level of cover.

    Nick, NPD — as a diagnosis of the behavior exhibited by the alienating parent — SHOULD be an enormously useful piece of information to a Family Court. The fact is few judges would be aware of the meaning of these clinical diagnoses without having the diagnosis overtly explained to them. They refuse to step off their pedestals and listen to a lowly parent quivering in front of them, which means an expensive “expert witness” must be produced, perhaps to say exactly the same thing the parent is articulating. Then we are again back to the cost factor. Expert witnesses are more expensive than your average lawyer. If the targeted parent has had their finances destroyed by the alienating parent already, in any number of ways — which is part and parcel of the abuse they suffer — just how, precisely, are they to afford this expert witness in addition to every other legal cost?

    Family Court is dealing with real people, living on real salaries, trying (if they are the targeted parent) to raise children within these means, nevermind the vast emotional and financial costs of legal action brought about by someone with an aberrant need to destroy them. And then it is a mystery as to why they do not win in the terrible game of Family Court?

    There was the American case of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki in recent years which, from my reading, did indeed include a judge recognizing her Personality Disorder. She was sentenced to several felony counts, and served prison time, for abducting and alienating her children. Then there was the horrifying case of Lloyd Neurauter and his 20 yr. old alienated daughter, in Corning, NY (see the NBC Dateline documentary, “The Ultimatum”); they acted in tandem to murder the targeted mother, and cover it up. You can read media accounts of those legal proceedings.

    There are three cases I know of in which the personality-disordered individual actually controlled the courts. Don’t say it doesn’t happen. Of course it does. Control and manipulation is, after all, a major part of these disorders. One was Pamela Richardson’s account of the way in which her former husband and alienating parent, a powerful local lawyer himself, heavily influenced court proceedings in his own favour, simply by having a finger in the pie with the legal community in that city. Those running the proceedings were his friends and colleagues. Enough said. I recommend, “A Kidnapped Mind.”

    Then there is Pamela Roche’s story, “Broken Lives Broken Minds.” She relays an account of abduction of her two young sons, from the UK to the US, by their father, her former husband whom she readily identifies with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (in his case, not from parental abuse, but parental engulfment). The case is tried in Family Court in a small southwestern town, where again, the alienating parent has social status and social influence. To read Ms. Roche’s carefully detailed and documented story is to wonder whether the entire court and the so-called “expert witnesses” were all hypnotized; logic was turned upside-down in every conceivable way, to the detriment of Ms. Roche and her children. The authority of the court was so transparently nonsensical, any rational being had to come to the end of the story of ask, “How could this happen?” For those familiar with the personality disorders, it was no surprise.

    I have already mentioned Dan Josefsson’s “The Strange Case of Thomas Quick.” It does not concern PA as such, but rather, the truly bizarre charismatic power of personality-disordered individuals, and the fact that they can sway even the most august professionals, turning our social systems into circuses. Again, this was a case of a personality-disordered professional gaining power over her colleagues in the field — those who ran the legal and mental health fields in Sweden, actually. Think it cannot happen?

    As you have wisely pointed out, Nick, Parental Alienation is counter-intuitive. Many people expect the world and human relationships to operate along certain lines; they wear blinders in this sense. They cannot comprehend individuals who appear to be “normal” behaving outside these expectations. That is the secret of con artistry, of course — play on the expectations. Personality-disordered individuals are experts at this. I recall attempting to procure a bank product myself at one time, after the alienation tactics of my former spouse. This required that certain legalities concerning joint assets be cleared-up. My Alienating (NPD) spouse refused, simply because it meant that he could control me financially still, but it would look as if it was the fault of the bank. When I tried explaining this deceitful tactic to the very nice bank officer, he retorted that “People don’t act that way…..why would he purposely try to hurt you when HE wanted the divorce himself? We had him as a customer once, and he seemed fine.”

    Narcissistic/Borderline Personality Disorders appear to confer an ability, to one degree or another, for distorting other people’s perception of reality. This is a very important consideration, especially in terms of medical or legal professionals being so influenced. Do the pathologically-narcissistic inject a virus into our Mirror Neurons? There have been times I would have sworn that was what was happening. Therefore, it is truly important to understand when Personality Disorders are running the show, as I believe is the case in Attachment-based Parental Alienation. You are dealing not only with a single disordered mind, but potentially with many others whom they have roped in. The term “Shared Psychosis” seems appropriate to me in such instances. How far have their tentacles of influence reached and distorted?

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