This article describes how a mix of three distinct personality types are often the driving force in complex Parental Alienation cases. It also discusses how professionals may take steps to ‘insure’ themselves against the inevitable fall out from ‘one’ type of parent.
Legal and health professionals who work with families are well aware of the effects of PA.
The roots of this toxic acrimony are less well comprehended. Even less understood is how working in this field can harm the careers and personal lives of the unprepared professional.
The Red Flags of Danger
There are often three distinct personality prototypes present in the make-up of one or sometimes both parents in ‘alleged’ Parental Alienation cases.
These are the histrionic, narcissistic and compulsive prototypes. The presence of these ‘traits’ when significantly raised, (scores of 85 and above on the million), ensure negotiations with others are frequently toxic.
Compromise will not be reached. There won’t be a ‘win, win’ outcome. Sadly, even a court decision is unlikely to bring about a lasting truce.
The red herring
A parent who displays a combination of these prototypes will find negotiations impossible. The red herring is that they always appear charming in the beginning. Superficially, they are upstanding and gregarious. It comes as no surprise that the ‘carefully chosen’ professional also finds them initially engaging. However, this charming façade quickly vanishes the second they register any frustration.
When frustration or a perceived loss of control appears, these individuals become volatile.
They make copious allegations against the other parent. Their vindictiveness erupts like a Vesuvius. The allegations made are frequently vile and without shame. The defamation of others is always supplied with an earnest countenance in a scurrilous bid to ‘assist the professional’.
This darker side of the personality is, for the most part hidden from others. In fact, those with high degrees of the histrionic and narcissist traits hold Oscars for skills in obscuring the truth. It is always the other parent who is scapegoated, lied about and accused of blocking contact. The histrionic or narcissistic individual presents with such a huge but totally superficial ego. To function at all, h/she must feel powerful.
The ‘Hist’ or ‘Narc’ is able to charm the birds out of the trees. The empty charisma is also extended to judges, solicitors and psychologists during the initial overture of the professional relationship.
The innocent professionals caught in the headlights
The psychological assessment often confirms the hunch of the legal professional that something is not quite right. The ‘Hist’ or ‘Narc’ is starting to be flushed out. They panic.
The threat towards professionals escalates when the assessment conclusions reveal an elevation of these traits. High scores in these combined areas provide useful evidence that negotiations with others will be fraught. These elevations also indicate a high likelihood that toxic abuse is occurring to many others within the individual’s circle. Frequently, the litigating parent, (the accuser), is the parent with the difficulty. In essence, these people have a motto of ‘my way or the highway’.
Clinical practice reveals that in many protracted and complex alleged alienation cases, the elevations in personality traits are of sufficient severity to indicate personality difficulties or disorder.
The ‘Hist or Narc’ rage projected on to the professional
When a psychological assessment makes it obvious that one of the parents has a psychological problem, they perceive a loss of control. They are being revealed in all their brutality.
This loss of control signals a cataclysmic escalation of the process. Remember people having dangerous levels of narcissistic and histrionic traits fear a loss of control. They will do almost anything to avoid the feelings of terror that surface when they lose any sense of power
This escalation stage involves the displacement of rage on to professionals.
Allegations such as ‘my solicitor is incompetent’ or ‘the psychologist forged the results of my personality tests’ are common.
It becomes personal
The disgruntled parent who feels they have been exposed often mounts a war on the professional. This usually involves damning false allegations, reports to ethical bodies, claims to County Court, letters to the local newspaper. Each target receives accusations of incompetence, fraud, sexual impropriety and so on from the complainant. The parent may in their desperation even attempt to recruit the (loathed) ex-partner to help destroy the professional. The stakes are high. It soon becomes clear to all.
The bullying and abuse have become viral. In most cases ethical bodies are equipped to quickly see this narcissistic/histrionic rage is without foundation. However, they still must investigate and rightly so. The process adds to the work load of the professional.
What can a professional do to prevent the backlash?
The rage of the narcissistic/histrionic personality can’t be prevented. It is inevitable.
Professionals must be prepared for the backlash.
It is part of the terrain of the territory.
Many psychologists refuse PA work for this very reason. Others endure it to help the children involved. We must make it easier for professionals.
Million , T, (1997), MCMI-III: Pearson Assessments, Minneappolis
Burge, J., PhD, (2015), The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in An All About Me Age. New Rise Press, NC, USA
Franklin, C., (2015), Personality Disorders: Histrionic and Borderline: Personality Disorder Laid Bare.
Written by Dr Christine Tizzard Consultant Adult, Adolescent and Child Chartered Psychologist.
Dr Tizzard is also a qualified family mediator, her organisation CTPSY formerly Sheehan Brooke was the first psychology practice to be awarded a LAA mediation contract
CTP work with directly with families in alleged PA cases and assist in protracted contact issues. This includes individual and combined family therapy plus contact plans supported contact sessions