Parental Alienation & Narcissistic Personality Disorder

It only takes a few minutes of googling (a verified verb) to learn about the invalidation of “PAS” and “Parental Alienation Syndrome”.

There are some out there that still want to vehemently argue that there is such a thing.  Personally, I can’t disagree that there are behaviors which are meant to denigrate or negatively impact the child’s relationship with the other parent – certainly that part is true.

It is also true, in my opinion, that Richard Gardner, the creator of “PAS” was off his rocker himself.  This is the mental health “professional” who coined the term and forced far too many children (one is too many) to live with potentially abusive parents and denied contact with the parent who was accused of alienation.  This was his form of “therapeutic intervention”, and if you ask me, it should’ve been called “therapeutic abuse”.  While the American Psychiatric Association has discredited the theory and there is no medical or professional association that supports it … its basis and his interventions still have influence in the courtrooms of the world today.

What I find interesting is the corollary between behaviors of a parent who is alienating their child from their other parent, and behaviors of an abusive, personality disordered parent (likely narcissistic).

Behaviors commonly displayed by narcissistic parents, which are meant to alienate the other parent include:

  • Talking with the child/children about the marital relationship and reasons for divorce.
    • For e.g.,  saying that it is the ex’s fault that the children have to go back and forth between houses – if that ex-spouse just wanted to stay married, then the kids wouldn’t have to endure divorce like this
  • Limiting contact with the other parent while they are with them.
    • I have heard too many healthy non-NPD parents talk about the NPD parent limiting phone calls, screening phone calls, or monitoring them
  • Denying the child to have personal property, and not allowing them to move possessions between homes.  The items don’t belong to the child, they belong with the house in which they are staying at the time.  This typically includes any cell phone the child has with them, so the child cannot have open contact, as noted above
  • Limiting information provided to the other parent about the child, even if the child is sick or ill while with them.
    • This is also a behavior which a protective parent eventually adopts, especially if they are practicing “low contact” and/or have come to the realization that information is almost always used against them
  • Blaming the other parent for any problems that exist, like lack of financial resources or opportunities in life because the family is “divorced”
  • Acting in a way which pretends the other parent doesn’t exist. Not allowing the child to mention the other parent’s name or refusing to acknowledge the child has fun with the other parent
  • Attacking the other parent’s character or lifestyle, such as job, living arrangements, activities, clothing and friends
    • Narcissists often put down their spouse while married – it’s a means of lowering their spouses self esteem and weakening the spouse against their emotional abuse
  • Dismissing or being condescending of the other parent’s opinions or parenting style, telling the child to disregard safety rules that are at the other house because they are “stupid” or “ridiculous”
  • Putting the child in the middle by encouraging the child to spy on the other parent or take messages back and forth
    • Or sending the child support check by way of the child….
  • Telling the child that the other parent is keeping them from seeing the child

References and related links:

11 Responses to “Parental Alienation & Narcissistic Personality Disorder”

  1. Alienated Parent says:

    What’s extremely sad. When the child’s guardian ad litem, along with the LCSW (both of whom are being paid by the alienator) encourage and side with the parent who is doing the alienation.
    The child is told they cannot speak to the other parent (even without court documents stating this). The child is told negative things about the other parent, not just from the alienator, but the two “paid professionals”
    Allowing the alienator to go against court documents and/or turning a blind eye to court documents that shows disregard to others.
    Seeing police reports, hearing from the child about domestic abuse, child’s psychological notes etc, but again the ad litem ignoring it, placing the child with the alienator.

  2. Richard Burton says:

    My heart goes out to you ladies and your children because having a husband who turns out to be or flips into narcissism is completely awful for the children and wives/partners. It is understandable that you want to protect your children and in your eyes I see how any alienation as merely a bi-product of protection. I completely believe YOU. I am sure that you know that narcissism is not limited to men. I have made the same mistake that you have in having a child with someone who’s narcissistic traits only emerged later. In her case she is alienating me 100% from my daughter. Now you know how terrible a narcissistic parent is, so you know all the grooming and bad-mouthing that goes on, and the emotional pressure to show ‘allegiance’. And you know how worrying that is when your little ones are with that ‘twisted’ father. Well I am just as worried, only my worry is forever because false DV charges have allowed my narcissistic wife time to isolate and groom my daughter to fear of me. So, please look beyond your own situation no matter how terrible it is. People like you and I would have a stronger voice if the wives of narcissists avoided sexism and focused on the abusive behavior of narcissistic partners, whether male or female.

    • jay says:

      Having read this post along with the comments and replies, its raised more questions than answers,
      * how on earth can you possibly suggest parental alienation isn’t an every day reality for millions of every day people unfortunate enough to have their children used as a revenge tool post separation ?
      * were you all oblivious to your partners narcissistic nature prior to having a child with them ?
      * Can you honestly feel ok about suggesting a child should not have contact with the person you chose to bring them into the world with ? it takes two to argue and divorce, what gives any person, let alone another parent, the right to deny a child fair access to both parents ? (obviously there’s valid exceptions regarding safety), but personality issues you have with your ex, isn’t grounds for alienating them from each other, and abusing the court system to achieve it is as low as it gets.

      I’m Just saying, your own situations are unique to you, making blanket statements against a reality that millions of parents and children alike are living testament, to the fact parental alienation is alive and well, and only growing in popularity as a revenge tool by spiteful and bitter other halves !!!

  3. Beth says:

    Married for 25, divorced for three long co-parenting years. Last Christmas NPD send email to son (and copy to me) stating that since son had missed 5 overnights (3 of them when X took GF’s son to camp in New York – I don’t know where the other came from) that he had to make them up over rest of the holidays otherwise he would initiate criminal or civil action against son and/or me. It was my parenting time, son didn’t want to go, so son declined. NPD went and filed for 50/50 custody (it was 35%). Goodness knows what X told son. Long story short, we went to family assessment (actually, psychologist knew she was dealing with a NPD) Assessment came back that son surprising well adjusted considering the high conflict, that son was mature enough to have some say in his interaction with X, oh, and that she saw no signs of parent alienation from me as accused by X (Woo-woo), that X should not involve son in parenting matters and he should also not bad mouth me to son. I guess I am one of the lucky ones with a good family court system. Son only goes out to dinner or attends family events when he knows his older sisters or aunt/grandmother will be there. Since my NPD is busy pretending that I don’t exist, he doesn’t communicate with me, only texts son, so I don’t know what is going on there. Son (17) has established his comfort level of interaction with his father. I am sure that X is hurt because of the “perfect father” image he holds.

    So, yes, be that strong person in their lives, try to take the high road. Maybe our children have an advantage over NPD intact families, as those children have no opportunity to see a different way of life.

    My twenty-something daughter and I were talking about her relationship with her boyfriend, and she said “what worries me is that girls tend to marry someone like their father, and I don’t want that”. I laughed and told her to let me spend some time with her intended before saying “yes”.

  4. heather says:

    Good point re: older = less bouncing. The girls come back pretty happy from him and are unhappy when they don’t see him at all. I don’t actually think they need 35% time with him but I think they need SOME time with him. If I’m really about the girls, I need to respect that and help them figure out whether they want to increase or decrease this over time.

    TO give him credit, I did talk to him truthfully and kindly when they last were having real problems with him in March/April and he seems to have become more present and better for them. They truly seem happy coming back from him, so I’m going to buy that presentation. Also there is no behavioral regression, which there was in March/April. But I totally stroked the ego in the e-mail and made it all about him and what an excellent and caring father he was and how I trusted him to fix his own problems with the girls.

    Basically, this is like parenting a badly behaved toddler. Wasn’t there a movie about this…some kid who could kill people with his own mind in Twilight Zone? I think it’s parenting that kid, right? A two year old with WAY too much power.

    This fits with the fact that I have lots more energy since the divorce. lost the 3rd child.

  5. heather says:

    So when I reduce conflict, he tends to abandon them and when I increase conflict, he attacks. Last year (we just finalized the divorce in January), this was incredibly painful for me. I watched the kids waiting and crying by windowsills as his sister would arrive 90 minutes late for his visits that she had to supervise.

    Now I tend to agree with you. The reality is that our jot is to help kids cope with reality. I picked a crappy father who — well intentioned as he is — is incapable of forming a meaningful and truthful human relationship. I feel like I”m still recovering from living with someone for 6 years who did not allow me to exist at all. So I’m just getting to the point of being there enough for the girls and of letting them deal with the disappointment of having a father with NPD. They are young (6 and 4) but I almost think it’s better if he bounces earlier rather than later.

    My attorney told me the same thing last year. He has 35% custody (and I have to pay him child support – narcissist though he is he is ultimately a failure) and he had only taken the girls about 27% of the time. She said not to make a big deal. The child support is small and just pay it. Let him fade and don’t engage.

    So I probably will do that with an occasional email that is focused on ego-boosting. The kids are small enough to support the narcissism just by being there, so he’s unlikely to totally drop.

    As for me, I hope to have a date this weekend while the ex has the kids. So I’m sure when he gets wind that I’m dating again, I”ll probably have the kids 80-100% of the time.

    • I have found that the older my children are, the more he is able to get narcissistic supply from them, and therefore the less likely he is to bail out on them because he’s getting value. Also, it seems that he uses the “identity” as a father to get more supply as people oogle over him being a “great father” (gasp, puke, horror). I think that the “no contact rule” and the “low contact” (as some contact is necessary) is there to facilitate the narcissist leaving his victim and moving on. If there’s no contact or very little, they aren’t getting what they want from us anyway and they have no reason to keep pestering. It’s part of the reason why I didn’t go forward with a parent coordinator – because the less contact, the better for us. Less contact = less conflict in my case. Just a thought –

  6. heather says:

    Hey –

    I stumbled on this site last year divorcing my NPD ex after he left our children in the car – in 91 degree weather with no shade and no ventilation. I’ve found myself doing some of these tactics as a defensive maneuver against him. That is, I say negative things about him when he’s a jerk (e.g., when he decides he doesn’t want the kids and abandons them back to me; actively neglects them, etc) and I work hard also to note when he is being positive (e.g., teaching them art or music, which he is talented at). I’ve found the best tactic is to disengage and then use the court to make him behave himself when I need it. My issue is that the entire family is NPD/BPD and I’ve had some real challenges working with them. For example his sister (my friends and I call her sister-wife) has put her kids in my kids’ school Since she wouldn’t let me be pregnant without getting pregnant herself, her kids are in the same exact classroom, so I have to deal with them daily at pick-up and drop off and of course with the hate mongering and victim stancing.

    I’m finding that the best response i get from him when I have to cope with him is manipulating his ego. That is, if I can’t disengage, I try to give him complements and extra ego time with the kids (really it’s not visitation…it’s face time). I’m wondering if there is any information out there on inoculating kids from their crap? My kids are with him 35% time (although this is decreasing over time as he bounces from their lives onto his next victims) and I’m just wanting a different dynamic than he had to grow up with – which was his father who is flaming NPD created a cult of personality with his family. I think I’m doing ok by just having them talk about the good and bad of the family and identifying where they feel safe and where they feel unsafe. I find it very tricky to NOT say negative things about these people, however. THey are terrible overall and completely incompetent. I don’t want my kids growing up thinking NPD is normal like my ex and his sister did. On the other hand, I want my kids to salvage whatever shred of a relationship they might have with him.

    One question I had is – isn’t your blog enflaming your ex? I would think he would figure out it’s about him and punish you mercilessly after a while.

    Anyway, thanks for the blog. I’m much better at the one year mark but there were many times I read this instead of walking into traffic over the last year. Realizing that the NPD was just conning me instead of ever loving me was very hard and painful.


    • Hi Heather, thanks so much for writing. You’re stating what my biggest questions are and what I am trying to determine myself – how to mitigate the impact on my children. I liken it to having been in the relationship myself and starting to “normalize” his ridiculous behavior. Over time, even though I knew it was ridiculous, I was told it wasn’t repeatedly and I began to doubt myself. I’m sorry to hear how hard and painful it was for you to realize that it wasn’t the relationship you thought it was. I did the same – and when going through energy healing (, I “released” that learning, and found that it also released the emotion related to it. It was such a wonderful “lighter” feeling.
      As for the impact on the kids – I’ve asked a good dozen mental health professionals, and each always states how studies show that just one strong, positive influence in a child’s life can help that child come through in tact. While I like that statement and remind myself of it, I still believe there is more that can be done and also take refuge in the fact that my kids can do energy healing themselves down the road.
      As for me writing the blog – this is entirely in a different name, initially for the reason you noted. It is also, though, because it would be harmful to my kids for our community to know all the personal things that they go through. Many are aware of glimpses of the issues since talking about it helps others, but the very personal level that is here needs to stay personal for their sake.
      My question for you… why do your kids need to salvage a relationship with their father? I used to think so too, and didn’t get a family order of protection for that reason when he was physically abusive while holding our infant son. Over time, though, I think that the best thing for my kids would be if he left their lives. Especially at this point where they have seen enough negative things that they may come to peace with it better.

      Sorry for the long reply! All the best to you and your kids-

  7. Stacey says:

    Ick…my ex does ALL of these things when he has time with my older son.

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