- Divorce can be particularly painful to individuals with symptoms of BPD.
- Certain symptoms of BPD make attempts at parental alienation more likely during and after divorce.
- Parents who are being alienated from their child should take action to disrupt this process.
Divorce is painful for everyone, but for individuals with symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD), it can be devastating. It is their worst fear come true: abandonment. This increases their fear of being alone, and they often cling to their children. Frantic efforts to secure their relationship with their children can cause them to push the other parent away, which sometimes takes the form of alienation from that other parent.
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
Parental alienation occurs when efforts are made to discourage a child's attachment to a parent. This often occurs during acrimonious divorces, when one parent discourages the child/children from having a relationship with the other. Mechanisms often used to alienate the child/children are extremely harmful to children and include the following:
- Slandering the other parent. This involves making deprecating statements about the other parent repetitively. This often includes fabricated information.
- Showing disapproval or objection to the child being with the other parent or enjoying time with the other parent.
- Interfering with the other parent's time with the child/children. This is sometimes done by scheduling events during time with the other parent or making the child feel guilty for being with the other parent or enjoying it.
The Link Between BPD and PAS
Some common symptoms of BPD make parental alienation more common in acrimonious divorces, the most damaging of which include the following:
- Fear of abandonment: The divorce process often leaves individuals with a sense of abandonment. Those who are particularly sensitive to these fears grab onto others to mitigate the loss of a spouse, which often results in being possessive of the children.
- Idealization and devaluation: The tendency to see others as either close friends or mortal enemies often results in angry and vengeful feelings towards the other parent. These feelings are sometimes acted out by alienating the children from the other parent.
- Intense anger that they have difficulty controlling: This makes it difficult for them to suppress angry thoughts and expressions, resulting in frequent disparagement of the other parent.
In the following dialogue, Lena attempts to share her excitement about going to the zoo with her mother, Sheila, with her father, Ryan, who has symptoms of BPD.
Lena: Daddy, I can't wait to go to the zoo with mommy. She said there will be giraffes.
Ryan: Since when is your mother a lover of animals?
Lena: It was my idea to go. I love animals.
Ryan: I know that you love animals. When you were little, I wanted to get a puppy, but your mother didn't want an animal in the house.
Lena: So we almost had a puppy?
Ryan: You would have had a puppy to grow up with if it was up to me.
Lena: Mommy doesn't like animals?
Ryan: Go ask Mr. Mouse.
Lena: Who is Mr. Mouse?
Ryan: A cute little mouse got into our basement, and Mommy was not happy.
Lena: What happened?
Ryan: She hired a man to come in and kill it and then take it away.
Lena: Daddy, will you take me to the zoo?
Ryan: Of course. Let's go right now.
In the above exchange, Ryan characterizes the mother as an animal hater and discourages Lena from going to the zoo with her. More importantly, he is attacking one of the two most important relationships in his daughter's life. If Ryan continues this behavior, he will either alienate Lena from her mother, or he will alienate her from himself. The outcome is partially dependent on how Sheila responds to Ryan's efforts at alienating her.
If Sheila allows Ryan to discourage her relationship with Lena, Lena may start to detach from her. For example, if Sheila does not take Lena to the zoo because Ryan took her first and tried to make Lena believe that she hates animals, it might encourage Lena to seek out her father instead of her mother whenever she wants to do certain activities.
Sheila's only other option is to challenge Ryan's efforts at alienation. She can make efforts to get Ryan to stop the alienating behavior. She can seek legal remedy, but she will be most effective by challenging the effects of his efforts on Lena directly. The following dialogue illustrates how she might do that.
Lena: Mommy, I went to the zoo with Daddy today.
Sheila: You did? I thought we were going to go on Saturday.
Lena: I wanted to go with Daddy. He loves animals like me.
Sheila: I like animals too.
Lena: Daddy told me that you don't like animals and that you are mean to them.
Sheila: Have you ever seen me be mean to an animal?
Sheila: Have you ever heard me talk about being mean to animals?
Sheila: So, do you think I don't like animals?
Lena: Well, you wouldn't let us get a dog.
Sheila: Did someone tell you that I would not let you get a puppy?
Sheila: Would you still like to have a puppy?
Lena: More than anything.
Sheila: Let's see what it takes to own a puppy, and maybe we can get one.
In the above dialogue, Sheila challenged the alienating statements made by Ryan without bringing him up directly, thereby avoiding triangulation. Lena will have to sort out the discrepancy in messages that her parents give her. She may not be able to do this effectively until she is older and able to understand adult processing better. If Lena does come to understand her father's efforts to alienate her from her mother, she is likely to become annoyed with her father. She likely will lose her trust in him, which may never be restorable.
Parental alienation is one of the worst things a parent can do to a child. It causes the child tremendous distress and conflict and often damages current and future relationships. Parents whose children are being alienated from them need to challenge the alienation rather than accept it if they want to protect their bond with their children.
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