MMPI-2 Can Reveal Parental AlienatorsWritten by: Rob Print This Article
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Psychologist Dr. Robert M. Gordon has testified in many court cases about the form of child abuse known as parental alienation. One of the things that frustrates him is that advocacy groups such as NOW (National Organization of Women) dispute the existence of parental alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome to the extent that it becomes difficult to talk in court about a very real phenomenon backed by research. Yet most of these articles disputing that PAS even exists don’t mention research. Many are full of anti-father diatribes, others of individual cases in which PAS was claimed by an abusive father and the alienation wasn’t really PAS but the children’s legitimate reaction to child abuse.
How to Identify Parental Alienators?
Dr. Gordon set out to find a way to more readily and objectively identify parental alienators. For expert guidance, he has referred to the parental alienation works of psychologist Amy Baker, Ph.D., noted expert regarding parental alienation syndrome and the author of Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties That Bind.
Dr. Gordon collected 158 MMPI-2 (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, version 2) surveys from child custody evaluators. MMPI-2 is a widely used test in psychological and custody evaluations done during divorces. Dr. Gordon teamed up with Dr. Stoffey and Dr. Bottinelli and asked them to do the MMPI-2 analysis for him. As he intentionally kept them unaware of what he was trying to find, he avoided the the risk of bias affecting their MMPI-2 interpretations.
What the study found is that in parental alienation cases, the alienating parent (whether it is the mother or father) is identifiable by abnormal responses to MMPI-2 questions that are similar in how they use primitive psychological defenses. The target parents had MMPI-2 results that were essentially the same as the control MMPI-2 surveys used in the study. Therefore it appears that the MMPI-2 can be used to help ascertain the presence of parental alienation in a divorce or child custody case and to identify the alienator.
Dr. Gordon has brought together essays and studies from his 30 years of psychological work on the study of relationships into a book entitled An Expert Look at Love, Intimacy and Personal Growth. The table of contents of the book is listed below:
Introduction 1 Chapter 1 Love and Happiness 3 Chapter 2 Treating Love Disturbances 8 Chapter 3 Measuring Individual Traits 21 Chapter 4 Treating Others Well 24 Chapter 5 Medea and Parental Alienation 34 Chapter 6 Grieving Lost Love 54 Chapter 7 Personal Growth 57 Chapter 8 Lies and Defenses 74 Chapter 9 Integrating Theories 81 Chapter 10 Self-esteem 96 Chapter 11 Children of Divorce 99 Chapter 12 Towards Healthier Intimacies 102 Conclusion 113 Index 115 References 118 C.E. 125
Parental Alienation and the Greek Myth of Medea
The chapter “Medea and Parental Alienation” is particularly interesting. In it, Dr. Gordon outlines how the Greek myth of Princess Medea killing her own children to exact vengeance on her former husband is essentially about psychological problems involved in parental alienation:
The alienating mother’s rage is rooted in part in a wish to destroy the child, whom she at some level resents being stuck and may turn her rage into over protectiveness as a reaction formation. She is unable to let her children separate from her. She tells them the harm that will befall them when they are out of her control. The mother projects her aggression on to the environment and then makes her children need her protection.
When the mother wishes to punish the father by turning their children against him, she is also aggressing against the children. In her unconscious, both the husband and the children represent the same thing (betrayal and potential betrayal), and destructiveness is wished on them both.
In short, a mother who turns her children against their father probably has at least paranoid features within a borderline or psychotic personality structure (Gordon, 1987). She cannot deal with the loss, and remains tied to her (ex) husband in an intimate hate, and keeps her children tied to her out of fear.
Parental Alienation, Mental Illness, and the Cycle of Child Abuse
Gordon’s description of parental alienation as coming from psychological problems in the alienating parent such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a view shared by many other experts, including Dr. Amy Baker and Dr. Richard Warshak, author of Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond from a Vindictive Ex. A major risk of parental alienation is the creation of mental health problems in the children. A particularly severe danger is instilling personality disorders such as BPD and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) into the children. If the alienating parent causes such personality disorders to develop in children, it is likely the children will go on to spread the psychological damage to their own children decades later. This dynamic is a major factor in the persistent cycle of child abuse in families.
Dr. Gordon’s Private Psychotherapy Practice
Dr. Gordon maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Allentown, Pennsylvania. You can find out more about his practice and how to contact him by clicking here. For those of you living in or near Pennsylvania dealing with the difficult problem of parental alienation, you may want to arrange for therapy and/or consultation with him regarding your family.