You’ve probably heard the term “Psycho Ex Wife” if you’ve talked with a man who has suffered from the atrocities of the family law courts manipulated by a truly malevolent ex. It was popularized in part by the illegally banned website The Psycho Ex Wife. Malicious moms are deservingly labeled as psychos quite often, hence the widespread recognition of the phrase. The reality is that both men and women can behave horribly and abusively using the children as pawns in a struggle with the other parent. Often this abusiveness starts even before the filing for a divorce.
It’s hard to find a widely accepted term for referring to the kind of maliciously manipulative parents that interfere with their children’s time with the other parent. Some call them “high conflict personalities” (HCPs), others “parental alienators”, still others “sociopaths” or “psychopaths.” Many refer to Borderlines, Narcissists, Histrionics, Antisocials, Paranoids, or other personality disorder diagnoses to explain the behaviors and label the abusers. The problem is huge and really encompasses multiple groups of people with severely messed up behaviors as parents. For this article, I’ll simply be referring to them as “psycho parents” and not try to more precisely label them.
In this article, I’ll be describing some of the tactics that psycho parents use to manipulate kids to participate in resisting child custody exchanges. This is part of the overall problem of parental alienation. The psycho parent is often successful at causing children to resist custody exchanges even in cases in which the children do not actually hate the parent being attacked and still enjoy spending time with that parent.
Anybody faced with a psycho parent is likely to benefit from reading about Borderlines and Narcissists and their interactions with children. However, don’t let this mislead you into trying to diagnose one of these people and use such as a diagnosis in court. Even if you are absolutely correct in your assessment, judges almost uniformly lack the understanding of what it means and will attack you for putting a reasonable label on the bizarre and destructive behaviors because you’re not a licensed psychologist. Unfortunately, many if not most licensed psychologists are not capable of diagnosing these kinds of disorders accurately because they lack the time with the person and also, in some cases, have their own agendas and biases that make them easy targets for a psycho parent to manipulate.
Motivations of the Psycho Parent
If there’s anything truly common to all psycho parents, it’s hard to find. Although many of them were abused by one or both parents as kids, not all were. And not all abused kids grow up to be psycho parents. Many psycho parents are Borderlines or Narcissists, but not all are. Even if they do meet the criteria for BPD, NPD, or some other personality disorder, few are formally diagnosed and fewer still ever voluntarily seek treatment or honestly work on fixing their problems. So the formal name for whatever ails them is somewhat besides the point, although it is sometimes handy as an abbreviation for describing their overall behavior patterns.
What I find to be reasonably frequent features of psycho parents are the following:
- A history of insecurity during childhood. This often stems from child abuse or neglect in the home, but can also arise from other situations such as severe poverty or living in a unsafe environment such as a neighborhood with frequent violence from crime or war.
- Pervading sense of insecurity about one’s self as an adult. This flows from the childhood insecurities that were never resolved. Some might say that Narcissists don’t act like this, often touting their own superiority. But when you think about it, they really do have intense insecurities and their Narcissitic behaviors are the means to make themselves feel better or to hide their self-doubts.
- Extreme focus on self. Inside their adult bodies they are still hurt little insecure children. Consequently, they are usually unable to focus on anybody but themselves because they are so badly damaged they never learned how to do so. This shows up via narcissistic traits such as selfishness, even if the person does not meet the criteria for NPD.
- Little or no empathy for others. These people are usually unable to put themselves in another’s shoes, or to consider how their words and actions harm others. They probably don’t care. Sometimes you may see them pretend to care, but usually this is a means to manipulate others. Other times, it is simply they are following behavior patterns they have seen other more healthy people follow often without actually having any genuine empathy themselves.
- Frequent manipulations of others as a means to meet their emotional needs. Often such manipulations involve lying and distorting about the actions of others, particular the ex or the kids, in an attempt to win allies or sympathy or battles in court. But these people also play at being victims in many other venues. In a workplace, for instance, you may see them pretend to be loaded up with unfair amounts of work, that other people are taking credit for their work, or that they are being sexually harassed.