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The Borderline Personality Disordered Parent: A Challenge for Courts

The Borderline Personality Disordered Parent: A Challenge for Courts, Professionals, the Target Parent, and the Child

Mary Alvarez, PhD, Psychologist

WHY WOULD A PARENT weaponize a child in order to hurt or destroy the other parent’s relationship with that child? Which also leaves the child with significant negative psychological effects? There are several different psychological “culprits” that can help explain a parent’s extreme behavior (engaging in parental alienation) and borderline personality disorder is one such high conflict personality disorder that is not an uncommon diagnosis for the alienating parent. Not understanding nor including some sort of plan to deal with a borderline parent in the mix can have unintended consequences to the success of both judiciary orders and treatment plans. What is borderline personality disorder? It is a disorder in which the individual:

• experiences significant feelings of abandonment;

• exhibits a long pattern of unstable, intense, and conflictual interpersonal relationships;

• perceives people in a very dichotic manner by either idealizing them or completely devaluing them;

• exhibits an unstable sense of self and self-identity; • experiences significant affective (mood) instability (extreme highs/extreme lows);

• displays inappropriate and intense anger given the circumstances;

• experiences chronic feelings of emptiness despite interpersonal relationships;

• can exhibit stress-related paranoia.

Overlooking or failing to account for the role of borderline personality disorder in the favored parent will not produce the best outcome for the child. Custody changes, no contact orders, reunification approaches, and psychological interventions for children who unjustifiably reject a parent cannot be made in isolation of addressing the maladaptive personality characteristics in the favored parent and the effects on the entire system. The very interventions that courts impose to help the target parent and the child reconnect trigger the borderline parent’s psychopathology, including extreme mood dysregulation and rage. For example, it’s critical that the alienating parent have the ability to understand his/her role in how the child came to reject the other parent, but the borderline’s lack of ability for self-awareness and personal insight is particularly troubling because he/she is largely unable to understand his/her role in the disruption between the other parent’s relationship with the child.

It’s critical and necessary that the alienating parent be able to genuinely accept responsibility for his/her role in the child’s unjustified rejection of the other parent, but borderline parents blame everyone else and everything else for the current state of affairs. It’s the court’s fault, the attorney(s) fault, the professionals are at fault, and the other parent is at fault. It’s just never the borderline parent’s fault.

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