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Pathological Enmeshment in Parental Alienation

Bronze intertwined link represents pathological enmeshment.

Pathological Enmeshment

When Children Are Alienated From a Targeted Parent

Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

“Pathological Enmeshment” is where the alienating parent has an unhealthy enmeshment with the child to the point where the child has lost his or her own individuality.” ~Steven Miller, M.D., Internationally-known expert on alienation and estrangement.

Parents are highly influential in the development of a child’s individuality and identity. Through unconditional love and support, healthy parents encourage their children’s independence in decision making, teach their children to be ambitious, and encourage them to form separate identities. The uniqueness of a child within a functional family unit is revered and celebrated. That is not so in situations of dysfunctional parenting where love is based on conditions, the child’s independence is discouraged, and the child’s individuality is shamed, criticized and forbidden.

Children tend to suffer the same fate in families where one parent is loving and the other abusive. They know they have one parent's love, but they desperately want love from the other and will sacrifice themselves in pursuit of it. Healthy boundaries do not exist in families with narcissistic parents, the home environments are not emotionally safe, and the loving parents, also in survival mode, cannot adequately protect them. The longer children remain in this toxic environment the worse the lifetime damage will be.

If or when the good parent separates from or divorces their abusive spouse, the toxic parent will suddenly become "parent of the year". The children are attracted to this new, bright shiny version of the parent whose love and attention they desperately crave. They are given everything they want, boundaries are loose, and life is fun--initially. The good parent cannot possibly compete. In return, all that is asked of the children is steadfast loyalty.

The toxic parent does not love the children. She only wants to make the loving parent suffer in the most painful way--by alienating his children from him. Under the guise of loving the children, she pathologically enmeshes with them to condition (brain wash) and control them. She tells the children outrageous lies about the other parent, blames the other parent for breaking up the family, lays heavy guilt trips on them, and plays the pitiful victim.

Pathological enmeshment is a severe form of child abuse. It strips the children down mentally, emotionally, and psychologically and turns them into the narcissistic parent's remote control robots. Because the manipulation is stealth, the children do not realize anything has happened to them. They truly believe they have consciously chosen, without duress, to reject the other parent.

Parental alienation is devastating for parents who have spent years loving, nurturing, and raising children; children who for their entire lives loved and adored them. Now their children spew venom at them, parrot the cruel words of the alienating parent, avoid spending time with them, and/or block them from contact.

Parental alienation is a massive, societal problem that is grandly misunderstood and often goes unnoticed. It is a world-wide epidemic, yet grossly unrecognized by the judicial system and many mental health professionals. These decision makers are easily manipulated by alienating parents who represent themselves as victims, construct horrendous lies about the targeted parent, and present themselves as stable, loving and concerned. The enmeshed relationship they have with their children is mistaken for healthy bonding.

The alienated parent, having suffered extreme trauma and therefore fearful, agitated, anxious, and angry, is seen as the unstable one. Their allegations of alienation are seen as defensive, paranoid and/or delusional. They are told to stop playing the victim.

Everything about narcissistic abuse, parental alienation, and pathological enmeshment is counter-intuitive. In dealing with these issues and without proper guidance, targeted parents are likely to make the wrong decisions. The only defense they have are shrewd, experienced attorneys and skillful mental health professionals who can teach them strategies. The outcome is much better if these strategies are started prior to the separation, before leaving the home, and before the narcissist has any inkling of what's about to happen.

Attorneys must be thoroughly vetted to assure they have experience representing these kinds of cases. Most will tell you that they have years of experience with this and that the law is the law. That is not good enough. Ask for specific examples of how they defended the target of predatory manipulation and abuse. If they cannot offer any, move on to the next one. You should feel protected by your attorney, not judged, criticized, and labeled.

Do not assume that licensed mental health professionals know how to help you, no matter their degree or level of education. Most do not. Commonly used psychotherapy methods are antiquated in regard to these issues. Find someone with vast experience in this area. Otherwise you are wasting your time, money, and peace of mind.

I work with several targeted parents who are suffering through this tortuous, complicated, convoluted process and don't know what to do. I never tell my clients that this is going to be easy, it will not, but I am steadfastly there to support them and help them navigate the process to achieve the best possible outcome.

When you are ready, I am available to help you.

Randi Fine is an internationally renowned narcissistic abuse expert and coach, and the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery Second Edition, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of the official companion workbook Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: A Comprehensive Workbook for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse. Randi Fine is the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.

1 Comment

Alexis Shitama
Alexis Shitama
Oct 25, 2023

Thank you so much for this post! My husband and I are dealing with his co-parent who is a covert narcissist and has been alienating him. I also experienced this with my mother as a child. It's frustrating, but we've been recording examples which are endless) and are researching attorneys now. People really don't understand this and how frustrating this is. Reading this is encouraging simply because someone else understands what we're going through.

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