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Dark Personalities and Induced Delusional Disorder: The Research Gap Underlying a Crisis in the Family and Domestic Violence Courts

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Abstract

Children are negatively impacted by high interparental conflict following divorce. The most acrimonious cases involve pathological parental behaviors which constitute psychological child abuse. Parents with narcissistic, borderline, or dark personalities are known to decompensate into psychotic states featuring non-bizarre encapsulated shared persecutory delusions when experiencing severe stress and interpersonal instability. Research indicates children are at significant risk for developing an induced delusional disorder imposed by psychotic parents, and dark personalities are prone to manipulating children and government agencies to inflict damage on ex-partners through family and domestic violence courts. These phenomena were detailed a decade ago by Childress (2013) and subsequently cited in family court literature (Walters & Friedlander, 2016). This literature review evaluates the scientific community’s progress in researching, detecting, identifying, and treating this severe form of parent-child psychopathology transmission and intimate partner violence. Based on this review, it appears little to no progress has been made and both the etiology and epidemiology of this court-involved form of induced delusional disorder continues to be grossly under-recognized and misunderstood. Research focusing on how primary inducing parents’ non-bizarre encapsulated shared persecutory delusions are imposed on secondary inductee children in high conflict family and domestic violence courts cases is warranted.
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 1
Dark Personalities and Induced Delusional Disorder: The Research Gap Underlying a
Crisis in the Family and Domestic Violence Courts
Melanie B. Greenham1 and Craig A. Childress
1Department of Psychology and Political Science, Eastern New Mexico University
Author Note
Melanie B. Greenham https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8235-1802
Craig A. Childress https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8970-0043
The authors have no known conflicts of interest to disclose.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Melanie B. Greenham,
Eastern New Mexico University, Department of Psychology and Political Science, 1500 S. Ave.
K, Portales, NM 88130. Email: melanie.greenham@enmu.edu
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 2
Abstract
Children are negatively impacted by high interparental conflict following divorce. The
most acrimonious cases involve pathological parental behaviors which constitute psychological
child abuse. Parents with narcissistic, borderline, or dark personalities are known to
decompensate into psychotic states featuring non-bizarre encapsulated shared persecutory
delusions when experiencing severe stress and interpersonal instability. Research indicates
children are at significant risk for developing an induced delusional disorder imposed by
psychotic parents, and dark personalities are prone to manipulating children and government
agencies to inflict damage on ex-partners through family and domestic violence courts. These
phenomena were detailed a decade ago by Childress (2013) and subsequently cited in family
court literature (Walters & Friedlander, 2016). This literature review evaluates the scientific
community’s progress in researching, detecting, identifying, and treating this severe form of
parent-child psychopathology transmission and intimate partner violence. Based on this review,
it appears little to no progress has been made and both the etiology and epidemiology of this
court-involved form of induced delusional disorder continues to be grossly under-recognized and
misunderstood. Research focusing on how primary inducing parentsnon-bizarre encapsulated
shared persecutory delusions are imposed on secondary inductee children in high conflict family
and domestic violence courts cases is warranted.
Keywords: family law, high conflict divorce, intimate partner violence, psychological
child abuse, induced delusional disorder, shared psychotic disorder, folie à deux, narcissistic
personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, dark triad, vulnerable dark triad, dark tetrad
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 3
Dark Personalities and Induced Delusional Disorder: The Research Gap Underlying a
Crisis in the Family and Domestic Violence Courts
Recent statistics indicate that about 90% of all people in the United States will marry at
least once by the age of 50; however, half of all first marriages will end in divorce and the rates
increase with each subsequent marriage (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.).
Additionally, about 24% of all divorces are considered to be high conflict, involving prolonged
disputes over various matters including child custody (legal decision-making), visitation
(parenting time), child support, and other child-related matters (Donner, 2006). Based on these
figures, it is estimated about 10% of the population will experience a high conflict divorce during
their lifetime. Additionally, because the effects of high conflict divorce are felt by many others
connected to the couple (e.g., children, extended family members, friends, co-workers), nearly
everyone is likely to be affected to some degree by this phenomenon at some point in time.
In the most acrimonious cases, at least one parent is engaging in various pathological
behaviors as a result of their own psychological collapse from actual or imagined narcissistic
injuries coupled with unresolved childhood developmental traumas (Childress, 2013, 2015,
2016; Donner, 2006). In these cases, children, the legal system, and other third parties are often
used as weapons against the ex-spouse as a form of ongoing intimate partner violence (Childress,
2013, 2015, 2016). The tragic result is the formation of a non-bizarre encapsulated shared
persecutory delusion that manifests in a parent-child relationship through the leveraging of a role
reversal and cross-generational coalition which ultimately leads to an emotional cut-off between
the child and their other parent (Childress, 2013, 2015, 2016; Walters & Friedlander, 2016). This
is a form of child psychological abuse and intimate partner violence that most often occurs in the
context of high conflict family and domestic violence court cases (see Appendix; Childress,
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 4
2013, 2015, 2016; Walters & Friedlander, 2016). This paper explores the literature to evaluate
the scientific community’s progress in detecting, identifying, and treating this elusive
phenomenon since its identification almost a decade ago.
Dark Personality Constellations
The research on the first constellation of dark personality traits included three which are
considered especially prominent and malevolent, giving rise to the term Dark Triad (Paulhus &
Williams, 2002). Since then, additional variations of antagonistic personality trait constellations
have also been identified, including the Vulnerable Dark Triad (Starlinger et al., 2022) and the
Dark Tetrad (Međedović & Petrović, 2015). Each of these are at least partially comprised of
traits associated with specific personality disorders (Vossen et al., 2017).
Personality Disorders
A personality disorder is a pervasive and persistent pattern of thinking, feeling, and
behaving that significantly differs from societal norms and expectations, causing an individual to
experience distress or problems in their daily lives (Hopwood et al., 2012). The Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association
[APA], 2013), provides diagnostic information for 10 specific personality disorders. DSM-5
(APA, 2013) divides these disorders into three clusters. Cluster A is comprised of schizoid,
schizotypal, and paranoid personalities; Cluster B is comprised of histrionic, borderline,
narcissistic, and antisocial personalities; and Cluster C is comprised of dependent, avoidant, and
obsessive-compulsive personalities. Although the prevalence of these disorders is not precisely
known, it is estimated that approximately 9.1% of U.S. adults have a personality disorder with
5.7% from Cluster A, 1.5% from Cluster B, and 6.0% from Cluster C (Lenzenweger et al., 2007).
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 5
In the context of dark personalities, three of the Cluster B disorders are of concern: antisocial,
borderline, and narcissistic (Vossen et al., 2017).
Antisocial Personality Disorder
The antisocial personality, sometimes also referred to as sociopathy or psychopathy, is
characterized by a lack of conscience and a disregard for others’ rights since the age of 15 as
demonstrated by at least three of seven diagnostic indicators including impulsivity, reckless
disregard for safety, aggressiveness, social irresponsibility, deceitfulness and exploitation,
violation of laws and social norms, and a lack of remorse (Fisher & Hany, 2022). There is
marked impairment in normal-range fear, anxiety, affective empathy, and emotional experiences
(Walker et al., 2022). However, contrary to what the term antisocial implies, this personality is
not inherently averse to social interactions and is often superficially charming, articulate, witty,
and able to make a deceptively good first impression on others (Blonigen et al., 2005).
With regard to the construct of psychopathy, it is important to note that many researchers
conceptualize it as consisting of between two to four underlying factors with the two-factor
model being predominant (Miller et al., 2010). From this model, Factors 1 and 2 are understood
through basic personality traits with Factor 1 tied to psychopathy’s interpersonal and affective
elements (e.g., aggressiveness, deceitfulness, lack of remorse) while Factor 2 is tied to its deviant
social elements (e.g., impulsivity, violation of laws and norms; Miller et al., 2010).
Borderline Personality Disorder
The term borderline was developed in the 1930s because this personality was thought to
be on the borderline of neurotic and psychotic (Beck et al., 2015). The borderline personality is
characterized by severe instability stemming from a hypersensitivity to rejection as demonstrated
by at least five of eight diagnostic indicators including an unstable self-image, frantic efforts to
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 6
avoid abandonment, fluctuations between idealization and devaluation, impulsive self-harm or
sabotage, suicidal ideations or attempts, sudden over-reactive mood swings, inappropriate
intense anger, chronic feelings of emptiness, and paranoid beliefs or severe dissociative states
(Chapman et al., 2022). This personality is prone to both intermittent and persistent delusions of
reference, persecution, and of being controlled by other people or entities, but also experiences
delusions involving themes of grandiosity, sin or guilt, mind reading, thought broadcasting,
thought withdrawal, and religion (Niemantsverdriet et al., 2022).
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The grandiose narcissistic personality is characterized by self-love, grandiosity, an
intense need for admiration, and lack of empathy displayed by early adulthood and demonstrated
by at least five of nine diagnostic indicators including exaggerated self-importance, entitlement,
arrogance, envy, exploitation, association with high-status people or entities, and fantasies of
success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love (Mitra & Fluyau, 2022). In a similar but
distinct vein is the vulnerable narcissistic personality which is closely tied to the borderline
personality and is characterized by fragile grandiosity, imposter syndrome, high defensiveness,
rejection sensitivity, weak self-image, low self-esteem, self-alienation, internalizing symptoms,
anxiety, and depression (Jauk & Kaufman, 2018).
When under severe stress or faced with challenges, narcissistic personalities tend to
decompensate into persecutory delusional beliefs as a result of their preoccupation with fantasies
(Kay, 2021; Millon, 2011). Setbacks that disturb their superior self-image of omnipotence will
trigger jealousy delusions in which they rewrite history and construct a delusional alternate
reality that comports with their preferred version of self and others (Millon, 2011). When their
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 7
fragile ego is threatened, the narcissistic personality reacts with uncontrolled rage, depression,
and delusions of grandeur (Kay, 2021; Walker et al., 2022).
Subclinical Dark Personality Constellations
Many adults possess personality traits that cause tremendous relationship difficulties and
turmoil even though they may not meet all diagnostic criteria for a personality disorder (Furnham
& Petropoulou, 2017). Some of these subclinical antagonistic traits are captured on a continuum
of pathological personality constructs which exhibit self-centeredness, dishonesty, callous
attitudes toward others, and heightened externalizing behaviors (Miller et al., 2010). Individuals
with subclinical dark personalities inflict substantial harm through family and domestic violence
courts due to their propensity for manipulating and weaponizing the legal system, government
agencies, social networks, and even their own children against an ex-partner (Childress, 2013,
2015, 2016; Clemente et al., 2020; Clemente & Diaz, 2021; Ok et al., 2020; Ulzen & Carpentier,
1997; Walters & Friedlander, 2016).
Dark Triad
The trio of subclinical personality traits in the Dark Triad are Factor 1 psychopathy,
grandiose narcissism, and Machiavellianism (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Machiavellianism is a
socio-political attitude similar to authoritarianism or dogmatism (Clemente & Diaz, 2021) which
features immoral and cynical strategic manipulation of others to meet personal goals and gain
power, along with a tendency for depression, anxiety, emotional dysregulation, and neuroticism
(Walker et al., 2022). The Dark Triad is associated with increased crime, alcohol and substance
abuse (Miller et al., 2010), belief in conspiracy theories due to a desire to be unique (Kay, 2021),
and judicial manipulation (Clemente et al., 2020). The Dark Triad is associated with an absence
of empathy (Jonason & Krause, 2013; Wai & Tiliopoulos, 2012), lying and deceit (Baughman et
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 8
al., 2014; Jonason et al., 2014), high-conflict communication (Horan et al., 2015), and
vengefulness in romantic relationships (Giammarco & Vernon, 2014; Rasmussen & Boon,
2014), and has also been described as the core of evil (Book et al., 2015; Book et al., 2016).
Vulnerable Dark Triad
This variation of the Dark Triad combines subclinical Factor 2 psychopathy with
vulnerable narcissism and borderline personality traits resulting in high levels of interpersonal
sensitivity, emotional dysregulation, hostility, paranoid ideations, an avoidant and anxious (i.e.,
fearful) adult romantic attachment style, crime, alcohol and substance use, non-suicidal self-
harm, anxiety, and depression (Miller et al., 2010).
Dark Tetrad
Another variation of the original Dark Triad retains the initial three traits of Factor 1
psychopathy, grandiose narcissism, and Machiavellianism, and adds a fourth element: sadism
(Međedović & Petrović, 2015). Sadism is taking pleasure in the physical or emotional pain
suffered by another and can include domination, control, punishment, and/or humiliation of
others (Međedović & Petrović, 2015). The presence of sadism is a predictor for unprovoked
aggression, cruelty toward other living beings, delinquent behavior, criminal recidivism, and
brutally destructive amoral dispositions (Međedović & Petrović, 2015).
Induced Delusional Disorder
A delusion is a fixed and false belief that persists despite conflicting evidence (Joseph &
Siddiqui, 2022). Delusions exist on a continuum ranging from mild, temporary delusion-like
experiences consisting of brief unusual thoughts or non-bizarre ideas that resolve without clinical
intervention (Upthegrove & Allan, 2018) to firmly held beliefs that cannot be explained by any
other condition (Tonna et al., 2018). Delusions can affect an individual’s perception, awareness,
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 9
mood, memory, or ideas (Kiran & Chaudhury, 2009). There are four dimensional classifications
for delusions: mood-congruent vs. mood-neutral (Kiran & Chaudhury, 2009) and bizarre vs.
non-bizarre (Upthegrove & Allan, 2018).
Mood-congruent delusions stem from and reflect thematic content consistent with an
emotional state (Kiran & Chaudhury, 2009). Using examples from the grandiose and persecutory
specifier categories in the DSM-5 (APA, 2013), an individual experiencing a depressed mood
state may believe everyone is ‘out to get’ them (persecutory delusion) while an individual
experiencing a manic state may believe they possess a talent or natural gift which they do not
have (grandiose delusion). Conversely, mood-neutral delusions are not related to an individual’s
emotional state, such as a false belief that every comment a particular person or group posts on
social media is directed at the individual (delusion of reference; Startup & Startup, 2005).
Bizarre delusions are highly implausible, overtly odd, and fairly easy to identify by even
a layperson, like a belief the COVID19 vaccine “makes people magnetic [somatic delusion]”
(Goldberg, 2021, para. 4). A non-bizarre delusion, however, is a fixed and false belief that is
theoretically possible and, therefore, plausible (Upthegrove & Allan, 2018), like a belief that a
romantic partner is unfaithful with anyone of the opposite sex who speaks to them (jealous
delusion). For this reason, such delusions often evade detection except by those who are familiar
enough with the details of the belief to know it is false or exaggerated (Joseph & Siddiqui, 2022).
Non-bizarre delusions are the most problematic in family and domestic violence court cases as
they typically take the form of an unwarranted belief that an ex-partner is abusive or deficient in
some way (persecutory delusion; Childress, 2013, 2015, 2016; Ulzen & Carpentier, 1997;
Walters & Friedlander, 2016). Additionally, individuals with non-bizarre delusions are capable
of functioning within an acceptable range of social norms and expectations in their daily lives
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 10
due to encapsulation (Al Saif & Al Khalili, 2022; Childress, 2015). An encapsulated delusion is
one that relates to an isolated topic without pervading the rest of the individual’s life or inhibiting
their ability to adequately participate in society (Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary, 2012).
A Delusional Disorder (DD) diagnosis is indicated when a false belief lasts at least a
month, there is no history of schizophrenia, everyday functioning is not markedly impaired or
obviously bizarre, and there is no other condition that better explains the disordered thought
process or belief system (Joseph & Siddiqui, 2022). Because this disorder is poorly understood
and capable of evading detection, it is believed to be much more common than previously
realized (Al Saif & Al Khalili, 2022; Arnone et al., 2006; Ulzen & Carpentier, 1997).
In the context of a close interpersonal relationship, if the delusional belief of a dominant
individual (primary; inducer) provides content for a delusional belief adopted by a submissive
individual (secondary; inductee) a diagnosis of Induced Delusion Disorder (IDD) is indicated by
the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (11th ed.;
ICD-11; World Health Organization, 2019). In the DSM-5, it is currently diagnosed under other
specific schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorder (APA, 2013) after previously
being included as shared paranoid disorder and then shared psychotic disorder in earlier
editions of the DSM (Al Saif & Al Khalili, 2022). IDD is also commonly referred to as folie à
plusieurs (Kelly, 2009) or folie à deux when seen in two individuals and is extended to folie à
trois (three), folie à quatre (four), folie à cinq (five), and folie à famille (a whole family) as the
delusion spreads to additional inductees (Al Saif & Al Khalili, 2022; Suresh Kumar et al., 2005).
Shared delusions are often described as either simultaneous, communicated, induced, or
imposed (Al Saif & Al Khalili, 2022). In a simultaneous delusion (folie simultanee, simultaneous
psychosis), both partners have genetic and/or mental health risk factors that predispose each to
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 11
develop the condition. In an induced delusion (folie induite, induced psychosis), an inductee with
psychosis will adopt new delusions while under the influence of an inducer. In a communicated
delusion (folie communiquée, communicated psychosis), the inductee adopts the delusion after a
long resistance period and maintains the delusion even after separation from the inducer. Finally,
in an imposed delusion (folie imposee, imposed psychosis), the inductee’s delusion disappears
soon after being separated from the inducer (Al Saif & Al Khalili, 2022).
In IDD, the primary inducer’s dominant role may be established through rigidity and
possessiveness with the secondary inductee’s submissive role established through vulnerability
from being younger, less intelligent, passive, dependent, suggestable, and/or isolated (Al Saif &
Al Khalili, 2022; Horesh et al., 2021). Alternately, adopting a shared delusion may serve to
preserve a close relational attachment threatened by separation when a healthy separation-
individuation process has not been achieved between the subjects, resulting in an enmeshed
relational dynamic (Çetin, 2001). Enmeshment is a dysfunctional form of relational cohesion
wherein individuals are overly involved, highly interdependent, and lacking in privacy and/or
individual thoughts, beliefs, ideas, goals, and/or identities (Láng & Birkás, 2014). IDD occurs
most often in families and, when diagnosed in a child, a parent was the inducer in 90.48% of
identified cases (Al Saif & Al Khalili, 2022; Arnone et al., 2006; Vigo et al., 2019).
The risk factors associated with IDD include a long-term relationship involving strong
attachment motivations towards the inducer, stressful life events affecting relational stability
with the inducer, social isolation from opposing ideas or information, cognitive impairment, and
emotional immaturity due to young age (Al Saif & Al Khalili, 2022). Although DD is the most
common diagnosis in the inducer (Al Saif & Al Khalili, 2022), the inducer can suffer from
psychological disorders not previously linked directly to IDD (Arnone et al., 2006; Horesh et al.,
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 12
2021). IDD can also occur in various types of previously unidentified situations, rendering the
existing epidemiological data seriously misleading and tragically inaccurate (Arnone et al., 2006;
Horesh et al., 2021). Additionally, persecutory and grandiose type delusions are most often seen
in inducers (Arnone et al., 2006), suggesting parents with narcissistic and/or borderline traits
would have strong tendencies towards imposing delusions upon their children during times of
severe stress and interpersonal instability, and their children would have strong tendencies
towards adopting their parents’ delusions. As a result, Arnone et al. (2006) assert that when any
disorder involving delusions is identified, clinicians should routinely investigate the patient’s
close family members to detect the possibility of an IDD lest it go unrecognized. Horesh et al.
(2021) concur, stating their “analysis of emotional contagion is in line with a growing trend in
mental health research to look beyond the DSM-led approach of single diagnoses and disorders,
and into a more transdiagnostic way of thinking” (para. 46).
Conclusion
As divorce rates have risen, family and domestic violence courts have seen exponential
increases in the number of high conflict cases involving parents with personality disorders and
dark personality constellations. When experiencing severe stress and interpersonal instability,
these personalities are known to decompensate into psychotic states featuring non-bizarre
encapsulated shared persecutory delusions. Research indicates children are at significant risk for
adopting their parents’ delusions and developing an induced delusional disorder.
This phenomenon was described in detail nearly a decade ago by Childress (2013, 2015)
and this current paper sought to evaluate the scientific community’s progress in researching,
detecting, identifying, and treating this severe form of parent-to-child psychopathology
transmission. However, it appears little to no progress has been made and that both the etiology
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 13
and epidemiology of this court-involved form of induced delusional disorder, representing a
serious form of child psychological abuse and intimate partner violence, continues to be grossly
under-recognized and appallingly misunderstood. Therefore, these investigators assert additional
research must be conducted that focuses on primary inducing parents non-bizarre encapsulated
shared persecutory delusions and on how those are imposed on secondary inductee children in
the context of high conflict family and domestic violence court cases.
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 14
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DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 22
Appendix
Family Systems Therapy
Family systems therapy is one of the four primary schools of psychotherapy:
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy: Emerged from the work of Sigmund Freud
developing insight into deep unconscious motivations. Individual focus to therapy.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Emerged from laboratory experiments with animals
on the Learning Theory and behavior change principles of reward and punishment.
Individual focus to therapy.
Humanistic-Existential Therapy: Emerged from philosophical roots of existentialism,
personal growth, and self-actualization. Individual focus to therapy.
Family Systems Therapy: Describes the interpersonal processes of both healthy and
pathological family relationships. Interpersonal focus.
Of the four primary schools of psychotherapy, only family systems therapy deals with
resolving the current interpersonal relationships within families. All of the other models of
psychotherapy are individually focused forms of therapy. Family systems therapy is therefore the
appropriate conceptual framework for understanding and resolving family conflict and family
pathology.
Divorce ends the marriage, but not the family. With divorce, the family structure shifts
from an intact family structure that was previously united by the parents’ marriage, to a new
separated family structure that is now united by the child through the parents’ continuing co-
parenting responsibilities and by the continuing bonds of shared affection between the child and
each parent (see Figure A1).
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 23
Figure A1. Divorce shifts the family from an intact to a separated structure.
Families must adapt to various transitions over the course of their development, and
divorce represents one of the most impactful transitions any family must navigate. A central
tenet of family systems therapy is whenever a family is unable to successfully adapt to a
transition, symptoms emerge to stabilize maladaptive functioning. Often, these symptoms will
display through the child.
A key founder of family systems therapy, Murray Bowen (1978), refers to the symptom
of one family member rejecting another as an emotional cutoff. As such, within family systems
therapy principles, a child’s rejection of a parent (emotional cutoff) is a symptom of the family’s
unsuccessful transition from an intact to a separated family structure (see Figure A2).
Figure A2. Pathological emotional cutoff of one parent by the child.
Healthy Separated Family
Structure
Healthy Intact Family
Structure
Parent
Parent
Parent
Pathological Cutoff Family Structure
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 24
Additionally, a child’s emotional cutoff from one parent after divorce, while maintaining
affectional bonds with the other parent, indicates the symptom of triangulation in the family
dynamic. Salvador Minuchin (1993), a preeminent family systems therapist and founder of
structural family therapy, provided a diagram for the pathology of concern (see Figure A3).
Figure A3. Structural Family Systems Therapy diagram depicting an inverted hierarchy and
pathological emotional cutoff between a child (son; S) and one parent (mother; M).
Here, the triangular pattern to the family relationships is evident, with the child (son; S)
being allied with one parent (father; F) in the parental conflict against the other parent (mother;
M). The three lines between the father and son represent the symptom of enmeshment, which is
an over-involved relationship created by violation of the child’s psychological integrity and self-
autonomy by the parent. This is a very destructive psychological relationship for a child to have
with a parent and, in many cases, a parent who creates an enmeshed relationship with their child
experienced this same type of boundary violation during their own childhood. This violation
represents the symptom of trans-generational transmission of the parent’s childhood attachment
trauma down through the family’s subsequent generations via distorted parenting practices.
Also evident in Figure A3 is a symptom referred to as the inverted hierarchy in which a
child becomes over-empowered through the triangulated alliance with one parent to adopt an
elevated position in the family hierarchy above the other parent. In this inverted power dynamic,
the child is placed in a position to judge the adequacy of the disempowered parent and, through
their triangulated and enmeshed mentality, to also ‘divorce’ that parent along with the allied
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 25
parent. In Figure A3, the child’s (S) resultant pathological emotional cutoff of the mother (M) is
reflected in the broken line between them. Jay Haley (1977), co-founder of strategic family
systems therapy, refers to this symptom pattern in a family as a “perverse triangle” (p. 37), and
he further provides the professional definition of such a cross-generational coalition, as follows:
The people responding to each other in the triangle are not peers, but one of them is of a
different generation from the other two. … In the process of their interaction together, the
person of one generation forms a coalition with the person of the other generation against
his peer. By ‘coalition’ is meant a process of joint action which is against the third
person. … The coalition between the two persons is denied. That is, there is certain
behavior which indicates a coalition which, when it is queried, will be denied as a
coalition. … In essence, the perverse triangle is one in which the separation of
generations is breached in a covert way. When this occurs as a repetitive pattern, the
system will be pathological. (Haley, 1977, p. 37)
Likewise, Cloé Madanes (2018), strategic family systems therapy’s other co-founder,
provides the following description of cross-generational coalitions:
In most organizations, families, and relationships, there is hierarchy: one person
has more power and responsibility than another. Whenever there is hierarchy, there is the
possibility of cross-generational coalitions. The husband and wife may argue over how
the wife spends money. At a certain point, the wife might enlist the older son into a
coalition against the husband. Mother and son may talk disparagingly about the father
and to the father, and secretly plot about how to influence or deceive him. The wife’s
coalition with the son gives her power in relation to the husband and limits the husband’s
power over how she spends money. The wife now has an ally in her battle with her
DARK PERSONALITIES AND INDUCED DELUSIONAL DISORDER 26
husband, and the husband now runs the risk of alienating his son. Such a cross-
generational coalition can stabilize a marriage, but it creates a triangle that weakens the
position of both husband and wife. Now the son has the source of power over both of
them.
Cross-generational coalitions take different forms in different families (Madanes,
2009). The grandparent may side the grandchild against a parent. An aunt might side with
the niece against her father. A husband might join his father against the wife. These
alliances are most often covert and are rarely expressed verbally. They involve painful
conflicts that can continue for years.
Sometimes cross-generational coalitions are overt. A wife might confide her
marital problems to her child and in this way antagonize the child against the father.
Parents may criticize a grandparent and create a conflict in the child who loves both the
grandparent and the parents. This child may feel conflicted as a result, suffering because
his or her loyalties are divided.
Cross-generational coalitions are typically formed when emotionally fragile parents
create alliances with a child against the other parent. This type of coalition provides additional
power to the allied parent in the interpersonal conflict with the other parent by creating a two-
against-one dynamic. However, it is extremely damaging to the child, who is being used by one
parent as a weapon against the other parent in the interpersonal conflict. In mild cases, the
arguing and conflict between the child and a parent is high, but their relationship is maintained.
In severe cases, the child emotionally cuts off one parent out of loyalty to the allied parent, and
the emotional and psychological damage to the child is grave. Children are not weapons and
should never be used as such by one parent against the other in their disputes.
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International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems
World Health Organization. (2019). International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th ed.). https://icd.who.int/