Without an authorization to release protected health information on a specific case, I am providing my professional insights regarding children caught in conflict between their parents. Specifically, I am providing generic information about situations when there is an estrangement between a parent and child as a result of a highly conflictual parental relationship.
The child of a high conflict parental relationship frequently feels like a rope in a tug of war between his parents.
Asking the child to decide about her/his relationship with the non-custodial parent exacerbates this impossible and detrimental situation and leaves her/him with no good options: it is a double-bind situation in which she/ he cannot have both parents because she/he knows that seeking a relationship with the non-custodial parent will be perceived as an act of betrayal by the custodial parent. When this dynamic had been first observed by the child psychiatrists who later founded the family therapy movement, they documented it on the psychiatric ward when observing their psychotic child patients when an interaction with their families.
In the extreme situation, this family dynamic, labeled by these psychiatrists as the “pathological triangle,” as per Murray Bowen, does indeed lead to serious mental disorders in the child. I have seen the serious detrimental effects to children in my own practice as a result of the triangulation. Unfortunately, due to the influences that technology has now afforded the younger population, I am seeing socio-pathology instead of psychosis in this population.