Understanding parental alienation – part one

Parents who are afraid to put their foot down, usually have children who step on their toes… chinese proverb

Parental Alienation is a story of our time. It is a story of divorce and separation and of the lack of support that families suffer as they go through one of the most devastating life changes it is possible to face. It is also a story of a childhood gone wrong and of years stolen either by the deliberate and malicious actions of one parent against the other or of the inability of two parents to cope with change. Parental Alienation is an increasing phenomenon affecting many families and their children. Parental Alienation causes suffering, loss, grief and sorrow. However it happens, Parental Alienation blights the lives of those it touches.

The anguish of a parent experiencing estrangement from a child is akin to a living bereavement. Our expectations of parenthood, on the day that our children are born, is that our love and our care will suffice throughout the lifetime of our little ones and that as older people, we will see them fully functioning and happy in their own parenthood.

The parent whose child has become separated from them, not by geography or even through the divorce or separation from the other parent, but seemingly by the child’s own psychology, suffers greatly. Until the late seventies, the phenomenon of the alienated child or as Richard Gardener termed it in 1983, ‘The Parental Alienation Syndrome’, was largely unknown in psychological terms, although many parents were already likely to have experienced it by the time it was given a name. Today, the terms Parental Alienation and the Alienated Child have, as one High Court Judge said recently, ‘entered into the mainstream consciousness’ and can be recognised as a bona fide problem that must be addressed.

Parental Alienation is most often described as a deliberate effort to undermine and destroy a relationship between a child and a parent and is most often often carried out by ex partners who are hell bent on revenge. In the UK, where it is estimated that around 20% of the population are affected in some way by family separation, Parental Alienation is one of the biggest issues that can face separated families.

Badmouthing and brainwashing are, it would seem, behaviours that are common place amongst parents who are separated but it is usually the case that dads are the ones suffering the most from it. Statistically, more than 1.9 million dads are separated from the mother of their children and out of this number only 9 percent are the main carer for their child. For the rest, part-time relationships which are under the control of the other parent are more usual and with this comes the frustration and fear that this second best parent status may, in itself, erode the relationship that was once present between parent and child.

But this is not an issue which is wholly described by bad mouthing mums evicting dads from their children’s lives. Dads too can be the parent who influences a child to reject their other parent and the living bereavement that is suffered by dads is also the fate of some mothers. The Charity MATCH supports mothers who are living apart from their children and they are witness to the way in which mothers are not only suffering a living bereavement but are coping with feelings of shame and guilt at being rejected by their children.

Parental alienation is a spectrum experience in which children range from being mildly affected and struggling to cope with seeing both parents after separation to being severely and irrevocably alienated. Some children who reject a parent whilst very young, may take years to seek out that parent and reconnect. Others will find that when they do seek out the parent that they were alienated from, that parent has already died. In these cases the child, now usually a young adult, is the one to carry a sense of shame and unresolved guilt throughout their lives.

The issue at the heart of all of these experiences is that alienation in whatever form it takes, causes pain and suffering for parents and children alike. It is also something that can be intergenerational as patterns of upbringing are repeated when children become parents themselves. When parental alienation strikes a family therefore, it is necessary to put it right, to do something active rather than sit back and expect it to go away. In previous decades, divorcing parents were told that children would not be affected by the separation unless there was conflict involved and were exhorted to be on friendly terms for the sake of their children.

These days, with developments in neuroscience and our understanding of the way that the brain works, it is clear that children are affected by divorce and separation from one of their primary care givers and that what happens between parents after a separation is key to ensuring the well being of children over the longer term.

Our understanding of the child, living in a relational world has also increased alongside the need for both parents to possess a range of skills and tools to help children to cope and adapt to change.

It is, therefore, a curious paradox that whilst our understanding has increased, the incidence of problematic reactions to divorce and separation amongst children have also risen. Some of this is due to the social changes that have happened in recent decades, with fathers seeking a greater role in their children’s lives and wanting to continue that beyond a family separation. The days when it was considered normal for children to live with their mother and see their father for weekend ‘access visits’ are, it seems, long gone and more fathers than ever are seeking to have more time with their children and be more involved in every aspect of their lives.

This desire, for sharing of parenthood and continued involvement has lead to struggles between separating mothers and fathers over who is the dominant parent and who is not. Because of the gender roles that are still heavily proscribed for men and women in our society, mothers still assume that their major role is to care for children and many find it difficult to share this with fathers after separation. This refusal, leading to struggles between the parents inside and outside of the court arena leads to children being caught in the grasp of competing parental loyalty.

The belief that If I cannot love both then I must love one more than the other is the common undercurrent when working with children affected in this way.

This leads children to believe that –

the one that I love the most will be the one that I am with the most, or, conversely, the one that I am most dependent upon or most afraid of losing.

Wilf’s story

Wilf is ten years old, his mother and father separated when he was seven. Since that time, Wilf has spent two years living with his father during the week and his mother during each weekend, arriving at his mother’s home after school on Fridays and returning to his father’s home after school on Mondays. When Wilf turned nine, he began to find it difficult to leave his mother’s home and he would return there after school on Mondays for a couple of hours before his father collected him. Gradually, he began to ask his mother if he could stay with her on Monday nights too and his father, when asked agreed that he could. Both parents noticed during this period of time that Wilf was very quiet each time he arrived at their home. He would stay quiet and withdrawn for a couple of hours or more until gradually he would start to come around and be himself again. Over the summer holidays however, Wilf refused to return to his father on several occasions and kicked up such a fuss that his father decided that it would be better to leave him. His father was worried that Wilf’s mother was influencing him although she said that she was not. Things deteriorated until the end of the holidays when Wilf simply refused point blank to leave his mother’s home saying that he preferred living there and that his father was always angry with him.

One year on and several court hearings later and Wilf is still refusing to go back to his father. In fact now, he refuses to see his father at all. As the months have passed by, Wilf’s father has tried everything possible to persuade Wilf to see him, promising him trips away, presents and even a new pet. Wilf’s mother is equally worried, but for different reasons. Now Wilf is telling her that his father used to leave him at home on his own for hours on end and that his father would shout at him and become very angry. Wilf tells his mother that this is the real reason he will not see his father. The court hearings go on. No-one knows what to do. Wilf says he is terrified of his father and that if he has to go to see him, terrible things will happen. His father is heartbroken and powerless to do anything, his mother says she wants Wilf to see his dad but she cannot do anything when he is so terrified.

When you are in a room with a severely alienated child it is impossible not to know it. That is because the behaviours of the child are so out of keeping with what is really going on that it is clear that their reality has been distorted. Severely alienated children tell fantastic stories about the parent that they are refusing to see, from how that parent conspired to kill them when they were a baby, (which somehow they managed to remember), to how a parent is so evil that even god could not forgive them for what they will do. Severely alienated children can only see absolute badness in the parent that they are rejecting, whilst their other parent, the one that I call the aligned parent, is the very embodiment of goodness. No matter how often therapists or others try to help children in this state to gain some perspective, asking incredulous questions to challenge their certainty that the rejected parent is evil, they will stick to their story and repeat it mantra like over and over again.

One of the eight symptoms of severe or ‘pure’ alienation, is the telling of fantastical scenarios to support the rejection of a parent. I have heard many such tales, each carefully detailed and nurtured in the telling and retelling, all equally impossible and unbelievable and easy to disprove. No matter, when a child is in the severe stage of parental alienation, facts are irrelevant and the stories, if challenged will only escalate, clearly these children are trying to say something about their lives and their experience of their relationship with a parent.

The reality is that Parental Alienation in this form is quite rare and there are factors that are present that can help to determine whether the child is indeed being deliberately ‘poisoned’ by a parent. Parental Alienation is akin to a spectrum disorder, with a range of behaviours present in parents and their children that range from the mild and unconscious, to the extreme and conscious actions on the part of one parent against the other. In between these two polarities, lie a number of behavioural themes and actions that occur between parents and between children and their parents that can lead to the phenomenon called Parental Alienation.

The work of deepening an understanding Parental Alienation has been taken on by researchers across the world, most notably in Canada where Kelly and Johnson (citation) have done much to explore the nuances of children’s rejection and Fidler, Bala and Friedlander and Walters have all contributed to the development of a consistent approach to differentiating between the pure cases of alienation and those which have mixed or hybrid reasons behind it.

Elsewhere, in the United States, Warshak has continued to develop a strategic approach to reunification of alienated children with their parents through his Famiy Bridges Programme (citation) and Amy Baker Phd, has published her study of adults who were alienated as children, which has contributed to the understanding of the impact of alienation on children over their lifetime. In the United States, the debate rages on around whether Parental Alienation is a Syndrome that should be included in the DSM V, which is the Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders compiled by the American Psychiatric Association and as such the ‘bible’ for mental health professionals. Parental Alienation, however you define it or understand it, is something that is a live issue for many people experiencing family separation, for children whose families are changing and for those practitioners and professionals who work with them.

Wilf’s story therefore is not unusual and, whilst he remains trapped in his current refusal to see his father, the prognosis for future reconciliation with his father is quite good. If his father can step back and understand what has happened to Wilf and his mother can be helped to understand that Wilf is reacting to having to make the transition back and forth to his father, Wilf can, with collaboration between parents, be reunited with his father.

The problem is, that when two parents have separated, collaboration is the very last thing on their agenda. Instead of being able to sit down together, as they may have done when they were married, Wilf’s mothers and father only have their son to link them together. Wilf’s mother listens to him tell her that when he is at his father’s house he is left alone a lot of the time and this makes her very angry and worried about his wellbeing. Wilf’s father can only see that Wilf is rejecting him and refusing to see him. He assumes that this is because Wilf’s mother is deliberately preventing Wilf from being able to live with his father as he used to. Each parent consults a solicitor and soon, instead of sitting down together to talk, letters are flying back and forth making allegations and counter allegations of an increasingly hostile nature.

Time goes by, Wilf’s refusal to see his father deepens, no-one knows what to do about it. Each time Wilf is asked about seeing his father his resistance increases. Eventually his father gives up. Wilf will not see his father again until he is 27 years old.

Amy Baker, a Psychologist in the US writes about adults who, as children, rejected a parent after divorce and separation in her book called ‘breaking the ties that bind.’ The stories that are told in this book are heartbreaking. As adults, children who rejected a parent tell how they wished that someone had made them see the parent that they were rejecting, that they didn’t know why they were doing it and in some cases, once they had started they did not know how to stop. Others spoke of the deliberate campaign by one parent against the other that eventually forced them to reject a parent. Some talked of being told by one parent that the other no longer loved them, others said that they had hoped that their parent would come and rescue them. Some of the adults in Amy’s book, never saw their parent again. The average age of those who did reunite with a parent was 26.

Parental Alienation then, is a reaction in children that arrives after divorce and separation and causes the child to withdraw or reject a parent. The period leading up to the withdrawal is often the time when parents have the chance to put things right, unfortunately, because of the lack of communication between hostile parents, what happens is that things go very wrong and the alienation reaction escalates until the child is completely rejecting of a parent. Whether this happens because of the deliberate and malicious actions of a parent, or because of the conflict that continues between parents, the result is the same. A child refuses to see a parent.

A child who is withdrawn from one parent and aligned completely with the other, seeing the rejected parent as wholly bad and the other as wholly good is in a precarious place emotionally and psychologically. This is because the splitting in thinking, which is caused by such a withdrawal can remain in place for many years, causing not only the loss of a parent but of their wider family and friends and also, the loss of half of the child’s own identity. A child who splits off half of their identity and projects fear and hatred towards it, is a child who is storing up emotional and psychological problems for the future. As Amy Baker’s study of adults who rejected a parent as a child shows, lack of self esteem, guilt, shame and anxiety are only a few of the problems that have to be faced. The others are located in the the interpersonal relationships that the child will seek in the future. These can be catastrophic for the adult who was an alienated child, in terms of the way in which their expectations of other people remain split into wholly good or wholly bad. The rigidity of thought that comes with this kind of splitting, means that relationships are difficult because of the lack of understanding that other people are both good and bad and that people can do bad things without it meaning they are bad people. Intolerance in relationships is a common thing for alienated children as adults, as is the tendency to put people up on pedestals until they disappoint and are knocked down only to be rejected. Life as an adult, after being an child affected by alienation, can be incredibly difficult and it is therefore imperative, that, however the alienation is caused, treatment is found to remedy the problem. 

Next week – treatment routes and where to get them

(This series of posts are based upon excerpts from a forthcoming book entitled ‘Understanding and Coping with Parental Alienation – a handbook for separated parents’  by Karen Woodall)

40 thoughts on “Understanding parental alienation – part one

  1. Yet again a very good post! Having read Amy Baker’s book one of the things she mentions is that alienation can also happen in intact relationships where one parent is completely sidelined despite the parents remaining married. If this is correct it would seem that there is more than one cause of alienation, sometimes it is directly caused by the brake down of a relationship and other times it is caused by something else?
    To me one of the issues with Amy Baker’s book is that she studied people who self referred as having been alienated. Presumably there are adults who were alienated from one parent when they were children who never reconnect nor realise what happened – has anyone looked at this in any way – I realise those people will be very very difficult to find.


  2. Hi Kat,

    Yes I am aware in my work that the alienation of one parent has often been present before the separation, it is often present across generations too, so that where a child is alienated, one of their parents is likely to come from a family where alienation is present.

    Finding people who have experienced alienation without realising it is relatively easy when you work with families in this way. The more I write about it, the more people come to me to tell me about their own experiences, I guess that is how Amy Baker built up her study. Finding people who never reconnect is also quite easy, as is finding people who, in their adult years, with all the symptoms of alienation present, still deny that they are alienated.

    The thing about alienation is that it feels entirely normal and natural to people, its not as if they wake up with a funny mark on their face that reminds that they are alienated. Its only when someone challenges and gives another perspective that it is possible for alienated people to recognise that something is wrong.

    I am planning a study of the work that I do, with children who are alienated and diagnosed as such and for whom the treatment route is change of residence. I feel that if we can build up some data of our own in the UK we can begin to develop a wider treatment route. At the moment its all based upon work in other countries. I would like to make it more routinely available, and also make preventative treatments more routinely available too. Watch this space! K


    1. Thanks Karen, I am suprised. Are these people easy to find because they seek help for other problems?
      UK based data would be brilliant to have I wish you well with that work.


      1. Hi Kat,

        Yes, often they come to me because their child is exhibiting symptoms of rejecting them, what alienated people do not realise is that they are at risk in their adult lives of their own child rejecting them, its because of the splitting that they suffer in their psychology, it makes them rigid parents which of course puts pressure on children to resist. Thanks for the good wishes, I have quite an ambitious project ahead of me but a lot of good case studies that I can draw upon. K


  3. In much of my work however, although the alienating tendencies have been present before separation, it is the separation that causes the alienated reaction to set in proper. K


  4. Hi Karen.

    Very detailed outline of the syndrome of P.A.S you offer us and I found it so very informative and useful. One would think though, to some degree, that this information is known by our Judges in the family courts and that they keep it in mind in application to parental disputes brought before them. However, I am sure that they remain happily ignorant of these facts to do with P.A.S. Many times, when in court, I offered reams of evidence that my son was being alienated from me, giving proof and documented testimony from others who had seen my ex perpetrate this alienation abuse on my son, it made little difference to the Judge, she gave little consideration to such an idea, as if it didn’t exsist at all! When my child was physically dragged off my knee by his mother, while at a birthday party, he was hugging me. At this his mother raced over and shouted at him “get away from him, what have I told you!, roughly grabbing him by his shirt and took him to the other side of the hall”. I was so upset and distressed I just left and cried my eyes out while walking home. A close friend had observed her actions and was shocked at her heartlessness, he wrote to the Judge asking to come to court and wrote a statement on what he had seen. Although his statement was accepted into the the court bundle, he was never called, and the Judge remarked that she saw no real evidence of alienation taking place.

    It seems to me Karen, that you, who are not even one of these lofty judges, have more nouse than all these idiot ignorant judges put together! Tell me, why don’t they know what you know and why aren’t they forced to know about it?

    Regards. Paul.


    1. Hello Paul,

      well I specialise in working with alienated children and so I guess I know an awful lot about it. Judges are likely to know a little bit but they are unlikely to have ever been in a room with an alienated child and so they have to rely upon the evidence that they are being presented with and sometimes that is not strong enough to convince them. The way in which our system works never really gives the kids a chance in these cases, CAFCASS are almost blind to the issue of PA (although recently I have been working with a superb CAFCASS person who absolutely gets what is going on), and there seems to be very little in the way of uniform training for those Judges sitting outside of the London courts on the issue.

      I am so sorry to hear about your case, the scenario you describe is the kind of behaviour an alienating parent would use, I suppose it is a matter of whether the Judge is able to accept the evidence. In too many cases they do not accept it and believe me, even when they do, even when they are given chapter and verse from some of the highest qualified professionals in the land, sometimes even then they will not act to save the child.

      Its a horrible, horrible, world, family separation. Sometimes I want to give up and do something else, but I can’t, because if I did too many more families like yours would be devastated. Keep as strong as you can Paul, know you are not alone. Kind regards Karen


      1. I so agree I as a father am also going through this but I feel my ex is narcissistic and very cunning in how she does it plus it also is about money,, ‘if you don’t pay you have no contact’!


  5. Very helpful article.

    I left an abusive ex wife (mental and physically abusive) three and a half years ago leaving my (then) 2 & 5 year old daughters in their own familiar surroundings, thinking it best for them – she had threatened to take them away prior to leaving.

    After having to go to (UK) Children’s Court to see my girls (in my opinion a continuation of her abuse) I’ve heard them say that I had left “Because I didn’t love them” and that “They didn’t have a daddy anymore” both statements far beyond their years and completely untrue.

    My eldest is now 8 and I am noticing a definite distancing occurring each time we’re together. One contact day is only 3 hours long and it takes an hour or so for me to get close to her. When it’s my weekend it will again take an hour or so to drop her defences and be the little girl I know she is.

    Notably when ever I’ve had them for any length of time I often hear of their mother buying them gifts or organising things immediately when they get home (to sever any emotional ties with me? Playing one upmanship?)

    It’s getting harder to know what is the best thing to do to readdress what’s going on without leaving an 8 year old stuck in the middle trying to sort things out in her head.

    I would welcome any advice / sign posting to material that might help us both.



    1. Hi, I am going to message you offline with some information about what you can do with your daughters, eight is exactly the age when alienation can start and there is, so long as you are still seeing your daughter, a lot that you can do to help her. I will message you in the morning with more information. Best wishes Karen


      1. Karen I wish I could get some information from you also on how I can help my 6 year old in the same position


      2. Karen,

        I am unfortunately in a very similar position to JPT, with their mum even having had teddy bears made with her voice in them for when they stay with me. Could you please forward any advice to me too.

        Thanks in anticipation.



      3. Jeepers Jon, that’s a new one on me. To get tailored advice you can email office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk…..

        But I have to say, that is very very dangerous behaviour from your children’s mother….will try to find something about enmeshment to post for you it will give you an idea of what you are dealing with. k


      4. It certainly concerns me greatly Karen! Thanks for looking into enmeshment for me too.



  6. Hi Karen wonderful post as usual, its so uplifting that you know what is going on in this country and in the family court system… can you please have a weekend workshop for all the family judges in this country!!!!!!! educate them please!!!! lol.

    I had a superb CAFCASS woman who after interviewing my ex wife and and then myself she wrote a report for the court saying that if the allegations made by my ex are unfounded in court then my ex is deliberately stopping my daughter and i from having a meaningful relationship.

    I was supposed to have a fact finding hearing last week but 2 days before i received an email from her solicitors claiming my ex was unwell i could not attend, i refused consent but they threatened me with cost’s if my ex could not complete her evidence, so i reluctantly consented in writing, they my ex’s solicitors were not best pleased with that!!!!



    1. Hi Andrew, if only! Although I have trained some Judges through the Judicial Studies Board and we may well approach them again to see if they would like this kind of training. I am pleased to hear you got a good CAFCASS officer, they are rare but they do exist! A happy birthday to your little girl, I hope things improve for you very soon. Very best wishes Karen


  7. A top post Karen, i’v done a wealth of research on this subject and all you say is correct but i see it goes much deeper too i truly believe my ex is one of the adults that rejected one of her own parents and in that process she went through the splitting of the ego at a very young age and so history is set to repeat itself. i came from a two parent childhood and never experienced this so did not know anything about PAS or Splitting so needed to research myself.
    The use of projection she uses at court is astonishing to say the least it is like she uses it to take the camera’s of herself but everything she accuses me of she is doing it herself and as such i cant say anything as it will look just like a counter allegation and so be dismissed without investigation. all i know is how i was treated by her when we lived together and what my children have told me on visits and what my daughter had told me on facebook all has built up a large picture surrounding PAS but somehow the judge seemed uninterested in our case and just rubber stamped the cafcass recommendations even though i proved that contact was blocked unreasonably in 2009 strait after an order had been set, this is why i stepped back as it seamed hopeless.

    i was a hands on parent to both my kids and we were very happy together, after my ex and i split for good in 2004 i continued to see the children, although i was having to go through the courts to see them, all contact was vigorously apposed but i was granted PR and staying contact this continued until 2007 when we went to mediation and i was offered to visit them at their house on this visit my ex asked me if we would ever get back together again i point blank refused after all the ill treatment she gave me over the years and immediately i was asked to leave the house. since that visit i have had allegations after allegations thrown at me in proceedings of which i had no choice but to bring it back to court as contact was continually blocked without any reason. but in 2009 i had become depressed over everything and had to take a step back as all the fighting through the courts was doing us no good at all, i saw my children become down and sad about what was going on through the system and so i pulled back.

    In 2011 i had no choice but to make another application to the courts to find out about a problem i seen with my daughter and so cafcass were appointed as guardian. to bring you right up to date the cafcass guardian knows there’s alienation going on but are unprepared to do anything about it, my daughter has had to demand contact still takes place had she not of been so adamant about seeing me i think i would of lost all contact with her too, my son is refusing to see me he refuses to talk to the cafcass guardian about it and has expressed he wants to stab me, this just doesn’t add up as we used to be so happy on visits and holidays and i have wrote him a letter to say how i feel about him and that i love and miss him but he handed a written note to cafcass guardian stating he want nothing more to do with me and he will not read my letters. this is clearly a PAS case as in January he was saying he was confused as to how i felt about him, just three months later he’s refusing everything 😦 i asked the judge for a facts finding hearing but he refused me this so now i don’t see this ever turning out ok and i have lost my son through Alienation, i have much proof to show the judge whats been going on, but i’m not getting a chance to put any evidence before him. they seem to be pussy footing around my sons feelings and wont force him to see me. i have said i don’t want to force him into anything he feels uncomfortable with but without seeing me how can i put right the wrongs, the only reason he could be angry at me for is pulling away in 2009. i thought i was doing the right thing but now i see it was maybe wrong. i don’t go back to court until august, cafcass are just useless but its not in their interests to get this sorted as it keeps me having to go through a contact center to see my daughter which incidentally is not necessary if my son is refusing to see me. i’m just so lost on what to do now. the only thing i see i could do now is to get a solicitor that specializes in PAS although i could not afford the fees as i’v been refused legal aid the mum however is funded to the eyeballs.

    ego splitting in children:

    In the developmental model of Otto Kernberg, the overcoming of splitting is also an important developmental task. The child has to learn to integrate feelings of love and hate. Kernberg distinguishes three different stages in the development of a child with respect to splitting:
    First stage: the child does not experience the self and the object, nor the good and the bad as different entities.
    Second stage: good and bad are viewed as different. Because the boundaries between the self and the other are not stable yet, the other as a person is viewed as either all good or all bad, depending on their actions. This also means that thinking about another person as bad implies that the self is bad as well, so it’s better to think about the caregiver as a good person, so the self is viewed as good too. ‘Bringing together extremely opposite loving and hateful images of the self and of significant others would trigger unbearable anxiety and guilt’
    Third stage: Splitting – ‘the division of external objects into “all good” or “all bad” begins to be resolved when the self and the other can be seen as possessing both good and bad qualities. Having hateful thoughts about the other does not mean that the self is all hateful and does not mean that the other person is all hateful either.
    If a person fails to accomplish this developmental task satisfactorily, borderline pathology can emerge. ‘In the borderline personality organization’, Kernberg found ‘dissociated ego states that result from the use of “splitting” defences’.His therapeutic work then aimed at ‘the analysis of the repeated and oscillating projections of unwanted self and object representations onto the therapist’ so as to produce ‘something more durable, complex and encompassing than the initial, split-off and polarized state of affairs’

    and go a little deeper and we get into narcissistic parenting.
    but also can be other personality disorders in the mix too like Borderline (BP). its known most of us have a little Narcissism within us and is classed as a good thing as we use it to get perfection in duty’s, but taken to its extreme can have a serious damaging affect on others.
    so if you have a person that’s been alienated and grows up with a personality disorder and cant keep a relationship stable, then has children, the outlook of these children will only think its normal to behave like this so history will more than likely repeat. and here we have my EX rejected at birth passed from pillar to post as a child, resented her mother and never had a relationship with her father, was violent in many relationships before our and at 27 met me had children and seen them as an extension of herself, couldn’t bond with daughter and wouldn’t let me near my son. when i tried to help with thing like feeding and bathing him i got shouted at “its my job not yours”
    i’v been brought up with strong beliefs that children need both parents to prosper but if i was truthful to myself this woman has serious psychological issues non of which have been addressed ever she refuses to accept there’s anything wrong with her and so has never been to the DR’s to seek help, and to this day she still refuses to show any affection towards her daughter but idealizes our son, and this is why our family has ended up like it has with my daughter demanding that she gets to see me and my son being Alienated against me, but also there are issues between the kids too as i believe my son and my EX gangs up on my daughter because she wishes to see her dad. this in turn has caused my daughter to commit crimes and i see these as cries for help yet noone is able to see the real issues at hand due to the mother being a master manipulator and actor and all the attention of the courts is perfect for her to play her drama out on.

    Wider developments
    Miller’s work, in its emphasis on the real-life interaction of parent and child, ‘challenged the orthodox Freudian account of Oedipal fantasy, in a sustained indictment of the moral and pedagogical underpinnings of the therapy industry’; and did so at a point when ‘the keyword of the 1980s was invariably “abuse”‘.
    With the passing of time (and of the polemical edge), a more slimmed-down, pragmatic version of the concept of narcissistic abuse gradually came to permeate most of the wider culture of psychotherapy.
    C21st Transactional Analysis has highlighted clients who ‘suffered some narcissistic abuse as children (that is, an injury to their developing selves)’, examining for instance the boy in an all-female household who only ‘survived by developing powerful emotional antennae in order to respond to the emotional needs of his mother and sister’.Post-Jungians have explored the after-effects of ‘an intense narcissistic wound resulting from an oppressively unempathetic parent’. In particular, Polly Young-Eisendrath emphasises how ‘the narcissistic longings of mothers (or fathers) to amass reflected glory through their children…can bring disastrous results for mother and child if both lose their capacity for autonomous development’.
    Object relations theory for its part stresses both that ‘the most traumatizing experience of all is the absence of emotional giving from a mother or father’, and that, in an intergenerational pattern, ‘people who have been brought up by tyrannical authoritarian parents will often parent their children in the same way’. Adam Phillips adds that ‘the mother who colonizes her child and stifles gestures of autonomy and difference breeds in him or her…an often unconscious craving for the dead-end justice of revenge’.
    In another tradition, Julia Kristeva points out how a pairing of ‘mothers and fathers, overprotective and uneasy, who have chosen the child as a narcissistic artificial limb and keep incorporating that child as a restoring element for the adult psyche intensifies the infant’s tendency toward omnipotence’.
    M. Scott Peck looked at ‘milder but nonetheless destructive common forms of parental narcissism’, as well as ‘the depth of confusion…produced by her mother’s narcissism’ in a more serious instance.
    The term has also appeared in connection with parental alienation syndrome, in situations where ‘by role reversal (parentification) the child, like a “living antidepressant” fills the alienating parent’s emotional void’: the result is that ‘the parent clings to the child like a person who is drowning…”narcissistic abuse”‘.
    Only in the Freudian heartland of mainstream psychoanalysis has the term retained a more restricted, pre-Ferenczi usage. Thus in a “comprehensive dictionary of psychoanalysis” of 2009, the only appearance of the term is in connection with misuse of the couch for narcissistic gain: ‘The fact that it is seen by some patients and therapists as a “status symbol” lends it to narcissistic abuse’.


    1. Stephen, what you have written is eye opening, i wish i had read this before i got married and had our daughter. my ex once told me that her mum and dad broke up because he was always cheating on her mother. when the father left the mother locked herself in the bathroom crying and my ex and her 2 sisters and 1 brother were outside the bathroom crying and worrying about their mum, pleading for her to come out, which she didnt for some time.

      some weeks or months later my ex woke up( she was about 8) to find her mum and dad in bed together, she was very unhappy telling her dad what he was doing there and that she didnt want him there. she left the house and sat on some steps, a little latter her dad left the house and drove past her, she just looked at him with contempt. they have had an on off relationship since.

      Years later she was with a partner and had a son, she asked her partner for a break when her son was 3 and the partner didnt see his son until he was 9, when my ex had a break down, and was admitted to hospital, she was diagnosed with border line personalty disorder,

      fast forward 6 years when we met, with her son living half with my ex and with his dad, she told me this but in her own words.. ie the ex partner was a control freak this and that. and with years of counselling behind her.. we married and had our daughter, the best time of my life, hands on dad in every way, 9 monthes later she had changed completely, i was a control freak i was emotionally abusing her and the list goes on and so does the cycle.

      it is so frustrating to know somebody you once loved enough to have a child with is capable of hurting your child so much through their narcissistic behaviour, all you want to do as a parent is protect and help your child be well balanced and confident and feel loved.

      thank you for your post.

      Kind Regards

      Andy. p.s good luck.


    2. dear Stephen, in reading all that you have researched it is clear that you have a powerful insight. My major worry for your son is that he has become his mother’s ‘husband’ replacing for her the father who rejected her and the husband that could not cope with her woundedness. The potential damage that this does to your son is immense and I think that you are aware of the extent of it, Alice Miller said that the unconscious use of children to repair the damage done to adults is abuse and it is going on under our noses in sanction patterns of pareniting. your daughter is being rjected because she will not succuumb to her mother’s narcissism and also because she will not reflect for her mother an acceptable model of being female. The enmeshement that you describe is present in dysfunctional family systems, you did well to get out of it, your task is to stay strong enough to provide for your children, the safety and certainty that there is another adult in the world who is there for them, when they get free, you will still be there. it is so difficult to advise you on management of your case, CAFCASS provide a negative firewall and can be so deeply damaging to children in their drive to uphold their wishes and feelings. This is so much more than anti father bias, this is untrained, inexperienced, often opinionated practice that should, in my view, be banned outright. Putting CAFCASS into these cases is akin to giving a paramedic the responsibility for perfomring open heart surgery, we wouldnt do it to animals but we do it our kids on a daily basis. All I can say is whilst you can fight, keep fighting, keep saying it, keep working on it, there are people who understand, there will be more as time goes by, stay strong and stay well and stay sane, when your kids come to find you they will need you to be in strong health. Sending my support. Karen


  8. Stephen, many thanks, I have just printed this off so that I can digest at leisure. I am always interested in any research and information about parental alienation and I absolutely agree, it goes diagonally across the generations as well as vertically and horizontally. One of the tasks I set parents that I work with is the preparation of a comprehensive family tree, we often have to understand the whole family background going back many years to get to the root of what is being presented.

    I am about to begin a study of the treatment route that I use in these cases and to gather evidence on the cases that I work with. I want to do more to bring change to the UK in terms of how we understand and treat PA.

    I am also planning a number of experiential training days in preventing and coping with alienation. I have done a couple for Families need Fathers but I want to concentrate upon getting information and support out to as many people across the UK as I can. I will put up information on the days on here and on the Centre for Separated Families website, we will start delivery of these in September. You are very welcome to come along. K


  9. Thanks for research and expertise,please continue to spread the word,my judge barely acknowledges alienations exsists.
    my two year battle for access,prolongs the problem,when probably a hug and chat would solve most issues,I am reduced to letters only,and my heart breaks,because the exes anger still influences the kids,and I guess they are afraid of upset. Is it true there are no fathers groups represented on current goverment advise panel you are on?
    I admire your work greatly and it is of a great relief I am not alone facing this mental abuse the children are suffering,is it possible to push for prosecution for this?


    1. hi, how much my heart goes out to you, if only we could make it compulsory for a separated parents to have a hug and a cup of tea and a chat before they make their parenting arrangements, so much of what goes wrong is because people are trying to make things work when they are in pain and and angry or hurt.

      your situation, like so many others makes me incredibly sad, children robbed of perfectly good fathers because of a system that does not work and does not seem to care.

      i think there was a mix up at F4J over the panels that I am on. Neither of the panels I attended were examining shared parenting, the first was looking at helping parents to make more private agreements for maintenance and the second was simply a consultation exercise ahead of the public consultation on changing the children act.

      The Ministerial Working group is made up of five Ministers, three men and two women and three of those are, in my view, pro shared parenting – IDS, Tim Loughton and Maria Miller. The other two are possibly less enthusiastic, Sarah Teather is probably the most resistant to change, Jonathan Djanogly I am not sure about. I am aware though that this is a live issue for them and that there is determination to bring about change in this Parliament, I will keep speaking up and pushing for the kind of change that stops what has happened to you and countless other families.

      Stay strong and well and healthy as possible, you are not on alone.

      Kind regards



  10. The more Panels fair minded people like yourself are on Karen, the better it will be for fathers, mothers and their children. With best wishes.


  11. At last i have found the file that alluded me for quite some while, but today looking for it in a unusual way it’s finally in my hands or PC, this file is being sold for $50 at various locations on the web but i point blank refuse to pay and set about finding it for free. much to my happiness of finding it once more i pass it on to all your readers Karen so they to can get the most informal information on PAS and other personality disorders.
    i found what you said about my son is something i had thought about and strongly believe this to be the case here but how i tackle it is another issue all together and one that needs careful planning, also what you say about my daughter makes sense too, and i’m sure in the not to distant future we will be together again.
    I was recently told by the guardian that my daughter had demanded to her that contact still continued, this sentence kind of suggests the guardian was of the notion she wished contact to cease and when put to my daughter it was strongly refused and so demanded to still see me, this alone shows CAFCASS to be biased as it was because I commented about our case on facebook, and the mum printed it off and took it to CAFCASS and court to apply for a prohibited steps order against me (but the judge refused it) although there is a penal notice that i don’t comment about the case on any network sites in exposing the identity of the children. The prohibited steps order was to stop me contacting the children by any means without a court order, so the fact it was denied goes some way to tell the mother its stupid to apply for an order against a father when he lives 220 miles away and every other method of contact has been blocked ie: phones taken off the children as a punishment and not returned, email accounts have been deleted and fb accounts have been deleted also, all without justification in doing so.
    So i refused to go to court on that day but sent the court a email outlining my terms that i accept the penal notice and opposed the prohibited steps order, stating that what the mother has done off her own back to remove all contact between the children and me, one can only assume a fictitious prohibited steps order is already in operation.

    Anyway without going on and on here is the link i hope you all find it as interesting as i have.


  12. Oh just in case the link above does not work here is another link to the link to read. The link i put in here is to a page all you have to do then is click the first link (only link) in this page and it will take you to the Autopsy (pdf) and you can download it to you pc by clicking file tab and then download. you may have to get the latest adobe reader in order to view but you know this :~)


  13. Sincere apologies for being late with a response, my only excuse being that I’m a newbie to Karen’s blog.

    My grandson started to portray classic symptoms of parental alienation after his mother stopped contacting him, he was 3 years old. He and his father live in France, the mother lives in the UK with her partner. My son was refused access to his wife’s address (the reason for that emerged slowly via the Procureur in the French Department where my son and grandson lived) and her mobile phone was permanently switched off, she later confirmed that she had lost her mobile at some point.

    Following 4+ months of total silence on the mother’s part, she suddenly telephoned early one evening. My grandson refused to speak with her, and his dad carried a conversation with her while he and I tried to gently persuade the child to take the phone. Nothing worked. The child was a little over three and a half years old, and his memories of the abuse he had suffered at his mother’s hands were still with him, but they were becoming fuzzy around the edges.

    After that phone call, and when my grandson was asleep in bed, his dad and I discussed the situation. I have had some training and experience in the signs and symptoms of parental alienation, and with signposting, relevant to my career role and functions as an SLN teacher, now retired. My son and I agreed that something urgently needed to be done, in the child’s best interests. Telephone contact was not enough to start that ball rolling. So, my son arranged and funded travel and accommodation for the mother to join their son in France for a week. As he could not contact the mother directly, he passed all the details to his solicitor, for him to transfer to the mother’s solicitor without delay. My son only required confirmation of the mother’s preferred travel dates to complete bookings.

    The mother did not respond. Three months later, after a lot of coaxing and mediation, by my son, between the mother and their son, she finally agreed to make the effort to see the boy during the half-term school holiday. Once again, my son made all the arrangements and paid for everything. Twenty-four hours before she was due to leave the UK, the mother cancelled on grounds that she was pregnant with her new boyfriend’s baby and didn’t “feel like travelling”.

    The child never did speak to his mum. She stopped telephoning, and he has not heard from her during the past (approaching) 4 years, not even a birthday or Christmas card. He, with the necessary help from his dad, has sent birthday and Christmas cards to his mum via the address of her last known solicitor. In December 2011, both cards were returned, unopened. But, my grandson is not aware of that, it would not be in his best interests to know that.

    It later emerged that, following Social Services reports ordered by the England & Wales Family Courts, the mother’s new baby, my grandson’s half-sibling, was considered to be ‘at risk and in need of protection’. That was very probably true, but it wasn’t something my son could or would tell their son. No further details have been made available.

    During the past years, my son and I (with GP/Paediatrician guidance – that’s what you get in France!) have worked very hard to ensure the child has grown with the knowledge that he does have a mum, the same as most of his peers, that his mum loves him, and, very important, the ‘argument’ that caused his mum and dad to split up was not his fault. He seems to be comfortable with that, and with his mum’s photographs, although, the fact that he has ASDs does render it unable and unwise to be assumed.

    Kindest regards.


  14. People get prison sentences for years for far lesser crimes in this country.

    It’s a real shame that the judiciary, health officials and the education sector deliberately turns a blind eye to this, just so as to uphold a status quo that is abusive toward the child.

    I have lost count of the the number of times that the so-called authorities have inferred that things are my fault (e.g., that mom’s implacable hostility is my fault) simply because I am the father and trying to hold on to a relationship that was there prior to separation.

    It seems that if dads dare to speak of parental alienation, they are branded troublesome, controlling, abusive, etc.

    Good to see that someone who has shown how child-centered she is is trying to raise awareness about the hellish reality of parental alienation.

    Let’s just hope that her voice is loud enough that the judiciary, court advisers, the school and health officials, etc. can no longer plug their ears. Shame on them all for their complicity in child abuse all these years.


  15. Hi Karen

    I know well the helping profession’s prejudice against PAS, though as a child psychiatrist before I “retired” to become a family therapist in the voluntary sector, I used to create structured ways to work with separated families more collaboratively around their distressed children.

    My interest in PA has exploded since last year thanks to an amazing father who sought help to think through his experience, research and frustrating “pure” alienation from his children. “He has taught me all I know”! But we are both delighted to have recently discovered your amazing work and this blog. We are in Scotland where everything to do with families is devolved and has to be duplicated somewhat. We are slowly building an idea and a network – in Scotland and the UK – and a kind of campaign too. It is always good to find that a lot of the work has already been done!! Many thanks, and we hope we can slowly build our links with you.

    For now, just some small thoughts on what you said above:

    You wrote:
    … The way in which our system works never really gives the kids a chance in these cases, CAFCASS are almost blind to the issue of PA (although recently I have been working with a superb CAFCASS person who absolutely gets what is going on)…

    Just to confirm the astonishing blindness of many other helping professions and professionals that I know – not just CAFCASS and legal ones. I have been working steadily to challenge this in my own profession. Also, the Scottish system doesn’t really have even as good an idea as the CAFCASS one can be sometimes. Colleagues are saying that surely we can find CAFCASS people who are on the same wavelength. So if you know where, please let us know! Or if any are reading this …

    And you wrote:
    … and there seems to be very little in the way of uniform training for those Judges sitting outside of the London courts on the issue.

    A psychologist here in Scotland who used to do expert witness reports and who had some understanding of PA told me that she does do an annual workshop for lawyers too. She has them role play the separating family. They do brilliantly at that! But as soon as they go back in their legal role (in the workshop), they revert immediately to type. The culture and rules of their profession are just way too powerful to allow their obvious potential for understanding better their clients and the family patterns they are caught in. I guess they are in a system too, an adversarial one to boot, and if they deviate or question it, they can be fairly certain that they will not progress very well in their career. That’s systems for you!

    Best wishes

    Nick Child


  16. hi ive recently been referred to your blog by a friend, my husband is currently banned from seeing his almost 13 year old son, baiscally the ex didnt like the statement he gave to court for his parental responsibility hearing, she showed the son the statement and he now wont speak to his father as he says that he agrees with his mum that its all lies. This is the perfect case of parental alienation i believe, it benefitted nobody but her for her son to see the statement. We are planning to start legal proceedings and i wondered if PA holds up in court and how we can brooch the subject?


  17. Iv been in court for two years now fighting an outdated system which decides to aline with the mother and thus stopping contact I have stated it is PA from the beginning of 2012 no one will help or listhen that’s no one.
    This system just fails kids at every level it’s a evil place to be when a mother decides for her own personal reasons that the children will not see their father and worse still Cafcass will lie also with the mother and the courts will slowly but surely close those once loving bonds down only to give the mother what she wanted in the first place well done courts you’ve now let the children down also.
    What a great country we live in that allows this harm to continue


  18. Presently being alienated from my two young ( 6 and 4 years old children. ) My 6 year old daughter wouldn’t speak to me on the telephone anymore, saying “I have nothing to say to him” I have had my court order ignored, and have not seen or heard from them since July 31 2013. She stopped me from having contact last year for four months too..my mother had just died, I cared for her at home, ex didn’t care that I was grieving, and cruelly severed contact because of this .
    I left my ex 2 years ago because of her never ending emotional abuse, it was just awful.
    Now she is continuing on the same theme, we are all being abused,and feels as if I’m still married to her, a completely twisted and sick excuse for a human.
    Any help please?



  19. The Children Act 1989 specifies that when making orders, a court must have regard to the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child. Children law as it stands with that provision in particular, is a recipe for setting up parental alienation syndrome in a child. Wishes & Feelings reports are a source of harm to children when caught in the high intensity crossfire between warring parents. A child is effectively put in the position of deciding between parents and that is morally wrong for a court to do. It is in my view also wrong to extend such rights to children in court cases. Parents’ rights are suspended by an application and so ought the child’s too. Giving children rights when they are effectively powerless to utilise such rights shows children law for what it really is – morally bankrupt.

    The Children Act as proposed for 2014 with Timpson’s tinkerings, does not meet the needs of non-resident parents and will not counter the potential for alienation. In fact the added emphasis going into the act on harm will arguably worsen the position for NRPs seeking time with their children because it suggests the presence of domestic violence and an obvious strategy of allegations to RPs. The bare minimum of contact now going into law as the Coalition’s major reform of private children law is no more than a bad joke. It ought to be replaced by a written provision for maximum access of an NRP to his child provided this is reasonably consistent with his child’s interests. Another provision is also required. This is that when deciding custody and access, a court must be obliged to assess the attitude of the resident parent as far as supporting the NRP’s relationship with his child. So that when that support is lacking, up goes the parenting time that an NRP can claim. Time with your child away from ‘mum’ is the only way that alienation can be countered and/or prevented. Apart from restating the main welfare principle, I don’t really think that there is anything else much that the law in private disputes needs to do. The welfare checklist as it stands needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history. It’s a load of old baloney.


  20. Karen, I’ve come across your blog because I’m being alienated from not just my adult children but also nieces, nephews, etc.

    I am divorcing my husband of 21 years. Our family was a blend of his, mine and ours, with the “ours” being my youngest son, who is now 19 and in the military.

    My husband has been diagnosed with a variety of mental illness – Bipolar Disorder (though I didn’t find out he’d been hiding that from me for the duration of our marriage, and he’s unmedicated), Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder and Asperger’s.

    I’ve been alienated from my oldest son from my first marriage for several years now and he’s extremely verbally and physically abusive to me, just like my soon-to-be-ex husband. My youngest son only became horrible to me over the last eight to ten months. Following my filing for divorce, I started hearing from him things like, “Why can’t you just be more patient and understanding of Dad’s mental illness?” He refused to see I WAS patient and understanding for 21 years and couldn’t take any more. The last time I spoke with him, two months ago, his last words to me were, “Why don’t you just kill yourself and put us all out of our misery?” (Which is something his father has said to me many, many times. It’s become obvious to me the STBE has been working towards alienating me from my son for several years now and was warned, once, by a family therapist it was his belief my husband was being emotionally abusive to my son and that it needed to stop. It didn’t stop, my husband simply threatened him into silence with, “If you tell anyone again I’m doing this to you, the state will take you away and you’ll never see me or your mom again”. My son was 15 when this happened and nothing I said or did would get him to confess to his therapist he was still being abused.

    My son, since cutting off all contact with me, has become so depressed mutual friends have started contacting me that they’re deeply concerned for him and are worried he’ll attempt to (or succeed) kill himself.

    What do I do here? My husband, being a narcissist, is grooming my son to be his next source of narcissistic supply, now that I’m out of the picture, and we ALL know that’s a bad thing to go through, emotionally devastating for the strongest of victims. My son has been so abused by his father for so long, he succumbs easily to the manipulations. I fear for his emotional well-being for my son, who is so young and easily swayed due to this lack of life experience with people like his dad, though all of this is his “normal”, having been around it his entire life (and had I known sooner what I know now, I’d have walked out a long, long time ago).

    Do you have any advice for me? Is there anything I can do to help my son?


  21. I’m reading this post 6 years after it was written but it’s value is not diminished by time. Indeed I would welcome more posts like this Karen which detail a case study as you have here.

    I wish I’d been able to see this years ago….. would things now be different? The central issue that strikes me is how both parents were put into a difficult position by the ‘fantastical’ stories told by the child…….yet how could the mother ‘know’ categorically that these stories were ‘fantastical’? If they were true, and she dismisses them then she lays herself open to allegations of neglect in her parental responsibilities, should later events prove that the child was in fact speaking truth. Into this mess comes who? And with what appropriate expertise? 6 years on from your post, this problem of WHO is the appropriate skilled professional to properly get to the bottom of this ‘lies or truth’ scenario, is still not resolved and is STILL causing havoc for families. Your practical expertise has sadly been available only to the few, not the many. Here’s hoping Karen that all your current efforts to expand the band of professionals truly capable of stepping into these situations and bringing sanity instead of heartbreak is quickly successful.


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