My last post appears to have stimulated a lot of debate not only on here but on other forums too.  I know that differentiation of alienation is a contentious subject for some, particulary parents who have been rejected wholesale and who no longer see their children. For practioners however, this is magic key that allows us to get closer to the knots and tangles that created the dynamic that caused rejection in the first place and it is the door through which we discover whether a child’s rejection is caused by something other than the divorce and separation process itself, or something altogether darker and more problematic.

There is so much to write about alienation and estrangement patterns in families that whilst I plough on towards the finishing line for the handbook, more and more information understanding and strategic thinking bubbles up.  Every time we work with a family we understand more about the issue and every time we see particular configurations of behaviours, we piece together a pattern which, whilst never generic, at least gives us an entry point to understanding how a family might eventually be assisted.  For me this is the exciting part of doing this work because it shows me that there are clusters of behaviours which can be categorised and which, when treated in a particular way, respond in a predictable manner.  One of the first questions we are asked at the Clinic is whether we can give a reliable prognosis for robust interventions such as a change of residence. Knowing that there are particular patterns which must be present in order for us to be able to say that a child will spontaneously emerge from a rejecting stance, for example, allows us to give reliable responses. Each time we are able to do that builds a stronger evidence based picture which then establishes a convincing argument to underpin pushes for change in how families are assisted.  Increasingly, because of our successful outcomes, individual CAFCASS workers are using our service. As we build up this work, we are entering the consciousness of CAFCASS through the side door, which has many benefits to families across the country.  All of this work is done on the basis of careful and committed differentiation of alienation, rather than the blanket approach of alienation being always a conscious and determined campaign by a psychologically disturbed parent.  The power that this brings, to practitioners and to parents themselves, is, in my experience, immense and it is this route which I am determined to establish in the UK as the gold standard for all work with alienated families, (whatever the categorisation).

Following on from my last post I want to make one thing very clear.  Saying that a case is hybrid does not mean that you as the rejected parent are to blame for the position you are in.  I am not asking you to accept blame, what I am asking you to do is to withdraw your projection of blame (if it is present, not all hybrid cases are caused by cross projection of blame).  Just that last sentence makes me realise how there are so many layers of understanding of this that it can be easy to become confused so I am going to unpick those layers now as carefully as possible so that the meaning is clear and you can utlise the understanding immediately.

A hybrid case is when a child has withdrawn from a relationship with one of their parents because of the cross conflicted dynamics between them.  Those cross conflicted dynamics are likely to be located in one of the following categories (in no particular order)

  • The separation involves a third party (one of you was having an affair)
  • The separation was sudden and dramatic
  • There was a lot of conflict between you during the separation process and children witnessed that
  • One of you appeared at the time of the separation to be very happy, the other was devastated
  • Your wider family was involved in conflict
  • Your child was over the age of 7 and under the age of 15
  • Your child was making transitions between two homes and handover was difficult
  • Your child was making transitions between two homes and there was no communication between the two sides
  • You wanted to co-parent, the other parent refused
  • You were angry/passive/aggressive in the face of the other parent having all the control
  • The other parent was able to manipulate you through winding you up, upsetting you, controlling your emotions
  • You focused all of your efforts on showing other people how the other parent was alienating you
  • You decided that you wanted to share care of your children, the other parent decided you were not going to
  • You focused on your rights, the other parent had stronger rights than you (usually mothers but not always)
  • You went down the family court route using all of the help you could find to do it the ‘right’ way, the other parent played the system and beat you hands down (and you never got over it).
  • Your way of living in the world is dramatically different to your child’s other parent
  • Your values, beliefs and ideas about parenting are very different to your child’s other parent

I could go on, I hope that this gives you a picture of the first layer of understanding of a hybrid case.

The next level of understanding is to tease apart the route the child’s withdrawal.  Understanding how a child withdrew in the first place gives information which is incredibly valuable in terms of designing routes out of the stasis.  In a hybrid case your child is likely to have gone through some or all of the following stages –

  • Spent regular time with you at first
  • Been on holiday with you in the first three years after separation
  • Spent Christmas and birthdays with you in the early years after separation
  • Shown reluctance to go back to their other parent sometimes
  • Acted angrily towards you during some of the time they spent with you
  • Shown reluctance to come with you on odd occasions at handover time
  • Refused to come or made up excuses why they cannot such as being ill or having other things to do
  • Told you things about their other parent that made you feel angry or upset
  • Played you off against their other parent
  • Shown coldness and distance in the first three hours after they come to you
  • Shown coldness and closing down in the last two hours of being with you
  • Behaved as if they do not like you in the presence of their other parent
  • Suddenly emerged as the child that they used to be and then just as suddenly returned to sulking and being withdrawn

Detailing the months and sometimes even years before a child’s withdrawal is part of understanding what it was that caused the child to withdraw and the reaction in the child that lead them to use to coping mechanism called splitting.

Psychological splitting is the process by which children cope with the intolerable dynamics around them.  Splitting is a serious issue when it arises because it heralds the onset proper of the alienation process.  In order for a child to become alienated they have to use splitting which is the psychological defense mechanism against shame and guilt, both normal reactions which have to silenced or shut off in order for a child to use the coping mechanism of withdrawal.  Withdrawal from you allows a child to cope with the intolerable bind they have been in because they no longer have to try and relate to two people who they love dearly but who do not love each other and worse, may be competing for their love and approval.  In order to withdraw and stay withdrawn, the normal reactions of guilt and shame have to be buried and not felt by the child and so splitting as a defence takes place.  This shuts off feelings of guilt and shame by projecting all bad things towards one parent and all good things towards the other.  Thus, a beloved parent can be rejected without the normal feelings of guilt and shame and the ‘decision’ to do so can be rationalised and justified in the child’s mind leaving them able to cope with what they have done.

This is why, when you try to rationalise with a child who is using the defence of psychological splitting you are always likely to lose.  They have lost rational powers of thought by distorting their own psychology and entering a world where the irrational becomes rational and vice versa.  When your child is in this world they have gone down the rabbit hole and rather than jumping down after them, your task is to recognise what you can and cannot do to help them come back up again.

The deeper layers of understanding hybrid alienation are to do with family patterns and historical narratives and what drives you in your current position as well as what motivates you to do the work that is necessary for rejected parents in a hybrid case.  In so many ways the core issue to resolve in a hybrid case becomes the fixated positions of both sides, which are arrived at after a combination of dynamics takes place.  This combination looks like this –

  • the child makes transitions
  • the child begins to show transitional difficulties
  • one or both parents suspect the other of causing those difficulties
  • the tension in the system increases
  • the child feels the tension around them tighten
  • the child makes transitions but shows increasing transitional difficulty
  • one or both parents escalates the blame
  • the tension increases
  • the child begins to refuse
  • the blame intensifies
  • the child refuses
  • the blame intensifies significantly from the parent who is being rejected
  • the other parent counter blames and strengthens the hold on the child
  • the child, experiencing the escalation as threatening withdraws completely

It is at this point that many rejected parents enter the court process or use one of the father’s rights forums, both of which intensify for the rejected parent a) their sense of self righteousness b) their terror of loss c) their belief that the other parent is solely and wholly to blame.

One of the reasons the Clinic was established was to provide for parents the kind of education, support and services which arrest, reverse and treat transitional difficulties before they go over the tipping point into alienation.  Now that the Clinic is established in London, we are able to also offer early intervention services, coaching, counselling and side by side work with parents who are experiencing transitional problems so that we can stop the alienation reaction from starting in the first place.  Soon we will be revamping this site to link it up with the Clinic and the Family Separation Hub, our national network of community based specialist services, so that we are able to deliver a wider and more comprehensive service than ever before, putting power into your hands as well as practioner hands, to get to the problems before, during and after an alienation reaction has hit your family.

This has been a quick ‘rinse through’ of some of the layers of understanding of a hybrid case of alienation.  It is intended to give you a better understanding of why differentiation of alienation is essential and the principles that we use to determine the difference between hybrid and pure cases.  It is not intended for you to use as a self diagnosis tool just as it stands, though those of you who are already in the driving seat of your own situation will recognise that it is part of what we use to help you get there.  Once a parent of an alienated child, always a parent of a child vulnerable to the splitting reaction is our motto at the Clinic and if your child is showing any of the signs or you spot any of the adult behavioural signs in the lists above in your own situation, getting to grips with the idea of hybrid alienation is a must for you, because hybrid means the power is still in your hands and hybrid means that you can make a difference.

I have been writing recently about empathic responding and I will pick up that thread again very soon because that is one of the core tools in your tool box as an alienated parent and that skill, in a hybrid case, is your golden key to creating the change that your child needs to get free.  Whilst children who are psychologically split will need help to come out of that position, those not yet over the tipping point can be helped by what you do and how you change your behaviours.  This post is designed to help you to understand more about what is and what is not possible in your own situation as part of getting you back into the driving seat of your own parenting, how you identify with it, what you understand is possible within it and what you can create in terms of opening the routes out of the current situation for your children to follow.  Most of all, this post is to let everyone affected by alienation know that discussion of categorisation is not a criticism, it is not about blame, it is about getting the very best information into the best hands possible for making change – yours.

This post is dedicated to Tim Haries.  Thank you Tim for all you have done and are doing in the face of your loss of your beloved children, one day they will come home.

This post is also to coincide with Parental Alienation Awareness Day on the 25th April 2014.  A day when worldwide, we seek to raise awareness of the toxic impact of alienation on children and their families and to challenge others to join with us in developing services to help families to live a healthier, safer and most of all united life.

This site will shortly be revamped as a dedicated space for education, information, discussion and development of work to support families affected by transitional difficulties and alienation. This will include spaces for discussion about the issues surrounding alienation such as feminism, legislative change and other issues.

Individual assessment sessions on transitional difficulties and alienation are available daily from the Clinic at a cost of £70 per session.  Please email office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk  An assessment session is designed to offer tailored advice to your own circumstances.  Coaching sessions on an ongoing basis for parents with children experiencing transitional difficulties cost £60 per hour.  The Clinic is a not for profit organisation, all surplus funds go to further research and design of treatment routes for parental alienation in all its different presentations.