Into the mystery: on differentiation of alienation (and the power it puts in your hands)

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  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.



25 thoughts on “Into the mystery: on differentiation of alienation (and the power it puts in your hands)”

  1. Karen – a comprehensive description, thank you. While it does not accurately reflect my own experience, there are certainly similarities I can relate to.

    I look forward to your revamped pages, and dare I be as bold as to issue a plea?

    Could you and Nick buck the trend amongst professionals and within your new pages, acknowledge those children who are harmed through association with an alienation situation? I refer to the step- and half- siblings of rejecting children – who are themselves rejected ‘by proxy’?

    These children are undoubtedly deeply impacted by the perceived rejection from a sibling who they have often, as you highlight above, holidayed with, celebrated with and shared family life with.

    For those of us who have risked our children’s emotional wellbeing by establishing a new, blended family, we not only deal with our own loss, and support our spouses through the pain of being rejected by their child, but are also faced with our own children’s grief over the sudden, unexpected loss of their sibling.

    Yet, the impact of alienation on step siblings, and stepparents, has been widely, and comprehensively ignored. I wish I could explain the emotional conflict I feel when the actions of my stepchildren have shattered the family around me. How can I protect my child from that devastation, while at the same time support my spouse to provide what my step-children need?

    I am certain that my actions, to protect my child, have in turn contributed to my stepchildrens continued rejection of our family and their parent. That is a burden I bear alone – because the ‘system’ and ‘support’ available excludes wider family, it focuses exclusively on the rejected parent.

    I am sure I am not alone in seeking answers. How can the disperate needs of the children in a blended family be met when alienation is a factor? Are the needs of a child experiencing alienation a higher priority than those of other children of the family? And has there been any research into the long term damage, not to alienated children, but to the innocent bystanders?

    Alienated children are not the only children damaged in those situations and those of us who support them are in desperate need of support, too.


    1. Hi Rachel

      Thanks for the reminder and suggestion about those caught near the front-line of high conflict families.

      I remain a learner here too. All help in learning is welcome. And so I cannot find the words enough to praise the astonishing breadth, depth and value of what Karen has been doggedly working on for so many years, and then generously sharing as she has done today … for us all to learn further from.

      In passing I would comment on how, in a public arena like this in a subject as painful as PA – it is not surprising that there is a tension between what a professional has to do (i.e. be prepared to assess and understand and work with a wide range of cases that come to them) and what the individual sufferer wants and feels about their own unique situation, how this or that does or does not apply to their case. Karen is doing her very best to bridge that difficult gap. I applaud Karen again for doing this. She provides here a very rare transparent immediate integration of complex professional knowledge and practice – hot from the frontline even – with the broadest public user network. Plus she doesn’t duck the big socio-political things either.

      I have used this blog today – PA Day – to promote the cause and Karen’s work to wider professional networks for their further education.

      To return to your point, Rachel: One of the most poignant realisations in my limited work with alienated clients is in exactly what you describe – the wider family and step-siblings completely puzzled and asking questions about why their much loved young family members have faded out of their lives without any easy explanation to give them.

      In fact, I think this aspect is a most powerful kind of anecdotal way to show the wider world how tragic and sad and wrong alienation is. The world is used to thinking of the embattled front-line parents and others as somehow responsible because they’re the ones immediately engaged in the struggle.

      It’s the experience of the plainly “innocent family bystander” – the step-sibling or wider family member that – that I think most vividly shows the tragedy of what’s going. (When I say “plainly “innocent …”, I don’t mean to imply guilt to other, just to mean that to an outsider PA-ignorant person’s perspective, it is plain that the affected family members have had nothing to do with the things that now affect them, that this may be their first loss of innocence through an experience of love and trust in significant people being lost, their turning against them even, for no good reason.)

      So thanks again for the reminder of what’s missing on my webpages.

      Nick Child
      Family Therapist, Edinburgh


      1. Thanks Nick and thank you for keeping connected, I am aware that you keep on doing the work of awareness raising in Scotland and I am glad that you are able to see what we are doing here. I will write to you separately on other matters arising but just wanted to say publicly that I recognise that I reacted strongly in recent weeks, to things that were perhaps better dealt with directly with you. I have learned, through your reaction to that, something about myself, the core values I am dealing with in trying to establish a UK model of work with alienation and about how conflict, for me, offers an opportunity to change.

        And so I apologise for the way in which I raised the issues I felt strongly about on this forum and recognise that your intention was not what I considered it to be. I recognise the work that you are doing in Scotland and as it looks like there are opportunities to further that in some way collaboratively, which is always my driver in this work, I hope that you will accept this public apology. K


    2. I can only say that you are not alone with those worries. Seeing the pain it has caused our little children to lose their older siblings has to me been one of the hardest things. We have tried our best to protect them and like you I feel that sometimes the acts of protecting them may have contributed to the alienation of the others. The sibling relationships have taken a serious battering in the situation we have. However, at other times they turn out to be really helpful relationships – sometimes relating to a sibling is easier than to a parent.


    3. Hi Rachel, you are absolutely right to raise this issue. I’ve seen my son (of first marriage) lose his sisters (of second marriage), my nephew lose his three cousins (the eldest of which was so close to him in age and looks people thought they were twins), my sister lose her nieces, my mother lose her grand-daughters… Regardless of the role I played in the family breakdown, none of them deserved that. Before I lost contact with my girls they wouldn’t even make fuss of our dog.

      All I hope is that one of these family members may have a better chance to re-establish contact than I do. I know they keep reaching out…


    4. Hi rachel, I hear your plea for help for the step family and I know, as a step parent myself, how incredibly difficult that role can be especially when there are alienation issues and conflict and hostility in the wider family system. I understand also the way that you have had to act in order to protect your own child and how this can leave you isolated within the family that you now live, it is a truly lonely place to be. When I felt that, I read a book called the Step Parents Parachute by Flora Mcevedy, it changed my whole perception and helped me enormously. I will ensure that there is a dedicated space just for step parenting and alienation on our new site and I hope you will join us there where I know that there will be others in your situation keen to share and help too. K


  2. The nature of Rachel’s comment encourages me to say that I for one remain still very much a skeptic. I appreciate the expert work that may be being done in this area but using a medical metaphor; feel that time and again – the importance has been proven for each clinician to listen most carefully to the patient who is suffering the dis-ease – as much as the various other doctors that are attempting to treat the condition.

    I may be wrong – but it appears to me so far as if some of the ‘experts’ are tending to dance around some unpalatable truths about human nature here – and therefore not able to address the issues sufficiently.

    Please forgive my mentioning it, but I was told on this blog a short time ago from the description I gave that my daughters case was simply “not alienation”. Now it seems rather more precisely that it is not a “pure alienation” – but “hybrid” – which is worse. Of course it is worse. The alienator is a puppet master – the last thing the alienator wishes to do is lose the puppet!

    So the puppet master induces the child sometimes behave as though they still have the capacity to relate to the alienated parent – precisely so that alienation appears not to be present – and the alienated parent goes through the agonizing process of having their hopes raised…only then to be dashed time and time again as the the longed for reunion seems so tantalizingly close…but never actually materializes.

    It is only the puppet master relishing the sadistic refinements they have mastered.

    I have heard a kind, sensitive female Judge with 20+ years of previous experience as a Family Law solicitor define the entire area of relationship breakdown that ends up in Court – as a consequence of “failure of communication”. Sophisticated as she may be – I’m afraid that the esteemed Judge is only identifying a symptom, NOT a cause. Much, if not most of the failure to communicate – comes about NOT because of someones INABILITY to communicate, but because it SUITS them completely – not to do so. Of course, people who don’t practice communication (because they don’t WISH to communicate) don’t have the best communication abilities…but it is not because of lack of capacity.

    I hope the experts attempting to work in this area acknowledge that they are essentially dealing with examples of human nature in some of its rawest manifestations. As mention previously, whenever there there is alienation present – this is simply a red flag…for one human being attempting to dominate and exploit others. There are only three scenarios possible within a heterosexual relationship. Either a man is attempting to dominate a woman, a woman is attempting to dominate a man, or they are each competing to dominate the other.

    To my mind, it doesn’t matter WHAT type of alienation emerges, that is the fundamental dynamic going on. If whoever is trying to work with the alienation is able to recognize who is trying to do what to whom…then there is a chance of addressing it. If not – then there is not a prayer of so doing.

    Domination techniques are learned in childhood, by children whose parents were variously unable or unwilling to provide meaningful boundaries. This is all that personality disorder consists of. The ONLY solution for this condition – is a kind of teenage style “re-parenting” program, where boundaries are negotiated and then enforced until the person concerned is able to understand the need for this on their own. This is why the support staff in the type of environment padrestevie described in his comment on the last post, are so vital – as they are largely the ones to observe whether the boundaries are being maintained, and to persuade the clients to do so as much possible.

    Exactly as padrestevie said, the most sophisticated people in this situation are the ones that have not been caught. Alienation of children against the other parent – is probably the one major opportunity, if not the ONLY remaining opportunity, TO catch these people out.

    This is exactly what needs to happen, and until the professionals involved grab the “bull by the horns” as it were, and realize the nature of the task given to them, then the kind of scenario that Rachel so vividly describes simply will not cease.

    It may be uncomfortable, it may be “un PC”, but this is the reality. It is all very well trying to put the blame on us for not handling the situation adequately, but for those of us in the situation, it won’t wash. In the alienators’ mind there are no shades of grey. There is nothing to discuss. There is only strength and weakness, only winning or losing. Every attempt at kindness or at constructive dialogue is a waste of time – like building on sand. The serious alienator will only respond to authority that they perceive as being more powerful than they are, and their severely alienated child will ONLY be able to come out of the traumatized state they are in – when they are convinced that it is THAT responsible authority which is now in charge; that the alienator absolutely no longer represents a threat to them – and that the original dynamics, which, as you say, caused the alienation to set in – have been identified and removed for good.

    When I see and hear the experts describe this robust process in action – THEN I will believe that a real change has occurred which we can celebrate.


    1. Oh dear woodman, even though I have explicitly written the words ‘you are not to blame’ even though links to Prof Bala’s work have been posted, even though we are digging even deeper……’there are no shades of grey’…in the face of that, what can anyone say or do, we can research, we can devise treatment routes, we can show you the evidence but then what? All I can say is keep on doing what you are doing because if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got…. Perhaps, just perhaps, there IS a different way…


      1. I am continuously prepared to be a creative and flexible as I can possibly be from my end – and I’m sure that goes for most of us…but practically, our options in terms of time and resources are often simply going to be too limited to evaluate the research you cite.

        I’m sorry, but I’m just giving the most honest feedback I can, that in your writing – which is the main thing we have to go by…you’ve not yet managed to convince that you guys are really grappling with the fundamental issues of DOMINANCE here – and these are just too serious to be kidding ourselves that we have – if we haven’t.

        For example, which alienators actually go to your clinic is something of a mystery at present. No alienator worth their salt will go anywhere near such an environment – unless they are absolutely forced to. So is THAT – what is happening? HOW is it happening, and who is MAKING it happen?

        Sure, I can see you giving lots of advice privately to the alienated parents who can afford it, but can you give me examples of…”I was once an all-out alienator – but now I have seen the light?”

        ALL alienators will be very wounded people with low self-esteem and all the rest of it – and it really is is a very, very difficult issue to address.

        I am personally attempting to develop a a therapeutic intervention (community music based) which will be capable of creating a dramatic breakthrough in peoples lives…an environment which will be so irresistible that even the most damaged people (such as alienators) will be drawn like moths to the flame – out of sheer curiosity, in time.

        But I have no illusions about (a) the upfront cost of this – although the long term value would be inestimable (b) the resistance that will be (are already being, locally) presented by people whose lives are invested in a range of therapies which are really of very little benefit at all, and finally (c) the fact that the EVEN WITH an emotional breakthrough of the type I am hoping for, the type of disciplined slog of learning to live with boundaries – STILL has to be undertaken, some how or other.

        From what I have briefly seen of it, Bala’s descriptions of the alienation process are spot-on.

        But solutions…that is another matter…altogether.


      2. Woodman I can hear the anger and hurt you are suffering and your demands for answers to questions about the work at the clinic tells me that you do not believe in the work that we do so let me explain more.

        The clinic sees alienating parents every week, its what we do. Those alienating parents are indeed ‘forced’ to engage with the clinic through the court process. We work with the whole family in hybrid alienation cases and design and deliver treatment routes which are based upon the Candadian model developed by professor Bala and his colleagues. We offer a range of routes for treatment, from counselling, coaching, therapy and psycho education to therapeutic bridges for transfer of residence. We act as expert witnesses in court advising on how to achieve the liberation of the child from the dynamic. Sometimes we advise a change of residence and if the court decides to enact that we support it with the kind of input that ensures that the child is helped to emerge from the alienation. The Clinic is building a reputation for high quality successful outcomes which keep children in touch with both sides of their family even after alienation has been treated (which is always the aim). You are totally wrong to say that all alienators are wounded people and to characterise every parent in the same way. Some of the parents who are accused of being alienators are not wounded at all they are coping with a child’s transitional difficulties and they are trying to do their best in extraorinary circumstances.

        You may be dealing with dominance as the core theme of your own case Woodman and I would agree that dominanceof the lone parent model leads to the expectation that one parent can and will dominate but its not JUST about dominance and we would be failing our families at the Clinic if we did not address all of the other issues at play.

        I am sorry if you feel that ‘us guys’ have not got to grips with the issues as you would like us to…it seems to me that professor Bala hasn’t either and perhaps the list of emminent researchers and practioners I gave you is not enough either… but your journey is yours to make Woodman and you have to find your own way..if what we do here and at the Clinic isn’t for you fair enough, I don’t have any need to force you to be here…I write about what we do and how we do it and why because it is my work, I study, practice and research and evaluate the work we do with alienaors and alienated parents (including those who are in the pure category where possible) and I meet alienating parents every week..but if that is not enough then I guess hoeing your own row is the best way forward for you, I hope it brings the change you seek.


  3. Another excellent article and one it is absolutely right to publish today, on Parental Alienation day. I love reading this stuff because it confirms and reinforces the understanding I have slowly come to over the last 10 years or so, first through personal experience, then through fathers’ rights forums (which I am afraid do intensify alienating behaviours in men), then through trying to understand the issues from the other side, particularly through a more diverse and balanced forum, and eventually to a position where I was able to marry again and enjoy a normal family life, together, to some extent, with the alienated child.

    It has been a long and uneven journey, and if Karen is able to help parents on that journey more effectively, without taking all the wrong turnings which tempt them, that will be a small miracle.


    1. If we can get this information into the hands of parents Nick before they experience alienation proper then I believe we will assist many to avoid the worst pitfalls. This is what I have always believed is necessary and its why we are going to redevelop this blog site to focus on getting that knowledge and information out there as widely as we can. K


  4. Have you considered that there are no alienators. Not in the sense that we can stick a label on them.

    There are people who behave in such a way that others become estranged or alienated…..could be you or it could be your children who are the butt of this behaviour.

    How you choose to respond is again a behaviour. It is something that you do and it is your choice. Your behaviour does influence all those you choose to come into contact with/ influence.

    I don’t think the Alienator is a person ( not the monster in the movies). We are describing behaviour, something you can choose to do as and when the mood or feeling takes you, or perhaps something more considered. Your ex may well be demonstrating alienating behaviour, but then so might you. On the other hand I doubt very much if your ex alienates everyone. None of us do that…………..we all make choices about who we mix with, our closest friends/relatives/the receptionist at the Doctors/whoever.

    If your ex is alienating you and your children she may well have decided she has a very personal grievance against you and your child may well be displaying any number of the behaviours Karen has listed. This is a behavioural choice she has made based on an assesment she has made. Given that you and her have been very much intertwined on an emotional level and produced children i think it reasonable to assume that your behaviour very much affects the choices she makes about her behaviour.

    Like it or not, you are in an emotional and psychological bind. The beauty of it is that you do have control over your family by the way in which you behave. How does what you do effect your ex and then makes her feel that she has to do the things that she does? As parents, how does the things we do affect the minds and behaviour of our children? Do we want them to become the product of a life-long unresolved conflict between us and our former partner, or do we hope that they experience something rather more respectful. (and not based on our desire to prove that it was our Ex that is to blame)

    Kind regards


    1. I like this analysis, it is considered and from a place which is removed from the emotional ‘hooks’ that cause us to react without thinking. Much to consider here and very useful for others to read and think about, thank you.


  5. As a regular visitor to this blog with some input, I take the decision to “intrude” on a “discussion” conducted somewhat publicly between our Karen (who I have met, know and have much respect for and hold in high esteem) and the gentleman Nick Child who I have not met but who has also written in an esteemed and respectful matter.

    From what this gentleman wrote, I would NEVER have deciphered, from between the lines, that Karen had something to apologise for.

    Regardless, Karen publicly acknowledged him and apologised for something …

    How humble of both of them!

    And isn’t this a depiction, literally in front of our eyes, of how 2 parents of a child they shared in creating, should behave? Regardless of what happened, shouldn’t we be willing to go the extra mile (or marathon?) (or eternal distances) in changing and humbling ourselves with the other parent for the sake of OUR child? Surely that is a message we should try to accept.

    A year before I met Karen (a few years ago. – and since when she has been invariably correct in her predictions and suppositions of my case) I did have some (albeit unsubstantial) contact with my children. Had the vast amount of information on PA that is available in this blog been available to me then, then I would not have been a bull in a china shop – which is in addition to the alienating behaviour of the other side. For the record, I have been told mine is a case of pure alienation – though I also humbly think there are undertones of hybrid alienation therein too.

    Parental Alienation day is not one to celebrate as such. However, on this day I would like to thank you, Karen, for all that you do in this field and this blog too. I would also like to thank Nick Woodall for what he does – Thank you. I will also mention 2 other gentlemen although I have not met them – thank you Professor Bala and thank you Dr. Hamish Cameron. And thank you to the others such as Dr. Warshak and Dr Amy J. L. Baker and all the other people that do what they can to help our cause. Had I not known about PA then I would not have even a glimmer of hope of reunification. But because I know about it somewhat thanks to all these people and because of the help I get, I do have a glimmer of hope.

    [written on PAA Day]


    1. And thank you PMK for your ability to think, reflect, consider, share, care and change…your children WILL come home, this waiting is difficult but you are not too far from the last stretch and your recent time with one of your children tells you that (and you know I would not say that if I did not believe it). And your acceptance that your case involves threads of your own reactions is exactly what has got you to where you are now and why I know, when your children do come home, all will be well. There are still things that place your children in a vulnerable category that we have to consider and we will, but overall, when the healing starts, it doesn’t stop, it might come in fits and starts but if you can be patient, they will come home. K


  6. So many connections in our family fractured by the events of last 3 years.
    My only grandson denied contact with his dad,grandparents aunts ,friends and only cousin.
    Although he now has a stepdad and 3 step-siblings!
    Obviously a stable family in the view of Cafcass and family court!

    In March grandfather died (age 83) having been denied contact with his only grandson (age 14 ) for three years.
    Visiting him in nursing home shortly before his death his only audible words were ‘Where is L’? ’
    Divorced 20 yrs ago we remained friends and met on many happy family occasions
    Now in my 80s I am pessimistic about being reunited with my beloved grandson before I die. even though I live only a mile away
    I have also feared for my son and definitions of ‘alienation’ are I’m afraid of little help or comfort.
    Words,theories,experts but so little hope of contact for estranged children,parents,grandparents.

    Karen do you have any records of changes in children’s attitudes after the death of a father/grandparent.


    1. I know that definitions are of little help when you feel so helpless and have been so badly let down by the family court system and I am sorry to hear and know that you have suffered so badly Grandmani.

      To my knowledge there are no collated records of children’s reactions to the death of a grandparent or father/mother that they have been alienated from, we keep records of families we work with and follow outcomes but we do not have any extensive evidence to draw from.

      The tragedy of estrangement is that children are often walled off from their natural feelings, so much so that they are not able to locate the feelings that arise in these circumstances. Rather those feelings wash against their defences leaving them with a vague sense of loss and sadness, anxiety and unresolved longing perhaps. It all very much depends upon how removed from the family children have become and for how long.

      The purpose of working with concepts of alienation on this blog is to help people who do still have chance to change things to do so. Its very important that we do not ever give up and allow the narrative of alienation to be taken over by either a sense of helplessness and futility or a belief that it is too complicated to unpick. For some it is and remains incredibly difficult, for others it is less so. Each time we are successful, each time we understand how children came home, each time we know the difference in a type of estrangement and can treat it, we triumph over this seemingly hopeless situation.

      And triumph we must, whether we wait out the estrangement, whether we treat it successfully, whether we try and fail, we must attempt to do something, to do nothing is to allow the legislation, the single parent/women’s rights lobby, the failures of CAFCASS et all to win.

      We have to keep on working at it. For all of those who die before reunification and the children whose lives will be haunted forever in some way by that reality.

      Sending my care and support to you.



      1. Grandparents are the hidden casualties of alienation. Not only do they suffer the loss of a grandchild, but, they endure the pain of seeing their own children emotionally broken. It is a cruel, bitter and bullying to willfully inflict such pain upon frail and vulnerable people whose only crime has been to care and earn our respect.

        As a parent it is a joy to see and share the way that a new birth can bring so much happiness to all. When my daughter arrived the effect it had upon my mother (now 90) was remarkable. Having lost her husband, my father, a few years earlier, it gave her a new lease of life, new hope and much happy laughter. But sadly and cruelly it was snatched away in an instant. The negative fall out from the separation is as far-reaching as the positive fall out from the birth. I still ask myself, why? The whole episode seems so utterly pointless.

        There were times when I was tempted to give up but with hindsight it’s easy to see that this would have been a grave mistake. Now that I have been reunited with my daughter I know that the love we used to share never vanished: I know now that it never will. It was simply kept in a safe and personal place out of harms way until it felt safe again to display. My daughter also believed that I was gone forever but she knows now that, as long as I have breath in my body, that will never happen. Although the threat of further alienation and the splitting reaction remains there are clearly positive outcomes that have made our relationship stronger. I just wish she could have discovered these in another way.

        I also know how she never ever forgot her Nana. Whilst my reintroduction was initially tentative my mother’s was not. It is something I will never forget. The photographs of that lovely day are now on my mantle-piece. Whatever the next few years bring those will be the lovely memories we will always carry.

        It seems now that everything got back to normal as quickly as it all became so horribly disrupted. Like most nasty life experiences, it was hell at the time but it is amazing how quickly those recollections fade.

        The definitions did not help much at times for my family either. But, i know now that understanding of the condition contained the only real key to breaking the stalemate which had been established.

        Shortly before we were reunited i was ill. Friends contacted my daughter and whilst that did not build bridges it certainly started on the foundations.

        I hope this helps Grandmani.

        Much love




    I see ITV have Joe Frost doing family reparation on screen. There is a small studio audience who clap or murmur disapproval at what you might think is appropriate moments. Watching this woman work goes some way to explaining why we have so many single parent mothers and so many absent fathers. On a recent episode 04/05/14 she disentangled two mothers and a father from a stressful situation. What was clear was that father had no issues with parenting his son and was more than capable. His new partner was having problems blaming him for being unsupportive. The net result being that the child’s real mother was reluctant to have the child stay with the father and his new partner.

    Jo Frost couldn’t get the father to understand nor comply with what she thought was a reasonable solution. The net result was she told him to go away. (They had something called the green room where father could neither hear nor see the proceedings).

    Jo frost then told the man’s new partner to ditch him. Jo then proceeded to tell us that women were perfectly capable of bringing up children on their own!
    Needless to say I find this kind of attitude to parenting horrific. She seemed to be saying; only women can parent, but men are acceptable only on women’s terms.
    Perhaps more disturbingly Jo thought she was protecting the interests of the child. She wasn’t, she was protecting the right of women to parent their children in a way that they deem fit.
    And this all rings true for me in my experiences with Social Services, Cafcass and the Family Courts.

    Did anybody else see this programme?


  8. It’s an interesting point raised about the impact on extended families, and something that I have experienced over the last few years. My question however is this, the very notion of PA is based on one parent denigrating (to a greater or lesser extent) the other, is there any evidence of such behaviour being carried out not by the resident parent but by one of the resident parents other children?

    It is something I have very serious concerns about with respect to my own situation, although pulling together tangible evidence is far from simple.


    1. Yes..absolutely…in my opinion – this goes to the very heart of alienation. The alienator is seeking to use the alienated CHILD…as the weapon.

      We are not so much affected by the rejection of a spouse (who may well have been cruel or extremely hostile or at the very least unsupportive throughout our relationship – so that’s no great loss, and might well be a relief) but the alienator knows that we WILL very likely be drastically affected by the rejection of our child.

      So it is then in fact the child or children targeted for this…who can also become active alienators!

      Should there be another child in the family who is more aligned with the targeted parent – then that child, too…will in turn become a target of the alienating child…and experience cruel behaviour, and pressure to distance themselves from the target parent, and to align with the alienating parent.

      It is not the alienating child’s fault…they are under the control of the alienating parent. However, meanwhile – the alienating parent can claim not to be alienating at all – they will blame the relationship between the alienating child and the targeted parent for all the problems…their own hands are ‘clean’, they may say.

      “Nothing to do with them” at all…

      The pressure on the alienating child…who may in fact be exceedingly jealous of any continuing relationship that a non-alienated child may have with a targeted parent – must be very intense.

      They clearly have a strong need to be ‘loved’ by the alienating parent, even if it is impossible for the alienator to actually do that. The child may be rejecting the genuine love of the targeted parent – in order to try and gain the approval of the alienating parent. It is very difficult for an alienated child to come to terms with the fact that they are not going to be loved by one of their parents. (An alienating parent is likely to be someone who struggles to genuinely love).

      Perhaps in time the child can come to appreciate where their true interest lies…but it will most likely be a long, drawn-out, tortuous process for them. Based on my current experience – they are likely to self-sabotage the process – every time the possibility of overcoming the alienation is desired.

      My 17 year-old is starting to articulate the fact that she wants to get closer again – but then finds all sorts of reasons …which she blames on me, of course…why that can’t happen. It is very difficult for her to understand that what has happened is that she has internalized her mothers hostility towards me – and that it is NOT her own…that “someone else” is “in” her mind, so to speak…directing her thinking.

      Hopefully…with continued patience…including some difficult conversations at times! – now that we at least talking after an extended period (several years) of almost no communication – there is some progress to be made.


  9. That is a very good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise info… Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read post!


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