To prove to you that I am hurtling towards the completion of the book (talks with publisher this morning went well), I am offering for all of you who read my blog a follow up to the last post which has provoked some talking and thinking and perhaps some agonising too. Given that, as an educator and therapist, my goal is always to provoke thinking in order to create change, it would be unfair of me not to give you the tools you need to start the process of making your own road map for coping if your child has rejected you or is in the process of doing so.
Tool number one is the Self Inventory. It is the way in which you understand the behaviours that you may have shown to your child or their other parent, which have contributed to the fixed dynamic in which the child refuses to see you any longer. The Self Inventory is a fairly brutal approach to setting out on your journey of self discovery, because it requires you to face, in it’s cold and sometimes stark reality, the past, your role in the past and the way in which you relate to the past, right here and now, in the present.
The past is another country or so they say. Not for alienated parents it isn’t. For alienated parents, the past is too often alive and well and making powerful incursions into the present day, lapping its influence into each moment you continue to exist, extending its tentacles around you invisibly until you become almost unaware that there is such a thing as today. When I work with alienated parents, it is striking how many are frozen in time, locked back into the past, existing in today only for the moment when the ice thaws and their child emerges again. When I work with alienated children, it is remarkable how similar their presentations often are to the parent they are now estranged from. Locked and frozen, almost as if someone pressed the pause button. A major task for alienated parents is finding out how to move on.
Because alienation is linked so closely to the grief cycle, only without the positive movement beyond the depths of despair and depression, becoming locked and frozen in the past is an agonising experience. This is what produces the common symptoms suffered by alienated parents of having to repeat the story over and over again. Repetititve telling of ‘the story’ is how we humans process shock and grief. As we tell and retell what has happened to us we are seeking to assure ourselves and reassure ourselves, comfort ourselves and protect ourselves too. Being forcibly removed from your child, be you mother or father and be it slowly and helplessly or suddenly and without warning, produces the same kind of shock and grief reaction as bereavement. The behaviours that accompany that can make you feel (and appear) as if you have gone quite mad. Repetitive story telling is only one sign, one experience to be had amongst the grief reactions; panic, alarm, anxiety, sleeplessness, restlessness, searching, forgetfulness, psychosis, all are to be found within the spectrum of grief and all are present for parents whose children become rejecting of them.
Did you experience any of those?
If you did, from your more distanced perspective now, can you look back and think about how that made you react, act, appear to other people?
The starting point for coping with parental alienation is to get back into the driving seat of your parenthood. Getting back into the driving seat of your parenthood means looking back into the world you still live in and putting distance and perspective into the landscape. Standing back and reviewing and examining. Owning your stuff (or shit) as some people like to put it.
And whether that stuff (or shit) as some people put it was fairly dumped on you or not (and let’s face it no-one who is dealing with bereavement can be considered to have had that fairly dumped on them) the issue you are facing is that how you coped back then is a narrative that your child carries with them. You see, children who are in an alienated position cannot see any other perspective than their own which is largely often fused with the parent they are aligned with. And so, if your child went into a transitional reaction and started to withdraw from you and was supported in that by the parent they were aligned with, how you reacted to that became their complete experience of the world.
And I am guessing that not many of you simply sat back and said breezily ‘fine, off you go, I never loved you anyway…‘ when the reaction set in.
You didn’t did you? What you did was –
a) took the other parent to task
b) took the other parent to court
c) took yourself to the nearest parental rights group
d) took yourself to the madhouse and back in your search for justice
and in addition what happened around your family at the point was
a) Your child started saying things that were not true
b) the other parent upheld those things as the gospel truth
c) some family court professionals came by and poured petrol on the already burning building
d) You ended up feeling mad/bad/dangerous to know
and some of you acted as if you were mad or bad or dangerous to know and in your shock, pain and grief, confirmed for all around you why your child didn’t want to see you again.
And from that moment, the ice froze around you and nobody moved, least of all you.
Is that how it looks in the past, from your more distanced place now which gives you perspective? Is it similar, if it is, how similar? is it different, if it is, how different? Write it down, review it, share it on here, talk about it with people who understand.
One of the most cruel things that we do to alienated parents in the UK (and I am guessing many other places in the world too by the look of numbers of people from far and wide who visit this blog), is we silence them and we pathologise them and we label them. When all the while what has happened to them is a normal reaction to having your children forcibly removed from you in what is akin to bereavement but without a body to bury. In short, we collectively ignore the natural and normal reactions of loving, caring parents, who would die for their children and who continue, without their children in their lives to ache, from the deepest places of their hearts and souls for the loss they have suffered. Or we call them mad, bad or dangerous to know.
But not here. Not in this space. Not whilst I have a breath left in my body.
Self Inventories are easy to begin but quite difficult to complete in my experience. In this self inventory I want you to take a piece of paper and a pen and sit down quietly for at least 30 minutes when you cannot be disturbed and I want you to think about the following questions. Be honest with yourself, no-one is going to see this but you. I want you to go through the following questions and I want you to write the first part of what will become a major piece of your road map. Your road map is in three parts. Understanding, coping and helping. You are working on part one which is understanding. Here you are understanding yourself in the world of relationships you were once in. The relationships that eventually put you in the place of rejected or alienated parent. Deep breath. Don’t be afraid. We are all here cheering you on (and there are a lot of us now in this boat we are starting to row together).
When the alienation reaction started to set in, how did you react?
|You gave in to the angry feelings that your child caused with their poor behaviour||Yes||No|
|You shouted at your child|
|You attempted to shame your child into behaving better|
|You acted as if you are shocked with your child|
|You gave in to depression and feel defeated|
|You focused on the wrong thing (trying to prove to your child that they are wrong)|
|You blamed the other parent|
|You tackled the problem with boundary setting and time outs|
|You ignored the problem and hoped it would go away|
|Anything else that you can think of?|
Put the paper in front of you now and consider the reality of what happened back then. Think about your own feelings and now think about the other parent’s feelings. Finally think about how your child felt then. Write down, in each of the columns on your paper, how you think your child felt back then.
And then stop.
Working on Self Inventory is draining and it can be upsetting. It can feel, after all of your helplessness and all of the blame you have faced, as if it is just another round of having a go at you. You are vulnerable, I don’t want you to overload yourself with the kind of work which dredges up difficult feelings. I don’t want you to ber overwhelmed with guilt, or shame on top of the grief that you already experience.
But I do want you to feel.
And I do want you to begin the process of changing the way that you react to the past and the way that the past influences and affects you. Because your reaction – not to feel, to protect yourself by becoming numb, to distract yourself by projecting blame and to attempt not to think about what has happened, is exactly the same reaction as your child is experiencing. It is a mirror image.
And to change this, something, anything, has to change. So it might as well be you.
Because you have the power over you and though the other parent currently has the power over your child (aided and abetted by most family services), it won’t always be that way.
Therapeutic Coaching sessions for alienated parents are available daily from the Family Separation Clinic, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment. Sessions cost £70 per hour and can be booked individually or in blocks of six at a cost of £300 (reducing the cost to £50 per session).
Therapeutic Coaching sessions with Karen Woodall can be booked at £90 per hour for individual sessions or can be tailored in packages which attract reduced costs, please ask for details.
Understanding Parental Alienation – Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal will be available shortly at a cost of £12.99. Pre-order here