Taking good care of yourself as an alienated parent

This week I have been knocked out by an influenza virus which has rendered me horizontal for much of the time. Never one to feel comfortable when idle however, I have, in between bouts of gargantuan sneezes, been catching up on all things related to health and wellbeing.  I have also been pondering the relationship between emotional and psychological wellbeing and physical health and have been reading some interesting material on trauma and its long term impacts.

I was prompted to delve more into this by a piece about Post Tramatic Stress Disorder and the Family Courts which was posted in the Family Justice Network this week about treatments for people who have been through the court process and who have emerged with PTSD symptoms.  It is certainly my experience as a therapist that many of the families that we see at the Family Separation Clinic present with these symptoms. I thought therefore, in the spirit of self help,  it might be worth taking a quick look at what you can do to protect yourself from trauma in the court process, particularly if you are seeing any kind of alienation reaction in your child.

Psychological trauma is anything which overwhelms the psyche and renders you unable to cope or integrate the emotional feelings that accompany an event.  In that respect it is easy to see how, when someone is experiencing the loss of a relationship with a child, trauma is a serious risk.  Loss of a child through separation and the alienation reaction however it is arrived at, will cause wounding in a psychological sense. Thus already wounded parents are entering into the Family Courts which is a traumatic environment managed by people who do not possess the skills to offer psychological support. Little wonder that too many parents exit the process looking as if they have been hit by a freight train.    Here then is a quick list of what to do to protect yourself if you are experiencing an alienation reaction in your child and you are heading into the court system.

1.  Get support to cope with the original trauma which is the alienation reaction in your child.  Work with a supporter regularly be it counsellor or friend but make sure that person understands what has happened to you, if you have to keep explaining it you are re-traumatising yourself.

2. Understand that trauma patterns cause particular symptoms such as sleeplessness, repetitive thoughts, anxiety and sometimes panic attacks, if youa re suffering from any of these seek psychological help quickly, the longer you let it fester the worse it will get.

3. Know that when you go into the court system you are going to have to navigate an environment that is not equipped to understand the depths of the issues you face and that you are not going to get ‘your day in court.’  The court system is poorly equipped to deal with the issues that arise in alienation situations, you may have to use it but you must understand the limitations it has to bring about the outcomes you seek.

4. All through the court process you must take control of your case and know how to manage it. Do not wait for ‘justice’ to be done and hope that others will see what you can see, they won’t. They can’t.  What they can see is the surface of the matter, they do not possess the psychological skills to see any deeper.

5. Do not expect your Solicitor or Barrister to automatically ‘get it’ or automatically know how to deal with it if they do ‘get it’.  Your legal people are there to help you to navigate the law and the law is a blunt instrument when it comes to dealing with alienation reactions in a child.  You are going to have to educate your legal people and work out how to make what they advise you work for you and your child.

6.  If it appears that the court system has failed you and you have not been able to demonstrate the reality of what has happened to the Judge, or if you have not been able to get the outcome that you needed, do not see this as the end of the matter, this is just the end of the legal matter.  The court system is not the controller of your family separation, it is simply a tool that you have used to try and get a better outcome for your child.  If you see it as such you will not find yourself raging against it so much and you will not suffer secondary trauma which is caused by the original trauma being reactivated by the experience in court.

7. Judges make judgements based on the law and the law is an adversarial framework.  As such Judges are confronted with the responsibility of judging who, in the legal sense, is putting forward the strongest case. They are also confronted with the responsibility of judging wounded people in terms of their credibility as witnesses in their own cases. This is not good for you because it requires old wounds to be re-opened and it demands that people who are suffering be put through the difficult process of cross examination.  This is why if it is possible to avoid a hearing it is better to do so.

8. The process is a long one, if you start out by recognising this you will fare much better. Nothing in these cases gets solved quickly in my experience.  Save yourself a lot of frustration by understanding that the court process takes time and often many returns to court to get results.

9. When you are traumatised you are raw inside emotionally and psychologically, this makes you angry, hurt, resentful and frustrated.  You are likely to behave this way as a result, make sure your support team understand what you are going through and the risks of you behaving this way.  You do not need to deal with other people’s inability to understand, if they are not helping they are harming so lt them go.

10. Recognise that trauma impacts upon you in ways that you may not be aware of. If your nearest and dearest are looking battered and bruised you may find it hard to see that because of your trauma. Committ to letting the people who love you let you know if your behaviour is showing signs of trauma.

I hope these thoughts help, they are all drawn from our experience of working with families in the court system and are based upon what we know helps in the long run.  If you need help and assistance to work through any issues resulting from alienation or the family courts find a good counsellor or friend who understands the nuances of what you have been going through. Do not work with anyone who questions you or suggests that this might be in your mind or your own responsibility.  The trauma impact may be in your mind but it is not your responsibility.  Keeping well and psychologically healthy however is your responsibility and it is more important than ever, if your child is alienated that you committ to long term health and wellbeing because they need at least one healthy parent in their world to see them through this.

Recovery information is in the article highlighted above but just like an alienation reaction in children, the best remedy for PTSD is prevention.  Take good care of you.  It is all your children have in the end.

11 Comments

  1. Most people with the flu would be incapable of doing much at all. You’re so passionate about alienation that you even think about it when you’re flat on your back. Thank you for what you’re doing. We all need someone like you so much and appreciate it.

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  2. Hi Karen,
    I don’t know how to work your website, to know how to check if you have written about Disenfranchised grief,, but this I think is a major angle of what people coming to your clinic are suffering, instad of or alongside PTSD.
    IMHO PTSD is laughed out of court, because the courts consider themselves as perfect and never contributing to or causing such situations. Then again Disenfranched grief is a term which is solely for the sufferer too, as our intellectually challenged judges wouldn’t be able to wrap their minds around this term either but it is an extremely helpful term for the alienated parent.

    https://www.google.co.uk/#q=disenfranchised+grief+family+court

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  3. I was shocked when I was diagnosed with PTSD after the court process. I always thought that was what you got after war conflict or a physical trauma.
    Thanks for bringing it to attention here Karen. I would have perhaps sought help sooner if I had considered it.

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  4. Awaiting my final hearing and knowing that I will enter the Court to confront two solicitors, a CAFCASS officer and my former partner I almost feel sick. I know all too well that all but my former partner will be on good friendly terms with the judge and I know all too well that all view my former partner favourably and rather than going in to argue against an impartial reports, I actually walk in to confront them on issues where they have set out to undertake a witch hunt.I’d be very surprised if the matter of harm, coaching, alienation, gets much time and I think the day will be lost to proving that I am not a risk to my kids and that there’s no reason why overnight contact can’t be reinstated. I know that i can’t be open and honest. I know that I cannot tell the judge that an officer of the court has written a report with the intention of misleading them and has put my children in a position of increased risk of harm. I have been damned by prejudice and have very little experience of an outcome that will be in the best interest of my kids. It makes me feel sick. I don’t sleep. I should prepare but in reality i watch days slip by where I don’t read reports, don’t come up with counter arguments, don’t prepare my case. I fail to sleep. I fail to function. I don’t want to eat. I’m snappy. I am forgetting to do basic tasks. I am slipping. Why is it like this? It would not be like this if I knew I was walking in and the reports prepared for the Court were impartial. I would not be like this if the various concerns I’ve raised over the last 12 months had been investigated. Hello and welcome to living hell. Kids? What kids? I feel like i have already lost them. I feel a massive resentment to my former partner for harming them to harm me and I feel massive resentment to those skilled practitioners paid to protect my kids who are using all their experience to damn me. I am grateful to my family. grateful to my daughter. I will do well to stay calm through the hearing. It might go well – things don’t add up and it’s easy to see. Stressed? I have no job, a mortgage to pay, recently diagnosed MS. Do you think I worry about that? No. I don’t have time to worry about that. I’m not alone. Is that a good thing? It’s support. But it’s also clear indication that the problem is far bigger than it should have been allowed to become. Could it be worse than a car accident? Only if the car accident involved my loved ones.

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    1. I feel your suffering, and understand and empathise greatly. I think PA is one of the cruellest, most disgraceful emotional and psychological torment that exists; primarily for the children and also the targeted parents. Take care, stay strong and thank you for your touching heartfelt comment.

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      1. Thank you Elle. Final hearing is over and much as I expect contact to continue, it looks likely that it will be much, much less than it was when I put in my application and raised concerns over my ex harming the kids. My youngest tells me he doesn’t want me to be his Dad even though he quite obviously loves time in my care (he’s 4) so I don’t think I had any choice other than to bring my concerns to the attention of the Court. Seems that the procedure is 1. Report concerns to Court. 2. CAFCASS appointed. 3. Report concerns to CAFCASS. 4. CAFCASS refuse to investigate effectively. 5. CAFCASS carry out witch hunt against father whilst ignoring and refusing to look into any negative aspect of mother. Note CAFCASS reliance on ‘opinion’ and their own personal feeling to damn father. 6. CAFCASS make prejudiced report to Court. 7. Father now having top prove he’s not a risk to the children whilst mother is reinforced and supported of being vioctim of a game and abuse by father. I feel relief today even though i await the outcome. I have done all I can. I might lose my kids, but in reality I’ve been carrying that pain for a long time. Now I wait. For now, I can do no more. PTSD? Meh, that’s just a scratch.

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  5. I continue to read your blog with a passion not knowing quite what to expect next as your mind explores the divisions and departures that trouble us so.

    No longer being one who feels so wretchedly detached from my children; simply one who feels aggrieved at the meagre parenting time allotted to me I feel less qualified to comment when you talk of a permanence of detachment that might last at least throughout childhood.
    Nevertheless not being shy of putting pen to paper I feel compelled to add encouragement to those “alienated parents” who seemingly have lost hearts and broken dreams about what might have been.

    At work, in assisted living, with persons who have educational disabilities I am continuously looking at ways to communicate with individuals who find the conventional ways that are taken for granted by most of us, problematic.

    With one particular individual I have spent much of my time ducking and diving, jousting between a place outside his accommodation where I felt relatively safe to a place inside his flat where I could talk peacefully in relative comfort. In some ways his understanding of communicating through language is limited. His fears about the outside world often manifest themselves in poor behaviour that can lead to him being forceful and aggressive where a calmer verbal response would have been more appropriate. He doesn’t seem to have the same powers of communication and control over his emotions that most of us take for granted.
    When asked to comment about his support workers two comments stick in my mind. The first is that he doesn’t like the word, “no”.

    He struggles to accept social limits and boundaries that most of us simply contend with replacing considered and empathic thoughts with self-righteous ones.

    The second is that he likes his support worker to be “firm”. At first sight this seems absurd because when I try to be firm he lashes out and can become extremely aggressive. When I sense he might be losing control I have to make a hasty retreat, fearful of my own well being. So, over the last few months I have been looking at better ways in which I can communicate with him. Because he locked me out I pushed pictures under the door. I sang songs to try and amuse him and soothe him. I created imaginary situations through drama. I took on the role of characters he was familiar with (authority figures, policeman, judge, and parent) and tried to venture into his world. I am still trying to understand the comment he made that he wants me to be “firm”. The difficulty I have is in trying to be firm and then having to cope with his anger as a result of his upset.

    Of course I have a book all about “anger” left over from those days when I was in conflict with my Ex………and so my adventure into problem solving continues.

    Kind regards

    Ps I am pleased to say we now communicate better and I feel more confident about being “firm” and standing my ground. My self-confidence has grown.

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