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.