One of the really difficult things about parental alienation is that children tell lies about their parents. They also fantasise, fabricate and facilitate unease, discomfort and disbelief about them. When alienation runs very deeply in families there is often a pattern of intergenerational behaviour which is handed down from parents to children and normalised. Where this happens, the truth is very difficult to winkle out of the mess that the family has gotten itself into.
In this day and age of immediate telecommunication, dirty washing can be laundered very publicly, by children and their parents who are already deeply harmed. This creates another layer of complexity in the he said/she said presentation of such family dynamics. When working with such families it is very important to create a safe container for such behaviour so that the outer concentric circles of influence do not impact further on the family. Let loose, these concentric circles can enter into washing machine spin cycles that would unscrew the most sane people because where alienated and estranged children are concerned, gossip is like miracle grow, before you know it from a seed you have rampant weeds. Weeds which obscure truth which is the business only of the family as it grapples with the shifting dynamics of entrenched rejection and counter rejection.
On a macro level this occurs when groups of people elevate one person to the role of leader or guru, especially when that group has been hurt badly on an individual level. Gurus in groups of hurt and wounded people are vulnerable always to being put up on pedestals and then torn down and stamped upon, often very publicly. Working with groups of wounded people requires an understanding of the need for containment AND the need for support of the family as it struggles through estrangement or alienation.
Generations of children who have been alienated and estranged from their parents after family separation are coming of age right now and many many more will do so in the next ten years. Just as we have seen the scandals of generations of young people who were sexually abused in the seventies because that kind of behaviour was ‘normalised’ by society back then, so we will hear the voices of those children who were alienated, estranged and rejected from and by their parents throughout the last thirty years or so. Those voices, which many hope will speak of their plight in trying to cope with post separation family life, may well not speak the hoped for ‘truth’ but may well speak their own version, equally uncomfortable, equally painful to hear but perhaps not always the vindication that so many believe is rightfully theirs. Children are unpredictable creatures and being alienated makes them even more so, when the truth comes out, it may not always chime with the life lived by the parent who was rejected, that is the nature of children in alienated families, where what is normal is not what the rest of us are familiar with.
Which is why elevation of people who suffer alienation to the status of leader or guru is not helpful in the field of post separation family life. Neither is the attempt to try and find ‘the truth’ in situations where it simply may not exist. In families where alienation strikes there can be many truths, all of which are held onto all the way through life’s ups and downs. Because to let go of them would be to have to face the discomfort one has been trying to avoid for too long. Understanding the fragility and frailties of those whose children are alienated or estranged is essential in this work as is understanding the damage that alienated and estranged children have suffered and it is far more important than ‘truth’ seeking in such situations.
Amongst the children coming of age in years to come there will be those who realise that they have been influenced, lied to and persuaded to reject a parent. But there will be many parents who will also face their children speaking out against them and many will also continue their denial and blame projection as they fail to gain perspective. Those working in this field should be aware of this and be prepared not to be dragged into the cycles of gossip and blame which only creates more difficulty and more blockage for the family as it struggles with its psychological defences to find balance. We have a responsibility to hold such families through such difficult times, not add fuel to the fire of distortion, blame and counter blame.
Stand well back from such spectacles and gain perspective, this fine mess could be yours one day.