That’s another fine mess you’ve all gotten into

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.


  1. Its an excellent piece Karen, perhaps we should have a programme on tv with you at the helm reuniting families who are grown up and want to seek each other out, not because they were adopted at birth but because they lost a whole side of the family through alienation of convenience ! Convenience for the parent who wants rid of the other side completely. If only someone in the judicial system would see the light x


      1. Hi Karen.

        This is one of the most excellent pieces of work I have ever read, I thank you for publishing it.

        Karen you probably have little idea how these words are having application in their starkest, truest sense, in my life right at this very moment, for I am in hell with a member of my family over alienation in the extreme. I wish you could help me. I am not able to say much here. Thank you for your great work and words and wisdom.

        Regards, Paul.


      2. Excellent piece, Karen! As both a child and parent who has suffered PA I can confirm you’re “bang on the money”………my relationship with my 75 year-old mother, who alienated my father 45 years ago, continues to be a struggle to this day, principally, through her denial of having excluded my father and paternal family from my childhood. That denial has been further compounded by the PA she, herself, has suffered as a result of being excluded from the lives of her 4 grandchildren over the past 14 years. In her defence, I would also add that neither my maternal grand-father or grand-mother were present in my mother’s life from the age of 6 months so you probably “get the picture”

        Throughout the past 14 years, I have felt the best way of publicising this issue would be via a factual TV programme that also, crucially, includes the testimonies of eloquent but damaged adults that were affected by PA as children. My underlying belief is that, if scripted well, the ensuing debates that would take place up and down the country and, ultimately, in the press and media would do more for change than continuing to reason with the “powers” that, to all intents and purposes, are not interested in tackling this historic/growing problem (the sex abuse scandal is a very good example and comparison).

        Thank you for all your fantastic work – I, for one, appreciate the benefits more than most could possibly realise


    1. It is not something to be totally understood Howie, more an observation on what kind of things can happen as children come of age.


  2. Ouch, Karen, that hurt! I realise now that there is some unredeemed part of me that longs for my daughter, in years to come, to speak out and vindicate me and all alienated parents, maybe even write one of those books with bleached-out covers (if we still have books, that is), a searing exposé by a survivor of the child abuse that is parental alienation…

    You are right, of course. It is just such a politics of aggrieved, self-righteous victimhood – namely, second-wave feminism – that has done so much to create and sustain the problem of parental alienation in the first place.

    I am reflecting now on your remark that, “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.” It reminds me of René Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry, of how social groups resolve rivalrous conflict within the group by placing the blame on a scapegoat. Such scapegoating is unjust, it releases the tensions in the group for a while only, then the cycle of violence begins again.

    It is my responsibility to ensure that the violence stops with me, that I refuse to pass it on and perpetuate the cycle. What does that mean for my relationship – at present very distant – with my daughter? That I make myself available to her, when she is able and willing to come to me, as a source of healing and reconciliation, not of righteous, blaming anger?


    1. Beautifully written Daddy HU and an excellent observation on what alienated parents face as the child comes of age and the possibilities of how people can become tangled in the untangling of something.


  3. This piece is unclear because you seem uncertain about the nature of truth, and make statements that appear contradictory. Compare:

    “Where this happens, the truth is very difficult to winkle out of the mess that the family has gotten itself into.”

    “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.”

    Either truth is absolute, or not. I think it is absolute, though there can be differing perceptions. Part of the problem arises from our search for overarching statements without caveats. It’s night or day (unless it is dawn or dusk). But I think the gist of your piece is that some children are unlikely to awaken to the truth…Sometimes metaphors help, sometimes they hinder.

    Does that help? And as observed by others, I too hugely appreciate your writings, which help us understand situations that would otherwise drive us to the brink of insanity. Thank you.


    1. Oh truth Ross, that difficult thing to ascertain. What is your truth may not be mine, what is the truth that children tell? Sometimes we can never know. This piece is about not throwing stones when one lives in a glass house, those of us for whom alienation is real and lived know that children’s ‘truths’ are manifold and that in this life there is often not one absolute truth but many. The world of alienation IS contradictory, that is how many children end up alienated in the first place. This piece is an observation on real life happenings and those who know what I am talking about know what I am talking about, it is not necessarily to be worked out and applied to everyone’s case, perhaps that is what I should make clear here.


      1. For many years, I struggled with the up-bringing that was “thinking in absolutes”…..they people or situations were either right/wrong, good/bad or true/false. That mindset caused me an enormous amount of mental pain and suffering until I stumbled upon the realisation of a life-time that is ALL THINGS ARE TRANSIENT and that the biggest challenge before me is my ability to manage “change” in my circumstances or the people in my life

        What is right, good or true today will, at some point in the future, be wrong, bad or false…….and vice verse – the situation today, possibly, was the opposite at some point in the past. How many people have looked back at negative events from the past as their salvation days, weeks, months or years later (and vice verse)? It’s a human failing (of the ego) that we feel a need to find answers and, ultimately, “be right” which encourages judgement of others/situations, thinking in absolutes and wasted mental/emotional energy

        In summary, better management of changes around me helps with managing my feelings and emotions………accepting the things I cannot change (or unchange), having the courage to change the things I can and having the wisdom to know the difference. ie. doing my best and then letting go.

        The TRUTH is over-rated…… the saying goes, “it is what it is”


  4. “Where this happens, the truth is very difficult to winkle out of the mess that the family has gotten itself into.”

    “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.”

    I dont see any contradiction. The truth, there are some absolutes, for example pure maths. When moving into the realm of the hoooman experience of families hoo hah, then it is most important to consider the wibbly wobbly of subjectiive experience and perspective in any given event. The one with the clear objective holistic perception holds more truth. For one persons pain is the others delight and anothers cause to intervene or walk way. Which when applied to human healing doesnt negate or make irrelevant subjective experience, but in fact acknowledges the subjective at the time of the event and preceeding causal factors in the process of taking out the poisons and infectants from wounds unhealed often deep to the bone.

    Truth, there are events, effects, causes, one can draw straight lines at times, but in the realm of families in conflict, its quite easy to lose your barings and marbles especially if everything is pink, or black, or brown. Dont start with the rainbow tripe, i aint eating it. Alsorts to consider when attemtping to untangle and set people free of past pain and trauma to release the love for those people in conflict, from within themselves…the eternal fountain. That love is light and understanding, it banishes the fear, doubt, darkness. It illuminates. It give life. It brings joy where there has been sorrow.


  5. A truth, sometimes its easy when circumstances present, sometimes its hard going even when lights turn green, sometimes it takes longer than expected to overcome inertia within for one or all, sometimes distraction and life itself gets in the way, and every attempt and journey requires fuel, energy, time and patience, enthusiasm being that which overcomes drag, a turbo for your engines. I swear its the truth, most of the truth, of that which i can see so help me Yoda. May the rivers run with you. Remember, the ikkle trickle far up the hill never knew it would become a dirty great big estuary and then be set free in the sea…..i want to know, if it had known, would it have set off or just loitered around in a puddle or evapourated off.


  6. “sometimes it takes longer than expected to overcome inertia within for one or all”…especially if brakes are left on and tyres are flat! Engines can be a bit chuffed up too, coughing spluttering, stalling….good clear out required….dont stand near the exhausts.


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