One of the most difficult tasks that we undertaken at the Family Separation Clinic is helping the rejected parent to understand how the alienated child experiences the world. When a child has turned against you and has become angry and rejecting or fearful and phobic, it can be the most horrifying experience to witness and be on the receiving end of. Some children will tell lies about a parent, others will take up arms against them and a significant group will be recruited in the most poisonous and pernicious of reactions, where they become the conduit for the other parent’s hatred. However children express their rejection and whether it has arrived suddenly and starkly or slowly but insidiously, not taking it personally is one of the first tasks a rejected parent must learn. Learn this fast and you can avoid some of the pitfalls that come with an alienation reaction, take your time or fail to learn it at all and you put yourself at much greater risk. When your child has entered into an alienation reaction, however they arrived there, there is much you can do as the rejected parent to avoid making it worse and to assist in making it better. Learning to understand the world of the alienated child helps you to build empathy. Not taking things personally helps you to deliver empathic responding. Two very key components for avoiding traps set by the alienator be they conscious or otherwise of what they are doing.
The world of the alienated child is mind bending. Their mind has been bent and you will need to bend your mind to their experience in order to understand it. This is what happens to an alienated child’s mind.
Children love their parents. They are born dependent upon them and their dependency grows into attachment which is supported by love and the history of the relationships. They would not, unless they were forced to, choose to get rid of one parent in order to please the other. Unfortunately, being dependent upon their parents, children have no choice but to do this when they are confronted by a situation in which they have no other choice but to choose.
Imagine the scene. Jamie is 10 years old, his parents have been arguing and his mother leaves and takes him with her, now they live with grandma. Jamie hears his mother crying and his grandmother telling his mother that his father is useless and she should have left years ago. Conversly, every time it comes to time for him to go and see his father the air in the house becomes dry and crackles with tension, his mother is red eyed and silent, his grandmother’s mouth is pinched in a line of disapproval. Jamie is 10 years old. The people he loved are angry with each other. HIs visits to his dad are peppered with his dad richocheting from anger to sadness and back again. Jamie does not know what to do. In the background his grandmother is telling him he doesn’t have to see his father, it upsets his mother and he doesn’t want to lose her as well does he? What can Jamie do? He becomes more and more anxious. HIs grandmother tells him that his father is spending all his money on his new girlfriend and their children, his mother looks upset and sad or distant. He starts to feel that he has to do something. When he visits his dad his dad is not emotionally present though they still play on the play station together. Jamie asks his dad about the money he is spending on his girlfriend, his dad goes mad and calls his grandmother a witch and other horrible names. Jamie starts to think his dad must be horrible, he upsets so many people. Jamie begins to bend his mind, he begins to forget the good times with his dad and see only the difficult times, he begins to increase in his anxiety ahead of his visits to dad. His grandmother tells him he doesn’t have to go. His mother feels supported and listened to and helped when Jamie says that dad has treated her badly. Both women talk about Jamie’s maturity and are grateful to have him around to help them. Jamie feels rewarded. He withdraws from his dad and joins the love-in with his maternal family, now he is truly one of them and hates his father as openly as they do for which he is rewarded further. When his father takes the matter of not seeing Jamie to court, Jamie takes it upon himself to put the whole thing right. He systematically refuses to see his father, nothing that anyone can do will force him to. His mother and grandmother are amazed at his maturity and his ability to see his father for what he really is. Jamie has no idea by this time that the love that he felt for his father has been stolen from him by adults who were more concerned with their own needs than they are about his. He has no idea that his value in the family system rests not upon his worth as a human being or love but for the role that he plays as defender of the maternal family against the hated father.
Children whose minds have been bent in this way are fragile and vunerable although they do not know it. The bending of their mind has taken from them the normal processes of development and the normal relationships which are theirs by right. Their psychology has been damaged because of this and their emotional reactions and their capacity for emotional intelligence have been severely arrested. Children in thse circumstances most often build a defensive false self which they deploy to get them through the difficult times, whilst inside they feel hollow and uncertain and find themselves frequently struggling through quicksand emotionally. On the outside they may look strong and confident but they are at risk of decompensation in which their false self fragments and the lack of self underneath is exposed. Building relationships in this emotional state is not easy because the child has learned that their use in the world is to care for other people’s needs not their own and in severe cases, they have been left without any sense of their own needs or even that they could have needs. These children are those who will grow up to look after other people, they will be attracted to fragile others and those who have problem personalities. These children are more likely to end up alienated from their own children, they cannot help but be so, that is what they have learned in their parenting template. To the degree where they will partner with dominators who are similar to the people who caused them to reject a parent. These dominators will of course end up pushing them out of their children’s lives. Without the integrated personality which protects them from such abuse, they will passively accept it, completely unconscious of the fact that their mind was bent as their own child’s mind is bending. Thus the generational march of alienation continues.
Understanding all of this is part of the role of being the rejected parent. Not taking it personally and not falling into traps set for you are key tools in your toolbox. Empathic understanding of what is happening can arrest the reaction in the child before the mind bending goes too far.
Learn more about how children become alienated in our workshops and seminars, online and in London to accompany our book Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to cope, helping to heal – details coming soon.