Blinded by the light…

This week I am pursuing my work on the shadow theme and looking at all things not seen in alienation because they are lurking in the shadows caused by the blinding light shone by the alienating parent.  Light and shadow has been a real metaphor for me recently as I have assisted in several successful reunions of children and their rejected parents and have noticed in all of them that the light in the children’s eyes has been restored through that.  This light, which to my eye looks like the liberation of the child’s repressed love for a parent, is so clearly missing in children who are alienated that I have recently begun to photograph the faces of children with whom I work to determine the before and after difference.  Not because I think it is something that we can scientifically rely upon, but because it is such a startling visual image that it is useful in helping people to understand the outer as well as inner ways that children in these circumstances present.  I am often asked about the lack of animation in a child’s behaviour and their fixed and almost frozen facial presentation.  When the child is freed, the light in their eyes conveys such freedom (and love) that it is unmistakeable (to my eye at least). This week then I am concentrating upon light and the shadow it casts and the difference between the alienator’s blinding light and the normal and natural return of the light in a liberated child’s eyes (and all things in between).

I have written before about the alienating parent’s ability to shine a light so bright on the target parent that everyone is compelled to look in that direction. In my experience, this light is created by the loud and vociferous proclamation that there is something deficient in the target parent’s behaviour that causes the children to reject the parent.  Whenever I experience this demand to examine the target parent’s behaviour I begin by looking not in that direction but at the parent shining the light. In many of these cases, within the shadows cast by the blinding light, there are things being done by the alienating parent which cause the children’s rejection.

This compulsion, to pin onto the target parent as many deficiencies as possible can be confusing to practitioners, who are drawn into colluding with what is, in truth, a projection.  A projection is an unowned and unrecognised behavioural trait which belongs not to the person one experiences it in, but to ones own self. It is the unknown and often unbearable part of the self which has been repressed, hidden and secreted away in the shadows.  In so many of these cases, where there is a determination to focus attention on the behaviours of the target parent, projection is at play. What one cannot see in the self is revealed in the behaviours of others. Thus, looking into the shadows by reversing the projection and seeking evidence of what the alienating parent is hiding, is one of the first things to do when unravelling what is really going on.

Of course children are also drawn into this projection and because they are largely living in a relational world in which things unsaid are just as powerful (and at times more so) than things said, they are particularly vulnerable to projections that are illuminated when the alienating parent is shining their light onto the target parent.  When children are telling me that the parent they are refusing to see is scary and harmful and that they will probably die if they have to be anywhere near them, I know I am likely to be hearing their experience of living in the shadows with the alienating parent. It is not that they really think these things about the target parent, they simply know that they are supposed to know these things and as they also know the consequences for not joining in seeing the projections, they willingly join in and recount them. When you see and hear children acting as if a parent is dangerous, especially when you have seen the evidence of those children in loving and close relationship with that parent through photographs, videos and direct observation, you are likely to be watching children utilising the coping skills of pretending to see the projection they know they are supposed to see. And yes, that is dysfunctional. And yes that eventually distorts the child’s ability to tell the difference between what is real and not real and yes, eventually, the repression of the awareness that this is the behavioural trait of the alienating parent, means that the child places into their own shadow, their real feelings for the parent they are rejecting so that they eventually forget that those feelings ever existed.  This is the nature of splitting and it is caused by an unhealthy parent causing healthy children to distort their natural feelings of love and affection for a parent. Which is why the light dies in the eyes of these children as they become consumed by the shadow of the alienating parent.

Another theme of light and shadow came into play for me recently as I began to unravel some of the issues around how to safely extract these children from what are, after all, unhealthy parenting patterns and psychopathology.  I was prompted to do think more about this issue in a case in which the children concerned were separated from the unhealthy parent and within what I have come to know as a pretty standard period of time (4 -14 days)  all four of these children had safely reunited with the parent they had been severely rejecting of for eighteen months.  Contrast this with the children who have been in proceedings for some seven years and who has been removed from the parent but is still severely rejecting. And contrast that further with the children who are severely rejecting apart from two, who are able to continue a normal and happy relationship with the parent who is completely rejected by all of the other children.  These differences in reactions in children lead me to understand that the presentation of rejection/alienation in children is both remarkably different and similar. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms it is. In all of the cases I have worked in there are themes, motifs, pairings, patterns and degrees of alienation reaction seen in the child.  In every single case, the light shining brightly, combined with the shadow work of the alienating parent, plus the transgenerational history and the horizontal line of current relationships which influence the children, all bring their own dynamic, not all of which is resolved by separation of the child from the parent.  Whilst it is true that in pure and severe cases where there is psycopathology in the aligned parent and a healthy and strong parent who has been rejected, separation is likely to lead to that magical phenomenon of the puff of smoke moment (and the alienation is gone), in others cases, particularly hybrids and particularly where there is weak court management and fluidity in the concentric circles around the family, rejection continues.  What people do not realise in doing this work, is that the alienation reaction in the child, which is a direct result of over empowerment plus the maintainance of control, is continued by the merest whiff of disbelief in the circles around the family. Put simply, give the child a chink in the determination of the professionals to restore power to the parental coalition and the child will make use of it, deepening resistance and if necessary, to maintain power, escalating allegations.  The child cannot help it, this behaviour is a coping mechanism which is about survival in a relationship with a disordered parent.  But professionals should be aware of it.  I have seen far too many alienation unaware professionals escalate a case and render it impossible to resolve because of their inability to properly hold the line in restoring either a parenting coalition (sharing power over children) or transfer power from the unhealthy parent to the healthy one.

And of course none of this analysis would be complete without the political element which causes so many families to struggle and fail in these circumstances.  When feminism shone a light on the family and proclaimed that what was wrong with it was fathering, what it did was put into its own shadow the tendency to behave in exactly the way that it accused men of behaving.  When feminist practice is taught in social work and used in court evaluation processes, it begins and ends with the notion that women have  problems and men cause them, thus rendering every father potentially suspect and every mother potentially at risk from a suspicious ex.  This light, which shines so brightly upon one parent, whilst completly exonerating the other from any possible contribution to the problems encountered in the family, allows too many children to continue to be at risk of harm in pathological parenting patterns. It also causes mothers to become more at risk when they are the parent the children are rejecting, because the shadow self of the practitioner projects the belief onto the mother that if she is being rejected by a child she must have done something really really bad.  Those of you who read regularly know that I consider that feminist practice around the family to be dangerous and politically motivated, so much so that it has no place in this work.  I form this view precisely because feminist practice so closely mirrors the behaviours of unhealthy parents (in pushing all things negative about the self into the shadows which causes projection onto others of that hidden self), that it is not possible to evaluate or work with families as a whole from that perspective. In fact I consider that to do this work from a feminist perspective is dangerous, as dangerous as leaving the children who are being harmed by unhealthy parents in situ without help or hope of release.

In my work with light and shadow I understand the words of Carl Jung when he spoke of the need to be whole and that, to understand the self one must understand that which lies in the shadows.

In order to understand and help families where alienation strikes, working with the family as a whole, looking beyond the light and into the shadows, is what brings back the light to the eyes of the children who are captive within.

15 thoughts on “Blinded by the light…”

  1. Another brilliant piece!
    What was surprising to me in the first 12-18 months of legal proceedings was the Assumptions the Court made about where the children should live after separation and that one parent needed to be more than the other. This without knowing the family in the first place. This placed, in my case the mother, in a strong position to start the alignment process, it’s almost sanctioned in the eyes of the children who were in my case used to two full time parents at home. If I initially disagreed with that proposed arrangement I would be “unreasonable” and it would lessen my chances to play a role in our children’s lives. An Extraordinary starting point and one that I believe can only come from a Feministic policy.


  2. Thank you for your words. I particularly like your use of the light and shadow. I have seen pictures of my four children and always say that something is missing in their smile. I see a smile but their heart isn’t into it. I am an alienated mother of four children and beleive I am trying to get to their “deep down” feelings but now I can say to the feelings in the shadows. I had my children live with me for seven years after divorce and they went to see their dad regularly. It was when they were in their teens that the true alienation happened. I feel grateful for the seven years they were with me. People tell me my children are doing well, going to University, living in residence, holding down summer jobs etc.but I am more concerned with their feelings in the shadows. Thank you for your insight.


  3. I am just wondering how many years or decades will alienated parents continue to write such loving but sad letters when a change in legislation could change at least 90% of such comments to ones which are happier and more to the point in the “better interests of our children”. Now tell me that I am wrong. The silent thoughts of parents which if we could read as bubble narrative, might be, “For God’s sake lets make responsible parity in parenting a legal right and stop this person going on about it!”


  4. Hello Karen, I have read and reblogged many of your posts but still fail to understand how and why a parent can continue with PA for over 25 years. What is the motivation? What drives them when they have what they want? I have read many articles from alienated adult children who claim they still loved the target parent throughout the whole ordeal – so why let it continue for so many years? How do alienated adults they break away? The underlying question has to be WHAT DRIVES AN ALIENATOR WHEN THEY HAVE POSSESSION OF THE CHILDREN/ADULT CHILDREN/GRANDCHILD?


    1. one simple answer Linda, disordered mind of some kind, either personality disorder, psychiatric disorder or disorder in the transgenerational parenting pattersn which has been normalised and so is not see as odd. Sometimes a repetetive pattern of behaviour in the aligned parent – in the child – simple terrorism, awareness that if they reunite they will be cast out – and a deep sense of terror that if that happens they will die. This is terrorism of the mind which happens early in life and which holds the child/adult captive – sometimes forever sadly


  5. It seems that if what is written here is so accurate and correct how is it that Children’s Services public servants still continue to believe the alienating parent insuperably because of CA 1989, S 8, Wishes and Feelings of the minor children not being CRC? Are they that incompetent to know PA and CRC is rampant or are we who do know are those who are incorrect? For it seems that Family Courts believe we are all balmy! Surely 3.8 million kids can’t be wrong?
    Please don’t debunk our human right to responsible parity of parenting. For we might as well just state that one parent privatising our children is common theft as there is no sharing of the fused gamete in the form of the child. It takes two gametes to make a bairn! The alienating parent is guilty of such theft. Demand our property back. If kids are just posseseions as they seem to be,this action is both logical and axiomatic under current legislation for their is no parity of responsible parenting in England and Wales currently and at the rate of resisting this by the Family Separation Clinic then what hope? Getting madam or monsieur psychotic with DSM V PD or NPD to get help. Right pigs will fly!


  6. This post is very apt and poignant as today is my grandson’s 16th birthday! Alienated from my son and I for 4-5 years,he lives only a mile away but I rarely see him. If I do he snubs or ignores me .
    At a recent local event I saw him (with his mother)and spoke to them.He looked at me like a zombie – as if I were a complete stranger –The light has definitely gone from his eyes!
    School reports that he is a high achiever in academic subjects –but he takes little part in sport and music events.Yet in his first 10 years he enjoyed cycling, musical and many activities with his dad and me in regular happy times at my home.and relating well with people he met.Where is that outgoing,happy boy I knew?


  7. This post is very apt and poignant as today is my grandson’s 16th birthday! Alienated from my son and I for 4-5 years,he lives only a mile away but I rarely see him. If I do he snubs or ignores me .
    At a recent local event I saw him (with his mother)and spoke to them.He looked at me like a zombie – as if I were a complete stranger –The light has definitely gone from his eyes!
    School reports that he is a high achiever in academic subjects –but he takes little part in sport and music events.Yet in his first 10 years he enjoyed cycling, musical and many activities with his dad and me in regular happy times at my home.and relating well with people he met.Where is that outgoing,happy boy I knew?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s