Posted to Huffington Post on 1.2.2016
Parental alienation is a corrosive pattern of behaviours and beliefs which are played out around a child after family separation and which eventually leads to a child either resisting a relationship with one parent or rejecting it completely. The subject area is controversial, however working with children who are alienated allows one to see at first hand that this issue is one which is serious for children and one which fits a pattern of coercive control by one parent against the other using the children.
Children do not make a choice to resist or reject a parent after separation, even though some believe that they do and that they should be supported in doing so. When children resist a relationship with a parent or reject it outright, it is most often because they are in an intolerable emotional position where their loyalty to both parents is conflicted. This is a form of emotional and psychological harm to children, but it is virtually invisible in the overall consideration of the impact of family separation on them.
Coercive control is a hot topic in the UK right now. We hear much about its definition and what it will mean for family life. Framed largely within the concept of male control over women, coercive control as a concept was introduced by Evan Stark who described it thus ‘a pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self.‘
Such concepts of coercive control are located in a hierarchical model of power where men have power over women and children. Remedying this hierarchy requires empowering women and children so that the hierarchy of power and control is levelled out. Part of this process of levelling out the power hierarchy is to ensure that women and children’s voices are amplified in all areas of life which affect them. Thus we see children as young as five being asked for their views on how their relationships with their parents should be configured after separation.
What this amplification of children’s voices does however is place them into a decision making position which they are both too young to understand or have responsibility for. As such it forces upon them a ‘choice’ which in reality is not a choice but a reaction to an impossible dilemma. Children are not born to choose to lose a parent, they are born to attach to their primary care givers, their very survival depends upon it. To ask of them to express a wish or a feeling about a parent after separation is to burden them with adult responsibilities and strip them of their right to a childhood. I see too many children who are incredibly anxious due to having ‘chosen’ to remove a parent from their lives because of an intolerable conflict of loyalty. When it comes to coercive control, I cannot think of a better way of stripping a child of their right to a childhood self than giving them the ‘choice’ to keep one parent and lose the other.
The problem with concepts of coercive control being only located within a hierarchy of male power over women is that when it comes to parental alienation it is very difficult to see how coercive control of a child can be achieved by a mother against a father. Incredibly however, it also makes the reality of coercive control by a father against a mother using children, also very difficult to spot. This is because the notion of coercive control as being something that a perpetrator does to a victim is always conceptualised within adult relationships. The reality is that coercive control of children, by fathers AND by mothers as part of a wider campaign to strip the individuals in a family of their freedom and liberty is a common feature of some post separation relationships. Control patterns which began before the family separated often continue beyond using the children as collateral in the coercion to be loyal to one against the other. Children can become hostage to the reactions of a parent to the break up of the family and then, when the state steps in, it largely entrenches the coercion of the child by asking them to give an opinion on their parents. This is coercive control which is institutionalised but it is largely unrecognised, even when it is mothers who are being cut out of their children’s lives.
The concept of coercive control is valuable in the field of family separation because it could illuminate the power dynamics which are configured around a child and which seek to use the child to obtain and maintain power over someone. Looked at this way it would be less about assuming a hierarchical model of male power over women and children and more about examining who is holding power over who and how the children are captured in that. From there it is a short step to demonstrating that children who are alienated are being stripped of their freedom or liberty to love both of their parents and the right to develop a sense of self which is formed in relationship to each.
It doesn’t take much. Just the willingness to take responsibility for children who are suffering through separation so that their choices are not limited to life in a war zone. flying the flag for one parent against the other or life in ‘peace’ with the guilt and shame of having ‘chosen’ to lose a parent for life.
Parental alienation harms children, it is coercive control of a child by a mother or father determined to use them to further their own emotional aims and objectives after family separation. When we are talking about children, they deserve many more choices that this.
Yes, I agree that men can definitely exhibit coercive control, often through physical intimidation, but overwhelmingly in the West it seems to have appeared for some time more generally as a female characteristic. Whereas women were in the past fearful of being abandoned by men, financially – now men, more often – seem to be the ones to fear abandonment by women, physically or emotionally, as well as to be attacked financially.
To understand coercive control, it would seem to be necessary to look at the complex power balance within any relationship or the wider family dynamic.
The clearest documentation of coercive control of children that I have seen comes from Dr Oldham’s 2007 book, published by the American Psychiatric Association that explains “Borderline patients exert extreme possessiveness of their children and demand absolute, unlimited control while threatening rejection”. We can read this on google books. And in the prior sentence “In these families, adolescents can engage in highly pathological behaviors such as running away or attempting suicide to separate from parental control.” If a child has to attempt suicide to break free, what happens to those children who do not attempt suicide or run away, but rather, give into the pressure? Answer: parental alienation.
The process of parental alienation often begins year before the divorce, such that immediately after the targeted parent moves out, the children show an alignment with the alienating parent.
I would suspect a high degree of forward planning in many of these instances.
My situation may be extreme – but my partner announced that she was in future going to “explode a bomb” – before even my eldest child was born.
Of course one hopes that such words are ‘just talk’ and that nothing will come of it, but as you can imagine – it did come to pass. When the “bomb” finally exploded some 15 years later my heart function was literally cut in half and I was advised I would require a pacemaker in my early 50’s – something I’ve so far refused.
When we meet someone we simply don’t know what murderous rage may pre-exist inside them – what may have happened in their childhood resulting in a need to find a victim. They themselves are highly likely to be largely (though not necessarily entirely) oblivious to what has happened to them.
Breaking up a family in such a situation can, I would say, be likened to planning a car crash. Just as a vehicle can be profoundly life enhancing, it can also cause death and destruction. In this sense, when it is recognised that destroying a family unit can act as a lethal weapon – an equivalent level of societal control seems entirely appropriate.
I’m no traditionalist but in retrospect it seems to have been profoundly wrong for our Western society to become so casual about the power over such life or death scenarios – as we have been.
I don’t know what the answer is, but it is clear to me that every family constitutes a psychological unit whose health which somehow needs to be monitored in a comparable way to that which we assume for individual physical health.
A car requires a yearly MOT test, but the family unit itself we more or less assume needs no attention unless absolutely the most severe manifestations of physical abuse occur. As long as the person dominating a family can keep up a ‘good front’ – all the warning signs (especially those presented by men about women) will be deliberately ignored by health, social work or law enforcement professionals.
I have absolutely no wish for the state to be unnecessarily intrusive, but the family as a whole does need to be seen as a delicate unit which needs some careful watching over, and/or at least some provision that we can go to without fear if we feel that particular help is needed.
For me (and I suspect many others), the hardest step is dealing with the denial of and acceptance that someone you would have lay your down your life for could be capable of such behaviour. I also suspect most of us saw the warning signs from the start…. another example of denial
You provide some interesting observations here. I became aware of having what might be described as a “healing personality” in my early twenties, but lacking any more straightforward route such as medicine etc, to develop this, I simply got alongside people in an informal mental health support capacity. Most of those who came my way happened to be women, which is how my particular sympathy with feminism came about. However, over the years I had to learn the hard way about how victims of abuse consequently have a capacity for violent aggression against the very person who is most helping them.
When I met my wife to be I had already long realized to my cost that working in isolation in this way was extremely hazardous. In fact she was someone who I could recognize had an unrealized healing gift. The relationship was therefore meant to be a partnership where we could start to explore this healing dimension as part of a larger group where there WOULD be safety in numbers! Instead, this promising start turned surprisingly quickly into a nightmare where she was determined to destroy my larger vision as well as myself. My wife has proved to be a skilled actor who has consistently fooled just about everyone ever since. Yet there has been such a subliminal level of violence that when people are not fooled they are somehow intimidated into backing right off and keeping quiet.
Did I not see this coming? I suppose I am someone who has tended to concentrate on positives rather than negatives. No-one is perfect after all, and the potential she had did seem remarkable. At one point however, when first meeting I did get the sense of “hippo” in connection with her. Obviously I failed to give this intuition the consideration it merited. The apparently placid nature of hippo has apparently caught countless individuals unaware as the animal can unpredictably become extremely violent. This could not be more characteristic of her behaviour.
Is this the end of the story – broken family, broken health, broken life vision? I don’t know. Ironically, my 16 year old autistic son who is otherwise extremely robust had a major fit on the way to school this morning. It brought my wife and I together (outside of Court, that is) for the first time in a very long time – with opportunity in the hospital to discuss some of what has happened within the relationship. She seemed to be starting to accept a level of responsibility for what she has done (and possibly that it has harmed the children) and definitely agreed that she would recommend other women who were in her position to try couple counseling – though at the time she did everything she possibly could to avoid it, and still refuses it in relation to our capacity as parents now.
Maybe, despite everything – there is still a healing cycle in place. If so, this is the toughest, most dangerous (for the therapist) form of therapeutic intervention. Yet it is absolutely, desperately, needed. People who have been wounded in these types of ways are very often skilled manipulators who will never encounter therapeutic services except in the exceptionally rare circumstance that they directly commit extreme physical violence – and they’re generally far too subtle for that. Although it has its place I have to admit some considerable exasperation with the people whose entire idea of therapy is limited to those neat little 50 min sessions with absolutely no relationship to the person outside of this. Though well meaning, they are actually only scratching the surface of the therapeutic need that exists out in the wider community…in the individuals that we will meet and get into relationships with.
Does everything happen for a reason? Well, ironically, this whole experience shattered the childhood faith I grew up with along the way (something that needed to happen) but perhaps – the jury is still out on that one.
thanks for sharing that, woodman – with 50+ years of PA experience (first as a child and latterly as a parent), i think i can empathise with much of what you say.
all of us (including the children) are each travelling our separate journeys through life and, in doing so, seek to meet our own individual human needs the best we can (and know how) along the way. for some, the default setting for meeting those needs is from a position of “fear” (where often the end justifies the means), for others, inner peace (reason, understanding, etc.) is at the core of their choices whilst for most there will be an element of both with one of those mental state predominating over the other.
the story of our journey, to date, forms the narrative and basis for our belief-systems……..the table-legs on which our table-top rests. beliefs that are, often, set in stone and, in our own eyes, beyond question.
the self-image and identity we create, the family/societal roles we adopt are hugely influenced by those beliefs and drive the “games we all play” in order to meet those needs. as paul mcKenna states in one of his books…..”very, very few people are deliberately malevolent. almost all evil acts, whether small or petty or large or monstrous, are committed by people who failed to find a more humane and healthy means to meet their needs”.
hence, the madness that is the “capacity for violent aggression against the person who is most helping them”, being “determined to destroy your lager vision as well as you”, “being a skilled actor who has consistently fooled just about everyone”, the “sense of hippo” and your son’s fit “bringing you and your wife together”.
with regards to “when people are not fooled they are somehow intimidated into keeping quiet”………our propensity to form instant judgements of others (including assumptions, conclusions, opinions, etc.) says much of our “need to be right” (and others to be wrong), which lies at the heart of why some “appear” to be good actors – maybe, it has more to do with those people in judgement not wanting to admit being wrong about their initial/original assessment than it has to do with them being intimidated?
in summary, we all cope with the pressures of life using the tools we have at our disposal and, for some of us, coping with childhood trauma leads us to wanting to help others as a subconscious form of therapy for ourselves. i’ve come to believe/understand that this is how some of us are drawn to other “victims” (and vice-versa)…..some victims seek healing by helping others whilst other, predatory-type victims, seek victims of their own to survive their mental-emotional ordeal (ie. that capacity for violent aggression against their helper!!).
it’s so, so, easy to project our misfortunes onto the perceived perpetrator of seemingly unforgivable acts (like PA), however, when we ourselves originally exercised free-will and allowed that predator-like victim into our lives we, also, sought to meet our own need(s) in whatever way it was.
can we blame the alienator for our decision or did it happen for another reason?
The other day was interesting in that it was the beginning of a conversation with an alienator. We talked about (or at least scratched the surface of) her compulsion (and that of thousands of others likewise) to meet, as you describe, what appeared to be her need – at the huge expense of that of the suffering of the children.
However sympathetic we may be to the plight of the alienator as themselves an abused individual – we surely must not lose sight of the fact that this is child abuse, and that our goal must be towards a kind of society where this kind of abuse is no longer able to take place.
On this societal journey – first of all has been the emphasis on physical harm and neglect. Now we need to enter a new chapter where psychological harm by either parent, including attempting to eliminate the other one – is understood by the general population as being just as serious and unacceptable as physical violence.
Something like this cannot be achieved without some of us being willing to step into the breach as necessary in order to expose the problem.
I had no idea that this was the particular problem I was taking on. In a healing situation, that will frequently be the case. It is often necessary to “go with the flow” and accept whatever comes.
I do find your approach full of insight – in particular the observation about ‘unwillingness to revise opinion in the face of evidence’ stands out. This fits perfectly with the concept of the “pride system” so beautifully presented by Karen Horney…the therapist whose insights in this regard I have found have particularly informed my work.
This was in evidence on Thursday – after some concentrated period of challenge it reached a point for the alienator where this was as much as she could take for now.
That’s absolutely fine. This was always going to be a long term process.
So although I do agree we do need to reflect carefully on what may have been a personal journey to deal with trauma – I would question this as necessarily being the most important way of understanding the situation we alienated people find ourselves in.
In lots of respects there is simply a job to be done which someone has to do – that is, if there is either an individual or a collective healing – to be had.
I’ve long-since arrived at the conclusion that there are no absolutes in terms of right and wrong…..just that we all interpret events that occur in life in a way that is based on our experiences to date. More importantly, that (whether we like it or not) our current position in life is the result of all the personal choices we have made whether, in hindsight, they’re perceived as good or bad ones. Usually, the bad ones are a sign of a developmental lesson that needs to be heeded/learned
Equally, that we should take individual responsibility for those choices and the resulting feelings that ensue…..that it isn’t the alienator’s fault we feel the way we do as a result of their behaviour. Whilst, quite often, power and control are motives behind PA the simple fact is that the alienator DOES NOT control the way we feel. Only through abdicating control of our feelings can that happen
As I have hitherto done, internally using judgemental labels such as “child abuse” and “psychological harm” does not help those outside (or inside) the family to understand my point of view and the injustice of it all but in order to do my best (and that’s all we can ever do), as the alienated party, I must (a) fully accept the reality of the situation as it stands TODAY, (b) rather than expending valuable energy in accusing/blaming others look for the “opportunities” that are available to improve my life and the situation and (c) work hard at the skill of not needing to defend my view and recollections against my accusers, whoever they may be. Only then, can I have a chance to “go with the flow” and maximise the opportunities that WILL arise.
I recently came across the following with regard to opportunities….”the past is history, the future is a mystery but the present is a gift – that’s why its called THE PRESENT”
I would be interested to know how you might deliver this information to a group of Cafcass workers and what you could do to help them adopt a policy of identifying coercive control. What kind of interventions could you then encourage them to employ?
Would they become skilled enough to help both the target parent and the alienating parent? Would they be skilled enough to help children over the transition bridge?
Would they have any conception about how helping the adults to co-parent might be a preferred solution?
I fear it is going to take a lot of convincing to move them away from a judgemental system that simply ticks boxes and classifies in the interests of expedience and perceived practicalities, to a more humane solution.
Whilst most of us see the dangers of passing responsibility for choosing their parents on to the children Cafcass seem to be upholding their “rights” as if the children were mature adults. Cafcass seem to have a complete mental aberration in their understanding of the essential process of parenting and its component parts.
Just because parents go their separate ways that does not mean to say children need be a part of that painful process; their needs emotionally and physically, their healthy attachments remain as necessary as they always were.
I am going to attempt to answer the question, “why do Cafcass give children a choice as to which parent they would prefer to live with”
Recently I have been working with adults with educational disabilities and through my experiences in two different set-ups I have come to the conclusion that some terrible mistakes are being made putting far too much choice and responsibility in the hands of the vulnerable people we are supposedly there to help. For example an individual who displays overly demonstrative sexual behaviour and has been accused of rape is given a sex doll. He sexually assaults a female member of staff and she is moved on, but the individual with the disabilities is never seen as culpable. So no remedy is sought to correct his behaviour. His right to enjoy his independence and make free choices about his life, just like everyone else, seems to take precedence. This has come about because of recent changes in the law. e.g. DOLS which stands for “deprivation of liberties safeguarding”. This law came about because of case law. An individual who had disabilities and was in good care ended up being thrown into an Institution where his liberties were taken away from him and his views not considered. So, the law has changed giving people with disabilities more rights to self-determine. Not a bad thing I hear you say, and I would agree with you. Unfortunately, in my opinion it has led to a kind of avoidance of the problem, which is to help/assist people with disabilities live more easily within the “norms” of society.
The mental capacity act 2005, deprivation of liberties safeguard is effectively a policy that gives an individual the right to do as they please irrespective of how the chosen action may affect other people. This has become an extremely dangerous premiss. The individual who leaves home with a knife who stabs a member of the public, the individual who chooses to drink their life away and has mental health issues, too frightened to join mainstream society and work, the one who sits in their flat and simply does nothing when most of us are privileged to be assisted in our education and training.
Consequently the very individuals we are supposedly supporting to make the most of their lives are instead supported to be idle and dependant and abusive as is their right and poor choice.
Cafcass have a similar ethos for our children giving them rights and choices and freedoms far beyond that which they would expect from a caring parent. It seems to be a trend that children are being asked more and more about their choices and preferences.(e.g. Roger Morgan’s the children’s views digest 2014). This may be in part at least responsible for giving Cafcass the green light to give/encourage children to make life changing decisions for themselves.
I suspect most of us reading this blog are horrified at the prospect of our dearly loved children being given the responsibility to self-determine between either living with Mum or Dad but unfortunately it seems to be part of Government policy and form the backbone of social work training. If you go to the Cafcass website you will see it rife. It is portrayed as something that is almost a part of growing up. Children are to be congratulated at making such grown-up decisions!!
For myself, who at various times has struggled with co-parenting I am horrified to think that social workers main objective is to persuade my children to self-determine when all I want is to be helped to parent my children along with my former partner, who doesn’t seem to like me very much any more. I would like Cafcass to help me repair my attachment to my children whilst at the same time help me cope with a similar arrangement for my former partner.
(Empatic parenting / Dandlebear bridge / self-worth / mental health improvements; these are the things that I would benefit from)
Helping Cafcass workers deal with “coercive control” doesn’t seem to fit in with their training.
Their first avoidance tactic is to say that they are not psychologists, which is true.
Having read these comments about CAFCASS, I will just attach a piece I wrote in this blog under another heading. The primary carer is usually a woman and CAFCASS seem to assume that it is appropriate that the woman in a case of such conflict should be the one to retain control of the child. Apologies if this represents duplication, but I believe the contribution of CAFCASS is crucial – on a 90 – 120 minute they can virtually decide a child’s future. This is unacceptable as they do not seem to understand the absolute right all children to have of access to both parents.
“This last comment “no place for mr nice guy” is a sad reflection of the way it happens in real life. The presumption that people will act in a civilised way, or even in the best interest of the child is well wide of the mark. I entered the Family Court facing false allegations by my ex wife, followed by my plea to the court for access, believing I had nothing to fear, as I had loved my daughter and always treated her with respect. I had a good barrister, but was eventually refused access arrangements, although the judge had said he could see ‘nothing that had happened in our lives which did not happen up & down the land’. He was inclined in that direction because the CAFCASS report had said my daughter did not want to see me although “she had not given any specific reason for this”. The interviewer suggested it would be in her best interest to retain contact with me, but she would not listen. I did have the right to appeal to the court against the judgement, in fact the barrister felt I had a good chance of success, but having already spent £35k I was not in a position to take this any further. I felt let down completely by Social Services, whose report was confusing, in my favour in parts but generally sitting ‘on the fence’ in case! CAFCASS virtually sentenced me & my daughter to alienation – I wonder if this causes them satisfaction, is this the outcome they would have predicted and who will point out the error of their ways. I discovered that my ex wife had taken my daughter, then age 11 to our GP and complained that I had been abusing both her and my daughter in a vitriolic outburst. When I discovered this from Court papers later and challenged my GP, he said that he couldn’t do anything but listen, having occasionally been in this position. Even when I pointed out that my daughter would have respected the GP’s view he didn’t make anything of it. I feel the GP let my daughter and I down badly and contributed to our alienation. I also feel my daughter’s school at the time let us down by only listening to and accepting my daughter’s mother’s ‘version of events’. My ex wife called the Met Police on two separate occasions, but in each they said that they had no reason to take further action. At least the Met Police recognised the truth of the situation, but each of the other ‘authorities’ who I would have trusted to represent my daughter’s best interest each totally let her down. I still wonder who on earth is going to tell my daughter that they were wrong! Which brings me back to ‘mr nice guy’ and the impossibility of acting in a civilised way in this situation. My daughter has just started university this year and I still have no contact. I wonder if there is any advice one can offer? I have read Amy Baker’s ‘Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome’, which suggests that the possibility of reconciliation with my daughter is down to chance and her future relationships, which is not very encouraging. I would welcome suggestions please.”
Reading through your story I can see how your attitude to your situation might affect your behaviour.
Events that have worked unfairly against you.
Your dependence upon other people/organisations to bring you what you want.
A feeling of sadness about being unfairly treated.
Disappointment and frustration.
Futility and despair
A sort of pleading, begging.
A desire to vindicate yourself by having someone else explain to your daughter how badly you have been treated.
It seems your daughter has been a long time without you and may be suffering some degree of “parentification”, you being someone she will be looking down to rather than someone she can come to when she needs help and advice/ big floppy listening ears.
These are all symptoms of somebody who has suffered trauma, through loss and remains on the back foot.
To escape from this you have to discover some self-worth and start to believe that what you say and feel matters to you. You do not need anybody else to explain to you what you should be doing in your life.
Many of the things you describe I experienced; corruption within Social services, institutionalised blind prejudice, the Doctor’s ambivalence to my situation. But the mistake I made initially was to believe I had to fight the institutions in order to be with my children.
The answer is much closer to home.
I would start by reading “the erroneous zones” by Wayne Dyer. Go straight to the chapter on self-worth/ other-worth. Use a highlighter to emphasise the parts that stand out for you.
Also get hold of a good parenting book that is written from the perspective of an empathic style; Gottman. Faber & Mazlish have written volumes of stuff that will help you find a suitable dialogue to use with your children.
Having done these two things when you make enquiries about the whereabouts of your daughter at the Student Union you will find yourself in a much more robust condition to approach a re-union with your daughter. If you don’t do these things and continue to plant responsibility for your separation from your daughter with somebody else or some nasty institution then you will find yourself being blown away and hurt just like before and reduced to pleading, begging and blaming.
You may like to go back to what you have just written and re-write from the perspective of someone who hasn’t seen their daughter for a long time and is really looking forward to making their acquaintance.
You may be inspired to look at how you are going to investigate your daughters lifestyle and compliment it. How will you face attempts by your daughter to reject you? Will you be able to gently encourage warmth via a third party? Can you use memorabilia to inspire your daughters imagination of previous good times with you and the family?………………
There is lots of other stuff out there, not least Dandlebear bridge and sowing seeds. You may have to step back a bit and re-think strategy every time you get knocked back; but if you are prepared and believe in yourself enough I think you will succeed. Go for it.
Thank you very much for this. I am afraid I have faced this situation alone without taking advice and as you say blaming others, but secretly I also blame myself for being so blind. I am normally a pretty positive person, but I have felt helpless, wanting to do something, but not knowing what I can do to make a difference. I love my daughter dearly and will not be fully happy until I am reconciled with her. But I know she is trapped inside this mindset as described above. Initially I wrote letters to her, but they were rejected by her, most like confiscated by her mother. I continued writing but not posting the letters – now at no 40. That sounds crazy, but it helps to write my thoughts as if in a conversation with her, even though she does not receive them. I will look out the books you mention, buck up my ideas and have a look for that answer closer to home you describe. And in a while I will re-write my silly story with a different emphasis. Thanks again.
Your comments are anything but silly. They are a natural outpouring of your emotions. I would say honest and brave is a more accurate description. I am going to write you two letters to your daughter. You have to decide which one is the best, and why.
I miss you so much. You can’t believe what pain I have been going through having lost you through alienation. I expect by now you know what has tragically happened to you. You must understand that it is not my fault nor yours so please don’t blame yourself. Please have me back as your loving father and forgive me for not being there for you all these years. As each day passes I don’t think I can survive without you so much time has passed. When you come back to me I can get you help so don’t worry. Lots of love as always. Your real Dad.
I was at the match last night and saw you drill the ball down the left wing so that Jessie was able to make that spectacular cross that led to the second goal. I remember you aged ten playing in the park and throwing the ball to me with such determination it made my heart skip a beat. I am so proud of what you have achieved. I think I still have that favourite racket of yours in the loft and was hoping one day you could give it to your children to play with.
I am going to be in Bristol next Tuesday and hoping to catch your next home match. Dad.
Wonderful advice! Removing the Invisible Victim Hat and taking whatever actions can be taken is one of the strongest steps forward. I say this after writhing in the discomfort for three years of being the spouse of an alienated parent, watching the gamut of emotions, responses and counter-machinations. Once we began to refuse to buy into the narrative and dictates of the aligned parent and to create our own narrative, much of our experience (and certainly her mindset) began to inch into a more peaceful one. That’s vital for the little one (6), already so fortressed and confused, because she encounters flow and relaxation in the alienated parent that’s helpful for balance, even if not given exposure often.
Thanks for this exchange, the likes of which I’ve never seen. Good to see empowerment rather than victim pedestalization.
Thank you for your comments resonantresident. It is a pity that target parents can become so affected by the trauma of possibly losing their children or seeing them slowly and cruelly slip away they lose sight of the power they have to make things better for themselves, their children and the one they see as the alienator.
For the alienated father, regaining the natural authority of parenthood is a huge step toward releasing the child from parentification and back into a normal father to child interaction. For a child to hear the re-assuring tones of a supportive (if temporarily estranged) parent must be a huge fillip and comfort to their ego.
On the plus side once a target parent realises they are part of a 3-way dynamic that involves them, the children and the mother and that they can behave in ways that make a positive difference you usually find that one good strategy leads to another.
It may take a huge amount of understanding to lure the target parent away from the depths of despair and desperation that are the realms of victim-hood. There is always such a lot of clutter in the background (e.g. the anger and self-righteousness that accompanies the legal perspective, the interfering relative, the fear of the unknown, etc.) it becomes difficult to see the power of counter manipulation and simple straightforward empathic parenting technique that will help relieve the angst and discordance that resides within the distorted triad of two warring parents and their children.
“Cafcass have a similar ethos for our children giving them rights and choices and freedoms far beyond that which they would expect from a caring parent. It seems to be a trend that children are being asked more and more about their choices and preferences.(e.g. Roger Morgan’s the children’s views digest 2014). This may be in part at least responsible for giving Cafcass the green light to give/encourage children to make life changing decisions for themselves.”. I see this issue echoed in later/more recent posts by Karen as well and the penny is beginning to drop with alarm……how I wish I had known more on this issue before following this route with my own child thinking it was the right way to go……we end up hurting our children through ignorance not malevolence….. And for conscientious, caring parents that is a heavy weight to bear.
Keep writing Karen, your work resonates with me. When I read the lines where you describe coercive and controlling fathers can also alienate mothers to their attached children. In my case he got the judges help and I lost everything I had. Custody of the two most important people in my life (my son wanted to live with dad as mom is incapable of doing anything my daughter wants to live with mommy but feels she needs to care for dad and her brother, she’s 10) He also got sole possession of the marital home and I have spent all my money on a lawyer that I trusted mistakenly. Thank you, please please keep going.