Alienation is a strange phenomenon. Some people believe in it, some people don’t. Anyone who has ever been in a room with an alienated children will never forget it. Anyone who has been alienated will at times feel as if they cannot trust that their feet are firmly on the ground, even when they can see that they are and feel that they are. To be alienated is to live like Alice, in Wonderland, where the White Rabbit is your leader and time travels, tick tock, to the pace and speed of the person controlling it. Finding the way out of this topsy turvey world is an incredible journey at whatever age one sets out on it.
Alienation of a child causes the child to adopt coping mechanisms which rightly should be unnecessary. It also causes them to return to earlier and more primitive states of mind, such as those they experienced when they were very small. The toddler believes himself to be omnipotent, one of the developmental tasks that all small children face being to recognise the power of the word no. This word, uttered by adults, puts a full stop on the toddlers attempts to ensure that the world continues to revolve only around him. For a while, as the toddler rages with the power of the external world in the form of a parent, emotional and psychological chaos reigns in the household. Eventually, the toddler resolves the division in the mind which prevents acceptance of the external reality and accepts the word no and the power of the parent. This way the hierarchy of the family is created and the toddler mind integrates the fact that people are good AND bad. This way the dominion of the family ceases and the child grows in peace in the right place in the hierarchy. Here, parents are in charge and act as guides to their growing child, eventually giving more choice and decision making power to enable the child to step out into the world as a sovereign being. In the world of the alienated child, where toddler behaviour has returned and the child is in charge of the hierarchy, the fight to control the family system through the use of a maladaptive coping mechanism is the first thing we encounter. Just like the toddler who aims to control the parent so that they can continue to experience themselves as the centre of the universe, the alienated child struggles to maintain an illusion of themselves as god. Omnipotence, that sense that there is nothing greater than the self and that nothing and no-one has charge of you, is the state of mind that the alienated child is seeking. Children in these circumstances are exceptionally difficult to work with being haughty, cold, self righteous and distorted in their views of the world and other people. What they have to support them to maintain this stance, is a parent who cannot or will not accept that they are the energy that creates and maintains this position. Just like working with parents of toddlers, working with parents who are supplying their child with the means with which to continue this maladaptive behaviour is about education. When education does not work (often because the parent cannot understand why change is necessary) then enforcement is the answer. Children in these circumstances should be helped, it is not healthy for them to gorw up believing that they have the power to direct the outcomes of relationships with parents. Sadly, in the UK at least, too many are left to do just that.
I am a practitioner who is used to working between two sides of the family where alienation occurs and observing the hooks and eyes that cause alienation to arise is a fascinating topic to me. Alienating parents sometimes appear to me to be exceptionally kind at times and very concerned with their children’s state of mind, whilst rejected parents can seem to be less so and more concerned with themselves. If I find alienating parents to appear to be exceptionally kind, imagine what the child feels like. If I find that rejected parents (some not all) seem more concerned with themselves than the child, imagine what the child feels like. The pairings of parents where alienation arises is no accident, if it were then it would appear more often and more randomly, that it takes place in particular circumstances with particular pairings is about the reality of what is happening in the family system and the susceptibility of the child to the dynamic. The incredible journey to unwinding the alienation is one which we travel and map as we go along. It is long and exhausting, but it is predictable in so many ways when you have made that journey more than once.
Down the rabbit hole, where everything is upside down and back to front, the alienation aware practitioner attends the mad hatters tea party with the sole intent of securing the attention and engagement with the child in order to help them to begin the incredible journey back to the surface. So many traps await on that journey, so many games of cards with the Red Queen whose sole mission is to thwart that return as best she can.
Knowing that all is not what it seems and that the opposite of what appears to be true is the truth of the matter is how we navigate this land. Crossing it is an incredible journey and for too many time runs out. For others, tick tock, it is possible to beat the clock.
You just have to know how.