The Incredible Journey

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.


20 thoughts on “The Incredible Journey”

  1. Having walked several miles in both “shoes” there’s nothing else to add except SPOT ON!


    1. EHFAR – if it is spot on for you but not spot on for Brian can you work out what Brian’s issues are with it? Maybe others can help him work through what his issue with it is?


      1. Hi Karen

        I suspect Brian has valid concerns he feels have been omitted from your opening post, however, his personal attack has somewhat diluted whatever message he was attempting to communicate.

        The lack of clarity/coherence in his response leads me to believe (in the non-religious sense!) that he seeks to defend a point of view he has come to understand are the ONLY scenarios that exists in the world of PA……that his opinions on PA are right and that your views and opinions (based on several years working on the front-line) are wrong and without merit.

        I’m sure Brian appreciates that there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all solution to PA (or any other problem in life for that matter) and, therefore it leads me to the gut-feeling that he is struggling to make sense of HIS OWN beliefs and feelings in the wider context of the PA world……that if he acknowledges any element of your analysis it will result in the annihilation of HIS OWN understanding and beliefs on the subject.

        My assumptions (and that’s what they are) are, amongst other things, based on my interpretation of the content of Brian’s piece…… which refers to “your story” and “the story-teller” then concludes with “I hope not too many people read this”. Brian appears to have been upset but it’s unclear why, specifically, he’s upset?

        Over to you Brian…..


  2. Karen,
    Just a couple of casual observations about your “story”, On child alienation.

    At the beginning of your story,
    You first state “…that some believe in it and some don’t.”

    Karen this is not a religion or God, this phenomenon exists, that is not up for debate. The technical aspects of this, just like any psychological phenomena, there are different descriptions and rationale’s for it.

    You then state “Anyone who has ever been in a room with an alienated children will never forget it.”
    Karen, I think you were supposed to say “… with alienated children …” or “… with an alienated child …”

    Karen, you make out that the effects are traumatically blatantly obvious just by being in a room with the affected child or children to anyone.

    This is just that far from the truth that it boggles the mind in regard as to your experience in the field.

    You have to observe the child or children with both parents present, and then with each parent separately. Over many sessions to establish, with credibility any behavioural abnormalities. And it is quite often the case that the harm done, is only observable when the child is an adult.

    Then you give an esoteric description of what it IS like to be that child.

    Then Karen I notice you choose to use the male vernacular, when referring to your analysis of how alienated children behave negatively.

    You say, —
    – “The toddler believes himself to be omnipotent …”
    – … to ensure that the world continues to only revolve around him.”

    Then explaining the the rest of your story, you choose to use natural terms.

    Karen, please, people read this stuff, this “story” says more about the Story Teller than it does about the subject.

    I hope not too many people read this.


    1. Hi Brian,

      May I ask what your link to and/or experience with alienation is? As the targeted parent of what has been deemed by multiple counselors as “moderate-to-severe alienation” for the past 5 years, I was delighted to find this piece. Having somewhat of a literary background, I have often described feeling like Alice falling down the rabbit hole or through the Looking Glass. Alienation for the targeted parent is a surreal world of abandoned rationale and abnormal behaviors, where too often the opposite of what should happen does happen, and where those seeking answers or a way out are met with riddles, scrutiny, unreasonable obstacles, and a multitude of unreal challenges. Bizarre doesn’t begin to cover it. And this piece nailed it. So I was taken aback by your sharp response and attempt to discredit what Karen wrote. Troll much?

      Here are my casual observations about your responses to Karen’s article:
      1. “Some believe it, some don’t.” I’m not sure what your contention is here. Yes, it is a scientifically documented phenomenon. It exists. But that doesn’t mean that everyone believes it exists. It took a long time to convince the Earth-is-flat crowd that the Earth is round despite the scientific proof. The same is true of PTSD. Before it was officially recognized on the DSM-5 list, many “experts” refused to believe it even though there was plenty of scientific evidence to support its existence. Unfortunately, even though there’s fairly extensive evidence that PA exists, there are people (lawyers, judges, psychologists, parents, etc) who don’t believe it is real and may not believe it unless/until it too is included on the DSM-5 list. For example, my first family counselor, an LMFT who had been practicing over 30 years, said she hadn’t heard of it, and when I gave her some information about it she said she dismissed it as . Our subsequent counselor not only confirmed that alienation was greatly impacting our family, but said that the first counselor’s failure to recognize it exacerbated the situation, in part because her approach to counseling encouraged the children to openly express their negativity toward me. The children interpreted the counselor’s encouragement as her passive substantiation of their negative views toward me. It is truly a shame that parental alienation isn’t a universally accepted phenomenon, but it isn’t.

      2. The typo, “an alienated children,” is clearly a mistake. Why be snarky about it? There are quite a few corrections to be made to your reply as well (inappropriate capitalization, misplaced commas, incorrect sentence structure, strange paragraph breaks, and beginning your reply by stating you have a “couple” of observations then listing more than two. “A couple” always means two and is not synonymous with “a few.”). The bottom line is that most writers make mistakes. If the mistakes are frequent and repeated (such as yours, actually) then constructive criticism is warranted. But here it’s clear that Karen is articulate; all that error proves is that she’s human and a mistake slipped by editing.

      3. I don’t think Karen meant that anyone can immediately identify an alienated child simply by sitting in a room with him/her. I understood what she wrote to mean that spending time in a room with an already-identified alienated child is a memorable experience. I agree, as do many people who have spent time with such children. But I respectfully disagree with the criteria you assert is necessary to determine whether a child is alienated. Experts who regularly work with alienated children are often able to identify the phenomenon without the extensive list of scenarios you presented.

      4. Clearly you have a problem with the portion in which Karen discusses how alienated children regress to a toddler stage of self-importance. But you don’t actually state what your problem with that section is. Your general discontent is noted.

      5. I think you meant to complain that Karen used male pronouns not “male vernacular” (which essentially means the way males speak). But your complaint itself isn’t accurate. Refer back to this sentence, in which she used the gender-neutral “they” and “themselves” instead of “him” or “himself”: “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.”

      6. I think you meant neutral terms, not “natural” terms.

      I know I shouldn’t feed the trolls but I just couldn’t help myself. I appreciated this article, and defending it frankly just feels good, especially since Brian made that task so easy.

      To you, Karen: Thank you. Please keep these articles coming because the one thing that Brian got right is “people read this stuff.”


      1. Thank you for such an eloquent defence of my work anonymous, I greatly appreciate it x


  3. If ever a blog describes Parental Alienation situation it is this. Searingly incisive and accurate. Now, how to get the UK Children’s services AND Family Courts educated and protecting these children is one Herculean task. And that will require incredible energy to lead them on this incredible journey.


    1. I have been living through this as a Targeted Parent for approximately 10 years now and I certainly know the pain of watching my children deteriorate and become Narcissistic wannabees. Everything you have written is eerily spot on. My PAS therapist is trying to get in touch with you, Karen Woodall. Her name is Annemarie, and she would very much like to speak with you.


  4. The confusion, the back-to-frontness, the “things are not always as they seem” ……. described so well. It’s so important to see the whole picture; to search the whole maze for a way out and check that you aren’t within another maze ……… a Herculean task indeed. [Also, I think it’s OK in many instances to use “he/him” as the universal description of both male and female …….. context of an article will confirm its universal meaning].


  5. I think Brian might be saying that working out whether or not a child has been alienated is more difficult than you appear to be implying. Perhaps he knows of cases where alienation has been present but nobody has understood the dynamics of what is going on.
    I think alienation is more common than is perhaps understood. Even where the family still lives together the parents will say things to each other and to their children which create division and discord within the family dynamic. If the parents live apart at separate addresses these very same behaviours will enable further more radical rifts to appear between parent and child. The stronger and more manipulative parent will gradually gain advantage over the paun parent if this mud-slinging continues. This deterioration in relationships will take place either fairly quickly or over a longer period of time. Physical separation (i.e. moving out of the family home) and consequent constrained time limits for one of the parents will quickly accelerate the alienation process. The parent with control (laterally known as the alienator) will have to do very little extra to eradicate the other parent from the lives of the children. A domination of the children’s lives fulfilling all their needs might be enough to eliminate the other parent (I call this “I am the better parent syndrome”).
    When help is sought it is normally the “target parent” who comes searching for answers and they are probably the one’s that will respond best to help. The alienator has the children and a new life all they want from you is your money and sometimes not even that, it is quite likely that you now have very little. It is essential that the target parent change the family dynamic and recover some self-belief. How to do this…………..


    Kind regards


    1. Anonymous – I, personally, agree with most of your analysis but did not get the impression this was what brian was trying to say


      1. I cannot fathom what Brian is trying to say, perhaps he will come back and elaborate. My view remains as it was when I wrote the piece, when you are in the room with an alienated child it is impossible not to know it. Damage doesn’t wait to show itself, it is right there in front of you alive in the child and harming them in real time not future time.


  6. Once upon a time there was a girl who grew up with
    parents both profoundly deaf. So this girl from an early age had to be
    in control and make decisions unusual in one so young.
    Is there a link between this and the current situation 30+ years on where she seems to be
    allowing /encouraging her son to be in control of his contacts with his
    father and paternal family. They have been denied all contact for 5
    years.The reason given is that ‘he does not wish to have any contact! ‘.
    Is there any way through this impasse?


  7. I’m not sure what Brian is getting at either. There is nothing in Karen’s article that suggests that anything other than gathering lots of evidence will support the court process. To the experienced individual (therapist and rejected parent) the signs of alienation in a child are clear. The problem is making those signs clear to those who are not experienced in alienation/pathogenic parenting and the manifestations of same in the child and parent/child dynamic. This is down to a lack of experience for some but also a lack of belief from others; this is where Brian is wrong and it is vital that there is a recognition that currently there is a lack of belief in alienation on the part of many individuals involved in the court process. It is precisely this point that Karen and other practitioners are attempting to resolve.

    The sentence that struck me most in the post was ‘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.’ This is absolutely the case and as we know (many from bitter experience) the gaze of the ‘expert’ is on the child and on the rejected parent rather than the alienator. It is however important to note that rejected parents tend to discuss ‘I’ and aligned parents ‘we’ as a matter of course – this is natural under the circumstances but sadly it is the circumstances that are not recognised by the untrained practitioner or the practitioner that simply chooses not to believe in alienation.

    A rejected parent has little connection to their child/children. Any discussion of ‘we’ (as the previous normative state) then gives way to I (as the isolated and separated parent) and the ‘they’ to the aligned unit of alienating parent and child/children. This is a linguistic representation of the material facts of existence for these parents and children. Unfortunately we are tied by language and it is the uninformed practitioner who takes the ‘I’, ‘they’ and ‘we’ and interprets them incorrectly. It follows that the further the distance in time and (most importantly ) experience between the rejected parent and child/children then the stronger the send of ‘I’ and ‘them’ is. The danger being that the uniformed practitioner will see this as a deepening of conflict of this being about the rejected parent and not the child, to the point where this can be seen as a possible reason for the parent to be rejected in the first place. This is obviously a very dangerous position to take. It is not the responsibility of the parent to change their language and often this is impossible; this would require a great deal of self awareness in an already emotionally charged situation. It is the responsibility of the practitioner to recognise this in the parental dynamic and in situations where there appears to be conflict.

    In cases of pure or pathogenic parenting the NPD or BPD parent will perceive the child in relation to ‘we’. However this is not as collective or communal ( or more pertinently a family unit ) but as a ‘we’ where there is a symbiotic relationship between parent and child/children. In effect the aligned parent uses ‘we’ as if it were the ‘royal we’ – they are in effect discussing I. The nature of NPD/BPD also means a form of subjugation for the rejected parent; their rejection being about more than their child or children but from their previous relationship, etc. This in effect makes them the object of rejection from their former family as well as the object of scrutiny for the untrained/unaware/blinkered practitioner. They are the ‘I’ that is now separate from all that that went before. The irony here is that the rejected parent was never really part of that unit and people who have lived through a relationship with a partner with NPD and in these terms ‘we’ was perfunctory. In this case the ‘I’ is the object (they) from the perspective of the alienator and aligned child/children and at the same time it identifies the subject position of the rejected parent therefore the use of ‘I’ is significant in regaining a sense of self for the subjugated individual. It is to allow a sense of self for the child that many rejected parents continue to fight – to allow them to grow as I, me, an individual.

    When confronted by a professional or court official rejected parents will try to evidence their engagement with the process and with their child/children, ‘I did this …’, ‘I did that …’. This is justification and building of self worth to and in front of the practitioner. This is the very involvement that has been minimised, denigrated, rubbished or completely removed by the alienating parent. For the parent who has chosen to withdraw through lack of energy and/or a lack of funds there is a sense of guilt and for those parents who have been in receipt of a no-contact order from a court there is understandable anger. In these terms the sense of ‘I’ and the use of ‘I’ is an understandable one. ‘I have lost this time with my child/children …’, ‘I have lost the years …’, ‘I have lost the connection …’, ‘Perhaps I will never see them again …’. In these terms the pain is ‘mine’ and is valuable in being visceral and legitimising the battle for the child/children. Separation and objectivity in such matters is of course impossible and in fact in undesirable.

    Karen’s posts have already identified that it is important to look at the whole family dynamic in the process of diagnosis and then treatment – this is absolutely clear. It is this work that is being rolled out to other professionals involved in family law. We know that the challenge is not just to raise awareness but to fundamentally change patterns of belief especially when they are entrenched.

    Given the importance of this work discussion is important. Nit picking for the sake of it is not.


  8. I find it interesting that you talk about the sort of language the aligned parent uses. My former partner did use the term “we” sometimes, especially when she wanted my daughter to align with her. I remember my daughter using the term “we” meaning her and her brother and mother when she was angrily telling me off. My daughter would say to me, “you don’t love “us” any more”.

    In contrast to this I used the term “us” to refer to the whole family, that’s me, the children and my former partner.

    I think this is symptomatic of the different ways me and my former partner were thinking soon after separation.

    However, that does not mean to say that the aligned parent will ultimately take control of the children and brainwash them against the target parent. They are trying for sure, but a lot will depend upon all the work the target parent is doing to counter the work of somebody trying to alienate them.

    A lot will depend upon the health and abilities of the target parent.

    Why is the other parent working so hard to alienate me from my children??

    Is she/he feeling insecure??

    Whatever the reason there are many opportunities both practical and psychological to counter attempts to alienate your children from you. The demonstrative behaviour of the target parent can make a huge difference.

    Kind regards

    In spite of his/her behaviour is the aligned parent a psychopath or are they displaying “normal” instinctive animal behaviours?
    Given that the common link between you and your former partner is the children, what can you do to make that dynamic function better?
    Who is angry, who is sad, who is losing their identity as a parent?
    Are you not the very same person who has had a good parent/child relationship?


  9. To further prove to Brian that some professionals don’t believe in alienation, this is a response I received after posting a question on a legal advice board. My legal question related to custody vs visitation, but in the “background” section I mentioned that parental alienation is a factor and I’m worried about how the judge’s upcoming decision may effect the future likelihood of reunification. Here was the reply I received from a family law attorney:

    Jennifer Ani
    Family Law Attorney
    San Rafael, CA CA licensed
    Posted 7 hours ago

    Ok so here is the deal. Your daughter is 16 and the court is going to listen to her requests to live with her Dad. You need to accept that; “alienation” is an outdated and unacknowledged theory in California. Any “reunification” is by definition limited to the age of majority, which she is rapidly approaching. If I were your attorney my advice to you would be to start conjoint therapy with your daughter IMMEDIATELY, and have as your goal to ameliorate whatever causes she feels is preventing the mother-daughter relationship you so desire. I feel for you. This is tough. But courts are not going to provide a “fix” for this situation. You need to figure out what you are doing wrong. And if you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong!

    Helpful | 0
    Comments 3


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