Before All Else, Know Thyself


It’s been an interesting week this week as I have continued to travel in the external and internal world.  Learning to think in shades has been one of the motifs of the week, knowing the self and the empowerment that brings has been another.  The continued theme of life lived in the mirror is one which dominates my work at present, seeing myself in the mirror of the people I work with as well as those I work alongside. Knowing myself, as deeply as it is possible to achieve, the layers and complexities, those things I am aware of as well as those I am not, is an ongoing task.  The archetypal imagery of this process is that of the Wounded Healer, as I go through the process of learning more about myself through my interactions with others, I am consciously embracing the wounded part of myself, journeying through it into the darkest places in order to find those shoots of health and growth which lead back out into the light.  Jung’s closest colleague, Marie Louise Von Franz, said “the wounded healer IS the archetype of the Self [our wholeness, the God within]Öand is at the bottom of all genuine healing procedures.”

Healing from alienation is an ongoing process, it doesn’t stop when one realises that one has been forced to live life in a psychologically split state of being.  For me it has taken many years to even get to a place where working and thinking in shades is automatic and where  divisions of people into those who are with me and those who are against me have fallen away.  I have shared with you on this blog over the past seven years, some of that journey, as I have moved through an understanding of feminism and how it furthered the psychological splitting caused by my paternal family. Some of you will remember with perhaps some fondness (Woodman), the way in which we grappled with concepts of good and bad feminism.  I was fortunate to have readers around me at that time who were able to go with me on that part of the journey, holding up mirrors for me to look in (and sometimes smash to pieces) but still remaining with me as I struggled through to a greater perspective on the world.  That part of my journey seems far behind me now as I start to evaluate feminism for those things which have been useful and those things which are not. Balanced review is easier for me now. I am grateful for the patience and willingness of all of you who stayed with me on that journey.

Writing this blog has always felt easy to me. Easy because from the earliest age I was writing and keeping a diary and I was sifting and processing those things which happened to me in words.  I have, until now, largely written this in an unconscious manner, allowing the page to be the recipient of my thinking until I have been able to organise chaotic streams of consciousness into a coherent narrative about myself.  In writing about my work I have shared with you many things about the way that we formulate our views and the way that we are informed about those things about alienation which enable us to help children affected by it. In doing so I have laid myself bare. Not too naked that all of my life is visible to you but bare enough to let you know me, as closely as you can, without ever having met me.

I realised something recently about this process when I was lucky enough to meet Woodman, a regular commentator on here with whom I have had more than a few shall we say ‘spats’ about feminism in the past.  Woodman came to a lecture I gave on gender equality at UCL and I was so pleased to see him and meet him properly face to face.  What I realised in doing so is that the person he met that day is the person who writes this blog, there is no ‘party face’ going on here. What I write about is me, the whole of me and so what you meet, either on here or face to face is me, in all my  ordinary reality.  Whilst I am expert in what I do, I am no lofty expert once removed from you. Neither am I someone who writes without doing. What you read on here is the truth of my life and my work, it is not made fancy by being once removed, it is not wrapped in shiny paper to make it more appealing, it is simply me, doing what I do and living the life I live.  Most of all it is me, working the hardest I can to know myself, because in knowing myself I know you and your suffering, by going first into the darkness and finding my way I can lead you through the darkness to light.  I do not ask anyone to do anything that I have not first done and healed from myself.  I am sharing with you my journey so that I can more deeply share yours. This way of working brings risks as well as rewards.

I was reminded of the risks this week when I read a most unpleasant little piece of writing by an alienated parent about my writing on this blog.  Reading it felt as if this person was taking the most precious parts of who I am and trashing them happily.  Now, I do not have a problem with people who do not share my world views, there have been plenty of them on here and we have grappled with our differences sometimes gladitorially.  But I do have a problem when people who do not know me feel it is perfectly ok to write untruths about me, particularly untruths which are dreamed up out of their own psyche and projected onto me. This person wrote that I have written feminist and misandric pieces on here.  Which as those of you who have been reading regularly is spectacularly untrue.  My first reaction was to show this person how what he had written is untrue and to challenge him to see whether he could recognise that. What followed was a series of twisting turns which made it clear to me that he wasn’t interested in the truth of the matter, what he was/is interested in was putting me and my views and experience into a place where he could safely say that his preferred approach to alienation (one which allows him to pursue the good parent/bad parent splitting belief) is the right one.  I stopped challenging this man when I realised that he was not interested in the real me but was relating to his own projection onto me of who I am. One of the risks of being congruent and really me on this blog is opening myself up to such projections.

But that is not to say that I am not entirely innocent of projections myself. This week I have also skirted around another spat with Dr Childress, courtesy of my expressed position on the APA petition which is being championed by a number of targeted parents. Coincidentally, the unpleasant little piece of writing mentioned above was also topped off with the writer’s assertion that Dr Childress’s piece about me this week demonstrated his reservations about me.  I am not sure that this is the truth of the matter. I think Dr Childress and I are almost perfect mirrors of each other, both sharing a huge amount of who we really are online and both musketeers for the cause.  I think that if Dr Childress and I were in the same room, there would be more about our work which is the same than different. I think we have a duty to explore that possibility of communication, not least because a life lived so publicly online, working with those who need our support, require us to consider the manner in which we provide the mother/father archetype in a mirror image of each other.

A reader on here this week expressed unhappiness that Doc C and I are falling out again. It prompted me to look in the mirror and explore what I do in poking the ‘bear’ and think about a different way. It doesn’t mean I can readily agree with everything that is being said by Doc C but it does mean I can acknowledge those places where our experiences converge.

And so back to my journey of self knowing and the underground path which I have chosen to walk in order to heal those wounds which are part of the very fabric of who I am. Alongside that, on the outer path I am working all the time with children who are alienated as well as rejected and aligned parents.  Sometimes I feel like Gretel, with Nick as Hansel, unwinding the strings as we go into the woods to meet the witches and wizards. A life lived congruently is one which is lived on so many levels. For me the fairy tales of my childhood are a perfect vehicle for understanding those things which occur in life which change us and change us again.

Someone said this week that all he wants to do is learn about alienation so that he can understand why it has happened to him.  To which I would say this, before all else, know thyself. That which you see on the outside is merely a mirror. Life is a series of twists and unexpected turns in which your fate lies in the hands of those gone before you as well as those on the horizontal plane with you. The answers come when you listen.




14 thoughts on “Before All Else, Know Thyself”

  1. I’ve occasionally come across therapists writing very partial blogs, and there may be other similar fuller ones (I’ve not really looked) but I can imagine that Karen could still be exceptional in her honesty and openness to do doing this, and in accepting some of what will come back in response.

    I wonder what you all thought as I began to challenge Karen about the good as well as bad aspects of feminism??

    Actually It wasn’t at all easy to do so but I just felt compelled as it has seemed to me so critical to achieving our long term goal – that of having increasing numbers of women agreeing with us that the hatred of men in general has gone too far, but that at the same time it is true (for whatever reasons) that women have in the past very widely often suffered and been limited in their scope for development and fulfillment, and especially (knowingly or unknowingly) at the hands of men in particular (but sometimes with those men in cahoots with other women) and as we’ve witnessed on this blog, it still happens.

    Speaking in a more general sense, I’ve known a number of therapists and counselors, all of them gifted and dedicated individuals, for sure – and yet at the same time…hey – hasn’t it quickly become obvious that any of them may need to grow in certain areas too!! The irony is, that becoming a therapist or counselor to a certain standard can make it even harder to do that…because as the wonderful Karen Horney pointed out, that what she termed the “pride system”…that is, the way we inflate ourselves to some extent to compensate for developmental ‘lack of self-confidence’ somewhere still in our psyche – almost inevitably kicks in. This can apply very much to people classed as “professionals” at all levels – even such as Dr Childress. I’m not necessarily saying it does in his case, but rather that it can help to explain what seem to be some certain “blind spots” in a wide range of otherwise very professional perspectives in many areas of life…doctors…lawyers, you name it.

    I will always consider myself as student of Karen and all these other experts…but have also learned to learn from the unlearned – i.e. those who have in fact not had access to very much formal education at all, for example. As a fresh-faced college kid coming from a lower middle class background, my next level of “studies” came from a single parent working class woman who had struggled with numerous physical/mental disabilities all her life. Since then, whenever I have met anyone at all, part of me will be thinking – what am I going to learn from this person? It certainly doesn’t always happen…but the possibility is there, and it can sometimes be much easier to learn from people not so aware of their gifts – even than it is for they themselves to accept that they have them.

    This process seems to me to be the ideal way for us to counter the “pride system” trap and so maximize our personal development. We can’t all write blogs, but the “Community Sound” platform I’m working on is something that would allow people from a wide range of backgrounds to begin to meet and then both profoundly appreciate – and yet gently challenge – each other, as has been illustrated here between Karen and myself. I hope that proves to be an inspirational model for us all on what could take place on the more immediate local level – which is what the combined ‘community music/personal development’ initiative would be. It will be necessary to demonstrate this first here in good ol’ South East London initially, but then as soon as we do, it wouldn’t be hard to replicate anywhere else! I’m sure there are plenty of people with the required level of musical skills (it won’t be a requirement to be professional – just some competent amateurs would be fine) to make it happen far and wide. And a major aim will be to draw in – not by force of law…but rather, by sheer force of attraction…those who have been responsible for alienation in our children – and to use the emotional environment that really only music can provide, to begin to address the pride system (i.e. insecurity) which has driven them to do this. Again, hopefully, we’ll begin to see this in action with video interviews etc so that everyone can actually see over time how this can work, and so help “set the ball rolling”! People actually need to witness for themselves once-broken families and those in the process of tearing apart starting to reverse the process – and achieve what seemed to be previously impossible levels of cooperation, reconciliation, restitution and renewed relationship…in order to believe that it is possible.


  2. Dear Karen, what I have learned so far is that we are often helpless as to how other people will “read” us and react to us. Sometimes there will be some understanding and exchange of ideas and opinions, some will not pay attention at all, and some will be outright evil and use whatever they can to hurt in any way they can. I believe that we can negatively affect some people but I find it hard to believe that it is possible for anyone to positively affect hateful people.
    The same as with alienation. Sometimes even the court action together with professional mental health action, especially if delayed, falls short of any effects.
    I am happy that you are trying to help children and parents in any possible way and grateful for all the good work you are doing.


    1. Ako – good initial point!

      But the reason that Court ordered action CAN work, and often DOES work, as Karen has attested, is that often the individuals involved are those who have not received proper discipline as children – that is who have been allowed to manipulate one or other parent and spoiled and/or elevated over other siblings, for example.

      What the Family Court is doing, in these best case scenarios, is recognizing this – finally acting as the missing parent firmly putting their foot down – that the person never had before.

      Together with counseling, I bet that’s often all it takes to at least start reversing things. Not to say that the bad habits of a lifetime will disappear overnight – of course not. I imagine there will be relapses, for sure…but inside every adult is still the little child (as Carl Jung would point out) – a child who is actually crying out for firm boundaries in order to help him or her feel more secure.

      It’s lacking that inner security that makes the still considerably immature adult insist on total power and domination over others in their life. So the Court action can take on a therapeutic role on the person’s life. It’s a more extreme example, but many criminals simply won’t begin to address their offending behaviour until they’ve been forcibly apprehended and required to look closely at the way their lives have developed.

      We need more psychological training for Judges so that they can come to understand the importance of firm intervention as recommended by “whole family” therapists like Karen.


  3. I’m very appreciative of you Karen and your openness about yourself.

    Woodman you ask what we have thought about your challenges to Karen, etc. You asked so I am being blunt, I don’t come here to read others diatribes or “challenges,” I come here to sort out what happened to me and what can be done about my daughter being alienated from me since 2012. I’m not interested in attacks or “challenges.” I’m a mother who this has been done to, so I don’t know where “hatred of men” comes into it, PA is an equal opportunity toxin. The hostile attitude and ad hominem attacks is what made me unsubscribe to Dr. Childress’ blog and stop following his FB page, his obsession with tearing people down (Karen and others) and the hostility and my way or the highway attitude is unhelpful and counterproductive. I have enough personal attacks in my life past and present to want to deal with any more and I’m not going to engage about it.


    1. Hi Oakland Maggie – your honesty and concern is very valuable and much appreciated. If I may explain, ‘attacks’ and ‘challenges’ are actually very different – “chalk and cheese” – one could say. An attack is a hostile act designed to try to put someone down – whereas a challenge is quite the opposite…it is an act of love intended to help growth…and often means “putting oneself on the line” for the sake of the other person, primarily.

      I haven’t seen anyone else on this blog apart from Karen as concerned as I am to impact the phenomenon of parental alienation for ALL of us. I am an parent of a daughter alienated by her mother from me to a very significant degree over the last 8 years, who now in turn seems to be trying to alienate her younger sister from me at the same sort of age as she herself was when it all started going wrong. So I continue to live this ongoing nightmare on a daily basis.

      As you will have seen, I’m trying to develop a therapeutic approach involving the whole community. Will it work? Who knows…but it certainly won’t work if it is never tried. It certainly will do a lot of other good, but PA is a particularly difficult problem to solve without court insistence on the kind of specialist intervention Karen is able to provide.

      At the centre where I first came across community music as a concept, I met a woman who had been alienated from all her children. It was the most awful thing imaginable – so you and the other women here have my every sympathy. However, it is important for us all to keep a handle on the reality that on a national basis PA is a problem that overwhelmingly affects men and their families…probably to to the tune of 90% or more. Social Services can be reasonably be described as an organization with a huge number of its members effectively dedicated to alienating children from their fathers. This is because they subscribe to a type of feminism that Karen has described which wishes the world to be organized on a gynocentric basis where men are unrelentingly subservient to women. In the process, they insist this policy will “end all wars and save the planet as well”, because it is men who “organise all the warfare and the production that is destroying the planet”. Consequently it is virtually their “sacred duty” to undermine all men and elevate women, however problematic they may be.

      (Although some people have noted how women will drive men into wars where they are killed en-masse, in order to “protect them”, and how women in general also tend to be the ones to dictate overall levels of “consumption”, expecting men to go absolutely all out to compete over them on this basis?).

      At the same time, If it was to be seen that the PA problem ONLY affected men (100%) and no women at all (100%) – then that would look far too suspicious! So a certain amount of women have to be sacrificed for the sake of the “greater good” – that is, in the eyes of the gender feminists. The continued presence of a few alienating men helps these feminists to keep justifying the war on the majority of men. So occasionally, when an alienating man comes along…they do nothing – they just let him get on with it, or perhaps side with the “other woman” involved, as it suits their purposes. Overall, though – the experience of us men overwhelmingly is that hatred of men is omnipresent in Family Services, except for, as recently noted, some members of the NSPCC, for example…who can (thankfully!) demonstrate considerable psychological sophistication and maturity, and are clearly NOT signed up to this so-called “gender feminist” ideology (which isn’t really feminism at all, is it?).

      I hope that helps to explain accurately what is happening overall. But every individual case of PA is a tragedy whoever has been affected and agree that in a world where women in general are favoured – to be one which has been attacked in this way must be doubly agonizing.

      Going back to challenges. We are just not good at them, generally. We are missing the point to the extent that they are perceived as attacks, rather than as gifts that ask us to grow a little. It is the responsibility of others to provide them because often they can see us better than we can ourselves. We need to provide a mirror for each other. At first we don’t want to look, but after a while, come to appreciate very much what has happened, as we start to feel a larger, more connected self.


  4. Karen, I am new to your blog. I was so encouraged by reading such a “right on” narrative regarding the alienation of my grandchildren. You seemed to really see what so many others do not. My son married in to an unhealthy family and then left 4 children in their clutches when he finally realized he had to get out.
    Then I read the post on the spat with Dr. Childress and was worried that I had rushed in too soon.
    The openness you wrote about today is helping me to stay with this and to remain on the search for answers and possibilities for the future.
    Thank you for writing this blog.


  5. How can we contact Woodman’s community sound project?
    My daughter runs 2 community choirs in London -is a singer/songwriter and has published 3 books of Sing Pop A Capella arrangements.
    My son (denied all contact with his son for 5 yrs) sings sea shanties in a male quartet ‘The Roaring Trowmen’ -gigs at several UK venues and a CD.
    His singing has been very therapeutic in the despair of the last few years


    1. over to you Woodman, shall I send Grandmani your address? I think you really should write about it for us too


      1. I have a longer piece in the works looking at some of the wider background concerns behind the project.

        Will combine that with any comments that come through at this stage.


    2. Hi Grandmani,

      Thank you very much for your interest. I am aware of the “Pop Choir” phenomenon and hope that the Community Sound initiative can definitely both build on and increase that wave. I’d love to meet up with your son and daughter if they were interested, and as you can see, we’re mixing singing with instruments – and then…using that within a context of a collective talk therapy, so to speak!

      It’s planned to be a monthly event and there will also be opportunity for the (essential!) informal peer to peer follow-up throughout the weeks in-between.

      Although a keen amateur musician my own background is rather from the therapeutic angle, like Karen…and am seeking to use music even more for therapeutic reasons, perhaps – than strictly musical ones. There’s often been an element of this kind of crossover especially within community music, but the fact that we are SO openly embracing the therapeutic dimension will make a lot of people a tad anxious – and that entirely makes sense. Music as entertainment…we all understand. Music to transform society…well…hmm…!

      I’ve previously mentioned some of the resistance that I’ve had along the way so far, that is, even from those locally who’ve had experience working in the community – so far flatly refusing to assist, or even cooperate, although it was obvious this was very much needed.

      I say all of that to help explain why there’s nothing up and running JUST yet. These type of radical initiatives seem to need “haste made slowly”! But things are definitely starting to fall in place now. Today for example, I had a successful meeting with the local Tenancy Officer, while a Community Engagement officer has really taken a couple of years now to really start to feel personally more comfortable with the idea. It is absolutely essential to have these key individuals understand what we’re about and supportive well before we begin. I have several local Councillors on board, but still have to meet the police and other relevant service providers. We aiming to get “Safer Neighbourhood” funding, for example.

      On the personal front I have family that’s furious with me because what we’re doing is not “religious” – while a daughter is angry because my life’s work has not been “commercial”. Somehow I have to win them both over! A couple of front teeth removed recently leave me struggling to talk properly right now just as I’m preparing to take on this public profile…really no small issue to address. Getting older ain’t kind!

      Below you will find a link to Vimeo (It’s like YouTube, but more for filmmakers) but don’t worry…it’s completely free to sign up. (Sorry – I have to send you to Vimeo because our own website isn’t in place yet, and we didn’t really want the exposure of YouTube right now). You’ll see me in the two videos there that we’ve done so far, and it will give an idea of the starting point, at least. This was (1) a pilot project run in 2014 for three months, and (2) a summer neighbourhood event we participated in last year, which shows us mainly working with children since, as some of our key equipment broke down – we couldn’t do the usual song program. At some point this year (at least by September) we will hope to scale right up from 15 people you can see in the first video to a local Community Hall that will take 150. A therapeutic event for 150 – that’s a BIG jump up to manage in EVERY way!

      This will obviously be a far more dynamic event altogether, with a wider cross-section of the community, more “proper” drums and percussion instruments (and hopefully some tune percussion as well) plus opportunity for the local “rock choir” (hint, hint!) plus any professional musicians we can find – who may be keen to join in too.

      At the same time, it is still planned to be a deeply personal time where we focus on the particular individuals who choose the songs on each occasion – as they share the stories of their lives connected with those choices; and we support them in the (hopefully very powerful for all) experience of that sharing with us.

      So I hope you can go ahead and watch and provide feedback to myself at abbeywoodcommunitymusic(at) and I will respond as necessary on the forum to everyone here, too – regarding whatever points comes through from that.

      Thank you SO much for your encouragement!



      1. My apologies – I got confused about this because I have to log in but you don’t have to join Vimeo to view things on there…but only to post them – so don’t worry about doing that! Also, this link below may be better.

        If for any reason this is not accessible, contact me by the abbeywoodcommunitymusic email address, and I can actually send you a link to download the videos direct to your computer.


  6. I hadnt read this blog article Karen. I think i missed something a while back but just to let you know i know you know i know you know your stuff and the whole world should know it too.

    “by going first into the darkness and finding my way I can lead you through the darkness to light.”

    I once had a conversation with a shrink which wasnt helpful. Due for retirement and day dreaming he was. I felt your above statement was true and i was reticent to take advice to train or get educated in areas which i felt compelled towards putting my attention. I was of the mind that if i cant help myself out of the wood, a suffocating darkness, how could i help others out…unless i was dispensing platitudes and getting paid for it without really helping anyone, pretty much like the shrink i was having the convo with at the time, though at the time i was 24/25 and had had an ear bashing from the manics, so i was a little cynical of most people who represented established comfortable experts. Someone who was very dear at the time, bit of jedi, probably still is, said of me at the time…i was more qualified than the entire NHS mental health system to answer the questions i had and to help people. He was actually right, most people are………….and it us, we, you and i….people, we, within us, have the answers to the questions life asks of us….and by seeking within we connect to the origin of all……..and within we find the top of the mountain, much light, glorious sunrises and sunsets, ineffable fresh air……and strength and duration in our legs and tales and illumination.

    Keep on keeping on with your rythmn and melody….eventually the world will manifest to be as beautiful as you, morphic resonance and all that….the music of ainur.


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