This week I have been re-reading more of Alice Miller’s works, specifically ‘Thou Shalt Not be Aware’ and ‘For Your Own Good.’ Additionally I watched the Panorama documentary on child abuse and found myself developing a greater understanding of those links between children who are abused and children who are alienated. Sometimes children who are abused are also alienated and the alienation acts as the cover for the abuse. At other times, abuse and alienation go hand in hand in the same family but are undertaken by the same people with different children, causing one to know the secret and the other to be removed from the power to know by alienation which silences communication channels. The links are clear to me and the underlying motivation is the same. What lies beneath is the dysfunctional drives in the unhealthy people in the family and the vulnerability of children who are subject to this.
The Panorama programme made for very painful viewing and gave me a deeper understanding of how adults can coerce a child with ease into a situation where the child’s trust and belief in the world as a safe and benign place, is taken away, perhaps forever. Additionally, my understanding of how children are vulnerable to alienation, allows me to understand the ways in which those same abusive people can coerce a child into believing that what they are giving is love whilst what everyone else is giving is not. It is not difficult to do this.
Watching the story of a man who as a child was abused by Savile on the premises of the BBC, made me aware that for this boy, who thought he was going to collect his Jim’ll Fix it Badge, the world became a malevolent and unsafe place within a matter of seconds. The power of Savile, who told the boy to keep his mouth shut because he was ‘King Jimmy’ lay in his alienation from his own sense of compassion and empathy. A state of being which allowed him to procure the child and make him available to another adult as well as himself. As a Psychotherapist, one can only speculate that this alienation from the self and the soul, was caused in his own childhood, by someone else who took his trust and abused it. Alice Miller, who writes about Hitler and his alienation from his own soul at the hands of the father who regularly beat him, reminds us that children are not born this way, they are born with innate love and a desire to attach to other people. This desire has to be beaten out of them and replaced with a compassionless false self which becomes only capable of gratification through harm done to others. It is a complicated and troubling generational march of harm done and the recipients of this harm are those who are defenceless against it. Children.
Families where alienation strikes are not straightforward families. In all of the cases I have ever worked in, dysfunction in the family is present though hidden underneath a jumbled story of family separation. The task as a practitioner, is unravelling the presenting past and digging underneath the surface story to find the truth. Many alienated parents know the truth and can point at it with clarity but find themselves absolutely ignored because their vigour in telling their story means that their understanding is obfuscated by the alienating tactics of the dysfunctional parent. The skill with which these tactics can be deployed, is further enhanced by the lack of rigour in the practitioner’s skill set, which often means that those who are supposed to understand the underlying dynamics in such families are misled by the presentation of the case. When one understands how the psychological pairings of parents come into being in alienation cases, it becomes easier to get underneath the surface story. One of the most illuminating realisations in my own practice being that many of the alienated parents I work with were once alienated children themselves, often alienated or living at relational distance from one of their parents whilst being close, often strongly aligned with the other.
Patterns of distance and closeness are very clear underneath the surface presentation, in fact one of the first things that we do as practitioners working with families where alienation strikes, is draw up a relational map which depicts the real truth of the family relationships. As we compile this map we begin to understand the different ways that each player in the family contributes to the child’s alienated position. This is not to say we are blaming the alienated parent, it is to say we are understanding what needs to change in order to liberate the child.
And liberating the child from alienation, as in liberation of children once abused, is about helping them to regain perspective and trust and move on in their lives. We may be working with children who are being abused sexually, physically, emotionally or psychologically, for whom the alienation is a cover story for this harm done to them. We may also be working with children for whom the alienation in itself is the abuse and the wounding that causes the alienating parent to act in this way, is the hidden and unhealed abuse that they themselves suffered in childhood. Whichever way we examine the story of child abuse and parental alienation, the two are linked, the two are evidence of deep dysfunction in an adult in the family system and the two must be stopped and those harmed by the behaviours must be helped to heal and move on.
Helping people to move on is a key theme in the work that I do with families. Moving on doesn’t mean putting the experience away unresolved and ignoring it. Moving on means facing it, speaking about it, sifting through its impact and understanding it, acknowledging the harm it has done and expressing the full range of feelings it causes within. Only then can we move on and let life flow again. Watching the Panorama programme last night left me with a powerful feeling that the abuse suffered by children leaves the same stains and scorch marks upon the psyche of children as alienation does. Being used by an adult for their own ends leaves children feeling dirty, ashamed and confused. So much so that their lives appear to grind to a halt and their emotional and psychological flow is stoppered up. The sight of one young woman being carried by her husband in a state of emotional collapse, so strongly was the abuse of 24 years agobstill active in her mind, left me in tears. This is what I see in alienated children, a shut down of the emotional and psychological self and an inability to let life flow. But itt doesn’t have to be this way. Emotional and psychological arrest does not have to accompany being abused and/or alienated, so much of what happens to the body and the mind can be healed if it is approached in the right way.
This week, as I have been deeply immersed in these issues, I have begun to see the next phase of the work that we do with families begin to emerge. We are already providing post reunification healing programmes for families as well as undertaking reunification work itself. Knowing as I do, that reunification is only one tiny part of what is needed in alienation work, providing more post reunification support and therapeutic work with families is where we will put our focus next.
Alienation and abuse are so closely linked that there is much learning to be gained from understanding the politics of child abuse. As the UK begins to come to terms with the reality of institutional child abuse, which was for so long invisible but is now on the surface, alienation of children and the way in which this is interlinked with abuse is, in my view, the next phase of bringing to light what lies beneath the ‘best interests of the child’ mantra chanted by so many involved in family separation politics. This mantra, which is interlinked with the women’s rights agenda, rests upon the notion that women are victims and men are perpetrators of harm. Watching the documentary last night, it is clear that this is not the truth. Boys and girls are victims of abuse, boys and girls are alienated in families. This is a generational, handed down pattern of behaviour which rests on the manner in which people obtain and maintain power in the family and the way in which children are vulnerable because of this. The feminist adage that the family is a dangerous place, directed blame towards men, because men held more power back then. It led to the systematic cutting out (parentectomy) of parents from children’s lives. These days, where women visibly hold power over children more often than men (ironically because of the actions of the women’s rights movement), it is clear that they too will harm children. What we are looking at here is not about gender but about power, who has it, who gets it and who weilds it over children. Children who are the most vulnerable in our society and who are the easiest people of all to damage.
Alice Miller, in ‘For Your Own Good’ speaks of the collective ‘forgetting’ that goes on amongst children who have been harmed in childhood. Those who demonstrate this most clearly being those who dismiss the harm done to children by saying ‘it happened to me and it didn’t do me any harm.’ People like Stephen Fry who this week uttered what has to be the biggest Freudian slip of this century when he dismissed people who had been abused and told them to stop pitying themselves. One can only wonder what lies beneath in his psyche, ‘forgotten’ and repressed.
For all of our children, those who are, those who were, for you and yours and me and mine, for all those on this road we are travelling (where we are trying to heal alienation and to bring to the light those wounds that fester in darkened places of the psyche and the soul), I wish you courage, salvation, mercy and hope. Life does not have to be about suffering and alienation and abuse does not have to arrest the spirit and stopper up the flow. Life can move on and the soul and the psyche can love and laugh again. Together and alone we can help ourselves and each other to live healthier lives and pass on to our own children and grandchildren the joy and the infinite gift of the unconscious trust that the world is a good place to live in.
Until we stop the suffering of little children in its generational tracks, that is what I will be working to do for the rest of my days.
(We will be launching Parental Alienation Direct on Parental Alienation Awareness Day (April 25th) and will have a reading list up on the site for everyone interested in this subject and how it is interlinked. We will also have a reading list on mind/body connections in this field and on the neuroscience of recovery from alienation and abuse. Our aim in providing this site is to offer a place of safety where everyone interested in helping and healing can gather and contribute to helping as well as receiving help. People help people and it has been a long held dream of mine to have a place where helping each other is supported and encouraged. This blog will be featured on the site and our forums will offer discussion spaces for everyone. More of this on April 25th!).