What Lies Beneath: On Child Abuse and Alienation

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!).



  1. Interesting insight.
    One aspect of your research is to try to identify if any of the parents you help heal their animosity can do so naturally. Is this possible? Whether they are playing the mud slinging game or the darker and deeper game of personality and narcissistic disordered behaviours through intergenerational trauma is the big question. The latter is the darkest of all and the children, if teenagers will begin to understand this very quickly and eventually dissociate from such a parent if and when other family members are there as their safety net to provide love and supportive engagement.
    You once declared that children encapsulate their real feelings for the other parent. They now need a “parachute” to free them to the love provide from their other half family.
    Sadly those with psychological disorders perpetrate their hostility to the other parent via the children. The perpetrators are the ones who need help because they will lose all and have to live with this fear for the rest of their lives.
    As Family Need Fathers have declared consistently only a change in legislation will protect the reality of two parents in a family when a split occurs. How right they are and the tidal wave for change is coming for this in all directions.
    Thank you for sharing the real need and better interests of our children which even a few years ago was not here for guidance and direction which we now know is both a moral consideration and in reality a legal precedent.
    It has to be noted that in Cornwall which has the highest suicide rate in the UK (Radio Cornwall, 03/l6) for men under 40 years a lot can be contributed with the pressure of parenticide!


    1. Both perpetrators and those on the receiving end of PA need help, TMP. What is at the root of all the chaos are the “feelings” of the parents and, usually, their inability to understand and manage those feelings. Dysfunctional lives (whether the alienator or the alienated) are already being lived in fear and probably always have been…..so “losing all and having to live with this fear for the rest of their lives” is something the alienator is not consciously aware of or doesn’t really care about. Is it possible that NOT being able to live (or cope) with fear is real issue here?

      Some would argue that inadequate amendments to legislation (ie. CA89, etc.) helped create the scandal we see today so is it likely further legislation will improve the current mess? Did legislation, in itself, ever help parents feel better about themselves in the outside world or address their inner-most feelings of unhappiness? Or could it be that the only “piece of the jigsaw” that’s been missing, since ’89, has been the quality of Judge and Social Worker that would not only recognise a dysfunctional parent needs help coping with their feelings of self-loathing but also INSIST that they receive that help if they are to be entrusted with the emotional development of the child that is the alienator/alienated of tomorrow? Individuals of the utmost honestly, integrity and competence to spot the need to reverse the negative childhood conditioning that’s resulted in the parent’s deepest feelings of anger, isolation and inadequacy? The legislation had always been there…..its misuse by those with alternative agendas (to that of “the best interests of the child”) has been the problem

      Does coping with unhappiness not begin with cultivating the right feeling about oneself, which then encourages the right inner thoughts and, in turn, produces the right outward behaviour (more often than not)?


      1. I so like the way that you think EHFAR, you are able to analyse and place the way that the system works against what is really going on in family lives.

        The issue you point out so well is that the system does not contain those individuals who have the honesty, integrity and competence to spot the negative conditioning. What it has is a wide range of people with varying skills sets working from a personal agenda. Thus any legislation in place is enacted in the shadow of this personal belief system.

        THer court alone is not enough to support these families, neither is legislation, the only way to ensure that these families are helped is to provide a combination of skilled judge, legislative framework and pracitioners working hand in hand.

        The leglisation is too fluid in my view and is open to anyone’s interpretation and I do think it could be improved by, for example, enshrining what the meaning of the best interests of the child means and skilling up the workforce to deliver that where possible. k


      2. yes, Karen, the legislation is too fluid and, usually, its interpretation has been monopolised (post-CA89) by those who stand to benefit most, financially. to large degree too many questionable interpretations have been permitted as a direct consequence of the “closed” family courts……..in a manner that would never be possible tolerated by the criminal and chancery division let alone the press.

        at the stage of events where the family courts open up (CoA), it’s then at the discretion of the lord justices to “cherry-pick” and “cut-and-paste which bit of evidence they require to support their, often, predetermined and flawed judgements…….often, to cover the trail of incompetent decisions stretching right back to the initial hearing. for good measure, and when necessary, the “reserved judgement” works a treat when playing for time and a month or two is required to make the judgement “water-tight”.

        I agree with every one of your observations……..because, like many others here, I’ve lived it and seen the “workings” of the system at close proximity.

        many years were wasted as an angry and upset father who felt let down by a system (more so than my ex) that purported to be a place where true justice is at the top of its priorities and where I should (not could) go to seek protection for my children’s well-being. as I said to a close friend, this week, if a murderer was continually acquitted time after time would you hold the judge/jury or the criminal? his chuckle said it all…..

        however, the feelings of love for my children was ALWAYS much greater than any negative emotions I felt toward the courts, the professionals or my ex and, so, i had a simple decision to make……did I want to be mentally, physically and emotionally ready for my adult children if, and when, they should need me or did I want to wallow in self-pity and frustration over life sometimes being unfair. after all, it was my lack of awareness and understanding that helped to misguide me down that path originally!

        in summary, who will be better qualified to compensate them for what they lost and can never find again should the scales be lifted from their eyes in the future?

        have a well-earned break, karen


      3. …..hold the judge/jury responsible……

        apologies for all the other typos and grammatical errors made as a result of my not re-reading


  2. At the final hearing.

    It was Kieran’s big day. After 18 months of uncertainty and heartache Kieran was at last anticipating some kind of closure. He was about to enter the family courts for the final hearing and believed that although he was applying for 50:50 time share for his children he was prepared to compromise a little if push came to shove (he had secretly hoped that he wouldn’t have to give up Friday nights down the golf club which had always been his special day for time out with his mates).

    The court usher had entered the room clip board in hand looking very efficient and proprietorial. It was a large room with many seats. Kieran was about to take up a place to the right facing the Judge’s desk when the usher moved in urging him to a different seat on the left-hand side. Above the seats, allocated separately for plaintiff and defendant, Kieran could see clear inscriptions:


    Authoritarian, donor and trustee, responsible, obedient, resourceful, protector, liable, culpable, defender


    Vulnerable, sensitive, conscientious, networker, child carer, deprived, downtrodden, scorned

    It must have taken all of a nanosecond for Kieran to realise that his idea of justice and fairness had no resemblance to the real thing……………………………..March 2016 somewhere up north.

    Over the course of the next few hours Kieran was to live through a Kafkaesque experience that would numb all his senses.

    The upshot of the case was that because Mum was feeling vulnerable and the kids were sensitive (or should that be the other way around) it was deemed that the childcare default position should be taken and whatever Mum felt was best for the kids should be accepted. Because Mum was still very angry with Kieran over the bust-up and oh so bitter it was thought best that the time Kieran spend with his children should be curtailed to time spent in a contact centre, with a proviso that a family support worker should be in attendance at all times in case Kieran said something he shouldn’t to the children.

    At least that would have been the end of it had not the Cafcass worker who had written a “father risk assessment” report especially for the occasion not persuaded the Judge that, and I quote, “case history shows that men like these never change”. Even the Judge was shocked to hear this. The six month course that Kieran had been told he must go on (i.e. bad men attending anger management) in order to see his children again was not going to be enough to satisfy the wrath of women’s martyrdom now being championed by the woman from Cafcass.

    Now, not only was Kieran not going to see his children in a contact centre, he wasn’t going to be allowed to send them gifts or communicate indirectly because that might upset mother. When Mummy’s upset the kids suffer too!

    This responsible stance was verified in a communication with Cafcass head office. When questioned on 22/03/16 they responded by saying,

    “It is not our role to ask children to choose one parent over another and the starting point for our work is that contact with both parents, where safe, is in the best interests of the child. Where safe, we encourage separated parents to come to workable arrangements that are in the best interests of their children away from the family court”.

    Given this response you might logically assume that Kieran is considered unsafe to be around his children. But surely this can’t be true, Kieran has photos of him and his children having great fun playing together and an earlier social services report had established there were no concerns about relationships within the family.

    That being said who had upset the apple cart and why?

    Because Mum was short of cash, as was Kieran, no expense had been spared in protecting Mum giving her a better chance in women’s trials. A lady Barrister had come up from London for the day. She had scrutinised police reports and concluded that no women were safe in the presence of Kieran. (this was clearly nonsense because Kieran had been in a relationship with his partner for the last ten years, living as a family with their three children). She stared at Kieran with her piercing eyes and said, “no women are safe near you”.

    It is Kieran (being male) who has had to undergo all the scrutiny in this relationship.
    He has had many “safe” years both bringing up his children and being a partner to the woman who is now trying to get rid of him.

    The court recessed for lunch and Kieran, shell shocked had time to reflect. Why can a woman who screams “I feel unsafe” be able to detach the children from their father in favour of her own best interests?

    It was then that Kieran remembered the inscriptions he had seen in the family courtroom.


    Vulnerable, sensitive, conscientious, networker, child-carer by default, deprived, downtrodden, scorned

    At this time, it was difficult for Kieran to imagine how he might ever see his children again. It was only later after contemplation that Kieran began to realise that he may be able to work the system in his favour. E.g. Because his maleness meant he was viewed as someone who had “authority” this meant that if he were a great orator and thinker, not lacking in self-confidence, the Judge may take note of his “parenting plan” or his consideration of family arrangements. He could weave into his account some sympathy for the “downtrodden” and offer forms of appraisal and appeasement such that he would appear to be taking “responsibility” for the whole family. How convincing could Kieran be?

    Kieran began his epic task by putting pen to paper in his “what a good boy am I” series of forthcoming papers.

    He had heard it said that going to court, as in the theatre of tragic comedy, reality and fiction become dangerously close neighbours. If you are not careful you can easily disappear down the trapdoor, an unwitting villain of circumstance.

    Kind regards


  3. I just thought some might like to be aware of this webinar recording. There is a sales pitch at the end by some people trying to help in this regard (and they may possibly be helpful) but the suggestion here is more for the content provided by Niki Gratrix, who is involved in developing a holistic approach to trauma therapy. I can’t comment on the effectiveness of her work, but even just for the analysis alone – it certainly is interesting.

    The presentation is geared towards health practitioners of all kinds, and most notable is her overview of “Adverse Childhood Events” (ACE’s) as something profoundly relevant to physical health in general. ACE’s are something that we all have, but the number and severity of these then predictably correlate to potential negative health outcomes.

    Some of the possible treatments may sound too “New Agey” and unproven, but all of her observations seem to be grounded in solid academic studies.

    This is the kind of work linking physical and mental health that is needed in order to help bring about the preventive approaches and deeper understanding so desperately needed in Family Services, as well as acknowledgement of the support that all the victims of alienation need.



  4. Like you suggest,knowledge on the mind body connection in healing trauma/child abuse/alienation is so important. For many years, I shook uncontrollably when speaking of my alienation from my mother. I later learned the shaking is the body trying to rid itself of the trauma, much like animals “shake off” trauma when they are injured. I had ‘stored it up’, so to speak. It’s probably what led me to yoga.


    1. Hi mothererased,

      Yes, the shaking is one major way I’ve noticed for trauma release to “want” to happen.

      The problem is that circumstances (the external and internal environments) don’t normally lend themselves to this going ahead, do they?

      In our planned therapeutic music environment (we have now received some small first stage funding, and are seeking to expand this so that we can cater for more people) we will anticipate this response, and have blankets ready for people to wrap around if they need them – because the shaking is normally associated with starting to feel cold.

      Alternatively, there are many circumstances where the reaction will be to feel very hot and start sweating…temperature will go either way – or even fluctuate between the two.

      This is all a good sign – of the body wanting to heal itself…it simply needs to be allowed to happen. There’s nothing to worry about if it does.

      Real psychological healing will be evidenced by real long-term physiological change – typically reduction in blood pressure, for example.

      It’s the idea of creating this sort of opportunity within a community music setting which is new. We’ll keep everyone posted as to developments.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Please do keep us posted Woodman, I got what you sent to me and want to work out how to embed the video into it for a post the week after next, can you help me work that out do you think? Email me K


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