I am heading to Croatia on Friday to train Social Workers in Zagreb’s Child Protection Centre. As I do so I am leaving behind several pieces of work with families where children are alienated from a one loved parent. I am also leaving behind several children who remain captured in the psychological prison of their parent’s mind. For those children I feel immense sadness and concern. For the ones who got away, the ones whose need to split the world into good and bad is receding, I feel happiness and relief. It matters not a jot what other people think about me, my only concern is for the children I work with and the ways in which my work impacts upon them. In all cases of alienation there is likely to be at least one disgruntled parent who is not getting their own way, whether that be the alienating parent who is resentful and angry that their power has been taken away or a parent who was convinced they were alienated when in truth they were not. Someone being unhappy with what I do somewhere in the world at any given time comes with the territory, something I have learned to live with. From the unqualified ‘expert’ who believes in his own self importance to those who have so little self awareness that they cannot see their own hidden agenda, doing this work brings out oddities in people.
The field of parental alienation is a strange one to work in and navigating it requires one to recognise that aside from the murderers, the people we work with are likely to be the most damaged in our society. Doing this work requires a great deal of focus as well as courage and tenacity. I have learned much in the time I have been doing this work, a great deal of that has been about trust, who to place it it and who to avoid. What I have learned most in this field, is that the truly ethical alienation practitioner is focused on one thing and on thing alone, the welfare of children and how to assist them to escape and how to help them in recovery. There are many therapists who preach about their ethics but few who truly practice what they preach. I don’t preach about ethics, not because I am not interested in ethics, but because my ethical practice is focused on helping children first, last and always. If that means one parent or both do not get exactly what they want or if it means that I have to tell someone who thinks that they are alienated, that they are not, or if that means that I have to make some really difficult decisions about how to help children, that is what I will do. Children first, healthy parents next, everyone else can get in line.
I don’t expect everyone to like this approach and I don’t expect it to win me friends or influence people. What I do expect is that anyone who works with me, understands that I will be as tough as I need to be to get children to the place of psychological freedom which returns them to the unconscious place of childhood which is theirs by right. Working in the family courts is not an easy thing to do, for anyone in any role. But it is made easier for me by following my own ethical practice of putting children’s needs first, last and always.
And let’s face it, if we are going to work in this field then children’s needs first, last and always has to be that which guides everything that we do. And for me children’s needs to live the unconscious life of childhood is primary, it comes above all else. Children’s childhoods are not to be divvied up, they are to be spent doing the unconscious work of growing up and finding a way to help children do that is what I am the most ethically committed to. This may challenge those concerned with parental rights but I have never apologised for the fact that my only focus in doing this work is the needs of children to live their lives unfettered by adult concerns. The alienated child is one whose right to that peaceful unconscious childhood has been corrupted. Helping to clean that up is what I do best.
In reflecting on this subject I am drawn again to Alice Miller, whose break with Freudian thinking took her into the realm of pioneer/rogue therapist. Her challenges to Freudian thinking were immense and controversial and she was, at times pilloried for her break with tradition. What she left behind however, was a body of work which truly set the needs, rights and lives of children at the heart of a new way of thinking and working. Her work was visionary and she was truly an advocate for children, something which is so sadly lacking in this world of ‘child focused’ practice I find myself in.
I don’t pretend to be anything like the pioneer that Alice Miller was but I am determined that before I have finished my turn at the wheel that truly child focused practice will underpin everything that is done with alienated children in the UK. I am determined to push for the reform of practices of involving children in adult decisions by asking their wishes and feelings at every end and turn and that red flags of alienation in children will be as widely understood as possible. I am equally determined that where alienation in children is present, assessment by a committed alienation aware expert will be common practice. The irony of going to train Social Workers in Croatia in this issue, when it is such a systemic problem in the UK, is not in the slightest bit lost on me. I remain committed as I have always been, to the raising of awareness of the needs of alienated children for the properly delivered, alienation aware support that is so badly lacking in the UK.
Being alienated is a truly dreadful experience for a child and one which heralds many problems in later life. Trust of the self and of other people is broken and the diffusion of the personal boundaries and sense of self requires deep levels of attuned therapeutic work to repair. This hidden, awful, scandalous epidemic of harm to our children will one day be recognised for the child abuse it is. Ethical alienation practice demands that we who work in this field raise this reality alongside the work that we do with families. I remain committed to that task.
As I ready myself to work with Croatian colleagues I will be thinking about the children and parents I am leaving behind. Some of these parents are the most courageous people I have ever known in my working life and I admire them greatly. So many children are born into the world unwanted, to have your children reduced to hatred and rejection through no fault of your own is an appalling fate for any parent. For those alienated children whose rejected parent loves them even through the alienation, despite it and eventually even because of it (in their understanding that their children are victims), hope lies in the hands of those parents.
Those parents share with me that one pointed focus which is that children’s needs come first, last and always. Call it love, call it ethics, call it whatever you want to, in the end it is the only thing that really matters – protecting the next generation and ensuring their right to live those childhood years in unconscious enjoyment.
The ethical alienation practitioner, in real terms, it is only ever about the children.
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‘This hidden, awful, scandalous epidemic of harm to our children will one day be recognised for the awful harm that it is.’ After two particularly toxic cases I believe it is increasingly institutionalised within Cafcass. The ‘wishes of the child’ are now parroted without the slightest look at the measures adopted to cause the child’s hostility. Parental alienation is I find increasingly facilitated and indeed promoted within the family court system. I hope one day to be giving evidence into this sick malpractice. Hillsborough and the 27 year struggle for justice is strongly in my mind. But the road has become bumpier. In my old age I hope your expertise will be exercised not just in Croatia but in the children’s desert of UK family court wasteland. This is a long battle, the bottom not yet reached. Theresa May’s strong denunciation of Cafcass when she was Shadow Home Secretary in September 2004 Conservative party conference has long since fallen by the wayside. Until Cafcass and UK family courts overall represent what is best for the child rather than indulging in toxic gender politics, and who can force this improvement upon them, the children of UK will remain bottom of the good international leagues and top of the bad ones.
I offer you a standing ovation for this piece. Well written and on point.
Unfortunately, many practitioners feel that they ARE working with the children’s best interests in mind when they recommend allowing the children to live primarily or wholly with the alienating parent, without any further treatment, even when alienation dynamic is acknowledged.
Two separate therapists agreed that the alienation in my case was “moderate to severe”, with me being the alienated parent. And yet, in the first instance the therapist, who clearly felt out of his element dealing with it, told me that “it’s tricky” because sometimes when they award custody to the alienated parent, children will rebel and do harm to themselves or that parent, or make false accusations just to get away. The second therapist said he was stunned by the way my children spoke to me with a total lack of empathy or attachment. He recommended that they be allowed to stay with their father even if it meant I wouldn’t see them because he too feared for their short-term well-being if made to live in a home with someone they rejected. Even so, he acknowledged that I was an outstanding parent, that the rejection was unwarranted, that I was doing everything I possibly could, and that they had thrived under my care prior to the alienation. But his thoughts were that it was better to have them physically safe in their father’s home even if that mean risking their future well-being, rather than trying to force them to spend time with me which could potentially cause them to lash out at me or resort to something drastic in the near future.
Sadly, I see the merit in that argument. Teens and pre-teens tend to act rashly, and there are enough documented cases involving alienation and false allegations of abuse or chronic running away, that there is a valid concern. Still, allowing them to stay entrenched in the home that propagates the alienation, knowing that it means they will have little-to-no chance of becoming healthy, stable adults, doesn’t seem to be a reasonable alternative.
The reasonable solution, the best solution, and truly the only viable solution, is for the alienation to be addressed through a program such as yours. Doing anything less is not in the best interests of the children, as it means either their present or future well-being is compromised. (Arguably, as soon as they become alienated from either parent, their well-being is already in a state of compromise.) And yet, it seems that in both the UK and USA that logic is lost on those with the most power to enforce actions that would truly meet the best-interest needs of the children in these situations. Alienated parents who fight on with good intentions and their children’s well-being always at the forefront can beg, plead, cite statistics, quote experts in the field, etc, and ask for such help… but it’s all for naught when it falls on the deaf ears of those who, ironically, believe they are already acting in the children’s best interests by making whatever “quick fix” decision might make things easier in the short term.
My story is a duplicate of your situation…. my son still knows I’m here and always will be but when he realises what has been done to him he will need his mother to be strong!
The other issue which few take into account is the other siblings involved! I never wished to have an “only” child and now I have 2. My daughter has been denied the chance to grow up with her brother as their daddy has no need for her…… it took only one of my children to try to destroy me, and it nearly did!
I will carry on as will all the other alienated mothers and fathers and be there for my son….
Thank you for your story, I am not as eloquent as you…but you have said all I am feeling and have experienced!
And thank you, Frankie, for the affirmation, and for helping me to feel less alone in this surreal struggle. This morning was a sad one for me. I have invited my son and daughter to join me on a weekend trip, along with my sister and her sons who are close to my children, to visit my mother so we can all celebrate her 70th birthday. My son is on the fence and my daughter has already said no. The harsh reality of alienation hits home hard when my children won’t even make time to celebrate a milestone in their beloved relative’s life because it means spending extra time with me.
As images of me frolicking with, laughing with, and cuddling with these same children years ago flood my mind, my heart aches. For what they’ve lost, for what I’ve lost, for the “now” when things are so broken, and for the future, come what may, that will require all of us to work hard to restore ourselves and hopefully our relationship.
Amid the frustration, heartbreak, and grief over the “what might have been” life I had imagined for us, I’m nonetheless heartened by hearing from others in my situation, others who are just as confused, frustrated, and in disbelief, dealing with the fallout from this unreal phenomenon. It comforts me to know I’m not alone.
Many thanks to Karen Woodall for championing this cause, for continuing to fight for the best interests of children, for challenging a badly broken establishment and enlightening so many along the way, for opening dialogue and giving those of us affected by it a resource and be on of hope, and lastly for creating this place for us to “meet”, learn, help educate others, and feel not so all-alone.
higbye- I am from the USA and I experienced the same. I have 3 children. The therapists and the GAL and the court counselor knew it was parental alienation. However, they were afraid for the kids safety. The children were all in there early teens and their father was pressuring them so hard. They turned into monsters overnight. It reached a point that they would hurt me. They followed their fathers coaching. SO the curt system and the therapists feared that the children would run away or hurt themselves so they left them with the alienating parent. At one point, the court counselor in discussion with all parties involved said “we know what will happen to these children” so they well know the affects but reluctant to do anything about it. Now 12 and half years later, it is extremely hard to change the situation. I am waiting for a miracle to happen. I have reconnected with one child, but their is still so much constant pressure from his siblings and alienating parent and alienating parent side of the family on him to pull him back in the fold. It truly does not end. It will take years or decades to break free and figure it out. Then it takes time to heal and from the distorted behaviors and influences.
If you read this, please can you expand on the sentence from your first paragraph above where you wrote : In all cases of alienation there is likely to be at least one disgruntled parent who is not getting their own way, whether that be the alienating parent who is resentful and angry that their power has been taken away or a parent who was convinced they were alienated when in truth they were not.
How can you tell when “a parent is ‘only’ convinced they were alienated when in truth they were not”?
I am sure that my child was alienated from me by her father as a teenager but of course now that she’s an adult she completely denies this and is insulted by the suggestion which leaves me wondering in spite of my ‘knowing’ or thinking I know what happened.
Your phrase ‘ one disgruntled parent who is not getting their own way’ really hit me hard because when I left my husband (18 months ago – because I could no longer cope with the intensity of their relationship while I had none) he told me “You’re leaving me because for the first time in your life you can’t get your own way”. Those words hurt me so much because in my eyes it was always him. He was controlling, emotionally and verbally abusive and passive aggressive – he always had to get me back for any perceived slights or wrong tone of voice. He constantly reported back to our daughter who has been estranged from me for almost two years now. In the end I just had to leave, it was tearing me apart. They joined together in such a way that I thought I was going mad and maybe I would have gone mad if I’d stayed. I know I’m much better off without him.
Hi Willow, I don’t want you to read your own situation into this, this piece is simply me letting off steam about the problematic people I work with and those who think they are alienation experts when In reality they haven’t ever demonstrated one succesful reunification. Someone somewhere is always unhappy with me because of decisions I have to make but this piece isn’t ‘the law’ on alienation, it’s just a piece of rhetoric. Your ex sounds like he was playing on your anxieties and your lowered sense of self and trying to control you, when you have those boundary diffusions going on it is easy to manipulate you and he was trying to, now he is doing it to your daughter. Remember, whatever you felt in relation to him your daughter will be in a similar place emotionally, if he was controlling you he will be controlling her in the same way. She can’t know it because it is deeply embedded, she may come to know it if she works on her own sense of self in relationship with others, let’s hope someone challenges her to do that soon. K
Hello again Karen 🙂
Thanks for your reply and clarification. My own hang ups come from always being told (by my husband) that what I think is my reality doesn’t exist and it’s all in my head! As an ex teacher I can well imagine your frustrations in dealing with some people!
I was too young and too grateful when I met and married my husband. Due to my own mother’s lack of interest in her children I was always seeking someone to love and someone to love me. I thought I’d found it. I hadn’t. Everything changed after we got married. I have no idea why he married me other than to feed his need for control though I doubt he knew that then and it took me over 40 years to recognise it myself! I grew up in my thirties but it was too late by then. He was dominant and always had the upper hand. I’d been compliant far too long.
My daughter is 35 now. She’s thought of her father as a victim since she was a teenager. Although I knew nothing then, I always had a very strong feeling that she thought she had to ‘protect’ him from me. She chose not be interested in how he treated me because he made her feel like an adult and the most important ‘thing’ in his world. He basked in her adoration, made her his best friend and told her everything – no secrets – he made out I badly treated him.
She does not see him in the same way I see him. She adores him but she is as hard as nails. She, in her own words, does not do missing people and she does not suffer fools gladly. She is very selfish and even with her dad, she will have the upper hand. He now follows her lead! (which means he will never upset her or disagree with her so they jog along just fine)
There is no one to talk to her or help her to see another point of view. She does not speak to the family on my side and there is no family on her dad’s side. There is only the two of them although she recently (I found out) got married. Before I left both of them and moved away – a long way away – I tried to ask her partner for his help. He said he didn’t want to get involved. Until then I’d thought he and I had got along really well. I liked him. I thought he could talk to my daughter on my behalf.
I do not see my estrangement ever changing. My daughter is not who she was before my husband took her over.
(The day before I left in 2014 he said – good, I won’t have to share her with you any more). He’d got what he wanted and he was smug about it. I can understand that he had no interest in me as his wife but neither did he value me as the mother of his child. He always said he valued family but I know now that I was never his family. Our daughter is his family because his blood runs in her veins. He does not think (and never has) in the way I think. He comes from a totally different reality!
Willow, reading your comment just about broke my heart…. I’m continually being told my son will come back to me because as he grows older he will realise what has been done to him!! Your daughter is now 35 and still holds the same views about you!! Deep down I don’t think my son wlll return the same boy he left me and I worry for the man he may turn into with his daddy’s influence!!
Men who want to control women use the most precious thing we have….our children!!
I hope you stay strong and that things will work out for you….but if not, you have done all that you can to make things right!! My 12yr old daughter tells me this endlessly about her brother……she’s the one daddy didn’t need to use!
Frankie thank you 🙂
I’m sure some children will come to realise but not mine I’m afraid. You are so right about men who control women using the most precious thing we have – our children. I hope one day your son will come back to you.
Keep up the tremendous work you do with children with Parental Alienation. Well spoken & a piece to be seen by all involved. Thank You.