I sat in Shoreditch at my usual cafe table yesterday and wrote a blog post. Then I ditched it because right now I am going through some changes in my relationship to my work and my thinking is changing about many things. When I went back to my office, I read the post again but couldn’t post it. Not because it wasn’t relevant to what I am working on right now but because sometimes, when there is an upswell coming, it is more useful to keep things under your hat than shout it out loud. So instead of my post from yesterday, here is another post, written from my sickbed today where I languished for several hours bemoaning the horrible virus that struck me down overnight (it’s the tube and the children I work with, I will end up like Niles from Frasier if I am not careful, dusting everything down and washing my hands endlessly in order to beat the germs that come with the work that I do).
I am going to be talking a lot about parental alienation soon, you will be seeing quite a bit of me in unexpected places. You will also be able to read the words that Nick and I have spent two years writing when Charles Thomas Publishers finally deliver our newest baby to the world. When this kind of summer wave approaches I find myself distilling all that I know into small chunks of knowledge. This is a habit of mine which I developed from an early age and one which I find myself still using and still sharing with the families I work with and latterly with the alienated children I assist in recovery. One of the strange things about parental alienation, when it comes down to talking about it, is that there is a song title from that great northern tub thumping band Chumbawamba which exemplifies what I want to say about it. (Who on earth would have thought I would get Chumbawamba into a blog about parental alienation!) As the song goes, when it comes to parental alienation, everything you know is wrong – there’s a word missing out of your song.
That word, which so many people who think they know about parental alienation (but don’t) miss out of their song is not therapy, it is not talking, it is not qualifications, it is understanding. So many people think they know all about alienation when they don’t and they think that being the expert means making recommendations that people talk to each other or do some family therapy or some such (as Kirby from Frasier would say). If your expert cannot put you in touch with someone they have helped and if your expert tells you that family therapy is the way to go you can be sure that this person who thinks they are fit to practice in this field is most definitely not. When it comes to parental alienation forget everything you know and everything you think you know about helping parents and children and focus on this. Parental alienation is nothing to do with parental rights, it has nothing whatsoever to do with fairness or justice for parents, it has got absolutely nothing to do with people not being able to talk to each other, it is not about conflict, it is not about conspiracies, it is about one thing and one thing only. It is about power. It is about power over another human being. Who has it, who wields it and who maintains it.
And in the current system in the United Kingdom, the way power is controlled and managed by parents during and after separation is the major thing you need to understand. All the rest is just the icing on that cake which is deeply layered with political ideology. Having spent two decades working to understand that cake, what I know is that at the centre is only one thing, the power over dynamic. Which is why parental alienation is coercive control in its truest form. If we did but know it and if the political ideologues were not so busy distracting us from that fact.
Parental alienation in its true and pure form is also about trans generational traumatic wounding and the way in which power which is held by the traumatically wounded parent, binds the child into an encapsulated delusional state of mind. When you come across this kind of wounding you can truly forget therapy, unravelling people’s states of mind and sitting in a room hoping talking might change something. This kind of wounding is deep, it is generations deep and it is powerful, it is normalised and when it erupts through the crisis of family separation it takes children hostage in the blink of an eye. Anyone singing the therapy song in this kind of parental alienation presentation should be kicked off the playing field for good in my view – here is where I am alongside Doc C on the matter. Putting a child in a pure alienation situation into a programme of therapy, or worse still asking the parent they are being forced to reject to undertake therapy to change his or her ways is abusive and harmful.
At the Family Separation Clinic we work to internationally recognised standards of best practice in parental alienation interventions. If it is a trans generational trauma pattern then power has to change hands because the parent who is suffering that is going to find it hard to change quickly enough to rescue the childhood years. Change of residence and then post residence change support to both parents is the way to go, something we are increasingly delivering in London and in which we are seeing strong and swift gains for children (and surprisingly too in both of their parents). A change of power dynamic puts a very different light on the matter.
Talking therapy is used only when the power dynamic has been changed because it is only then that the child is freed from the impact and there is enough compulsion for behavioural change in the parent who has been causing the problem.
Do you see how everything that people think they know about parental alienation is wrong? Understanding is the word missing out of the song. Courage to tread the line of doing the right thing for children is the harmony and downright sheer determination to keep on doing it even in the face of those who would like to shut me up about it ( and there are a few of them believe me), is the bass that holds it all together.
It was a tough year for me last year, in the words of that other song by Chumbawamba however, I got knocked down but I got up again. When that summer wave hits its height very soon and our hard work comes to fruition, everything I know is right (and wrong) about this work we do will be available for everyone to know about.
Until then. I will keep much of it under my hat but share this with you.
Understanding and Coping with Parental Alienation will be published by Charles Thomas Publishers shortly.
A short documentary on Parental Alienation for the BBC – more news and links soon.
I will be speaking at the Institute for Child Mental Health Conference on Children and Change in 2017.
Other work on our European Network will be announced shortly including work in the Nederlands, Italy, Ireland and more about our work in Croatia.
We will be holding Seminars for mental health and legal professionals on managing the problem of false allegations in parental alienation cases (with Croatian colleagues) in London and on understanding parental alienation in Edinburgh in early 2017.
Hi Karen – when you say “power over”, do you mean the child? Or the child and the other parent as well? When I think of it in that manner, I can see that keeping power over my stepson is the only power that my husband’s ex still has over my husband. She controls the one thing he wants most in the world – a relationship with his son. I suppose it is a way of keeping their marital dynamic going as well. I also work in child mental health – and I would say that 99.9% of the practitioners in my area have no “understanding” of alienation at all, you are correct. Therapy, either individual or family, is the typical intervention, and it usually is done with the targeted parent excluded.
Thank you for your work. I do see things changing overall as this issue is discussed more.
‘Power over’ is the true meaning of the phrase coercive control and it can mean power over the other parent using the child as proxy or power over the child. I thought a lot about this recently as i have been working with a lot of children who have experienced residence change and I thought about the way in which they are so incredibly vulnerable to adult behaviours. Children need the adults in their lives to be sensitive to their vulnerabilities. Even in our ability to simply reach out and tickle a child we exercise power over, even when that is benign. They are smaller than adults, dependent on adults, so utterly fragile in the hands of adults. Anyone who wants to harm their ex through using their child can simply do it, such is the power of power over in human relationships. I find myself wanting to think more about how children’s rights to safe keeping in the hands of their parents are so overlooked and how the business of asking children their wishes and feelings intrudes on their right to be free and safe in the care of adults. The worst kind of family therapy is that which requires the target parent to change their ways to suit the alienating parent’s agenda which is enacted through the child. The child in that scenario is stripped of all autonomy and becomes merely the pawn in the unwell parent’s game of psychological chess and the worst part of that is that the child is taught that that is being loved. Children in those circumstances grow up never knowing what real love feels like. It is a grim outlook.
My stepson had several therapists, none of whom understood, and most of them caused further harm. The alienating parent’s agenda took hold with all of them. In the end, when my husband’s ex-wife offered the information, a few months ago, that his son was involved with yet another therapist, my husband decided to just stay out. He hoped that giving his son peace, at the expense of their relationship, was better than putting him in a situation where he felt compelled to lie about his father (again). I try to educate the therapists I supervise on this issue, but without the help of the courts, even educated therapists have little choice but to refuse to treat children in this situation, because we have no way of addressing this “power over” dynamic without court support. My husband has not been perfect and has made a lot of mistakes, that’s for sure – but in the end, giving his son peace without a father seems to be all he can do. I hope that if the UK courts are making progress on this issue, it will someday happen here in the US.
Excellent stuff Karen, and thank you so much for your work.
Great post Karen.
Control and fear
Look forward to the BBC doc
Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..
When it comes to parental alienation forget everything you know and everything you think you know about helping parents and children and focus on this. Parental alienation is nothing to do with parental rights, it has nothing whatsoever to do with fairness or justice for parents, it has got absolutely nothing to do with people not being able to talk to each other, it is not about conflict, it is not about conspiracies, it is about one thing and one thing only. It is about power. It is about power over another human being. Who has it, who wields it and who maintains it.
This was ‘music to my ears’. My husband wielded the power from the time my daughter was 15 (and we were still married). Twenty years on I haven’t seen her or heard from her for over two years. He won and I had to leave and move away to find a place where I wouldn’t have to be part of his verbal abuse, their joint control and disrespect. The pain was awful but as all things, it lessens with time.
Thank you for writing this post and I hope you feel better soon. As a retired primary teacher I know all about the germs!
Maternal alienation is coercive control which is so clear for everyone to see and so in line with the feminist ideology that I watch in fascinated horror as those who operate these systems fall into the trap they set for themselves. Feminist ideology teaches that coervice control is about a controlling man and a controlled woman but they then spectacularly miss the controlling man and controlled woman picture when it comes to family separation. It never ceases to amaze me how many social workers and others assume that because children say they hate their mother, their mother must be really really bad person. It is ghastly. PA is coercive control and when you as a parent escapes the control the child takes your place and becomes the controlled person. It is shocking how often girls get caught in their father’s control behaviours and end up rejecting their mother, believing their father’s narcissistic projection that mother was a mad or bad woman. It is equally shocking that so many professionals fall for it although it is still much easier for most professionals to feel comfortable about transfer of residence from father to mother than the other way around. This gendered world we work in, it is all about the personal gendered beliefs of those who are supposed to be helping parents but don’t.
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PS. Karen: Will your new book (which sounds great) be of any use to me now that my daughter is 35 and alienated – her dad’s closest confident and ally against me – or is it based mainly on younger children? I’m not hoping for my daughter to accept me back in her life as I don’t believe she will ever allow or even want that, but understanding is key for me. Thanks.
The only contact I had with him since I left was to tell him I knew she’d got married and was he able to tell me where she now lives. His replies?
“How do you know?” (that she got married)
“She hasn’t told me not to tell you” (where she lives)
Willow, please accept my virtual hug. (X)
It makes feel quite unwell when I read the truth of this horrendous control. I’m living the nightmare you are. I’m two years without my daughter in my life. Your position is my worst nightmare, but a possibility. I’m so grateful that Karen is fighting for the education and understanding.
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Thank you piglet and Karen for your replies. I’m sorry that you and others have to go through this too. My estranged daughter is my (our) only living child. Our first child had a genetic condition that from toddler stage onwards slowly took away all her abilities and left her like a rag doll. She died aged five. That I have now lost my only living child to a man who cannot and will not allow me in was more than I could cope with for a long while. I felt like I was going crazy (he made out that I was). BUT, somehow I continue to pick myself up and go on. I too am grateful that there are those in positions of ‘power’ who are working towards helping those who are suffering from the games that others play to gain control.
Absolute quality post Karen, seriously gets to the core issue. Understanding is unfortunately linked to common sense and that is most uncommon among so many in the children’s services and myriad agencies propping the family court debacle in UK. Years ago with my simple mind I formed the expression ‘greed and fear’ during a hearing.
Ultimately there is nothing else when all is stripped away, the controlling parent if bad will only stop parental alienation if they fear a transfer of residence, the controlling parent of bad and mad will not be able to stop and that either (very occasionally) leads to transfer or much worse damage to vulnerable children. Looking forward to your book, a real pleasure to read knowledge.
In a nutshell Vincent, transfer of residence which is also called protective separation, is the only thing which will save a child who is trapped by pure and severe alienation. A threat of a transfer weeds out the will nots from the cannots. Five decades of political ideology have prevented us from looking at the mental health of parents (mostly mothers) and has ensured that high functioning mentally unwell parents have power over their children when the family separates – but, I hasten to add, not all children’s refusal is about a mentally unwell mother and it is time that got through to some people too. Some children do reject because of what a parent has done (mother or father) and that remains an absolute fact whatever people like to squawk about it. Differentiation of justified rejection from alienation and then hybrid from pure is the only way to help the child and if we do that and then act upon that differentiation then what we get is swift outcomes that benefit children best. It won’t be long now before our book is out along with some public judgements and you can be sure that from that point on my voice on this subject is going to be louder than it has ever been because I have got a lot to shout about – unlike the ones who make their attempts to build their reputation off the back of trying to damage mine.
I do believe our situation is a hybrid one; however, I also think it’s driven by one parent being unwell. Had the alienating parent in our situation been able to share “power” and responsibilities after separation, and not used the child as a means of control and power, then the other parent’s responses would not have been so problematic. In other words, I see that both parents play a role, but one parent plays a bigger role. Transfer of residency under the current court conditions in our area would have done nothing (in fact, at one point the alienated child was briefly at our home refusing to go to his mother’s) without the unhealthy parent having some insight and willingness/ability to let go of the needs that drove her to want total power in the situation. So how are those situations dealt with? Perhaps this makes no sense, but it seems like there are “pure and severe” (one parent handles things well and the other is hell-bent on alienation regardless), “hybrid” (both parents play an equal role in the problem); and “Hybrid/pure” cases, where one unwell parent in set on power and control and the other parent responds in ways that don’t help). I truly think my husband meant to and wanted to have equal parenting with his ex-wife, but she had other plans. He reacted in ways that entrenched the problem, but he was not the problem in and of itself.
I don’t think I have ever said that rejected parents in hybrid cases are the problem, but they sure do contribute to the problem that the child faces and that is the problem if you like.
I think the reality of the equal parenting movement is that it fails to see how it drives parents into the trap of alienation but instead focuses on the belief that if parenting were equal alienation couldn’t happen – it could, it does and it always will. In some respects equal parenting, were it the statutory required norm would both prevent AND cause alientation – it would prevent it in cases where the parental behaviours are mischievous but not determined to drive out the other parent but it would escalate the behaviours in pure cases because in the drive to achieve power over, the unwell parent would simply use the child quicker and more maliciously. The problem with the idea of equal parenting is that alienating parents are supremely skilled at using the covert, intrapsychic messages that cause alignment and rejection. So if your husband thought he was going to be an equal parent and that triggered the reaction in the parent, she would have the child enmeshed already and would then step it up quickly to prevent any idea that anyone was going to be equal anything. The definitions you use in your comment are rough guides but in differentiation you have to break down the hybrid into many different sections in order to properly understand it because it is that understanding which allows you to get really close to the right treatment route. You are right though when you say that he was not the problem in and of itself, that exists outside of the rejected parent regardless of the category – differentiating is not about apportioning blame it is about designing treatment routes. This is why one cannot advise on alienation in a generic manner and why those who believe that advising therapy for children or for the rejected parent to change their behaviours or other ridiculous notions are wrong. I will be writing about how wrong some of these recommendations are in the coming months.
Thank you, that makes sense. As I look back on the situation, I try to figure out what we could have done differently, and there is a lot that I wish I had done better, and that he had done better – but in the end, without someone else involved, like a knowledgeable court or therapist, I don’t think we could have prevented this outcome of alienation. My husband tried giving in, giving her more power, letting her have more than “equal”, but nothing was ever right or good enough. And in the end, he could no longer live as a puppet to her control, it was damaging to him. I see how he put the child in the middle, and how I did, too – but I don’t know that anything would have changed where we are today with the resources and system we have available to us.
I am interested in the fact that you see a change in the alienating parent post transfer of residence and what kind of change you think that is. Part of this comes from supporting a teenager post transfer of residence to maintain a relationship with the alienating parent. The alienating parent keep trying to reassert their power and the only way to help this teenager was through pointing out the power dynamics and suggesting ways to be assertive and not give in to the power dynamic. However, although this in many ways frees the teenager from the yoke of power, in reality it also sets up a new power dynamic, where the roles are turned upside down, regardless of the intentions of the teenager. So although things are very different on the surface, nothing has really changed. The relationship is still framed around power dynamics, it is just that it is no longer quite so clear whether the alienating parent is asserting power or submitting to a perceived power. I came to conclude in the end that some people are only able to create relationships through patterns of power and submission, not through bilateral co-operation and that if you come across such an individual any effort you put into establishing a co-operative relationship will by them be re-framed into power and submission. Do you actually see any movement away from such a stance in the work that you do or is the change that you see really an expression of “I don’t hold the power so I will submit and be perceived to collaborate instead”?
P.S. Hope you are feeling better!
Thanks K, a couple of days in bed has helped me to feel better, sometimes the work I do is a combination of travel and concentration plus the germs from the children going back to school and it knocks me sideways.
Anyway onto your question. The pattern you describe is often seen in borderline personality in which the formation of the personality in the early teens has been undertaken in a problematic setting. We see this in trans generational patterns of estrangement in which the normalised family behaviours are to fall in and out of friendship and normal ability to deal with conflict is overridden by someone in the family who is using power and control approaches.
In our programmes it is easier to hold the power steady and ensure that the child is freed from the influence of the unwell parent for long enough to come out of the alienated state. The task is then to teach the child (as you are doing) resilience and understanding. It is not ideal because in order to help the child to become more resilient you have to use counter educative approaches, you have to teach the child about the parent’s psychological profile and why it is different other people. That in itself changes the power balance in the relationship with the child and perpetuates the reality that the child has to hold more awareness than most about adult issues. However, that has to be done to protect the child who risks going into that same behavioural pattern without that help. It is the least worst of all the options. The reality is (and I point this out the whole time I do this work) we cannot change a child’s parents, it is not our role to evict them but to help the child to cope as best they can until they are adults themselves. Anyone who is working with or supporting children through alienation absolutely has to accept that the parent is the parent and always will be, even if they die, because children don’t choose their parents, we cannot play god and evict them and the best we can do is assist the child to cope. If a parent is very unell and their thinking is very distorted I would definitely act to restrict the contact down to give the child a better chance but I would rarely if ever prevent a child from seeing a parent completely. The child has to be helped to cope and to understand. IN our programmes parents do change because they have to otherwise their relationship with their child is severely restricted. Outside of such programes I think it is more difficult for parents to change because their behaviour is more or less in their DNA, they cannot help it in many cases and those who can often do stop it when they no longer hold the power.
We had the same experience during a brief time period where my stepson decided he wanted to live with us at age 14. His father tried to help him relate differently to his mother but in the end, of course, she held all the power with him, he reverted to old dynamics, and this was the tipping point for him to become completely alienated from his father (while she successfully claimed in court that he was being alienated from her). It was impossible, and in retrospect, unfair to my stepson for us to put him in that position. Without someone having power over the parent who wants the power (ie, the court), I don’t see how it’s possible to change these dynamics – and it’s certainly not possible for a dependent child to do it.
Unfortunately, a major reason for why your stepson’s mother was able to succeed with her “cunning plan” was because (unless you both had prior knowledge and experience of how those with acute personality disorders operate) the average, relatively healthy, adult would have no clue of what was to come or how far the unwell parent would be prepared to go in order to hold onto control…..in their mind, their very life depends on retaining power, with little or no thought of the damage being done to the child either in the present or future. From what you say, at the time, you could not possibly have been aware of whether it was unfair to your stepson – for me the question is, would you both have preferred not to have tried at all? What message would that have sent to a 14 year-old?
Having long-since trodden this road, I agree with everything K and Karen say (above) and have distilled this dynamic down to “the out-of-control ego’s search for the approval of others and security within that often results in the ABSOLUTE need for power and control” – spun on its head, these people have, often, been reared on disapproval/insecurity and have deduced their behaviour is the best way to feel better about their lives.
At best, we’re talking sociopathy (often originating from childhood trauma) but, occasionally, some would argue psychopathy (where there is little hope of future change in the unhealthy parent’s behaviour)
Future opportunities will come your way and, when they do, what you’ve learnt will serve you both well
I think it would have been better for us to not have taken the matter back to court when he said he wanted to live with us. In the end, we put him through *another* brutal court battle in which he felt he had to lie about his father, and the result was her walking out with a judgment that said that she was the “superior” parent and that we tried to alienate him from his mother. He was completely alienated 3 months after that judgment was issued. Things were bad prior to that, but not that bad, and yes, we knew how far she would go to win and keep power (plenty of other time spent in court) – we just had too much faith in the court system. Court causes, IMO, far more damage to these kids than not having their father around does. He lied directly to the judge, in her chambers. We could have prevented that.
EHFAR-That is most interesting what you state.
“the average, relatively healthy, adult would have no clue of what was to come or how far the unwell parent would be prepared to go in order to hold onto control”.
I felt dumb that I was married and known the alienator for 20 years and did not know how mentally unhealthy the ex spouse was. I simply could not fathom what happened to me. It simply did not make any sense. During our marriage I doubted myself and there were other clues but it wasn’t until I was in search of my past to put the pieces of the puzzle together that I learned that the ex spouse was mentally unhealthy. Also reading on Karen’s posts gleaning and learning as much as I can. All that I do, I am still unable to turn the alienation. It seems like a hopeless situation. I had no clue how skilled and master at the game the ex spouse was. and the more I countered the more horrific the blows and relentless. No doubt my attempts to reach the children may make the situation worst than better. The children in the mid to late twenties are learning the unhealthy behaviors from the alienator. It is hard to watch unfold. There is much to read out there about mental illnesses, sociopathy, psychopathy, narcissists, and I am trying to understand but the content is so technical. I can glean some and I learn. I am no match to deal with such a mentally unhealthy person. I cannot do it alone. The children are still dependent on the unhealthy parent.
I wonder is there anything that can be done with a master alienator? If so how can that be done since the alienator got rid of me and want nothing to do with me. The alienator has not said one single word since the separation of day 1.
Twelve years and going almost thirteen is very hard…..
Reblogged this on Parental Alienation.
Do you believe that giving this information to the child and educating the child giving them an awareness of what’s happening to them while they are still being manipulated, used, and controlled by the alienating parent. I have sent some educational material on the subject to my daughter who is 15 and she seems to have responded pretty well to it. I’m not sure and never am though if he has coached her as to how to respond.
Please continue what you are doing so well. I feel you are the light of a candle in a world of darkness . You understand the ailianation problem like no body else I have met on this terrible road we have been on for over a year. I hope you can give us strength to find a way out of this termoil we have entered. thank you Iris
The tug of war
John was holding one end of the rope, and Judy the other.
John was losing, his heals dug into the soft ground, he was desperate.
Judy could see John’s determination to oppose her. The more John pulled and threatened and wept and riled the more self-righteous Judy became.
All John wanted was his children and an opportunity to carry on as normal, it wasn’t a lot to ask. He became embroiled in what was right and what was wrong. About the demarcation of life spent with either party.
The children clung to the rope for as long as they could fearful of their situation. Had they done something wrong? Had they miss-behaved?
At Judy’s anchor end was a wealth of indignation for the opposition. The legal system, the education and welfare departments all seemed to be weighing in.
John was losing his grip. He was in the minority. His mother was there, the trusty band of target parents and a few odd-balls, but they could not hold on for much longer.
The curtain came down, legal processes thwarted him, social services shunned and berated him, even his former friends seemed to take sides. All attempts to ameliorate had evaporated amid a comply and lose culture.
John had received endless advice on behaviour, that merely acted like slippery wax on his hands. It was not easy waiting for a rational response from Judy.
It was George, who was familiar with the “tug of war culture” who suggested John might let go of the rope entirely and instead concentrate on some more pressing issues. You won’t win by pulling on that rope, said George.
George was full of empathy, he recognised the desires and needs of all parties. With George’s help John planned a restoration process that was child focussed. He negated the use of a rope to settle disputes and began to build bridges. In spite of his anger and depression John began to restore a measure of family and community piece by piece constructing emotional and social bonds that would stand him in good stead. He lost his combative edge and gained a more confident insight. Slowly, John’s positivity and self-belief returned. He found himself needed, integrated and accepted. His life was not without mishap nor fault, but he was more confident and self-assured. What he said began to matter once more. He had accepted other people for who they were and what they said and found in turn that they listened to him.
He had started to play a new tune; he was in control not only of his own destiny but he had a say in his children’s future too.
Some let go of the rope and nothing changes. Fighting is not the answer, but letting go does not necessarily solve the problem. Letting go of the rope in our situation did not give my husband any “say in his children’s future”, it gave us total cut-off with zero hope of reuniting unless the child wakes up or the alienating parent decides she wants to allow it. I know you mean well, but your simplistic stories are very invalidating.
I find the stories a tad hard to follow. ……….. !
REAL people’s real life experiences are much easier to relate to.
Essentially, they are always full of the simplistic idea that the target parent can solve this problem by changing themselves, which in my experience is not true. Without court support or therapist support, someone intent on alienating is going to do it, no matter how much the target parent tries to twist themselves into a knot to stop it. In our case, nothing made a difference, except letting the alienated child go (and that only gave US peace, didn’t help the alienation any).
Cara this reply should come after your last post (14 hrs ago) but I can’t seem to put it there so will quote!
Quote: Essentially, they are always full of the simplistic idea that the target parent can solve this problem by changing themselves, which in my experience is not true. Without court support or therapist support, someone intent on alienating is going to do it, no matter how much the target parent tries to twist themselves into a knot to stop it. In our case, nothing made a difference, except letting the alienated child go (and that only gave US peace, didn’t help the alienation any).
I would completely agree with your statement: someone intent on alienating is going to do it, no matter how much the target parent tries to twist themselves into a knot to stop it.
My husband dipped his toe in, learned pretty quickly that he got responses from my daughter that made him feel good (very, very good) and from that realisation onwards, ramped it up until she lost all sight of any good in me and completely gave herself over to him. No matter what I said or did it was wrong. She became his substitute wife in all but the essentials, his best friend and the person he constantly told tales to about me. At sixteen when she went off to college he “jokingly” said “Oh Please don’t leave me on my own with your mother” and every time I stepped even minutely out of line or answered him back, he reported to her and told her what an awful person I was and how badly I was treating him. In the end she became his protector..
Long before I left them we’d all three go on holiday together and several times, for no reason whatsoever, they would go off without even telling me they were going or where they were going. He once left me open mouthed when they just vanished while I went to the loo (!!) and I’d no idea where he was. I waited until we were alone the next day to ask him WHY he’d (THEY) vanished in that way. He said “You had no right speaking to Marcel first, he’s my friend not yours”. It was so pathetic I couldn’t even think of a single thing to say.
The night before we’d arrived on the campsite (where there were lots of others we knew from various countries) I’d been cheerfully greeting everyone we knew including Marcel. I thought everything was just great. I was really happy. He was with me and acted totally normal but got me back the next day by vanishing for the afternoon with daughter. Before I left them both, I told him again about that particular incident and what he’d said at the time…… he told me “It’s all in your head. I can’t believe I would ever have done that and anyway, I haven’t a jealous bone in my body. You’ve made it up, you’re a fantasist”. What can anyone say to that!
My estranged and alienated daughter saw none of that and refuses to even think her father could have been anything but the perfect man she thinks he is and that I am the complete crazy, horrible woman that he made me out to be.
He was always saying if I changed my behaviour everything would be just fine but it seems to me, if he’d managed to change his behaviour (as example above) none of our mess would have happened. I once said that to a doctor (after my blood pressure shot through the roof and sent me as an emergency to hospital, through their alienating behaviour) and the doctor said “I’ve heard that one before.”
My husband and my daughter thought only in black and white. They were always right and I was always wrong. Of that there was no doubt whatsoever in their minds. I am much better off away from them both.
But it still saddens me for what we could have had. All three of us.
If only my husband of 46 years (the one I left 18 months ago, the one who took over our daughter and made her his partner and ally, who proudly boasted that they had no secrets from one another (secrets about me) could have heard what I’d been saying to him for 19 years. If only he could have heard my plea for him to let me in. But he couldn’t or wouldn’t. He had to have control. He had to wipe me out. He succeeded and I moved far away from both of them. My daughter lost to me probably for ever. For some reason known only to him he saw me as a threat; that’s the conclusion I came to – I suspect it was more about his self esteem, the way he saw himself, the way he basked in our daughter’s adoration of him because it made him feel good about himself (he simply preferred her to me and said it often in front of her while encouraging her to speak to me however she wanted to) and so he had to keep me in line. His black and white thinking and his emotional and verbal abuse (never in front of her of course – he was innocent) left me thinking I was going mad. I never wanted to be part of his games. We could have had it all. All three of us. But he simply could not share.
George was used to being told that he didn’t understand. He mused, this was often the case. How could he possibly understand, he wasn’t there, he didn’t bear witness. He hadn’t experienced so devastating a feeling. They weren’t his children.
He had spent nine years coping with a family dynamic in which he had to deal with two children in turmoil, tentatively crossing dandle bear bridge, sometimes being stranded on the other side. His former partner ticked all the boxes bar I that identified her as an alienator, at least if we are to believe Gardner’s classification.
With help he had had to pick himself up, educate himself, and make himself mentally strong enough to carry on his parenting role as best he could. During this time his business failed, his health suffered and all other potentially close relationships were shelved.
On the internet George found other people in similar situations. He found pressure groups trying to make life better for themselves through the legal/political process/protest. He realised that for many parents who had lost their children life wasn’t fair. He saw people throwing their last silver penny at the mercy of justice in the hope that a fair decision rubber stamped by the judiciary would be enough to put things right. He found that, just like a “ticking off” or a “penal sentence” was unlikely to cure the career burglar, so too the court was incapable of tackling a parent who was determined to rid their former partner of his/her right to continue parenting.
In fact, the courtroom proved to be crude and inadequate, simply punishing for trespass (e.g. Prohibitive steps order) rather than solving the emotional/psychological problem.
George had found a blog where he felt safe. Safe in the knowledge that in therapeutic style he had found someone who knew a great deal about the crux of the matter. There were power struggles, rogue influences, traps, and choices all of which made up the parenting dynamic. The children who were tossed about in a sea of parental turmoil.
George says that he is in no doubt that had he, the target parent, done things differently he too would have been in a similar situation to his friend John who doesn’t see his grown up daughter at all. This is why George is here; he thinks he has some answers which he wants to share. George knows John quite well having socialised with him over a number of years.
John hasn’t been parenting his daughter for a number of years. He knows where she is; he has seen her; she is an adult; and yet he does not appear to know how to connect to his daughter. He talks about the strong negative influence of his daughter’s mother (the alienator).
George realises that there are barriers between John and his estranged daughter in John’s psyche. John has become more and more detached from his daughter in his own mind. He is not trying to connect except in a superficial way. His worthiness to parent is low, he is frightened of what his Ex might do, he feels guilty and defeated, he is in denial.
Whilst George has a great deal of sympathy for John he suspects the attrition effect of prolonged absence from his daughter and conflict with his former partner has incapacitated John. These are all very much John’s (the target parent’s) problem of which solutions lie in changing behaviours and attitudes in himself. George would like to help him.
Julie (Mum) wouldn’t move interstate to Texas, “what’s the point”
She would say
Jack, who hadn’t seen his daughter for many years, said, “I’m here if she wants me”, “she knows where I am”
Karen said, about her son, “he chose to stay away”
Peter said, “there is no point, she is behaving just like her mother”
Festus said, about his son, “he has changed his name, he has disowned me, what can I do?”
Yusuf said, “I don’t want to know my son, he has rejected me, he only has eyes for his mother”
Kieran, fearful of his former partner’s new boyfriend said, “there is no way I am going anywhere near that place”
There was clearly a lot of work for people like George; so many lost children, so many disillusioned and disenfranchised parents.
Thank you for this!!! I’m in the US, but I’m just grateful people are dedicated to recognizing and informing people of this horrific form of child abuse.
I fought in court and won “family therapy” and I asked the therapist beforehand if she had experience with parental alienation. Ohhhh yes, she says.
No. no.. and no . She had zero clues of PA. And when that happens, it literally works to reinforce the PA and make the children feel even further justified for treating the target parent horribly.
There’s no hope in my case anymore.. everything that could have been done to do further inadvertent damage on top of the alienation has been done. However, I’m desperately committed to spreading the knowledge and getting this heinous act the recognition and attention it deserves to better protect parents and children in the future . Thank you for your work on this awful issue. Thank you so much !!
Chloegrace, I’m in the same boat as you with no hope of a reconciliation. My husband won. I never had experience of the court system since I only left my husband (and daughter) 19 months ago after she (aged 35) told me to get out of her life – after 19 years of trying to hang on in there, tread on eggshells and pick up crumbs. I had never heard of PA until I left them both and started searching the internet for answers. I too am so glad people who can make a difference are trying to do just that. I wish you all the best – from GB 🙂
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