Another year rolls towards its ending, this time for me, with bump as I find myself caring for our grandson after my daughter’s emergency appendix removal. When crisis strikes like this, everything else is stripped away and all that is left in life are the relationships between us. Whilst I have experienced some tragic events in my life, being able to be in strong and healthy relationship with the family I have left, is an important reality for me. Flying back from central Europe this weekend to help out with my family, I gave thanks for the enduring nature of the healthy bonds in my life. Working with alienation shows me daily the destructive power of this phenomenon within a family.
This year we have reunited more children with the parent they were rejecting and have been able to further refine our understanding of how children are affected by an alienation reaction. Working primarily from the perspective of the child’s need for healthy psychological and emotional relationships with their parents and wider family, our differentiation route assists us to determine how we should intervene in a case. As such our work is not about parental rights but about the mental, emotional and psychological health of the child. Moving the issue of parental alienation away from the arguments about parental rights, has been, for the UK, an important priority. For too long the issue of parental alienation has been a ball which has been tossed between the parental rights lobby groups, which has clouded the reality of the issue and meant that the understanding of the long lasting damaging impact of alienation on a child has been overlooked. Bringing the issue out of the parental rights fight and into the arena of mental health is something we will continue to concentrate upon in the year ahead.
Children are affected by parental alienation at the deepest level of their being. Studies showing that adverse childhood experiences, such as the attachment disruption which occurs in alienation, have been released this year. These studies show that an adverse life experience for a child, such as the loss of a relationship with a key attachment figure, will create changes which change the child’s ability to resist stress and illness. Worse still, these changes are epigenetic, which means that they will be passed down to the next generation through genetic change. Trans generational trauma is the reality for alienated children, many of whom are destined to become alienated from their own children as the broken parenting template they are internalising, leads them to repeat that pattern with devastating effect on their relationships with their own children in later life.
Working from a core focus on children means that we do not get involved in parental rights campaigns. For us, the issue about parenting and alienation is not about rights it is about health – who is healthy and who is not. Watching some of the arguments, especially those in which alienating parents are denigrated, labelled and dehumanised, it is easy to see how children in such circumstances become completely entrenched in their use of psychological splitting. If an alienating parent, who is usually psychologically unwell, is demonised by the other parent, what route out of this particular hell is there for the child, who is destined in their lifetime, to have to find a way of resolving a way of relating to the unhealthy parent if they are to resolve the splitting reaction. As practitioners, our role is to help the child to resolve the psychological splitting in order to protect them in their own adult relationships and especially their own experience of parenting. We cannot do that if we spend our time labelling and characterising alienating parents and recreating the psychological splitting reaction by encouraging hatred, fear and loathing of them in the healthy parent.
Parental alienation, attachment based or whatever it is called and however it is diagnosed, is a tragic consequence of dynamics which are often present in a relationship before the break up and which escalate out of control as the unhealthy parent gains and maintains control over the child. Helping children who are hostage to this nightmare is about rectifying the power and control dynamic, assessing and flagging where unhealthy parenting patterns are in place and then supporting the healthy parent to provide the foundation for recovery that the child needs. That parent has to be willing and able to go the extra mile for their child, including, when the time comes, supporting the restoration of the relationship with the previously alienating parent, a tough ask, the response to which confirms the health of that parent in their ability to put their children’s needs before their own feelings. Supporting rejected parents for us, means educating them, reassuring them, encouraging them and demanding that they give of their highest capacity of unconditional love. I have yet to meet a parent in these circumstances who has balked at the task.
Parental alienation is a problem with a human face not one which is rooted in legislation and even if perfection were achieved in legislation and diagnostic approaches, unwell parents would still exist and would still cause chaos. Finding enough people willing to do this work with families is already a tall order, seeing the attacks on practitioners and experts makes me fear that this shortage will be exacerbated by the idea that somehow practitioners who are not doing it the ‘right’ way are somehow in cahoots with the alienating parent. It doesn’t help anyone, especially the children who suffer so badly.
Being an expert in this field is no walk in the park and believe me, I could think of a thousand other things I would rather be doing than this. I happen to be good at this however and therefore, in the light of the absolute dearth of understanding and practice in the field in the UK, this is what I ended up doing. It isn’t a breeze, not by a long chalk and it involves being under constant bombardment from hostile parents who do not like what we are doing and sometimes as well, hostility from others, including legal teams in the court process. Getting it right for children in these circumstances is about being able to survive the hostility whilst doing the best we possibly can. In order to achieve this we have to be tough enough to undertake assessment, write our reports and defend them in cross examination and then go in to carry out the intervention, all the while drawing the negative transference from all around. All of which demands of us the best we can give, none of which requires us to demonise, dismiss or demolish the child’s relationship with the alienating parent but to prepare and support a careful testing of the child’s ability to withstand a reintroduction to that parent when the alienation reaction has lifted. This is long term psychotherapeutically based work at the outer edges of relationship within the family in crisis, it is nothing whatsoever to do with the rights of parents and everything to do with healing the family dynamic at the deepest levels. Working from a focus on the wellbeing of the child means that parental health not rights are our only concern because it is that which we use as a platform for dynamic change for the child.
I work daily with alienated children, I understand the psychological splitting reaction and how it helps them to resolve an impossible dilemma. Because of that I have the deepest compassion for the children involved because it is their health and their future which is being compromised by the lack of action on their behalf by family services and by the family court system. Whilst this is changing, it is changing far too slowly to prevent children’s right to an unconscious childhood and their right to have their own future parenting role protected. Educating the workforce to understand an alienated child’s voice is my focus in the coming year as I move onto writing about children’s experiences of alienation through interviews with recovered children aged between 9 and 16. In partnership with a leading Clinical Psychologist in the field of parenting, I will also be writing a manual and training for building children’s resilience, this is another core interest for me and it is one which I will be focusing upon in the coming year. Children need us to do this work, they need us to teach people how to stop asking them what their wishes and feelings are and to take responsibility for analysing the child’s reactions and responses in alienation. Far too many children are being tormented by the routine seeking of their wishes and feelings which are, in alienation situations, simply the repetition of the unwell parent’s feelings and beliefs. This is an impossible situation for a child who can only, in such circumstances, repeat the words they have heard and the intentions which are conveyed as a felt sense in the intrapsychic world. This is abusive to children and it is my goal to both stop it and provide an alternative approach to understanding children in these circumstances within the coming months and years.
As we move towards the end of the year we are starting to look ahead to 2017 and beyond and the work we will be doing globally on the issue of parental alienation. As our book is published by Charles C Thomas, a US publisher, we will be working in the US more as well as Europe and our focus will move beyond the UK border into an international perspective. With the wealth of information gathered in clinical practice in the UK we are able to produce the evidence of the interventions we have had success with and contribute to the wider debate on the issue. We are also able to contribute to the Parental Alienation Studies Group (PASG) and help to shape the future of work with families affected by alienation everywhere through doing so. Many colleagues are involved in this work and it has been a great relief to link with those like minded people this year. Moving more fully into this connection is one of our clearest goals for the coming year.
As we move into the shortest day in the UK the light is fading fast and the darkest time of the year is upon us. For so many families affected by alienation this is also, emotionally and psychologically the darkest time of all. Whether the outer matches the inner as it does in the UK or whether your Christmas is accompanied by bright lights and heat, finding your way through these days is the critical task. As your child’s healthy parent, your focus has to be on staying alive and staying strong because without you, your child’s suffering will be increased and their ability to recover health and perspective will be hugely compromised. Hard though it is to be the one that the child has ‘chosen’ to reject, the reality is that it is you and not the other parent because you are seen by the child as being able to cope with that. Alternatively, the child is so trapped in the here and now by the power of the alienating parent that it is simply impossible for them to do anything other than reject you in order to stay safe themselves. Children are incredibly vulnerable, they are utterly dependent on adults and they cannot determine for themselves, a route out of the captured state of being they suffer. They need you to know that and they need you to survive it, I know this from the work that I do with them and from the things that they tell me and from the changes that they go through when they are liberated and free to reconnect.
Your children need you. Your children love you. Your children would, if they could, be with you. If they could say it in words they would tell you they love you. Therefore, as their healthy parent you must stay safe for your children, stay strong and be kind to yourself. This too will pass and when it does the love that you share will be there in your life again.
From all of us at the Family Separation Clinic, be safe and stay well.
Until 2017, with love x
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