I am about to take a break for a few days in order to recover my equilibrium. This is something that we do at the Clinic every twelve weeks or so. Running our programmes over a twelve week period means that we are often on call 24/7 as we work with children in residence transfer and beyond. At any one time we are delivering on several cases in which alienated children are at different stages of the recovery process.
Working with alienated children and their families is an exhausting job although it is also extremely rewarding too. It is draining at the outset, when we are working with the highest levels of tension brought about by the family court process, whilst being the people who provide the ballast that keeps the children stable whilst we do the work of assessment and intervention. Further down the road, when the children are being re-introduced to the previously aligned parent, we have to work hard to ensure that the child’s psychologically split self does not drive the child to counter reject that parent. Balancing the child’s psychology is our core goal. Preventing the ‘see-saw’ effect is how we achieve that.
The ‘see-saw’ effect is something which is observable in all children who emerge from alienation. When the child emerges spontaneously from alienation, often as an older teenager or adult, I call it the ping pong effect. The behaviour which is seen is curious in that the child is prompted by the stirrings of the guilt and shame they have buried, to reach out to a parent, only to quickly retreat as fast as they appeared. In spontaneous emergence I always tell parents to hang tight and not pursue the child, give a welcome but do not immediately leap upon the child when they appear in your lives. If you do you will push the child back into the place where the guilt and shame will become intolerable too quickly and they will bury the feelings and return to their hiding place of complete rejection. If you sit tight, almost ignoring them but not quite, they will come further towards you. The trick is to know that they have to deal with a lot of repressed feeling in order to properly reach you and you must let them. However much you love your children, you cannot resolve the split state of mind for them, however much you would take away your child’s pain in a heartbeat, it is their coping mechanism they are trying to overcome and they must be able to do it themselves in order to heal. You can help but you cannot do it for them and neither can you force it. If your child appears, making phone calls and then putting the phone down or ‘accidentally’ texting you only to disappear again, don’t bombard them just send them a hi, I’m here and I love you and wait. Waiting for a child to emerge is like fishing, you have to be patient, vigilent and know the signs. Ping pong behaviour is a clear sign that the child is struggling to emerge.
The see-saw effect in a child who has been reunited with a parent through intervention from court comes later down the line, after reunification, after the honeymoon of recovered love and after the search for forgiveness. The see-saw effect is one of the danger points for children who are being assisted therapeutically to emerge from alienation and it’s resolution gives way to the search for congruence which indicates that the cycle of recovery is almost complete. The see saw effect is a risk which occurs if the receiving parent (previously rejected parent) is unable to hold the child firmly in a non judgemental and accepting manner whilst the work of reconnecting the child to the previously aligned parent (alienating parent) is done. The see-saw effect messes with the child’s mind when their two parents are now, in their mind, held in a tense balance as the child attempts to work out who is right and who is wrong, until they come to the place where they recognise that neither is right OR wrong and both are right AND wrong.
This is not about teaching the child that the previously alienating parent is a bad parent and the receiving parent who was rejected is the good parent, it is about restoring the child to the normal psychological ability to hold ambivalent feelings about people. Learning that a parent has done bad things but is not a bad person, helps the child to heal the splitting. Learning to understand the bad behaviours and how to protect the self from them, is about building resilience in the child. Because lest we forget this fact – parental alienation is the result of the alienating behaviours in the parent plus the sensitivity in the child plus the third ingredient, this being the contributions positive and negative made by the the other parent.
The see saw effect then is the ability of the now primary caretaking parent, to allow the child the freedom to rebuild the relationship with the parent they have been moved from AND assist in building the resilience in the child. As we do that work we set the child in a new and balanced environment, in which their ability to hold perspective is gradually rebuilt.
When the child does not swing between one parent good, the other parent bad, we have reached the place of healing. To do that we have to dispense with the splitting in all aspects of the child’s life, including blaming others. As we go along, the balance is found and the child’s resilience is built giving them a stronger chance of resolving the splitting reaction for good.
As I go off on my break to balance my see-saw of energy and strength, I wish you all well. I will be writing more about the alienated child’s journey to recovery very soon.