This week finds me focused on the experience of growing up in an alienating environment and the ways in which children are prepared for the kind of mind bending and brain washing behaviours which are seen in alienation. Keeping in mind that parental alienation is the result of three things – a) the alienating strategies of one parent b) the responses of the other and c) the resilience or vulnerability of the child, thinking about the ways in which resilience in children is undermined and how vulnerability is often created in the child almost before birth, it is easy to see that in some of these families, the very conditions that lead to children being alienated from one parent are simply part of their lives and normalised. In short, they don’t know any different and, it would seem, neither do their alienating parents. This is the generational procession of emotional and psychological dysfunction, it is a real and present danger for many children.
In today’s post I am outlining the core features of one group of alienating parents and the families they create around them. There are others of course but this is one distinct group I am focusing upon. This is the parent who creates a world without windows and a home without doors for their children and as we will see, this particular way of being in the world causes children to be dependent, anxious and subconsciously aware of what the unspoken rules are in the household. Much is done covertly in this family set up. You may recognise some of the behaviours, which are used to manipulate children and others into following the internalised narrative this parent is seeking to maintain.
In this family situation the children grow up in a world without windows. This means that they do not look outwards from their family to learn about the world and other people but grow up looking only inwards towards the leader of the family whose needs must be met first. This leader does not know how to look outwards having grown up in a family where the outside world is considered to be dangerous and other people are treated with suspicion. In these families the very word family takes on new meaning, it is held as being the only thing which is protective and the only way to survive the challenges of living in the outside world. Family becomes a byword for a way of life many people would find suffocating, where the only wisdom relied upon is that which is provided by one’s own parents who often play an overly prominent role in every aspect of family life.
In fact it is often difficult in such families to detect who is the parent and who is the child or who is the grandparent and who is the parent. This is the concept of growing up without doors, because in these families, the attachment hierarchy and in fact any hierarchy other than the dominant demand that the leader’s needs are met first, are often missing. In reality, the dominant demand of the leader’s needs is obscured by the way in which the family members oscillate around the leader who will often play the role of victim so that they do not appear to be a leader at all but instead a needy survivor of a cruel childhood. In this world without doors, information is passed back and forth about all manner of things which would not normally be shared across the generational lines. Thus children will simply know too much but will feel that in knowing that they belong and will thus enjoy the feeling of inclusion this brings. This world without doors, in which children are party to the doings of others, including those whose worlds should be private and not accessible to children at all, renders children vulnerable to manipulation.
Children who grow up without boundaries between the generations (worlds without doors) are easily manipulated into becoming their parent’s carer, in fact in many of these households it is absolutely expected that this is their destiny. Many children in these circumstances grow up expecting to take care of their parent’s needs before their own and this is so much a normal part of existence that it is never questioned. These children are born and raised ready for the emotional manipulation of being alienated from anyone who steps out of line in the family. Shunning in these families is a strong feature and is used to great effect. Children who see others shunned and removed from the warm inclusiveness of the inner circle are anxious to never be condemned to that fate.
So the children in the world without windows and the house without doors are primed for the experience of alienation in that their very being is controlled by the needs of another. This other is usually a parent or grandparent who are themselves playing out a script in which their manipulation of others has been handed down by the ghosts of generations past. Because this behaviour is simply normalised it becomes such a dominant force that resisting it becomes difficult. When parents tell me they became aware that all was not well whilst the family was together because the children were overly involved by a parent in every aspect of life, and when a parent is hounded out of the family through the combined expectation of the members of the other side of the family, I know that this is a trans-generational haunting pattern in play.
The world without windows and the house without doors combination is a powerful one and in itself it prepares a child for being alienated. When the crisis of family separation happens therefore, the child is already vulnerable through being created in the very furnace of vulnerability which renders them manipulable by others. In such circumstances the targeted parent stands little chance when the alienating parent escalates their behaviours, which they will under duress. This is the binding of the children around the victim or the circling of the wagons which is often seen in families where alienation occurs.
As such the children in such alienation situations are entirely unconscious of their experience of being manipulated because they consider the behaviours to be normal. What is more the behaviours are reinforced by others in the family so that they are unaware that the outside world sees things differently. The alienating parent in these circumstances presents as being entirely kind loving and deeply caring, whilst being busy sharing as much information as possible with their children. This is done in order to ensure that the boundaries which would normally protect children from emotional and psychological harm, are not erected by the targeted parent. Keeping the home without doors is a critical element of keeping the children bound to the victim, which in turn protects the victim from having to face the howling void which looms just beyond their conscious mind.
Such families are, on the outside at least, circles of cosy love, so far removed from the image of the abusive parent that it is inconceivable that such inclusive warmth could be considered harmful. Even to professionals such warmth and closeness is difficult to see as abusive. It is only the whisper of suffocation which warns of the problems within the world without windows and the insistence that the one big happy family in the house without doors is all that a child needs.
When I am confronted by such families the first thing I want to do is to find and open the windows and let the light and the air in and then to hang doors in the gaps where the boundaries should be. When I encounter resistance to that, I know that it is time to go deeper within. Finding and helping the children in such circumstances is never easy because by the time we reach them, if we cut them in half we would find that the vulnerability to manipulation is woven right through the fabric of who they have grown to be.
But that doesn’t mean that we should not intervene, we can and we do. Just as the Amish build homes collectively, putting in windows and hanging the doors in the world of the alienated child, is the job of skilled psychotherapists working alongside healthy targeted parents.
And when we do the light gets in and the children are protected from being involved in matters that do not concern them. Which allows them to be children in their rightful place in the family line instead of compensatory characters for the harm their parent suffered as a child.
Which means the generational legacy is no longer handed forward into the future and the risk of alienation stops.
Vulnerability to alienation is in the mind of the alienated child who has been harmed and who deserves to be rescued.
And alienated children deserve to be rescued from the fate which awaits them should they be left without help, however warm and cosy they look in their world without windows and their home without doors.