I continue to work with children in recovery from parental alienation, this is the bulk of my current work and as such it puts me in prime position to understand at the most fundamental levels, the harm that parental alienation does. Close examination of how children recover from alienation is the subject of my doctoral research which, now that our book is being readied for publication (looks like end July folks), I can now spend more time on.
This week I heard the hurt of a child who has been harmed by the psychological splitting that comes with parental alienation. It was a visceral experience which took me straight to the core of the problem caused for children by parents and other adults who cause a child to reject a loved parent. Overwhelming guilt and shame and the utter bewilderment that comes when a child blames themselves first. Because being in a position of utter vulnerability in relationship to adults, it is all too easy for a child to assume that if something is wrong, they must have caused it.
My confrontation with the harm that parental alienation causes to a child, made me realise that, parental alienation causes similar damage to that which is caused when a child is sexually abused. It is a primal wound against the child’s sense of sovereignty over their own selves and soul. A child who has been alienated against a parent, feels guilt and shame for having been made to take part in acts of hatred against a loved parent, so much so that the feelings impact in a physical as well as emotional, mental and psychological way. The distortion of the child’s experience, in which they are aware that what they are doing is hurting the other parent but in which they are pushed to bury those normalising feelings of guilt and shame for having done so, by the parent causing the splitting reaction, causes deep wounds which take time to recover from. Trusting others after being alienated is something that many children appear to be unable to achieve.
When a child is sexually abused their sense of violation of the boundary of their self and soul is total. When a child is caused to reject a parent either by covert or overt means, the violation of the child’s right to unconscious love of a parent is equally complete. Worse than that, the child’s sense that the world is a benign place in which they are loved and protected, is destroyed forever. A child who has been alienated, who has been caused to participate in a campaign of denigration and harm towards a loved parent, can never return to the complete unconscious sense of the world as being wholly in their favour. Far too soon, a child who is alienated is made aware of the world as a troubled and troubling experience and the deliberate removal of all of the tomorrows a child can never now live in unconscious peace is a strike against their very existence.
A child enters the world in complete innocence and the right to this is and the sovereignty of the self is, in my view, the responsibility of adults to protect. This is our primary role as parents, to ensure that the child grows in such a way that their awareness of the troubles of the world develops age appropriately and in shades as they grow to maturity. We cannot protect children forever, we know that and the older a child becomes the more they become aware through their own felt sense, that the world is not the fairy land they once believed it to be. This is called coming to consciousness and in doing so at the right pace, in the right time, the child emerges into young adulthood with a sense of self and the strength to survive the challenges life brings. Those who transgress this right to an emerging consciousness, by harming a child for their own ends, are taking away not only the child’s rights today but they are harming all of their tomorrows as well. This is an act of extreme aggression against a child in my view and one which is harmful like no other.
Who would want to tear open the cocoon of security and safety in which a child lives? Those who were harmed themselves in childhood perhaps, for whom the sight and experience of the unconscious child triggers rage and fury. Those whose own unresolved issues mean that their child becomes the salve to the supperating wound. And those for whom children are simply an extension of themselves, those without boundaries, whose sense of self did not develop and who therefore are unable to assist another human being to achieve what they did not achieve. All of these psychological profiles drive people to destroy a child’s right to safety and peace. All of these psychological profiles are seen in alienating parents.
The deliberate deprivation of a child of a once loved parent is a harmful act which removes the child’s right to sovereignty. It is child abuse. The unconscious alienation of a child by an unwell parent who is attempting to resolve childhood issues through the use of their own child, is a harmful act which removes the child’s right to sovereignty. It is child abuse. And abuse is something which children must be protected from without question.
This child whose voice I listened to this week shows me that the harm that has been done is deep and it is lasting. It produces tasks for the child which do not belong in the world of childhood and it demands of the parent who now cares for this child, the strongest, deepest and most consistent love possible.
For where is the floor if the feet have been bound? And where is the ceiling if the head has been harmed? The sense of the world as safe and predictable is gone so the child has to learn how to walk through a door which has been opened too soon.
Hurting the heart of a child takes away all those tomorrows and demands that they throw up defences. As I roll up the barbed wire for this child and take up my post in the watchtower, I am protecting the still living child inside the persona which was built in the face of the abuse which was suffered. I am guarding the child so that the defences don’t have to. This way the layers of the child’s developing self do not harden like shells and the chance of authenticity grows as the alienation recedes.
None of this should be necessary. But it is. All of this should be understood more widely. But it is not.
As I sit in my watchtower I scan the landscape for help. I can see it coming, over the horizon. One day tomorrow will not seem so impossible for this child. One day, more will come to help those children coming after.
Until then, I will be on guard.