Alienating parents are people not monsters. As such they are human with all of those failings which come with that reality. Understanding alienating parents is what I have been doing for many years, working with the impact of their behaviours on their children, is something I have done for almost a decade now.
What I know about parental alienation is that it is a state of being which is underpinned by fear. When I meet alienating parents what I notice most of all is that they are uncomfortable in their state of fear. Ruffling the feathers of the alienating parent is what I know I have to do in order to shift and change the dynamic which captures the child, who is locked in fascination by the power of the alienating parent. Doing so means that I draw the negative transference, which is that wave of behaviour which would normally be directed at the rejected parent but which is turned upon me as I begin to intervene.
Anyone who does this work directly with children and families knows that in order to rescue the child, the mental health and legal interlock which causes the dynamic change for the child, must be dealt with first. In the UK it is impossible to achieve any kind of change for the child without robust intervention. In setting up the pieces on the chess board therefore, what we must do as practitioners is recognise that our moves must be one step ahead of the alienating parent in order to achieve the change we need. Working with teams of others, many of whom have absolutely no idea what is going on under the surface, one has to keep in mind that the work that can be done is only as a strong as the weakest link around the child. Break that chain and the dynamic will not change. Hold the tension and the child will take the step towards the rejected parent which is based upon the trust that the practitioner can hold the splitting for long enough to allow the buried feelings emerge. Anyone who does this work recognises the necessity for this dynamic to be set in motion. Failure to do so incurs the wrath of the alienating parent and all the attendant rage which comes with that.
Children are powerless in the grip of an alienating parent. Powerless because every fibre of their being depends upon that person for survival. Much like the crowds who gather around the guru, or the people who believe that the emperor has a brand new suit of clothes, children who are alienated are helpless and fascinated by power. The more the power is displayed in the form of rage and vengeful attack, the more the children cling and clamour. Assisting children to escape from this brainwashed state of mind is a tricky endeavour.
Children who are alienated are led to believe that the parent they are clinging to is perfect. This parent becomes the idealised and adored parent who can do no wrong whatsoever. The other parent becomes the demonised and rejected parent, the one who does everything wrong and who, in doing so, is the recipient of blame by the children, simply for being.
Working with children in this setting is difficult but it is not impossible. What one does when one is confronted with a child in this split state of mind is listen not to the words of the child but the actions. The words are the expressions of the rage and vengeance from the narcissistically wounded parent, the actions are the expression of the real child beneath who is hurting and harmed.
Get close to this child and give another perspective and expect the wrath of god to descend. Unadulterated this rage is poured with scorn which is intended to scald and scour the truth that there are always two or more sides to any story or experience from the face of the earth. The closer one gets the louder the roar of the alienating parent. Standing in the face of this is not much fun, but it is not impossible either because the reality is that the rage does not really belong to the object it is being projected at but somewhere else entirely. Which means that not taking it personally becomes an art form easily perfected.
Unlike some I do not hold alienating parents in contempt or project hatred at them, I do not rage and vent and howl into the void. What I do instead is listen, observe, watch carefully and gather information about the cause of the rage and the depth of the well of loneliness it comes from. Because there is the truth of what can be done, there is the place where the healing can begin. There is the work that is necessary.
Not in all cases I grant you. In some cases we must immediately rescue the child and protect them from the extreme level of harm they are suffering. In others we must construct other pathways to help the child escape. In all situations we are working with the child first and everyone else second. For it is the child whose wellbeing we must be mostly concerned about – child first, adults second, healthy parenting always our goal.
When I watch alienated children in the fascinated gaze of their powerful parent I know that they know I am there and I know that they know that I know the trouble they are in. I also know that they know that if I cannot get them free completely from the bind they are in, their fate will be sealed by that failure.
When the alienating parent roars with rage I know that the cloak that they wear hides the fear of exposure. For behind the curtain of most alienating parents are small men and women projecting pictures onto a big screen to make others believe in a truth which doesn’t exist.
Understanding these people and the human problems they suffer, is that thing which I do for much of my time in this field. Helping the children they bind into the webs of untruths and projections they spin is the other.
And compassion and empathy, understanding and humanity is that which allows me to keep on knowing that what we are doing is right, because it is grounded in truth and reality.
That and the children once in love with their captors, now free and alive and their parents whose hearts are now mended.
Under the cloak, alienation is a problem with a human face.
And being human in the face of it all.