I was asked a question recently about how one can recover as an alienated child. Clearly the person asking the question was beginning the process of working through the reasons why they, as a young adult, may think about the world in a different way to other people. In responding to the question, I found myself wandering the backstreets of the world of the alienated child again. A world which is dimly lit at best and at worst, is full of shadows and secrets and lies, to such an extent that reality based thinking is more or less impossible. It got me thinking, how does a child recover from the experience of psychological splitting and what is the psychological journey to full health that must be taken?
The process of psychological splitting, which is the strongest symptom of alienation, drives a child back into an infantile state of mind in which the world becomes divided into wholly good and wholly bad. This is not a natural state of being for anyone over the age of about two, when split thinking is resolved by the young child and integrative thought become possible.
Splitting or split thinking is a defence mechanism which is used by people who fail to be able to hold the positive and negative qualities of self and others as an integrated whole.
Splitting is central to there British school of object relations theory whose proponents were Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott, Harry Guntrip and Scott Stuart. Harry Fairbairn contributed his own formulation of object relations theory in the nineteen fifties.
According to Klein, we internalise the relationships we have with our parents as objects which serve as templates for all future relationships. We learn how to be parents, by being parented ourselves.
Which is why so many alienated children go on to become alienated parents. The internalisation of the template of one parent missing or rejected, being that which is carried forward by the alienated child who is unable to resolve the split state of mind. This is one of the counter intuitive realities of alienation and many people believe that the reverse is true, that alienated children will grow up to be alienating parents themselves. This is untrue. The biggest risk for alienated children is that when they become parents they will find themselves trapped in the internalised template of their childhood. Unaware that their minds were influenced by the alienating parent and that they suffered from split thinking, these children internalise the template of alignment to one parent and rejection of the other as being normal and mistake that pattern for being loved. In short, they literally believe that their fused alignment with the alienating parent is what love feels like and so, when they enter into relationships as adults, they seek out those who replicate that feeling internally for them. Which means they fall in love with alienators, controllers and those who seek to define their world for them. All of which leads to the trans-generational repetition of the trauma pattern of alienation as the now grown up alienated child finds himself the victim of alienation from his own children.
This is a trauma pattern which cannot be stopped unless the alienated child is able to come to consciousness of what has been done to his mind. The recovery task for the child being to first recognise that it is not normal to wholly and completely reject one parent and align to the other and it is not normal or healthy to go into adulthood believing that one parent is absolutely deficient, whilst the other is absolutely perfect.
In my response this week I considered how to best help the questioner in one easy interaction. It is not easy to help an alienated child to understand how the mind has been prepared for such distortions but it is always important to try. I told the child, (now an adult on the outside) to think about the world in the following way.
When you look outside and the sky is blue and grass is green and you know that all of your friends see exactly the same thing as you do, ask yourself this. Do your friends also completely reject one of their parents, refusing to see them, contemplate seeing them or even talk about them? What do your friends say about their parents, do they find them frustrating, annoying, likeable, friendly? When you were younger, what did the parent you feel love for feel about the parent you are currently rejecting? What were the messages you internalised about that parent, which were passed to you from the parent you think you feel love for? It is not normal for any child in the world to completely reject a parent. All children, even if they were abused, retain love in their hearts and minds for that parent. Only when a child is exposed to messages, either spoken or created by seeing the parent they live with upset and angry, are they driven to a place of absolute rejection. If you want to recover from alienation, do the thing that your internalised template is driving you not to do. Reach out and contact the parent you rejected. Only in doing that counter intuitive thing, can you make whole the divided self and repair the fractured mind. Do it today. Do not wait. Do not be afraid that you will be rejected, you won’t be, you cannot be. Your parent is your parent in every cell of their being, it is a biological imperative for them to be there when you reach out, for they were made to take care of you and completion of that drive is everything they were put on this earth to do.
As I spoke these words I watched the face of the questioner and knew that the dimly lit world was one in which they had struggled to survive for a very long time. Now free from the daily influence of the aligned parent, this young adult is now at university and is exposed to the wide ranging lived realities of her peer group. No longer in a place where her life must be compartmentalised in order to keep the peace with her mother and her mother at peace, she was beginning the journey that all alienated children take in recovery – self questioning from a state of mental and emotional confusion. It is only when that state of cognitive dissonance is reached (when the outer no longer matches the inner experience), that a child can begin the process of such recovery.
As alienation aware adults, it is imperative that those of us who know, send messages to children in the psychologically split state of mind which are clear and unambiguous. When we are educating others we must be as equally clear. The psychologically split state of mind is not healthy, it is not necessary and it can be repaired. Rejecting one parent and being completely aligned to the other is not a natural state of being, it is a defence mechanism which if allowed to continue, will cause the world of the child to be half lit and full of shadows. It will restrain the mind from full expression and it will curtail all possibilities for depth and breadth of thinking. Worse than that, leaving a young person in a split state of mind, risks them becoming alienated from their own children as they seek and find others to continue the controlling management of their thinking.
One of the saddest outcomes for alienated children in my view, is the feeling of comfort and familiarity that they find in making relationships with people who control them. Without the capacity to know any different, these children sink into adult relationships in which they do not need to be gaslighted because their world is already so dimly lit that they think being half blind is normal.
As alienation aware adults, we have a responsibility to not shy away from telling these children the truth about their lives. In doing so we do not need to bad mouth the parent they have been aligned to, all we have to do is make it clear that it is not a normal state of being to believe that one parent is perfect and the other is wholly bad. That kind of message making can take may forms but it should be central to our education and interaction with others who work with young people at all times.
How to recover as an alienated child? Recognise first that healthy people do not reject one parent and align themselves to the other. Healthy people do not come to believe that one parent is so bad that they must be decanted into the rubbish bin of history for all time. Loving and loathing a parent is normal, finding a parent irritating, is normal. Believing that you are entitled to dispense with a parent however is not. In your half lit world it may feel right, in a world lit with full spectrum lighting, you would be able to see how ridiculous it actually is. Which is why your world is so dimly lit. That way you cannot see the reality of what has happened to you.
Turn up the lighting, get help to do so. When you do the defence mechanism you are using will be no longer necessary and the energy you are suppressing along with the love will return to you. There is a reason you feel half alive. It is because you have attempted to kill off one side of yourself to keep the other side (the parent you feel that you love), in a state of peace and contentment. You do not need to do that anymore. This is your life not theirs. You can be wholly and completely alive when you switch on the lights.
All it takes is a phone call. One hello. One reconnection of the wiring and you are good to go.
This article is written for alienated children all over the world but especially for those who are in the age group 16 – 30 when the questioning of the self and the sensation of being half alive is strongest. It is written particularly for children who have asked me questions, all of whom have shown that their world is not as complete as they believe it to be. It is written with love and with tenderness and with the absolute knowledge that psychological splitting is as harmful to an adult child as it is in childhood. It is written with the hope that any adult child who is reading this might understand that their own life is the most precious thing of all and that living for the self, through repairing the damage done in childhood, is key to emotional and psychological freedom.
This is not about your parents, it is about you and your relationship with the parent you have rejected is the key to lighting up the whole of your internal world. It doesn’t mean pleasing your parent or giving in to them, it doesn’t mean you even have to like your parent. This is about letting the half alive self heal, so that in your internal world, you are in relationship to all of the people in your life who were present on the day you were born. It is about releasing the energy you are using to keep the door to that other side shut, so that you can be free to be the whole of who you are.
Let it go. Open the door. You have nothing to lose but your captured mindset and more to gain than you could ever dream possible.
This is not about your parents, it is all about you.
I am a great believer in synchronicity, meaningful co-incidences happen all of the time. Today, just after I posted this blog, this arrived from a producer we have been talking to about helping parents and adult children reconnect. If you are an adult child who is thinking about reconnecting, this project could help you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. I am working on this project and can give you some more information.