I am currently working on a series of pieces for parents which are focused on how to remain sane as an alienated parent. In doing so I find myself back down the rabbit hole where the world is upside down and back to front. There is a reason why those of us who do this work stress over and over again that it is counter intuitive, it is because everything in this world that one encounters, has to be analysed by turning it 180 degrees to properly understand it. Helping parents to recognise this is one way that we help them to stay sane. Helping them to learn how to survive in this world is another.
Let me give you an example. In assessing families affected by PA, most practitioners find their eye drawn to the rejected parent. Common sense, (everything they have learned so far about the world that they work in), tells them that if a child says they do not want to see a parent, that is because that parent has done something to cause that.
Unaware PA practitioners will set out to work with such a family and find themselves faced with particular dynamics. A fixed and determined aligned parent and fixed and determined children. The rejected parent on the other hand is not fixed and is responsive. The practitioner is drawn to the idea of fixing the flexibly parent to please the fixed and determined alliance which refuses to bend or change.
Here is another example. Social workers, who are trained to follow the requirement to uphold article 12 of the United Nations Rights of the Child, will slavishly follow this requirement and be completely unable to bend their mind to the notion that a severely alienated child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings (those which are tested by setting them against the conditions in which they arise) are not their own thoughts and feelings and should therefore not be routinely sought or relied upon. These social workers, who hold disproportionate power in public law settings in the UK, are working 180 degrees away from the angle which protects alienated children and as such are contributing to the harm which is done when children are left in such situations. And yet there is little (at the moment), done to address this systemic harm.
How on earth, as an aware parent or practitioner, does one ever survive in such a world? A world where children are being systematically stripped of their sovereign rights to an unconscious experience of childhood which is safely contained by relationships with both parents which are healthy and whole. Well, I guess one either goes mad with the inability to tolerate such cognitive dissonance, or one learns how to survive and even how to thrive and one pushes on with the truth based reality to keep the knowledge base growing and the issue coming up to the consciousness of the wider world.
Here is how to survive in the upside down and back to front world of parental alienation. Ten easy steps to keep you sane.
- Recognise that this is an issue which is going to require some continued work and dedication to bring to the consciousness of the wider world – there is no easy fix and no magic wand but we are aiming for the time when there is universal recognition that psychological splitting and unjustified complete rejection by a child of a once loved parent is not normal and it is not healthy. (Keep saying it, when you say it often enough it makes absolute sense).
- Recognise that the systems we work in, the family courts and social services, are fertile ground for the unwell parent to be in. Unaware people who tangle with unwell alienating parents, feed and nurture the delusional state of mind. Observe this, do not become mired in it.
- Understand your own situation as closely and as carefully as you possibly can WITHOUT becoming an arm chair psychologist or psychiatrist. Know what you suspect, find confirmation of that where you can, but do not go down the route of proclaiming that everyone who is alienating is a narcissist or has BPD, it will come back to bite you because it is untrue. A large number of cases of parental alienation do not involve a parent with a personality disorder. Children become alienated for many reasons, a parent with a PD is not the only one.
- Know where the lines of expertise are drawn. You would not expect a nurse to perform open heart surgery, do not expect, for example, an independent social worker to treat a personality disordered parent. In fact don’t expect anyone to work with a personality disordered parent other than someone skilled in doing so, like a dialectical behaviour therapist.
- Know the court process and know that it is not a place where you can expect the judge to deliver an outcome for your child without you presenting the case properly, fully and consistently.
- Keep eating, keep sleeping, keep exercising, drink lots of water.
- Know that not everyone can see what you can see, in fact know that most people see the opposite of what you can see.
- To understand the alienator, listen to what they are saying about you, it is a projection of what is going on for them. They are hanging on you what they cannot see in themselves. Guard your own projections by knowing your own self intimately and honestly.
- Understand that the court process is a process, it is not a one off event. You must learn your counter intuitive strategy for court and present it effectively and carefully, each and every time.
- Think carefully, choose wisely, question everything and everyone, ask for recommendations and testimonials from the people you select to help you. Be wise, be discerning, keep believing in you.
I take all of the above advice as a fully mixed tincture once or twice daily. I do so because as a practitioner working in this field, I am subjected not only to the machinations of the unwell parents I am working with, but the rumination of those I am not. I live in the world of the alienated parent and at times even I have to say enough, I need a break from this. As alienated parents who cannot get a break from it I urge you to follow the guidelines above and take the tincture at least once a day to avoid the insanity which comes from trying to survive in this world.
It is a topsy turvy world. It is not you, it IS them and there are many of them.
One day we will look back and wonder just how we let all of this happen. From the increase in the divorce rate in the seventies to the political ideology of the women’s rights movement, to the schisms and divisions in the mental health response to children’s maladaptive responses to post separation parenting. One day we will recognise that getting it wrong involved allowing this horrible issue to be treated too often as a he said/she said situation.
I look towards a world where the right of children to an unconscious childhood is protected by the way in which we properly serve their parents through the drama of divorce and separation. Where the problems of unwell parents binding children into the split state of mind is recognised as the abuse that it is and where the conflicted space around a child is more readily cleaned up by the practitioners who work in the post separation landscape.
For too long there has been too much focus on parental rights, too much trying to fix one parent to please the other, too little interest in the right of the child to an unconscious experience of childhood.
A child who says I won’t, I can’t, I hate or I refuse to is not experiencing an unconscious childhood but is being drawn into the adult dynamics around them. One day (and I don’t think it will be too long into the future), those distress signals will be heard and recognised for what they really are. A child in danger and a child at risk of harm. A child shouting ‘help me’ in the only language they have to tell the outside world that something is very very wrong.
They are shouting now, but in the upside down and back to front world we are working in, not enough people can hear them.
Those who can need to pass this message on.