The Place Where the Green Grasses Grow

I work with alienated children of all ages and have done so for a long time now.  I know the landscape in which alienated children live very well.  What I have come to know about alienated children is that whilst every child who rejects a parent is very different and every entry into the alienation reaction is unique to each child, the behaviours displayed by alienated children are exactly the same.   Each child (and I mean adult children too), believes entirely in their own subjective experience and finds it near impossible to countenance any other view point. In addition, each child utilises a range of behavioural responses to prove to the outside world that their internally constructed sense of a parent is correct.

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What these children are doing, is attempting to align the outside world with the feelings about a parent which have been inculcated through a period of time in which the child’s emotional and psychological integrity has been challenged.  In simple terms, the alienated child is one who has used a coping mechanism of dividing the world into good and bad, in order to make the outside world align with the feelings which have been forced upon them during the changes which come with family separation.

When I work with families affected by parental alienation, it is the children I am most concerned for because it is they who carry the unresolved burdens of the past.

For all alienated children this Christmas time, especially those who know deep down inside that there is a place where the green grasses grow, here is a story.

Once upon a time there was a family which lived happily in the woods.  One day, a wicked witch came and sprinkled poison dust on the family which made the grown ups turn into horrible demons who hated each other.  Suddenly, the children, who had lived in a happy little world until now, found that the parents they adored had become unhappy and angry.  Now, instead of sunshine there was rain and instead of happy ever after, there was one parent who was angry and another who was sad.  The children did not know which one would be which as they tramped across the forest to see dad and then tramped back to see mum.  The children no longer felt safe in the woods and were scared that the wicked witch would come and get them too.

Sometimes, as they arrived back at their mum’s house, they saw the wicked witch sneaking out of the back door and worried that she might have poisoned mum more.  On those days, mum seemed extra grumpy and the children felt that they had to make her happy.  On other days, the wicked witch appeared at dad’s door and they heard him whispering to her and worried about what they were saying.  On those days dad seemed extra sad and they felt as if they had to look after him.

One day when they got home to mum they found the wicked witch in the kitchen with mum drinking tea.  ‘You told us that you didn’t like mum‘ said the children in surprise, ‘we heard you when you were whispering to dad.’

Mum looked surprised, ‘I didn’t know you went to his house too’ she said to the witch.  The wicked witch cackled out loud ‘there’s a lot you don’t know‘ she said and flew off on her broomstick.

That night mum could not sleep. The children knew she could not sleep because they could hear her walking back and forth downstairs in the kitchen and they knew she was crying.  The children could not sleep either, they could see that their mother was very upset and angry.

The next time they saw dad they felt angry with him for making friends with the witch and betraying their mother.  They did not believe it when dad said that he did not know the witch or want her to come to his house.  ‘You are plotting with the witch to hurt our mum’ the children cried and ran away from dad’s house through the woods to mum, who was so happy to see the children that she hugged and kissed them and that night there was ice-cream for tea.

We will protect you‘ said the children to their mother, who smiled and pulled them close as they sat by the fire.

Dad wondered where the children were.  He stood at the door and looked and looked but no-one came.  Suddenly the witch appeared, ‘they’re with their mother‘ she cackled ‘and they don’t like you anymore.’  

Dad looked at the witch and said ‘you evil old witch, why did you come here if all you were going to do was betray me?’

The witch looked him straight in the eye.

When love dies, grief brings anger, dread and fear and sometimes more than that too, it brings up the ghosts and the ghouls of the past‘, she said.  That’s why I came here, because wicked witches and wizards grow fat on the suffering when love dies.’

Back at mum’s house the children said they never wanted to see their father ever again.  ‘He was cruel to us‘ they told their mother ‘he beat us and made us cry.’  Whilst mum was not quite sure that this was true, she felt comforted by what the children were saying and it made sense to her.  After all, helped by the witch, their father had hurt her, so she wasn’t surprised that he had hurt them too.

Eventually the children, who had once loved their father dearly, came to almost believe those things they had told their mother about him.  Almost but not quite.   Even though the children no longer saw their father,  sometimes, usually in the dead of night or in the stillest of days when their minds were not on guard, the children found themselves remembering things that he had said and done which were not bad.  In those moments their hearts grew bigger and they found that their breathing slowed down with the memories.  Those moments, like little cracks in ice, allowed little bubbles of love to emerge from the depths of the children’s frozen minds.  The bubbles were shaped like question marks and they were disturbing to the children who tried to pop them quickly with the spiky feelings they had learned to protect themselves with.

‘Dad was NEVER nice to us’ said the children.

POP, went the bubble shaped question mark.

Dad didn’t really want us when we were little’ said the children

POP, went the bubble shaped question mark.

‘Our mum is just the nicest person in the world, she didn’t do anything horrid to us at all’ the children stamped their feet.

POP went the bubble shaped question mark.

The children shouted louder.’Our dad is just a monster and that is that’

POP went the bubble shaped question mark.

As the children grew older, the moments when the bubble shaped question marks floated by increased and one of the children noticed that as they increased, his ability to keep popping the bubbles diminished.  One day as he was shouting out loud into the wind to pop a particularly big question mark of a bubble, the witch flew by on her broom.

I see you are still in that trap I set you,’ she cackled, sounding particularly satisfied and flew on.

In that moment, the boy was suddenly aware that all around him were question mark shaped bubbles and that for the past ten years of his life, all he had been doing was trying to pop them.  Suddenly, he felt the crack in the ice in his mind open wider, so wide in fact that instead of bubbles appearing, his thoughts seemed to flow like a river in full flood.

In that river he could see that there was the flotsam and jetsam of the past.  He saw the chairs and the table from the house where he lived with his mum and his dad in the days when everyone was happy.  He saw the lamp float by from the room where he slept when his mother and father first separated and the curtains, all soggy and the books he had read with his dad before bed.  The boy felt strange.  Lighter inside and less fearful.  He poked about in the river and found all manner of things he had forgotten in the time when his memory was frozen and cold.

Now what to do, thought the boy as he noticed the witch float by, hanging onto her broomstick for all she was worth. He noticed inside that as she went by, the witch didn’t look at him, she was too busy trying to keep her nose out of the water so that she could breathe.  As he watched her he felt inside of himself a feeling he had always avoided.  The feeling was strong, a mixture of guilt and of shame as he thought of his father and how long it had been since he’d seen him.  As he did, an old feeling came by and the words started forming ‘he’s evil…..’ the words in his head started to say and then stopped.


For the very first time the boy felt the question marked bubble float by and he didn’t want to immediately pop it.  Instead he reached out and ever so gently guided the bubble to sit by his feet and he sat and he looked at that thought.


His mind started to flow again and he remembered the days that his dad had lifted him up to knock chestnuts out of the tree with a stick.  He saw himself laughing and his dad pushing him fast on his bike.  He remembered the times when his dad had been cross and then the times when his dad had been happy.

Evil he thought.  No, that’s not evil.

He sat and he thought.  He pulled down the bubbles and considered the questions.  He felt fear and felt shame and felt guilt.  He felt love and felt missing and felt sadness about all of the things that had happened to him.  He sat by the river of thinking for a very long time and eventually he noticed that someone was sitting, close by his side, her feet in the river (with wellies on).

‘Who are you?’ said the boy and ‘what are you doing here by my river‘.

Tilly’ the girl replied kicking her feet in the water.

Well Tilly, he said, ‘I don’t know what you are doing here but you can jolly well go and find your own river to sit by‘.

‘This is my river’ said Tilly and pulled out a lollipop, pulled off the fur and popped it into her mouth.

‘No it’s not’ said the boy, ‘it’s mine and I’ve just discovered it so go on your way (and stop licking that lolly it’s gross).’

Tilly stopped kicking her feet and turned to the boy with solemn eyes.

It so is my river’ she said ‘and I am here because you have come to the place where the green grasses grow.’

Now the boy was really foxed and more than a bit cross too.

‘What do you mean where the green grasses grow’ he said in a stomp. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Come with me’, said Tilly, her hand was all sticky as she pulled him along, ‘let me show you.’

The boy flew behind Tilly who ran like the wind.  He realised he couldn’t escape if he wanted to, her hand was too sticky.  Suddenly they skidded to a halt in front of a ring of trees.  Tilly stepped back and pushed him inside ‘see‘ she told him, ‘this is the place where the green grasses grow.’

The green grasses did indeed grow inside the circle of trees.  The grasses were fresh and all different shades of green. Some were soft and some were strong, some were woven into hammocks and some were made into beds where children lay reading or making things, everyone was talking quietly and an air of complete peace surrounded the clearing.

What is this place?’ Said the boy and stepped forward in wonder, the children looked happy and a great sense of completeness washed over him.

A rustling noise made him turn suddenly and he saw a shadow he remembered step out of the trees.

‘This is the place where the hurting children come to heal’ said a voice he had not heard for many years.  ‘It is the place where the witch of worry and fear cannot get you and where love can safely return to your heart.’

The boy stepped towards the shadow and saw as he did that it was who he had hoped it would be.

For a moment he worried that what he was doing was wrong and the face of his mother appeared in his mind.  As that happened he felt the bubble of protectiveness pop and he realised his mother, like all adults, could take care of herself.  In his mind his mother smiled and he felt a great letting go.  He stepped forward.

I missed you dad‘ said the boy, and as he did so his dad put out his hand and led him to his bed of soft green grasses.

‘I know’ said his dad, ‘I missed you too’ and he plumped up the pillow and the boy snuggled down in the bed.

As he did so his foot touched something hard in the bed and he reached down to find out what it was.

‘Look dad’ he said, ‘it’s that book we were reading’…..

‘So it is’ said his dad turning the page, ‘now, where were we‘…..


Alienation is not just caused by one parent saying bad things about the other.  Alienation is a subtle thief of perspective which can be driven in children through actions not words and the manoeuvring of memories so that things appear differently when viewed in the mirror. In addition, children who have to navigate the post separation landscape are prey to so many terrifying things. Witches and wizards of the pain and suffering of their parents, trans-generational hauntings, when the ghosts and ghouls of the past come up through the cracks in the family breakdown and take over the world.  Children more than anyone in family breakdown have to carry the emotional and psychological consequences of family separation and for all of these reasons, my work will always be first and foremost focused upon helping children to navigate the tracks and trails of post separation family life.

My goal is to create a world where every child lives a whole and healthy integrated life.   Where no child is forced into using the defence mechanism of believing that one parent is good and the other parent is bad.  After all, such a defence should be long gone in the lives of children beyond the age of two or three.  When children have to use it again to defend against intolerable pressures in the post separation landscape, it is a tragedy because their minds become frozen in an infantile space and the flow of love and creativity is denied to them.  Little wonder so many alienated children suffer anxiety and neurosis.  Little wonder so many find themselves fixated on keeping the divided mind in place, the energy it takes to keep believing that someone is wholly bad is enormous.

No-one is a wholly bad person.  Even when children really are abused by a parent they do not view that parent as wholly bad, longing instead for a time when that parent might give them the love that they desperately crave.  It is only when a child has been forced to use the coping mechanism of dividing their mind, freezing the love that they feel for a parent into their unconscious, that the range of alienation behaviours seen in children are clearly presented.

Richard Gardner first curated those signs and they remain to this day, present in all children who are alienated.  When I see children waving those red flags of alienation, that is when I know it is time to go into the woods and do the deeper work of investigation. Leading children out of the woods is not easy and I keep working to find the different ways to understand and work in those darkest places.  Finding ways of describing an alienated child’s felt sense of the world is one of those ways I dig deeper, working with the defences which distort the felt sense is something I am just starting to get to grips with.

This story is for all children, of whatever age, who truly believe that one parent is wholly good and the other is wholly bad.

Believe me children.  The world is not so simple as that and whilst it is scary, you can find the place where the river flows.

And when you do.  All that you fear and all that makes you gasp with injustice now, will be washed away, leaving you feeling peace and freedom.

Because you deserve to live life healthily, fully and completely, like all of the other children in the world.

Which is what waits for you beyond the place where the green grasses grow.


  1. And when a stepfather comes into the equation there is another dynamic. Even if the stepfather is not a bad person. It gives rise to the opportunity to present to the child that ‘your stepfather is a better father to you than your father has ever been’.

    Effectively the child is persuaded to believe that they don’t need their natural father when they have a stepfather.


  2. I would like to have hope that one day my now adult daughter (35 years old and married two years) will come to the place where the river flows. Deep down inside I cannot make myself believe that will ever happen. And if it ever did, how scary it would be.

    I read your words Karen without hope. I hope that others will be luckier in their quest for a normal family/a normal relationship with their lost children. What a very strange world we live in.

    Wishing everyone on here, and you too Karen, a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year 🙂


    1. “The story is told to show how subtle alienation can be. It doesn’t have to appear that one parent is lovely and kind and the other is not, neither does it have to appear (to the child) that they are being told not love the other parent.”

      How I wish that the people to whom I had turned to for help right at the beginning had shown even a smidgen of understanding of PA when it was staring them in the face, never mind subtely. As it is I am left to live with the memory of a small child telling me how their other parent had told them not to love me, under threat of physical hurt if they did. Their distress and confusion writ large on their face. No parenting advice book had prepared me for this. Even years later just recalling that moment makes me stop breathing, because when I breathe the pain and horror I felt in that moment live large again. That was the beginning of the end for us. The beginning of a protracted nightmare during which I discovered that believing one’s child(ren) can lead into untold conflict and disagreement with authorities and that their power vastly outweighed my own. That what they chose to believe was all that mattered. After all I was only a mere parent. Yet wasn’t it my job, my duty, to fight to protect the life I had helped create? All the dreams I had had for my child(ren) crumbled as I watched helplessly as the authorities took over their lives and I became a powerless bystander, much maligned. One day I hope my child(ren) can heal and regain something of what they lost. Until then I continue to “love into the void” and will continue to as long as there is breath in my body. Thank you Karen for teaching me that the only way to survive this hell hole is to ditch the hurt, guilt and anger and instead keep an open loving heart and keep sending that love out there to those who are lost. One day …….


  3. I woke up at 2pm when my alarm went off. It’s Friday. I jump back 10 years. The phone rings, it’s my dad. “Carl it’s two o’clock, don’t forget Josh.”

    I could never forget.

    Friday was one of the days I collected him from school. It was one of the days involved the week I was most alive, I was with my son.

    Jump forward 10 years, 9 years after I triggered the reaction.

    My alarm goes off, it’s 2 o’clock. My phone doesn’t ring. My dad has left the stage. I have nowhere to be. Nobody to see.

    I jump back to how I felt when I was with him, my absolute pride and joy, the be and end all of my life since he was born and having also to contend and battle the constant threat that he would be taken away by the sickness of his mother and her facillitating feminist allies in the toxic shitstain of a system or hurt, bullied and injured by the shitstain she married instead of buying a rottweiler to bite me.

    I think back to how focused I was, had to be. How I was untroubled by any insecurities regarding any relationships at the time or the future. How I didn’t care one jot for status or material gain. How I didn’t give a fuck about being accepted by any of the clowns, all that mattered was the time josh and I had together where he felt at ease, secure, wanted, considered, adored, a place where I could hopefully make him strong bright fair and true so he could be all he ever could be when he wasn’t with me.

    Jump back to now. How do I feel?

    Folk have said when we were together we were like velcro. Because of the threats, because of the attrition, because of the attempts, because I loved my sweet son so much, time was so precious, I guarded him with my life.

    It feels literally like he has been ripped away from me and where we were connected an unhealed open wound that is open to infection and has been since the rupture. Every cell affected by the tare. I can not close off to him. I can not walk away. I wait and bleed and hope, wounds unclosed I refuse to die, my pain reminds me I’m alive.

    Waking up on Fridays at 2pm I should avoid. I miss my dad’s call. I miss my glorious son. He was all that mattered.

    I fought alone, my dad was there, like a corner man, I was in the ring, getting battered mostly. I came back like Rocky. It wasn’t ‘get up mickey loves ya’ it was ‘ya Son needs ya’

    FLUMP needed the long arm of the law to stay off my uppercuts. I should have been allowed to take his head off when he struck my son and bullied him at 6yrs old.

    When Friday came, I was with him, he was all that mattered, just like the rest of the days, but I was with him in proximity, together, united. We were one, father and son.

    Despite everything, with love and joy and hope and light and belief and faith in his heart and his dad…. he became the best footballer of his own age and two years above himself in Europe’s biggest junior league and one of the best producing academies in the world. In and out of the net anywhere on the field. He played with love, light, joy, passion, reason, care.

    He was the most beautiful boy. Born 4lb 7oz six weeks premature. My little baby nothing. My little Jedi. My little Timelord. My little Red and White Wizard. My every reason.

    Kind. Gentle. Shy. Unassuming.
    A ball at his feet, deadly.

    You should have seen him with mistymoo. Misty is 18 next year she misses him too, half her life he’s been gone.
    She was the best coach he ever had.
    I was the best dad he ever had.

    He was the best son in the known universe.

    He went through so so much alone….on that bridge.

    I miss him so much.

    I’m not sure I want to hear ‘I missed you dad’

    I know he did, I know he does…and if he misses me like I miss him I’m not sure I want to know of him being in such pain.

    The night I triggered the reaction, I knew he was going, gone. I didn’t want him to miss me. I didn’t want him to be in pain as I knew he surely would be. It went through my mind it would be easier for him to hate me than pine for me in a futile situation neither he or I could escape.

    I pray one day he finds the courage and strength he had when he was 10/11yrs old.

    He’s going to be the best dad in the world one day.


    1. I pray too Carl, for your boy who lost so much and who is old enough to know now just how much is missing. I pray too and if that is all we can do, that is what we will do. One day there will be no possibility of ripping a child from a loved and loving parent because our world will care about children just as they should. For your boy and for you and the tragedy of what your son has missed, I will keep doing what I do and I will make more people hear it in the year to come. I send you my love, my respect and my promise that I will never stop caring. xxxx


      1. Thank you Karen for all you do. If not for you I would have fallen to the abyss of emptiness that would overwhelm the strongest of souls.

        There is hope, slim, but hope none the less.

        I never had plans of being so strong… Going to have to be…. Best get to a gym for my heart and soul and build up my noodles.



      2. Whilst the child and the parent still live, there is always hope. Always. xxxx


  4. …and on that green grass that grew, the boy flew, with the ball at his feet he created more time and space for us to be together United, and despite those who tried to obstruct, encroach on our time, thwart and separate us and damage me in his eyes and young mind.

    Josh made teams better with his presence. Creating time and space with his quick sharp feet. A Timelord, Josh the Doctor.



  5. And as I sit with a six year old, I am acutely aware of what that pain you have suffered has been. I would kill to protect this child, we all would kill to protect our children. And that line – I am not sure I would want my boy to feel this pain of missing me – tells the world all that it needs to know about who is the healthy parent. x


    1. ” I would kill to protect this child, we all would kill to protect our children.”

      And I would have given my life to protect my children. Ever vigilant, alert for the approach of danger. But the danger came from the least expected direction, evil cloaked so well in a perversion of trust.

      “…and if he misses me like I miss him I’m not sure I want to know of him being in such pain.”

      This struck me as well. I may one day find a way to forgive for the pain caused me, but I will never be able to forgive for the pain caused to my children.

      xW hailing from a FOO where all 4 children spoke to me of suicidal ideation while young. I never fully appreciated the phrase “hurt people hurt people”. But now I do.

      God Bless you all at this so difficult time of year. And thank you again Karen, your cause is not just important, but noble.


  6. What a great analogy/metaphor! Once I began to focus more on my estranged daughter and what SHE is going through (instead of my own hurt with the alienation) I’ve been slowly *finding myself* again… and while there was a time I had given up hope for a reconciliation, I’m now in the process of attempting to balance both hope AND *moving forward* in my own life. I enjoyed reading this… as always, thank you for your insights, Karen.


  7. I can see how this can happen with a child in the middle. But in our case we know the awful things said to stepson to turn him against us – because he told us. We know he is questioned intensively about his time with us but he was anxious about it and told us. The information taken from that questioning is then twisted and turned into accusations against us and made to look as if stepson complained. Some of the accusations have been horrendous. In some cases like ours, one parent has an agenda to have sole parental responsibility and the only way to get it is to accuse the other one of abuse. The hardest thing is there is a child in the middle who is trying to please both parents – and can’t.The only way he can please one parent is to agree with them that he doesn’t want to see his Father and hates coming. And then says to us – I had to say that. But I can see what you are saying. And then when a court application goes in and the Mother says – your Father is taking me to court, I told you he was bad…… Stepson is partly alienated. He keeps coming out of it, but he is not the same. What your insights have shown me is why he is rejecting some things at our home – I think he is avoiding the loss before it happens and is scared he may not come again so is avoiding favourite things. So sad – why can’t they just be allowed to be happy in both homes? We feel we are slowly losing him even though seeing him regularly again.


    1. Yes, I was going to say the same – this metaphor does help me understand what the alienated child deals with and why they “choose” to reject one parent, but this is a kinder, gentler version of the alienation my stepson experienced. While I don’t believe his mother is “all bad” and I do think that some of the alienation was unconscious, some of it was very conscious and very deliberately designed to hurt and punish my husband by taking his son away from him. I could see that sometimes she and my stepson were in an anxious feedback loop about what an “evil” person my husband was, and how he was going to hurt his son or take him away from her, and that seemed unconscious on her part. My stepson used to say he “felt sorry for her” and I know she experienced a lot of pain and anxiety about their divorce. He felt he had to protect her, much like your story.

      But the visitation and vacation interference, the lies she told my stepson, the bribes and guilt she used to get him to lie to attorneys and therapists were all very deliberate. The time she put him on the porch at 6 am in the winter for an unscheduled pick-up, and then told him his father “hates me more than he loves you,” when he didn’t show up because he hadn’t agreed to it; the time she told my stepson that his father was planning to go back to court to take him away from her on Christmas when no plan or mention of that had been made; the time she told him that if he came to live with her, stepson could do whatever he wanted … all of those things were reported by him, and all of them, cumulatively, worked quite well to help him reject his father, probably to save his own sanity.

      In your story, I feel great sympathy for the mother who is not aware of what is happening and how her actions are alienating their children from their father, and I imagine she could be worked with to change her behavior in her children’s best interest, if an aware practitioner became involved. I’m not sure any of that would have happened in our situation without significant legal involvement.


      1. Hi Cara, the story is deliberately told from the perspective of the child because the child is the only person who experiences the feelings from both sides and has to negotiate that as the conduit. Most cases of alienation would have to be resolved using court and even in this case, the child was alienated through means which seem benign but in fact are harmful because the mother cannot keep her own feelings away from the children and instead of saying to them NO, you will not protect me, he is your father and the witch of wicked feelings has tricked him as well as me, she folds and uses her children to make herself feel better. The story is told to show how subtle alienation can be. It doesn’t have to appear that one parent is lovely and kind and the other is not, neither does it have to appear (to the child) that they are being told not love the other parent. The subtle thief of perspective is cunning and steals into the lives of children in the sweetest of moments. The story is told to help a child to understand that the bubbles which are shaped like question marks, are clues about the division in the mind and that if all one does is pop them, then one will never ask the question ‘why do I feel this way.’ What I want to do with this kind of writing is help everyone to understand that alienation is far far far more subtle than one deliberate conscious campaign of evil, is nevertheless does the same damage and steals childhoods in exactly the same way. I feel the deepest levels of sympathy for parents but for their children I feel the howling winds of tragedy that their lives are blighted by unresolved sins of the their mothers and fathers, be they clearly spoken or surreptiously conveyed. Parents in terrified places will say and do almost anything to bind their children to them and terror comes from the shadows of the past as much as the actions of the present. We don’t have children with people whose mental health we are able to check out beforehand, I sometimes think perhaps that rather than a pre-nup, we should have, as standard, a psycho-geneoloigical excavation certificate. x


  8. Many thanks.
    These are salient moments when you assume the voice and feelings of the vulnerable child in every sense. Thank goodness somebody can empathise with the child.
    I often think the family court is way off the mark and wonder what purpose it serves at all other than to further a political parental agenda that concentrates on the perception that one or other of the adults have been naughty.

    Complicit groups self-congratulating on their successful familial separations.

    This is way off track.

    Thank goodness someone has labelled this problem, “repairs to the transition bridge”.

    There really is hope for children after their parents have separated.


    1. I think you are someone like me, you know that the way that we have to work to interrupt this intra-familial trauma pattern, is to work in the post separation landscape as sherpas and guides across the frozen wilderness. When families get that help they can avoid some of the most tragic scenes of all, which is when unaccompanied children on the transition bridge, trigger the hostility and suspicion and end up alienated through no fault of their own. That space between parents should never be left unattended, it is the no man’s land of terror for children and we should have an army of people who do the work of helping families in that space. It is a scandal in my view that we don’t because this is a fifty year old problem which could so easily be resolved. x


    1. There’s a sherpa’s hat with your name on it Carl – if Sherpas do indeed wear hats. In my imagination, the national family breakdown team stands at the ready in every corner of the land – the red light flashes and the bell rings and down the pole go the first responders, people who know how to patch up and hold the spilling guts and hearts of the hurting parents and with them the sherpas who take the children away from the crash scene and help them to feel safe whilst the worst of it is over. Then the guides come in to work with the parents and help them to learn how to use their crutches and start getting about again and then the sherpas start the job of helping the children to go back and forth between their new homes. The guides and the sherpas are the children’s buffer parents during the time when the parents are still hurting and might risk putting the children in danger of parentification or spouseification, they don’t need to do it for long, just long enough to make sure that the children don’t absorb the transgenerational haunting behaviours……….six to twelve months post separation and the family is ready for the NFBS to be stood down – always ready at arms length to pop back in and help smooth over the bumps – handing over to the National Family Extension Service which deals with step parents and the integration of new adult relationship – all step parents must meet the standards of Extension Service guidelines – ‘I understand I have a distinct role in this child’s life which is positive so long as I remain in that role and recognise that I compliment rather than replace this child’s biological parent.

      Family breakdown is as toxic and damaging experience as bereavement. We have Cruse Bereavement Care, why do we not have a National Family Breakdown Service? I have never understood why the experience of children in seeing their parents go through the utter devastation of family breakdown, is not recognised for what it is – deeply traumatising and triggering of all manner of horrors. Why do we protect children from the death of their parents but not from the death of their parent’s love for each other?

      Carl. A sherpa you will be. Children need deeply loving humans in their lives.


  9. There be injuns out there…

    Saw a great film last night, Monsters Dark Continent…. I’m sure CG Jung would have loved it too……
    I took the monster to be an enraged transgenerational meta consciousness that could not be destroyed but understood… which the presence of “hostiles” caused to grow and become more monstrous. Incredible.



  10. There was an aspect of bioluminescence to the monsters “spores” which were released when it was attacked, spores that soon as they hit the ground… went underground beyond sight.

    .. and just now David Attenborough on the TV was looking at bioluminescence in our oceans, a theory of it regards it all as a bit of a burglar alarm…. when the organism’s are disturbed or preyed upon they give off light which illuminates the predator and alerts bigger predators to the predator feeding on the bioluminescent organisms. Outstanding. X


  11. My niece is currently going through a horrible separation period with her 3 year old’s father – she left him two years ago because of his controlling behaviour (and a prison sentence for breaking some else’s nose in a fit of aggression at a sports event even though he’s well educated, has a very responsible job and on the face of it was the least likely person to end up in prison). Two months after she left he moved another girl in, my niece’s so called friend.

    All my alarm bells are ringing for her and for her little boy. I don’t know exactly when alienation began in my own situation, maybe if I’d seen red flags all those many years ago I might have been prepared. I have no real proof that what is going on with my niece’s ex partner will lead the same way as mine did but, although their little boy is only three, I can see that it’s not good.

    Her partner has refused the suggestion that they go to family mediation. He sees no reason why he should. In his eyes SHE is the problem.

    Her little boy is lovely. He has a ‘cuddly’ that he takes everywhere (as children do) but when he spends time at his dad’s, his dad threatens to throw his cuddly in the fire and tells his little boy’s mum that his three year old “needs to man up, he’s too old for a cuddly now”. He sends lots of abusive texts to my niece, all disagreeing with her not treating her three year old ‘like a man’ – he is only just three. She copes. She’s much stronger than I was. She wants her little boy to see his dad and would never stop him but what she tells her mum and me is heart breaking. How on earth can we help? Will the Family Mediation Service help her?

    I don’t know what the answers are. I only know that I will never understand how any parent can harm their child/ren in such ways. Their bitterness clouds all judgement.


    1. The text messages are evidence of concerning behaviours in this father, if it is the case that he father really does threaten to throw his cuddly into the fire (I would want to know how your niece knows this), then he is abusing the boy and there needs to be some kind of intervention. I would suggest that in the first instance your niece talks to someone who can give some guidance on what is reasonable behaviour in co-parenting a child of three, if you would like to send her our contact details – we can assist. There is a real risk to a three year old that unempathic response in care giving can cause harm (I will write more tomorrow about this because it is part of my research work and is linked through to the importance of differentiation in case of alienation). I realise that children have difference in parenting styles between each parent but there is a big difference between a parenting style and expecting a three year old to ‘man up.’ Of course we always hear the story with a critical ear and we always sift for the reality but a child of three needs warm empathic care from both parents.


  12. Karen thank you for your reply, I was hoping you would reply but didn’t think I had a right to a reply. I know how busy you must be and marvel at how much you are willing to help out in your spare time and for no reward. Thank you 🙂

    With regard to the threat to throw cuddly in the fire …….. not so very long ago my niece was packing her little boy’s back pack ready to go to his dad’s and was going to put cuddly in. Her little boy told her “no, mummy, leave cuddly”. When she questioned why, he told her about the fire. The words ‘he needs to man up’ have been sent in a text to my niece. Apparently (according to his dad) he does NOT need a sleep in the afternoon either because ‘he’s not a baby anymore’. There are more examples. It’s not nice for my niece.

    My husband began in that way. When my daughters were born I had to beg him to pick them up (they were boring/all babies are boring until they can hold a proper conversation/pregnancy & childbirth are disgusting). He blamed me for the fact that our second child was very picky with her food (but he never ever fed her or offered to. Our first child was profoundly handicapped but he never ever helped). Once he stuffed sprouts into our youngest child’s mouth and held his hand over her mouth until she started heaving, then he let her run to the loo, she was six years old. He also objected to me buying her clothes (I was teaching full time and earned more than him and he spent a fortune on his two hobbies!) One day when daughter (aged 10) and I got back from shopping with a bag full of new summer clothes for her he had a go at me, and as daughter got up to leave the room in the middle of his ‘rant’, he shot his foot out to trip her up. Daughter said to me lafterwards “Daddy was trying to make me cry but I’m not going to”. Now of course she’s forgotten all that. I am evil personified and he is beyond perfect. He can do no wrong.

    I don’t want to project my fears onto my niece or her mum but I see so many red flags and so many ‘similarities’ 😦


    1. It is always important to separate out our own experience from that of those we love, that way we see more clearly and can help more effectively. This little boy is in a difficult place, he is managing his fathers behaviours. I have just been reading a book by Oliver James, in which he talks about ‘offspring Stockholm syndrome’. boy does that resonate with the children I work with. Again and again I wonder – as do so many targeted parents – why would my child reject me and align with the abusive parent? Well there is a simple answer to that and it is, in my view ‘offspring Stockholm syndrome.’ This is something I am going to write about this coming week because it is an exciting and hugely important piece of the jigsaw puzzle about alienation – about why kids align with a harmful parent and reject a healthy one – it is all because of coercive control, which I have always always known but haven’t been able to fully articulate. The landscape in which children live post separation is one I know well and offspring Stockholm syndrome is more or less inevitable in that landscape which is why we have so many kids unable to navigate it. Offspring Stockholm syndrome is something this little boy you write about is going to be affected by if he carries on adapting his behaviours to suit his father’s needs. I will write more tomorrow but I would say this, your niece needs to think carefully about how she manages this little boy’s movement across the transitional space, she needs to think about how she manages her support of his relationship with his father and how she makes decisions. She needs some therapeutic support from skilled people, I wouldn’t say mediation for such a case, she can email me at and I will give her some guidance. K


      1. Once again Karen, thank you.
        I’ve been sending your replies to my sister who is in a serious dilemma as to how much to say to her daughter. She told me today that she couldn’t sleep last night for worrying. Meanwhile my niece has made her own appointment with the Family Mediation Service (her ex refuses to go) and my sister thinks she’ll print off the messages sent to her by her ex partner which are mostly about how much he ‘loathes’ her but also full of criticisms of how she ‘treats their little boy like a baby’. The appointment may take place as early as January.

        It’s a difficult one because even her mum doesn’t know how much to say to say and it’s not my place to say anything direct, also I don’t want to project my experiences onto her when our two situations are/maybe, very different. (or at least I hope so!) Either way though it’s not what should be happening especially when my niece is trying so hard to be fair with her ex.

        My sister has your replies and the ball is in her court; she can choose whether or not to let my niece see them so my niece may or may not contact you. (I hope that she does get to read what you’ve written).Once again, thank you for taking the time to reply. I look forward to reading the articles you mention.


      2. As an side (afterthought)
        I gave my niece Lundy Bancroft’s book ‘Why does he do that? – inside the minds of angry and controlling men’ to read. It became my bible after I left my husband and stopped me feeling that I really was going as crazy as he was trying to make me out to be. I wish I’d found that book years and years ago. I hope it helps her in some way.


  13. Flattered to think I might have an understanding of these situations that comes close to your depth of knowledge and sensitivity. I am learning from your excellent blogs. If I have useful skills they come from my experience as a lonely and abandoned child. When I say abandoned, I mean emotionally abandoned. I was at boarding school from the age of 10 onwards. Although my hurt child ego was largely healed after I left school aged 17 and returned home to rekindle relationships with my parents I had learned through my experiences at school how to be a bully and how to be bullied. I learned about the power behind the peer group and was saddened by it. I found it difficult to operate socially and found some solace in my self-inflicted isolation. I was withdrawn because this was the one way I could protect myself. This has equipped me well for dealing with both alienators and target parents. I can empathise having lived on both sides of the divide.

    I think the heart of the problem is the collapse of the transition bridge. This is the healthy neurological pathway in the child’s brain. When the bridge is intact the child is ok; comfortable in their existence.

    When the target parent understands what is going on they become more child focussed and better able to assist. They concentrate their efforts on the child’s welfare.

    Somebody set up a closed group on facebook where parents going through separation familial difficulties could pose questions and others could offer help. It reveals what is on their minds, their concerns and beliefs, their suspicions and anxieties, their anger and grief.

    What does it say to me?

    In a word trauma. Trauma for target parents and trauma for alienators. Perhaps we develop target parents and alienators through unresolved trauma.

    There is help for people suffering in this way. It becomes a balancing act, trying to heal the parent whilst keeping the transition bridge open at the same time. Traumatised parents don’t do transition bridges, they are too busy throwing missiles in retribution, complaining, protesting, grieving, shouting, demanding, worrying or the like. The child ego of these parents needs the same comfort that their real child is craving. Even after the target parent has gained emotional stability the task of bringing the rest of the family into a healthier functioning scenario is difficult.

    For me an important part of it is being independently strong in your relationship with your children. So many parents don’t pursue this, instead they talk about their relationship with their children in the context of what the other parent should be doing. (I confess to being guilty of this myself) E.g. Why has the other parent not forwarded the information about the forthcoming school play?

    Sometimes I am fearful of posting on your blog because I know some cases are much more extreme than mine and do seem to require big stick correctional measures like interventions using Court orders.

    However, as you point out even in the most hardened of cases it is expected that the children will be walking unfettered across the transition bridge and this is what I have been maintaining for the last ten years or so. Whilst some of my techniques and ideas come from excellent books written for parents who are struggling, still other very good pointers come from parenting books. So much of a healthy parent/child relationship is tied up in the ability of the parent to empathise with the child and make conscious effort to engage in a parental way. (this has nothing to do with whether they are alienator or target parent).
    In the fullness of time parents who concentrate on their children (that’s each child as an individual) will retain the parenting role that they crave. So often parents try to re-enter the parent\child relationship by demanding their specific length of time with their child as if parenting is something they administer over children in blocks of unit time (in parenting speak we call this “authoritarian parenting”). This thinking does not bode well for the parent/child attachment. We need to make strong personal connections and gradually build up trust. This is best done, as you point out, by learning to walk in your child’s shoes……………………………………………….


    1. I know that some have found it difficult at times when I turn the focus to the child’s experience and you have, so beautifully set out why in this response someone. The hurt children inside the alienator and sometimes the alienated are so wounded that there appears to outsides to be a real battle of wounded souls going on. This is why we have to be really careful in our listening to families where alienation is present because when it is present it points to something in the family dynamic and finding out what (differentiating the child’s route into the response helps us to understand what), is the way that we unpick this. I love the fact that you truly do understand why I go back to the child again and again and again, I go back there because it is only from that point of view that I can see what has happened and when I can see what has happened I can work out how to put the pieces of the bridge out of the problem together. This is real forensic work which cannot be done in a one size fits all manner. Thank you for your understanding which is deep and nuanced and is the pre-requisite for anyone who does this work.


  14. Anonymous (2) wrote above: In the fullness of time parents who concentrate on their children (that’s each child as an individual) will retain the parenting role that they crave.

    If only that statement was true!!!!
    (sadly I know that it isn’t or at least isn’t always)


    1. I agree Willow, there are cases where it absolutely will not happen, cannot happen without the child being liberated from the prison mindset they have been forced to accept. I am going to write more about that and how it happens this week. How to reverse it, well that’s the next steps. x


    2. I was going to say the same, Willow – it’s tempting for someone who has had some success at maintaining a relationship with a child to believe they are doing all the “right” things, but sometimes even doing all those things doesn’t help a bit. Understanding where the child is coming from doesn’t automatically liberate them from what they are dealing with in their alienating parent, or from their own defense mechanisms. I personally find those kinds of comments very frustrating and demoralizing. Every situation is different, and for many that get so far as complete alienation, nothing seems to work, in my opinion (except perhaps Karen’s methods and most of us do not have them available to us).


      1. Cara I agree.

        The statement by Anon ….. ” In the fullness of time parents who concentrate on their children (that’s each child as an individual) will retain the parenting role that they crave.”…… is what I would call a natural outcome for decent parents who respect each other, treat each other respectfully, are determined to be fair with each other, and have only the wellbeing and happiness of their children at heart. They don’t play games and they don’t raise their children high up above their spouse, neither do they use their children as weapons. That statement (by Anon) is something that I would hope happens within successful marriages. Perhaps slightly harder in the case of divorce but still something to aspire towards. In my case it didn’t matter what I aspired to, my husband disliked me and told me often that he preferred our daughter to me and, that was the beginning of the end, the result …. alienation or at the very least estrangement. Nothing would have made my husband see sense. He was always right and I was always wrong. There was (in his world) no other way and, as he said when I left, he was glad he didn’t have to share her with me anymore.

        I am sure that there must be parents who have split up but can still treat each other with respect and dignity and share their children equally. Maybe that’s what Anon meant.


      2. I think Anon is talking about cases of children’s rejection in which the landscape is littered with the cross projections of blame and the belief between parents that the other is harming the child. There is a group of cases of parental alienation which are, in my view, utterly tragic in that the child triggers the conflict and the child’s responses to the conflict between the parents which have been triggered by the child’s inability to move between them, causes the use of the withdrawal and splitting coping mechanism. These cases are those where the hurt and harmed rejected parent contributes to the child’s conscious belief that they have caused the child to withdraw. In reality the child cannot see the underlying dynamic which is that one parent has upheld the child’s maladaptive response to the transition bridge and the other has become pushed at distance because of that. to the child it feels like both parents are involved and one more so than the other (the rejected parent). What Anon is pointing to is that if the rejected parent in a case like this learns to work counter intuitively and empathically, the child will emerge from the withdrawn state of mind eventually. These are hybrid cases, neither parent has a personality disorder and the child has triggered the conflict in a deeply difficult post separation landscape. Very different from pure cases where a PD is involved and where transgenerational haunting is at play. Important to know the difference between two types of alienation cases and not to attempt to apply remedy from one to the other. I don’t think there is any offence intended by the thinking and I think Anon has grasped what a lot of parents in a hybrid case struggle to grasp – but it is not the whole of the alienation story and pure cases will not emerge in this way at all. K


      3. To be clear about pure cases. These are those which are unlikely to respond to anything other than robust intervention which is judicially managed or, as the child grows older, a combined approach of deep empathic responding as the child navigates the way out of the captured mindset. Either way this has nothing to do with the rejected parent and everything to do with the child’s experience of the landscape they live in. When rejected parents can understand that, their world, though no less painful, becomes at least something they don’t have to take personally. Complete alienation however is a different thing – kids can be completely alienated in a hybrid as well as a pure case – it is the presence of personality dysfunction and unconscious replication of family drama which differentiates the background and which gives information about how a child is likely to emerge.


      4. I think it’s the “fullness of time” comment that gets me – what does that mean? If the alienated child comes around when they are 50, I guess then anon is right – but that’s an awfully long time to hold onto hope (as I think Willow can attest), and it’s not “the parenting role that you crave”, because I know my husband craved being part of his child’s adolescence, which he will not be, and perhaps not part of his 20s, or 30s, either, for that matter.


    1. When I hear about fathers who prefer their daughters to their wives I always wonder about the father’s relationship with his own mother. Somewhere in the family drama, children have been taken as spouses and that has been normalised behaviour. Worth going back and having a look at that in any situation where a grown up daughter is acting as if she is married to her father and vice versa.


      1. Karen: Quote “When I hear about fathers who prefer their daughters to their wives I always wonder about the father’s relationship with his own mother. ”

        My daughter certainly 100% acted like my husband’s ‘spouse’ as she grew up and he 100% treated her like one!
        I well and truly lost my place in the family and it felt like it for more years than I care to think about.

        I can tell you about my husband and his mother. I lived with them for 9 months before we married. My husband and his mother appeared very close. I say appeared because even to my 18 year old eyes it was all ‘a bit odd’ but then my own mother was most definitely odd! I can honestly say that in nine months of living with them I never had a conversation with either of them and they never tried to talk to me or even to pass the time of day with me. (I should have known!) His mother’s friend told me many years later that his mother had said to her “If anything happens to me, take care of R”. But R (my husband) also had a sister only three years older. The friend was not asked to take care of his sister. His sister was never mentioned.

        My husband would never have even half a bad word said about his mother and explained all her suicide attempts as because she was mentally ill. She was/must have been, although she never appeared that way to me and never attempted anything while I lived with them – I wasn’t told anything until after we married and she tried once more to kill herself. She was very much the ‘dominant’ one in her marriage, though nothing like as obviously dominant as my mother. My husband respected her (really respected her) because of that. And I think that in itself is/was significant to my untutored eyes at least. My daughter is very strong – to the point of being hard – and he likes that. I’m about as soft as they come by contrast. Weak in their eyes.

        However, no matter how much he preferred her to me, I know for a fact that neither of them would ever have made it as couple. He wouldn’t have liked her strength as his wife because he had to call all the shots. She was latterly the only one who COULD call the shots with him and he never wanted to lose her – he’d tell me “she’s my blood I have no one else”.

        There is a part of me that wonders whether she would have been so easily ‘seduced’ if his hobby had been bog standard Sunday fishing instead of the glamorous one that gave her an international social life which she values above all else. As long as he can race she will continue to go with him, with or without her own husband (who mainly chooses to stay at home but can’t have time off to go abroad up to six times every year)

        To go back again ….. my husband from early teens onwards dreaded going home from school.
        Why? Because he had already had to rescue his unconscious mother from the jaws of suicide several times – fume filled closed garage with the car engine still running, empty bottles of pills and her head in the gas oven. After we got married she again took bottles of pills but pulled through. One year after we married she jumped from an apartment balcony in Spain while she was on holiday with friends. Her daughter (my husband’s sister) hung herself one month afterwards. My husband would never talk about any of that after it happened. Neither would he ever speak of our first child after she died aged five. I think you could say that his life was ‘traumatic in the extreme’.

        My husbands parents (my husband told me) were ALWAYS rowing though I never heard any rows, only constant silence. His father was mean to the point of marking where his car tyres were on the space outside so that he knew if his mum had ‘borrowed’ his car. And yet, whilst I waxed lyrical about the faults of my dominant mother, my husband would not hear a word against his parents.

        He insisted that he LIKED women but that I hated men which is untrue. I envy those with happy marriages, but I certainly wouldn’t want another one after 46 years of my husband!

        Even though I can see how very awful and traumatic his childhood was (he would never admit that it was awful or even want to ‘dwell’ on it’) and I know that it MUST have had an affect on him (as mine did on me), I still cannot understand fully what he did or why he did it and now that he’s no longer in my life I have given up trying.


  15. Willow,

    That was some read! I have read many of your posts before, but never the whole story laid out like this. Toe curling…

    That said, you write: “My daughter certainly 100% acted like my husband’s ‘spouse’ as she grew up and he 100% treated her like one! …even to my 18 year old eyes it was all ‘a bit odd’”

    I will see your “odd” and raise you one more. When xW’s grandfather died, she moved in with Grandma. But not just moved in – she slept in bed with Grandma for 8-9 months (yes, yes, I know all about ignoring red flags). Not sure if this is parentification, enmeshment, or what have you. But I do know it is square on the “odd” spectrum. She certainly appeared to be trying to replace Grandpa in a bizarre way.

    Oh, if we had trusted our gut when “those feelings” rumbled about.



    1. if only, when we are young and falling in love, we listened to the wisdom of our elders who would say – you fall in love with the person but you marry their family – I would add to that – you marry their family living and dead.


  16. Karen,

    I have 4 daughters who have aliened me. I believe sharing this story with some or all of them may be helpful. The oldest is 28 and the youngest is 16. The 16 and 20 year old have most recently rejected me. I live very far apart from them, but the youngest still is required by law to visit me in the summer. We had a great visit for 2 weeks, then it went terribly wrong and I ended up getting her some counseling for incredibly low self esteem. She was terrified of me telling her mother because “mom thinks i just make up drama” I took care of her and took her to counseling. All was getting better until I told her mother what was happening and then they spoke. After that, I was the mortal enemy again and mom was the victim.

    My children are all intelligent, but have had no daily counterbalance to they mom since summer of 2011. My precious daughters who once loved me so much won;t respond to calls, text, emails and will not see me if I fly into town to see my mother (who they also have rejected).

    I wonder if it’s a good idea to email this story to the one I believe would be most able to process it. They share everything that comes to each of them and then judge me as a group…so if anyone dissents, their perspective is changed.

    I love my children and have worked very hard to maintain relationships with them by flying in for chorus concerts or recitals, coming in for graduations (of course!) and being there for Christmas.

    My 20 year old and I used to have a very special relationship. She ADORED me and was incredibly sweet. When she was 10, she was told to stop paying extra attention to me because it wasn’t fair to her sisters…this was direction from her mother. I didn’t realize how evil this was at the time…but she was the last to push me aside in October. I’d like to share this story with her in hopes that she’ll be able to assess where she is now and what has happened.

    Finding this website has given me hope…I was ready to quit. Now I know that it isn’t their fault at all.


    1. HI Michael, I am always careful not to give generic advice without knowing the full background because alienation is a little like a cancer unfortunately, it has its own significators and is individual in its presentation in each family. It does have some generic traits, usually a fixed and possibly unwell parent who is binding and controlling the children and the power this parent has must be assessed in order to understand what is possible and what is not. I do not advocate sending stories to children unless I know the background and can see whether it would make a potential trigger of change. So much complexity (and yet simplicity) is bound up in each case. Mostly I don’t want to advise you to do something which may entrench or lengthen the withdrawal, which is a coping mechanism used to deal with the pressures being placed on your children – it is NOT you, it IS their mother and your children are caught in her tangled up personal web. So, I suggest this, in order for me to advise you whether you should send the story, write to me at and flag it for my attention, tell me the background as much as you can – describe for me the route into the alienation reactions for your children, tell me a bit about their mother and her family history. I will then advise you if I can, if I cannot I will put you in touch with our coach who will tell you how we can help you to unravel the picture and how you might build a route out of the current position. Hope that helps, glad you found us, do read around, I have written around 300,000 words on this blog about PA over the years, it is not very well curated I am afraid, I keep meaning to put subjects together so it is easier to read and I will one day but you can go back over the years and find all sorts of advice about your situation so do read around. Sending you my best wishes and support. Karen


      1. Karen what a wonderful reply to Michael. It amazes me how much you are prepared to put into this blog and to help parents all in your own time.

        And Michael…..

        My husband started alienating my 15 year old daughter (within our long marriage) when he decided he didn’t much like me anymore and had to keep me in my place. After 19 years of hell I left him knowing for all that time that if I ever left him I would never see my daughter again because I was the enemy and he was the one who needed protection from me. He was totally innocent. It was all my fault, never his because he was always right about everything

        After I left I was so upset and desperate that I tried to tell my daughter what had been going on behind the scenes – that it was me who had been badly treated (her dad was verbally abusive and controlling). I tried to tell her how often, my so called (by him) ‘awkward behaviour’, which she saw as proof of my unworthiness to be called a human being, was a result of severe behind the scenes provocation by him (he liked to set traps which I never saw coming and always fell into) and by his passive aggression, for example: when the three of us were on holiday together while he was racing he picked a fight because I had the nerve to greet another boater first when we met him on site (how dare I!) and rather than calling me out, he pretended all was normal until the next day when he and I were walking through the site and another British car pulled up to next to us with our daughter in the front. A quick chat started and finished with us walking away but we only got two or three steps away before he sprinted back to the car. I heard him say “Have you room for one more?” and he got in and they drove away leaving me with my mouth wide open watching them disappear into the sunset. He came back (from the pub) as though nothing had ever happened – which was common behaviour for him. Somehow I managed to wait until we were alone the next day to ask him why. Until I asked he’d carried on as normal and for the sake of my daughter I’d gone along with it. When I asked why, his reply was “You had no right speaking to M first. He’s my friend, not yours”. I was left literally speechless. But years later, when I reminded him before I left him for good, he denied ever saying it and denied ever DOING it. I asked him if he was punishing me, he told me not to be ridiculous, it was all in my head, I’d made it up, I was a liar and a fantasist (There were many more instances like that one, I kid you not).

        I needed my daughter (by then 33 years old) to see the whole picture and to understand that whilst I loved her beyond words I could no longer stay in that situation, it was tearing me apart………. but it did me no good at all. As far as she was concerned daddy dearest was totally innocent. HE was the injured pared (how dare I throw away 40+ years of marriage without a second thought – her angry words). All it did was confirm to her that I was a fantasist and liar – just as her dad claimed. She has not contacted me in over three years and ignores any contact I try to make with her (I’ve practically given up trying so I’m down to sending just one birthday card a year)

        Three years on from the day I left I am human again and I am allowed to be ME. Life without my husband is bliss. Life without my daughter nearly destroyed me but in spite of myself I am at peace with that now.

        I hope Karen can help.


  17. Karen, I have sent the email you requested and I look forward to your insight. Willow, thanks for sharing your story. one of this is easy…but it is easier now that I know what has happened and that there is hope.


      1. Karen, not sure if you have had time to digest what I sent. I look forward to your insight and reply.


  18. Just found this website and can’t stop reading the blogs and comments. I’m a formally alienated child, Just contacted my dad in April after 20 years. I’m still struggling with everything and slowly finding my way through the fog. It’s hard to separate everything out but my motto and my thoughts is ‘is this what iv been told or is this what I know’. It turns out what I know is my dad was a loving, gentle, funny guy.
    It took me to meet my partner who is currently alienated from his children fir me to question my own situation. Sad but true.
    Sending all my love to those of you who are waiting for your children to find the light.


    1. Loveisthecure – I am glad you have found us – interestingly in my work with families, I am currently focused on adult children in recovery – so much so that I am going to write a new book of therapeutic support for adult children of divorce and separation as it is clear that there are a number of things that alienated children who grew up through difficult divorce and separations, have in common. One is living in a foggy world where decision making is painfully difficult… you are using the right guide – is this what I have been told or is this what I know for myself, is the core way of finding your way through. Remember, the brain requires relational experience to develop properly and so you have part of your brain capacity closed down – you need to practice new thinking – neurons that fire together – wire together is your motto – 21 days to create a new habit and wire the brain for relational health so keep practicing making decisions, keep practicing critical thinking and use the ‘what do I feel/what do I want’ approach as well so that you can begin to know what you want in your life (your capacity for making decisions about what you want will be closed down as you have been controlled for a lot of your life). Also, you need to learn how to do conflict and feel safe whilst you do so – so assertiveness work is important too. Watch for more pieces on this as it is what I am doing right now. K


      1. Thanks for your reply Karen. Everything you said makes complete sense.
        I would be really interested in any books available and happy to participate in any research your doing.
        I’m just hoping my 2 stepdaughters don’t take as long as I did to figure things out. Since we found your blog and website my partner and I have been talking about him taking the case back to court. It was only closed in May and he hasn’t seen the children since. Cafcass advises him it’s their choice (they are 11 and 12) and he would be viewed in a negative light taking it back to court. What are your thoughts?
        His mum ran in to the oldest last week, when she called to her m initially smiled but a second later turned away looking in to the shop where her mum was, his mum asked ‘don’t you want to talk to nana?’ M shook her slightly and tears came to her eyes, her nana said ‘ok well I’ll go then but we all love you’.
        She doesn’t want to upset her but can’t walk past her in the street and not speak. None of us are sure what to do now.


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