The Greatest Love of All

This back to work week has been a joyous occasion for me as news reaches us of reunifications and reconnections between children and their loved parents and families, and we see parents shifting and moving on in their progress towards reconciliation.

I have always known that the greatest love of all in the world is the love that a rejected parent feels for the child they are temporarily distanced from.  I equally, have always known that the way in which children are best helped are when the rejected parent is healthy and well and supported to hear the voice of their own inner child, so that the work of repair and recovery as a person in their own right, is done.

Alienation is not something which strikes randomly in families, neither  is it something which every child in a separated family necessarily suffers from.  it is not something which always occurs in every child in the same family, nor is it something which happens in a vacuum.

An alienation reaction in a child, which at its core is the use by the child of the psychological splitting defence, is caused by the maladaptation of the family as it moves from being together to living apart.  The children who are affected are sensitive, seen by a parent as an ally, witness to the pain suffered by one or both parents and pressured by the dynamics around them which often emanate from one side of the family.  In families with more than one child, one may be affected and that may protect the others, conversely, one may be affected and recruited to proxy alienator in order to bring the other children into line.   Understanding how this child came to be alienated is key to understanding how that child can be assisted to recover from the defence of psychological splitting.  Working with the rejected parent is a key part of the assessment of how and when the child may recover, measuring the health of that parent and working to bring healing and support, is how we prepare for reunification.

I do not subscribe to the belief that all cases of a child’s rejection of a parent are caused by one scenario which always involves a personality disordered parent.  I do not subscribe to this belief because of my experience in doing this work, experience which is extensive across all types of alienation and all ages of children so affected.  Having been an expert witness in court since 2009 and a specialist therapist in this field since 1997, I have come across a lot of different reasons why children utilise the psychological splitting defence and a lot of different ways of helping children to recover from it.  What I see in assessing children’s withdrawal from a parent, is that it can be caused in a range of different scenarios, some involving conflict, others involving control behaviours, yet more involving shut down of communication between parents and others involving very unwell parents who have decompensated into a delusional mindset.    In each of these scenarios we must, as a matter of routine, assess each parent, the child, the child’s responses to each parent and the wider familial setting, before we can understand if the child is psychologically split and then we must differentiate the category of alienation we are dealing with.  It is this and only this which allows us to deliver the intervention which will be successful for the child and this and only this which enables the parental love to reactivate the child’s warmth and normal responses to them.

I have undertaken many residence transfers in my work in this field and have moved severely alienated children from life with one parent directly to life with the other, rejected parent. In doing so I have come to understand two very significant things.

a) the defence being used by the child is so powerful it is almost a biologically driven thing.

b) the best chance the child who is using that defence has, is if they have a healthy, well and loving parent to receive them who is not themselves, psychologically split in their mind.

In my work with alienated children and families I see psychological splitting in almost every element of what I do.  In the child, in the family on both sides (see there is a split there already), in the professionals, in the court process, in the legal professional and sometimes (though thankfully not often) in the presiding judge.  In this divided landscape, which is caused by the environment in which we do this work (in which families live), love often flies out of the window as everyone beds down into their bunker of belief and determination to win the spoils of the war over the child’s allegiance and affection.   In the midst of this the child rules supreme, managing their deepest fears through the only means available to them, but anxious and terrified all of the time as they attempt to navigate the unfamiliar landscape they have found themselves in.  Oh for an army of post separation nannies who could help these children and their parents, to understand and cope with the terrors and fears which rise up through the schisms in the fractured family, how different so many of these children’s lives (and those of their parents too) would turn out to be.

Children who have become alienated have lost so much in terms of their right to an unconscious experience of childhood.  They have lost the river of love from one of their parents, they have been inveigled into adult issues and they have been at the centre of a war zone in which no-one really wins, least of all the child concerned.  In this scenario, love lies bleeding and without anyone to help the child, the wound that the child suffers becomes one which is so damaging to their health and wellbeing that they are forced to protect it with the defence of dividing their feelings into all good and all bad.  Depending upon which parent the child is most dependent upon (the one who usually has the most control over the child), one parent will be rejected and one brought unnaturally close.  In some cases this reaction is caused by one unwell parent and in other cases it is caused by one parent the other parent’s responses.  In any such case the behaviours in the child are the same, haughty entitlement (lack of remorse over cruelty to the other parent), division of feelings into all good and all bad (lack of ambivalence), lies and distortion of truths to make one person appear good and other person appear bad (campaign of denigration), use of memories they cannot possibly hold themselves (borrowed scenarios) and so on.  When these signs appear in the child the splitting reaction is in play and the defence becomes so strong that persuasion or pleas fall on deaf ears.  Which means that the interventions one uses must be carefully matched to the route the child took into alienation, to ensure that the diagnostics are right. It is when the diagnostics are right that the child will emerge from the alienation reaction swiftly and cleanly.  When they are wrong or, when the child has been further harmed in the court process in delay, disarray and disagreement amongst professionals, that the emergence is seen to be more jagged and difficult.

But in all interventions, the rejected parent is the most valuable resource of all in terms of helping the child to release the shut off parts of their mind and allow the love to flow through again.  When that parent is healthy and well, when that parent is not split in their thinking and is able to offer to the child the unconditional platform of loving responses, when that parent has done the work that they need to do to ensure that their experience of loss does not overwhelm the child’s need to come first, then the child can take steady and confident steps to reconnection.  Those rejected parents, who are able to do all of this, in the face of all they have been through and who are able to do it without expectation of recompense, retribution or reckoning, hold in their hearts, the greatest love of all humankind in my view.  These mothers and fathers are truly giants amongst us, for they have been tested to the absolute limits and have transmogrified their pain and grief into something so beautiful that it is a joy to be witness to.  For the children of these parents, life will be healthy and settled and well.  It is all I could ever want for alienated children and I truly, with all of who I am, know that supporting parents in these places is the lifeline these children need.

I saw a picture of one such giant and long lost child this weekend.  It now stands upon my desk.  In the smile in  the eyes, so long separated from a beloved child, I see the future.

A world where family separation is recognised as the risk it is for children, where the pain the family suffers as it fragments is understood to be the truly psychologically devastating experience it is and where help is at hand through the broken and dangerous post separation landscape.

The greatest love of all is the love of a parent rejected in this landscape, lost and alone and in pain and yet somehow, anyhow, there when the child finds the road home.

There is nothing greater than the love these giants amongst us have for their children.

I am blessed to know them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

26 Comments

  1. We’re blessed to have you Karen. xx

    If not for you
    Babe, I couldn’t find the door
    Couldn’t even see the floor
    I’d be sad and blue
    If not for you

    If not for you
    Babe, I’d lay awake all night
    Wait for the mornin’ light
    To shine in through
    But it would not be new
    If not for you

    If not for you
    My sky would fall
    Rain would gather too
    Without your love I’d be nowhere at all
    I’d be lost if not for you
    And you know it’s true

    If not for you
    My sky would fall
    Rain would gather too
    Without your love I’d be nowhere at all
    Oh! What would I do
    If not for you

    If not for you
    Winter would have no spring
    Couldn’t hear the robin sing
    I just wouldn’t have a clue
    Anyway it wouldn’t ring true
    If not for you

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    1. you did it, through it all, you did it. I am blessed to have walked with you through it, you did it and the future changes because of it. You did it and somewhere in the universe there is a ripple and shift in the time warp and the children coming through will be healthy and whole, because of you.

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  2. Karen, your blogs have been eye opening. Thank you.

    My experience mirrors much of what you I’ve experienced. Children’s Services have behaved in the way you mention. When I challenged back, and cited some of your thoughts, the response was caustic and your credentials and qualifications were called into question.

    There’s no question in my mind that you are more experienced in this sector of practice than they; what is the score on training and formal qualifications in this area please? Might make a good blog. I’ve read your article on the proposed reheat of CS old-school training.

    Thanks again

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    1. disproportionate power without responsibility, it is a nightmare we have to deal with. I am a therapist, I am attacked by the naysayers and power against me is used by those who do not yet know the harm they are doing, But one day they will know it and will be held to account by those who know. We just have to keep on, they can cast their caustic aspersions from the powerful place they possess now but one day, this truth will be known and there will be a reckoning.

      In terms of formal training and qualifications, well we are working on world standards of practice in this field which will, one day be the accepted norm. I will be writing more about this in the coming weeks.

      They do not like to be challenged but challenge we must and we will.

      keep on keeping on.

      Kx

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  3. Thank you for this piece of writing. I am ready, waiting and I think healthy of mind. I am ready to be giant for my children, my babies deserve nothing less!!!!!! I just don’t know how to get them to come to me. I am just waiting and waiting!!!

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  4. Karen,

    I’m aware that you hold great store by the communication between estranged/divorced parents, but I cannot even bear the sound of my ex-husbands voice! My marriage was abusive and the abuse of my son gave me the strength I needed to take both my children and leave! You say the alienated parent must be strong and even my GP has stated that I become very unwell when I have to deal with anything relating to the children’s father! It would be good if we could communicate but he simply resorts to his abusive and aggressive manner. I have felt somewhat guilty as I read how communication is key….. how do i go about rescuing my son if I can’t have communication with his daddy??

    Thanks for all.
    Hope 2018 continues to be successful for you!!

    Frankie x

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    1. Hi Frankie, Whilst I do think communication is important I understand that it feels impossible for so many people, especially when they are leaving abusive relationships. The problem is that the risks inherent in not being able to have any communication are so high in terms of how they affect children that it can lead to real trouble in terms of pushing kids into psychological splitting. I will write more about this and offsetting risks in coming blogs and also about how to find ways to have some kind of communication even in situation where one cannot abide the other parent or there is fear. One of the biggest problems for women right now is, as I see it, the way in which they can become pushed into being rejected because they are escaping abuse and the alienating father uses the lack of communication and turns the tactics on the child leaving the mother helpless as the child goes under the influence of the abusive father. It is a growing problem in my view and I am thinking that this particular problem needs research because it is a particular entry into alienation for the child and offsetting the risk needs some real attention. How to help your son come back when you cannot have communication with his father is something I will also write about in coming blogs, I will write about it from the perspective of the child and how that can assist you to understand what the needs of the child are in those circumstances. What we know is that coercive control of the child underpins alienation and is a particular feature of fathers alienating mothers. Mothers alienating fathers are also coercively controlling but more covertly. Because your child is as afraid of displeasing his daddy as you were, he obeys the overt demand to reject you. Understanding that is the first step to building a strategy to help him. I will write more as soon as I can. xx

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      1. Thanks Karen, I look forward to reading it and hopefully having the strength to take it all on board!
        Without sounding like a halfwit I have to admit to becoming almost broken psychologically when there has been contact before and my doc has said it was something that he had noted for years even before I became aware of it! At meetings when I had the social services involved I cringed behind my solicitor and at times he had to be asked to direct his answers to the chairman and not me!

        Maybe I’m looking the impossible Karen but your advise has produced miracles before….. so I wait patiently!

        Regards & Thanks

        Frankie x

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  5. A beautiful, compassionate, erudite post, Karen. You are frequently the sole beacon of hope many of us have in this judgemental world where those who understand so little, cold shoulder those of us who have found themselves in the miserable world of PA. Suspicion and mistrust of, attaches itself to those of us stigmatized by PA, adding to already enormous levels of pain, grief and loss. To be a “giant” in all of this shows how truly amazing human beings can sometimes be. Karen, you are the glue that holds so many of us fractured souls together.

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  6. I sometimes wonder if children of separated parents would be better off at boarding school! With a court order to say they share their holiday periods with each parent. It would take away a lot of issues.

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  7. “When that parent is healthy and well, when that parent is not split in their thinking and is able to offer to the child the unconditional platform of loving responses, when that parent has done the work that they need to do to ensure that their experience of loss does not overwhelm the child’s need to come first, then the child can take steady and confident steps to reconnection. Those rejected parents, who are able to do all of this, in the face of all they have been through and who are able to do it without expectation of recompense, retribution or reckoning, hold in their hearts, the greatest love of all humankind in my view. These mothers and fathers are truly giants amongst us, for they have been tested to the absolute limits and have transmogrified their pain and grief into something so beautiful that it is a joy to be witness to. For the children of these parents, life will be healthy and settled and well.”

    – This is the belief and fuel that has driven me for so many years (even when ‘running on empty’).

    “The greatest love of all is the love of a parent rejected in this landscape, lost and alone and in pain and yet somehow, anyhow, there when the child finds the road home.”

    – As George Benson and, then, Whitney Houston sang, ‘I found the greatest love of all inside of me’ and ‘learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all’…….aka self-care

    Thanks for a great post, Karen – there was so much in there that it took me deep down/way back, in thought, and near to tears (of peace & joy) x

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    1. That song, sung by George Benson, got me through my youth EHFAR, it has remained with me throughout my life and was playing in my head even as I wrote that blog post. More and more I hear, see and feel how the world of alienation splits everyone and how the alienating family dynamic comes into the lives of the children and divides them. It truly is a journey to become the transformative character in the family drama, to be the child or the parent who decides that they will not be part of the onward march of dysfunction. George Benson sang to me when I was a child about learning to love yourself being the greatest love of all and in some ways, he parented me by singing it. You get the picture, it is a lifetime’s work to recover and it is most certainly not about child contact relationships or conflict. xx

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      1. The other song was Move on Up by Curtis Mayfield, who got me through some of the dull grey days in a Northern town, struggling to find a balance x

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      2. Yes, we’re definitely on the same page there – that track has been ‘on a loop’ in my head ever since hearing it as the theme track to the Ali film back in ’77. More recently, I found it spookily relevant when watching the documentary on Whitney Houston’s troubled life (“can I be me”)……so many parallels with PA and the search to fill the ‘hole in the soul’ that exists for BOTH parents

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      3. ‘Anthem’ is a much overused and bandied-about word but but, having stood the test of time, that CM track is most certainly worthy of the label

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    1. Haha, think I can see why? Being a typical ’70’s, teenage-Londoner, I didn’t believe there was an awful lot going on outside the M25, where nightclubs were concerned. Only when I travelled further afield (soul-weekenders up north, etc.) in the 80s and 90 was I educated to all the fun that had been had for so long. Not having been there in the ’70’s , I was mesmerised by the Channel 4 documentary ‘living for the weekend’

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      1. That was my life the seventies and eighties EHFR it got me through such a lot, I have so much to thank soul music for x

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    2. I think I get it! Music has always been my best friend (despite alcohol giving it a ‘run for its money’ at various points in the past when depression threatened to take hold😞). Music still has the power to take me to a place where (in that moment) all is well within me and other challenging people, things and circumstances are not my problem…….that safe and self-nurturing space that keeps me going

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      1. Given how important people feel music is to their inner selves, it makes you stop and think about those who are deprived of the sensory ability to hear completely from birth and those for whom loss of hearing at some later point in their life (causing loss of some sounds and distortion of others), manage without music to salve a troubled soul?

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      2. Sadsam – without having had personal experience I would hope many of those with hearing difficulties will have discovered alternative (sensory) ‘vehicles’ to achieve the same feeling of peace. After all, one definition of happiness (which I, personally, subscribe to) is ‘the unconditional acceptance of Self as we are at this time’

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      3. There is always danger in making assumptions/drawing conclusions, about the world/experiences/feelings of those whose world we do not personally share. For myself, I find it is always better to ask those actually living with a particular scenario what it’s really like to experience it, rather than rely on my own made up thoughts on the subject, looking in from the outside. There are always inherent dangers in presupposing that one can understand a world that is not one’s own. Much to the frustration of those for whom it is a reality, not a theoretical question. After all, isn’t that one of the problems those of us affected by PA experience……..others assuming they understand it when they clearly don’t?

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      4. Sadsam – 100% agree with regards to assumption, conclusions (and opinions), hence, my use of the words ‘hope’ and ‘many’. One the great things about this blog is the platform it provides for the sharing of our personal experiences without being judged or judging others

        Where the PA experience is concerned (and whilst the outsider’s lack of understanding and empathy has always been a huge challenge), in my opinion, a far greater problem is our own understanding as a rejected parent…….understanding how we were, often/originally, more susceptible to PA in the first place, increasing personal awareness around our own part in the (often triangular) drama both past and present and, going forward, devising a longer-term strategy that’s right for us, as individuals

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  8. Thank you for sharing your understanding and helping me to stay on the right path. It is so easy to feel pain and hurt from the alienation and somehow seek explanations from my daughter. But she is simply caught in the middle of this and just needs my love and reassurance.

    Like

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