One of the things missing in the world of alienated children is ambivalence. It is also missing in the lives of alienating parents and in some families, it is missing in the lives of rejected parents too.
Lack of ambivalence is one of the eight signs of alienation which were curated by Gardner. It is a clear indicator of psychological splitting and when it is seen in a child it is often displayed strongly and with great determination. Children who show lack of ambivalence are extraordinarily fierce in their allegiance to the favoured or aligned parent and extremely rejecting of the other. They will hear only what the aligned parent is saying and remain completely deaf to the voice of the other. This lack of ambivalence in preference is indicative of the psychologically split state of mind. When we see this we know that we are dealing with parental alienation. When we know this we open the door and begin the process of further assessment, evaluation and design of treatment route.
The aim in intervention and treatment of parental alienation is to resolve the split state of mind of the child. Splitting is an infantile defence mechanism and its cause has its roots in the story of how the child entered into the defence in the first place. The cause is varied in different families, which is why understanding the route into psychological splitting for each child is essential.
To understand why the child becomes psychologically split it is important to come back to our understanding of what it means to be human in a world of relationships. This world is not one which is easily divided up into blocks and chunks of readily labelled experiences. This is not a world in which it is possible to box up feelings into good, bad, better, worse, happy, sad, right, wrong. The relational world is fluid, it is like a river which is in full flow sometimes, trickling by at others. It is full of the flotsam and jetsam of our individual personal history and it requires some flexibility in navigation.
Being human is not a this/that experience. Being human in a world of relationships is about being able to take the rough with the smooth and about being able to walk in each other’s shoes. Being human is to be fallible and to understand that no-one and nothing is perfect. Understanding ambivalence as the parent of an alienated child, is one of the greatest assets you can possess because it gives you freedom of mind and it keeps your mind open to all of the possibilities in the many roads which lead your child back to you.
When we work with parents we use a lot of mindfulness training. We do this because we know that living in the here and now and being able to tame the anxiety dragon is the road to surviving and thriving as an alienated parent. As we repeatedly say, ‘the alienated child’s best hope for the future is that the parent they have ‘chosen’ to lose, will be there when they return, happy and healthy and well.’ We say it because it is the truth. We know it is the truth because of the opportunities we have to witness children returning. We know that those who do best are those whose parents were able to successfully navigate rejection. without falling into the psychologically split state of mind, which mirrors the alienating parent and alienated child.
The alienated child uses psychological splitting as a defence against an intolerable situation. The rejected parent who uses psychological splitting does the same thing. The defence acts to push the person using it into the belief that the world is divided into good and bad and people are for you or against you. When this is the state of mind experienced by the rejected parent AND the alienated child, there is little possibility of building a bridge between the alienated child and rejected parent. Which is why in all of our assessment work we evaluate the rejected parent’s capacity for tolerating ambivalence and ambiguity.
When a child is being brought out of the psychological split state of mind through intervention, they are extremely vulnerable to returning to it. The child who is being brought out of this state of mind must be able to receive clear messages that the parent they are returning to is predictable and ready to receive. If a rejected parent is also using psychological splitting as a defence, it becomes impossible to reunite them with their child because of the risk of unpredictable responses to the child as they emerge from the alienated state of mind.
Children emerging from the alienated state of mind are themselves unpredictable. They can swing back and forth before settling into a recognisable recovery pattern and they can continue to display, at least in the early stages, some of the behaviours which were seen in the route into the alienated state of mind. This is why the rejected parent must be supremely aware of their role as parent and must be able to steer a patient and steady course of reconnection with the child. If the rejected parent is also swinging back and forth in their state of mind and their responses mirror the child’s reconnection is impossible.
Maintaining the capacity for ambivalence can be an exhausting thing to do, especially in a world which is turned upside down by the loss of a child, but it is not impossible.
Ambivalence as a rejected parent is maintained in many ways but one of the best ways to do it is to make sure that your mind stays open to every possibility in the world. Reading widely about the subject matter surrounding your family, keep your eyes and ears open for all of the thinking about child development, neuroscience, families, the court system in your country, how men and women are treated in politics, how children are viewed in society. Do your investigative work and find out about your family history, know the stories which came down your family line and how they interlink with the stories which came down the family line of the other parent. Observe your child in your mind, think about how your child was affected by the conjoint influence of those stories. Be open to as many different theories as you can find about how children become alienated and how the issue is resolved. Listen a lot, talk less, learn more.
There is peace in ambivalence although it is a strange thing to say in a world which craves certainty and definitive outcomes. Being able to keep your mind open and tolerate mixed feelings is a really peaceful place to reach because it means that you are no longer fighting internally, you have reached the place where it just is. A place of acceptance in which defences are not needed. A place where if you have to wait for your child to emerge you can do so without suffering as much and a place where if your child is returning or being helped to return, you can give what they need without fear of getting anything wrong.
At the Clinic we work with the principles of parallel processing, where change in one person is recognised as creating change in others. Finding peace in your ambivalence gives signals which create ripples of change.
Nothing is totally certain, nothing is totally random, nothing is right and nothing is wrong.
In the balance which comes with the integrated state of mind, living with ambivalence brings peace to your world, which builds the stable platform and the bridge to the future return of your child.
The power of you.
For parents who seek wider knowledge and information about parental alienation, the European Association of Alienation Practitioners Conference opens for parent bookings at special rates next week. Presenting at the conference are world leaders in the field of parental alienation, researcher Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D, Dr Steve Miller, Professor William Bernet, Linda Gottlieb and more. This is an opportunity to hear from those who are at the forefront of change in this field about the work being done to bring change to the lives of children and their families affected by parental alienation. Announcements about further events for parents during the conference period will be made here shortly.