Finding Your Peace in an Ambivalent World

the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.

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.

At peace.

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.


  1. Our greatest energy, from a spring within, a tributary of the great rivers that leads to and from the oceans of life. An energy that transcends time and space and can heal the deepest of wounds and remove the poisons of isolation and polarisation. Let the love flow. It’s warm, thaws ice. Xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Carl, just what I needed. I learned so much from sticking with you and you sticking with me, more than you will ever know. x


  3. I would have been lost in the woods Karen if not for you, and probably in a much worse position than being lost in the woods too. Thank you for all you have done, and do for so many and those not even born yet. Thank you for putting up with me. Xx

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  4. Saw Neil Young with my husband at the NEC a few years ago. After the interval there was a patch of about 20 mins where he just jammed onstage with his band mates – not facing the audience – not paying any attention to them – not playing for them – just for himself, and for the love of playing.
    Being able to be ambivalent has saved me. Being able to see the alienator my life as human – flawed, malevolent certainly, insecure, but as a rounded person who has people who love her for qualities I don’t see, has helped me. Otherwise, as my wise husband says, I’m just drinking the poison but expecting other to be changed.
    Being able to see, and love, the flaws in others has made me happier with myself. By looking at and loving their flaws I can live with my own.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have posted previously, sharing my experiences as an alienated parent. I am happy to now post as a reunified parent. Just before her 18thbirthday, my daughter who had completely stopped all communication with me, called me on the phone and with an uncertain, trembling voice asked if she could come stay with me. I answered “Of course. “

    Her stepmom called me shortly thereafter and told me all sorts of rotten things about my daughter, saying she just wanted me to know”what I was getting into.”

    My daughter returned. She was nervous at first. Neither knew what to expect. I was calm and told her I knew there was a lot to talk about but I also knew she was processing a lot, so just told her to come in and make herself at home and when she was ready we can talk. Later that night she asked me to come speak with her. I let her talk. She cried as she apologized for cutting contact with me. She told me she used to get reprimanded, belittled, and even punished for talking kindly of me or saying she wanted to contact me. She said she’d been happy after the last time we spoke and immediately her stepmom got angry, calling her an ingrate and telling her she’d ruined all of their lives, including her stepsisters, because she was the reason they’d been to court so many times, and now she was reaching out to me anyway. She said they made it clear she shouldn’t be talking to me so she stopped. She then told me about years of manipulation and control by the stepmom. How the stepmom told her she was horrible and she didn’t want to be her mom. How the stepmom accused her of illicit behaviors my daughter had never been involved in. How her stepmom spied on her and her stepsister through their bedroom windows at night. How stepmom ransacked her room, upturning the mattress, dumping dresser drawers, tossing clothes from the closet, and sweeping all items from countertops to the point of breaking things, all to see if she would catch my daughter doing something wrong. She didn’t find anything.

    My daughter said at that point she told her stepmom she wanted to leave. Her stepmom replied with a sneer “And where do you think you’ll go? Your mom won’t want you back after everything that’s happened !” My daughter replied “You’re wrong. I already called her and asked if I could go and she said yes.” Stepmom went into a rage and told her she had an hour to remove all her belongings from the house. She shut off my daughter’s phone, and then called me to tell me horrible things about my daughter, insinuating she was sleeping around and doing drugs.

    None of that mattered to me. If my daughter needed help, I’d be there to see she got it. I welcomed her back. I half expected her to come in the door with track marks, crazy dyed hair, piercings and tattoos, and be 6 months pregnant. Nope. Just my same beautiful girl, clearly shaken by the upheaval in her life, walked through my door. Everything stepmom said was lies. Apparently she told my daughter as she left “I’m calling your mom and she won’t want you after I get through!” My daughter sobbed as she recounted those words saying she was so nervous that I would believe the awful things her stepmom said and wouldn’t want her back. I told her “your stepmom clearly dosn’t know me if she thinks that’s all it would take.”

    I let her know that I understood this was all a lot to process. That she didn’t have to “unpack” it all now, and that I’d be here whenever she wanted to talk. I also told her that for all her many faults, her stepmom was trying to parent in the way she knew how. It was not my way, and the I don’t condone the actions, but I told my daughter if she harbored hate for her dad (who she called a coward because when she turned to him he told her he’d always side with stepmom) or her stepmom, it would be worse for her than being at peace with understanding who they are.

    Of course I wanted to badmouth them. My stomach was churning as she spoke. But I didn’t, knowing that while it would make me feel good, it wasn’t in her best interest. For years I’ve held steady, absorbing the pains and frustrations of alienation, relying on ambivalence as much as I could muster. Now, at the moment of reunification, I dug deep to find it again.

    My daughter has been home three months now. She is happy, chatty, and warm. She confides in me about everything, checks in with me multiple times a day, and told me she sleeps soundly now whereas she hadn’t slept more than 3 or 4 hours a night in months prior to leaving her dads home. She still hasn’t said “I love you” to me. I talked about it with her one night when she began the conversation. I told her I know she was conditioned to withdraw and feel mixed negative emotions when I said “I love you” to her. She confirmed it was true. She said she’d just taken a psychology course, and recognized that her disgust at hearing me say “I love you” was a conditioned response. I let her know I understood. It took years to ingrain it in her and would take a while before it left her. But, if it was ok with her, I was still going to say it occasionally to her, because it was true and my heart was so happy to have her near. I also told her I didn’t expect her to reply with “I love you” back, and that I never wished for anyone to say that unless they truly felt it. She thanked me for understanding.

    I tell her I love her about once a week or so. She is growing more accustomed to hearing it, and accepting it. And she hugs me. Genuinely. We have come a long way from the young girl who flinched away if I touched her and screamed that she hated me. Patience and ambivalence are my longtime companions. I can wait for the day, which I am now certain will come eventually, when she says “I love you too, Mom.”

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    1. Thank you for your beautiful comment Higbye and thank you for the hope it brings to everyone who comes here to find it. I could not have given any better a picture of how patience and ambivalence work in the recovery process, it is simple and it is powerful beyond compare and you have conveyed it beautifully.

      This is why rejected parents need to stay strong and healthy and well, this is why they need to focus on those small but so incredibly difficult to maintain elements, because their children need them to, they need the protection their healthy parent can give them and the foundation to stand on to move on to wellness.

      I am moved and overjoyed by your story which comes on a day when I have seen so much of what is unnecessary and unhelpful in the world of rejected parents play itself out in full view.

      Thank you for sharing, go well on your journey to I love you too mom, it won’t be far away.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, Karen, thank YOU. In the wee dark hours, lost and forlorn, struggling through the hopeless dysfunction of alienation year after year, you and your blog were a source of hope and understanding, as well as a toolbox that I could turn to for help.

        We have never met, and yet you were one of the most powerful forces on my journey. You gave me strength and hope and guidance. Your experiences, shared for all the world to see, were often my only navigation system through the thick muck and deep, murky waters of alienation.

        I never had the financial means to hire local counselors whose expertise is treating targeted parents. And yet, there I was, able to turn to one of the world’s leading experts for help. I was not abandoned. I was not alone. Nor were the thousands of other struggling alienated parents across the globe. Someone cared enough about us to help. YOU cared. Without any personal gain, and often at the risk of facing backlash, you reached out to us through your blog and offered your wisdom, advice, concern, and cautions. You continue to guide us through our worst days and prepare us for the best yet to come.

        I can’t thank you enough for all you have done for me and my family. We may never meet, but you will always have a special place in my heart.

        Much love from California!

        PS. Willow: Thank you for your well-wishes. I hope you have good news soon as well. Even if it’s baby steps. Every move forward, even if it’s just you who is moving forward, is something to celebrate.

        For all others who may be reading this: hold tight to the belief that one day you will have your own happy ending. Keep hope alive. And in the meantime, be kind to yourselves. You have been through so much. Live as fully as you can, as happily as you can, until that missing piece falls into place. You will be all the better for it when that time does come.


      2. Holly this is such a lovely comment, could I put your story into a post so that others can see it, it would help so many others to hear about it from you x


  6. Higbye what an amazing post. I smiled all the way through and I wish you both all the very best in the years to come as you both rediscover each other 🙂

    I decided to send my daughter a card today for her 37th birthday. Not because I have any hope, I don’t. I know it won’t happen. But because I remembered that if it hadn’t been for my late father writing to me every few months (your daughter’s words about her own father being weak resonated with me so much and as I was reading your story I was wondering about what he was doing all that time) I’d have never given either of my parents a second thought ever again after they chose not to attend my wedding for no other reason than my mother couldn’t be *****. So, with that thought in mind, I posted the card.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi higbye
    Loved your post. I particularly liked this paragraph mainly because it relieves the pressure on your daughter to have to decide who is right and who is wrong.

    “I let her know that I understood this was all a lot to process. That she didn’t have to “unpack” it all now, and that I’d be here whenever she wanted to talk. I also told her that for all her many faults, her stepmom was trying to parent in the way she knew how. It was not my way, and the I don’t condone the actions, but I told my daughter if she harboured hate for her dad (who she called a coward because when she turned to him he told her he’d always side with stepmom) or her stepmom, it would be worse for her than being at peace with understanding who they are……………………………….”

    Your daughter may see her Dad as a hate figure, but you know that a more likely scenario is that he is also a target of Stepmom. You may be a threat to Stepmom’s relationship with her husband. She may be putting pressure on him to make choices he shouldn’t be asked to make.
    I work with alienated parents and many just don’t understand how to escape from the black and white, right and wrong arguments that are the mantra of the alienating parent, or in your case the alienating Stepmom.

    The court process does not help because if you go to court asking for ambivalence they don’t have it. They have winners and losers and they have diktats which must be obeyed with caveats that will punish and harm. They have “mediation” which for many is a way of saying, “place your head in this red-hot oven and see how long you can stand it whilst your assailant turns the gas up”

    Ambivalence must come from the target parent.

    But, it is a long journey and ambivalence is the last thing on your mind when your children have cruelly been taken away from you. However, if you should be fortunate enough to have a glimpse of your children either through limited contact, minimal co-parenting, supervised and controlled messaging, then ambivalence is a useful tool at your disposal. (e.g. it will help your children feel more comfortable in a two-home scenario, or give them confidence as you develop their “transition bridge” or sow seeds). Accepting the alienator as a normal human being with a different outlook is essential.

    Invariably, at the start of the Court process, the C100 if you live in the UK, the target parent will try to expose all the faults of the alienator and the lies in the hope that someone will see common sense and pass decree in their favour, perhaps with a reprimand to the alienator. I suppose it would be unreasonable to expect anything less.
    Whatever happens in the Courts, they offer little in the way of helping you manage the dynamics of a possible alienating situation.

    What you really want is for everybody to get off their high horses so that you can carry on co-parenting as if little has changed except you and your former partner have chosen different ways forward. Simply put there are now two homes, not one.

    Well done higbye, any child would be proud to have you as their parent.


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