the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.“the theory and practice of perspective”
a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.“most guidebook history is written from the editor’s perspective”
One of the fundamental losses for a child who is captured in the maladaptive landscape after family separation is their perspective.
Perspective is that which allows us to understand the world around us through the eyes of others and in doing so, reach our own views and our own perspectives on what is happening to us.
Children who are captured in the mirror of parental personality disorder or who are caught in the maladaptive responses of the parent who takes care of them most, are at risk of loss of perspective in favour of seeing the world only through the hurting eyes of that parent. When this occurs, a child will enter into the process of becoming alienated from the other parent as their ability to empathise with others is reduced and the onset of a fused dyadic self righteous rage emerges.
With the emergence of this coalition of self righteous rage comes the various signs of alienation which were curated by Richard Gardner. It doesn’t really matter whether you believe that Gardner is a false prophet or whether there is a new guru on the block, in reality, all children who enter into the split state of mind which is denoted by profound love and allegiance to one parent and absolute rejection and demonisation of the other, have lost their sense of perspective and can be said to be alienated.
The reality test for this is the split state of mind of the child which is seen in situations where children are alienated. In their review of a measure of this splitting in children, Dr Bernet and colleagues determined that –
‘Both clinicians and forensic practitioners should distinguish parental alienation (rejection of a parent without legitimate justification) from parental estrangement (rejection of a parent for a good reason). Alienated children, who were not abused, engage in splitting and lack ambivalence with respect to the rejected parent; estranged children, who were maltreated, usually perceive the abusive parent in an ambivalent manner.’
Where a child is seen to be using psychological splitting as a way of coping with the post family separation landscape, it can be said that they are not estranged from the parent they are rejected but alienated. And in being alienated therefore, further investigation is necessary to understand how they became so, which is the differentiation and categorisation work which is undertaken by practitioners in this field in order to prepare and deliver an intervention.
Back to loss of perspective. When the child can only see the past, present and future through the eyes of the aligned parent they have lost all perspective and sense of themselves as a separate and sovereign individual. This state of mind is precarious for a child who can then be manipulated to believe that all of their feelings are actually their own felt sense of the world.
This is often the condition in which children present to family court officers, who in the UK are steeped in the idea that the voice of the child must always be listened to.
The problem of course with the voice of the alienated child is that in reality this is the voice of influencing parent, which is amplified by the child with ever increasing urgency as practitioners try to intervene.
Without an understanding of how vulnerable children are after divorce and separation and without recognition of the symptoms of the psychologically split state of mind, too many family court officers rely solely upon the expressed wishes and feelings of the child without ever realising that what they are doing is condemning the child to a life in which their only perspective is that of the unwell parent who controls them.
In every respect it should be possible to see from this unpacking of the underlying dynamics, that this is a situation in which children are being emotionally and psychologically harmed and that it does not matter whether this is intentionally done by the aligned parent or not, the outcome in terms of the loss of healthy perspective and capacity for normal relationships has been stolen from the child. In such circumstances, the long term impact upon the child is not simply the loss of a relationship with one side of their family, it is the loss of relational perspective, the removal of the capacity to rely upon the evidence of their own experience and the challenges that arise throughout life because of those things.
Parental alienation is abusive to the child however it arises. There is no gradation of suffering for the child. However the split state of mind arose, whether it be conscious and deliberate or unconscious, whether it be the transmission of trans-generational trauma, whether it be pure or hybrid or some other configuration not yet curated, the alienation of a child causes significant harm. And it is that harm to the child, which removes their right to a healthy and unconscious experience of childhood and beyond, which we must be most concerned about.
Without perspective an alienated child will not find their way home to the parent they have been forced to reject.
Without perspective an alienated child will grow up to believe that people are either all good or all bad and they will struggle in their relationships with others because of it.
Without perspective an alienated child will always believe that there is only one side to the story of their lives and that their felt sense of outrage and indignation about one parent and profound devotion and admiration of the other is the truth of how the world works.
It is not.
To see the world through only one set of eyes is to condemn the self to being partially blind and to restrict the experience of life to a narrow set of beliefs and experiences which feel safe but which in reality frustrate and bind the self to bigotry of the self and soul.
Bringing alienated children back to perspective is not an easy task in a landscape where there is such reliance on their voices and such little understanding of how those voices are the uttering and amplification of the pain and suffering of their parent.
When we hear those voices, it is not the child in the here and now who is speaking but the harmed voice of the child in the parent who is influencing the child. It is that parent we must pay attention to and that parent who is in need of assistance. But it is the child in the here and now we must protect first because their fate should not be to suffer the same lifetime loss of perspective which is experienced by that parent. Parenting is about passing on a healthy legacy not a toxic package of unresolved issues. Enabling perspective to return to the child’s life is most often about protecting the children from the efforts of the influencing parent to force that toxic burden to be carried by the next generation.
Asking an alienated child about their wishes and feelings is like breaking their legs and asking them which shoes they would like to wear. In fact breaking a child’s perspective is like breaking their legs, it is both cruel and harmful to their life chances. If parents who break a child’s capacity for perspective were breaking their children’s legs, we would not find it difficult to act to protect the child, but because we cannot see the impact of a broken perspective on a child’s long term life chances, it is all too easy to turn away.
But just like a child with broken legs cannot walk home, a child without perspective cannot find their way home because their belief is that home is somehow dangerous to their wellbeing. For alienated children, home is where the abuse happens, abuse which is stealthily removing their right to a healthy future, abuse which is distorted 180 degrees and called love.
As practitioners we urgently need to let the world know about the importance of a child’s right to a healthy perspective of life.
It is the only way that alienated children will be helped to find their way home.