Living With Shadows: Learning to Care for Rejected Parents

Living with shadows can feel like the lot of the alienated parent, if you let it.  The shadow side of the black/white split in the mind, creates one parent who is felt to be wholly good and another who is felt to be wholly bad by the child, who acts as if this split is the whole truth of their experience.  When unknowing professionals encounter this, they act to reinforce the splitting, seeking evidence to uphold the child’s presentation, scrutinising the alienated parent and aligning, often unconsciously, with the parent who is the root cause of the split state of mind in the child.

The split state of mind in the child is the clue that something is very wrong in the post separation landscape.  Children whose parents have made the transition from living together to living apart with a continued commitment to be parents to their children, do not have children who display the rejecting stance of the alienated child.  Children whose parents have not made the transition because of problems which have arisen in the steps they have taken to post separation life, do.  The key questions for all professionals who encounter the split state of mind in the child are –

  • when (did the child enter the split state of mind)
  • how (did this child enter this frame of mind)
  • who (is the root cause of the entry into splitting

These three simple questions are all that it takes to begin the process of investigation and all that it requires to bring the rejected parent out of the shadow and into the light of their rightful place as the parent of their child.

Being seen in the light as the rightful parent of a child is a far too uncommon experience for rejected parents, who are often regarded with suspicion and assumption that they must have caused the child to reject them.  What most professionals who meet alienated children do not understand, is that their next steps will contribute to the split state of mind in the child for better or for worse.  Which is why people without training, who hold disproportionate amounts of power, (CAFCASS, Court Officers and Social Workers) should not be free to engage with alienated children.

Alienation is a defence mechanism which is activated in the child when pressure is placed upon them in the post separation landscape.  It is an act of self protection in the child and is triggered when the pressure reaches the tipping point beyond which the child utilises the division of their feelings into all good and all bad as a coping mechanism.

When the coping mechanism is activated, the child cannot voluntarily drop the defence of splitting the world into good and bad and efforts to make the child do so, will only make things much worse.  In the world in which most court professionals work, the voice, (rather than the well being) of the child is paramount and in the environment in which women and children must always be believed (which pervades the family court system in the UK at least), what the child says is almost always regarded as the truth.

Which is why un-knowing professionals who encounter the child who is using the split state of mind as a defence mechanism, are drawn into an unconscious alignment with the parent who is causing the split state of mind.  If the child is telling the truth then it follows that the parent they profess to adore must be too.  Which leaves only the rejected parent to be investigated for the ‘hidden’ reasons why a child is rejecting them.

This is why uniform training in understanding the way in which alienated children present is so important.  And it is why anyone who does not have the capacity (and evidence of that capacity) to work counter intuitively with the alienated child, should not be allowed to do so.

The alienation reaction is infectious. It is very easily escalated into wild allegations if the child is not worked with in the recognised counter intuitive manner which is set down in research evidence by key people in the field.  Unaware professionals who encounter alienated children and assume that the child’s voice is authentic, risk pushing the family into deeper crisis.  For too many years this has been the standard procedure in the UK and it has left generations of children without a loved parent as well as the burden of having made the ‘choice’ to evict that parent from their lives.  Living in the shadows has been the lot of those parents who have been rejected from the lives of their children, upheld by the alienating parent and sanctified by the state.  It is, in my mind, a hidden scandal which will one day reach the light of our conscious awareness.  Far too late for some but not too late for the next generations.

Caring for rejected parents requires that we shine a light upon their parenthood and breathe life back into it.  It requires us to acknowledge and solidify our support for the love and care that they bring to the lives of the children who have become lost to a coping mechanism that they should never have been made to use in the first place.

Life in the shadows is no place for healthy parents, whose care for their children does not disappear or wither on the vine.  Love remains constant as does the concern and worry which is generated by the experience of watching a living child be suffocated in the clutches of an alienation reaction.  Whilst all alienated parents go through a recognisable pattern of reaction from shock and the need to shout for help, to acceptance and the capacity to wait, no healthy parent should have to live in the shadows as too many rejected parents do.

For those of us who understand, there is a need to do this work and speak about it, to act where we can and train others to do so too. This work is not just about one family but about many and about the movement towards a worldwide recognition that children do not choose to lose a healthy loving parent after family separation, they are forced to do so. And in being forced to do so, they are being condemned to a life with all of the devastating consequences that growing up believing in one parent good/other parent bad brings.

Learning to care about alienated children means learning to dispel  the shadows to bring rejected parents into the light.

Which is what we are doing worldwide in 2018.

One movement, many hands.

Out of the shadows together.



  1. Karen, I am just amazed, really relieved to read this! and saddened at the same time. This was and is the case in my ongoing situation.

    In 2009, my son was 16, he hadn’t seen me (his mother )since he was 5. I attempted to reunify “through the courts” with court appointed non qualified therapists “in alienation cases” and I experienced exactly the “infectious” reaction you are referring to. My attempt failed to produce any reunification. I even had to report the therapist I was using to the state. The case was closed shortly after and as the result of the “stress” it was causing my son and his father as told by the fathers therapist.

    Ultimately I was forced out for round #2. In all actuality the court appointed professionals from the beginning of the post separation were” infected” until the judge I filed this reunification motion . She slightly “caught on” to alienation part the father had been displaying and granted the case to move forwarded.

    It was always my belief that I was “forced out” of my son’s life, always!

    You continue to be one of my sole reliable resources with every blog that you write that usually “hits” on the exact part of the alienation I need to read and understand as I keep traveling down this unfathomable journey to reunite and I will be eternally thankful for you!

    I appreciate you Karen!

    Thank you!

    Robobi (one of your followers on Instagram:)


  2. This has been my reality and nightmare. False accusations given life and strength by alienators and their flying monkeys. Professionals, who should know the signs of alienation, but in their ignorance to the abhorrent travesty that is parental alienation, they simply strengthen its effect. This situation is killing me. A parent should never have to grieve the loss of a living child. A loving and innocent parent should not be looked at with suspicion, but sadly most still live by the old saying that “where there’s smoke there must be fire.” Unfortunately that is not always the case, and especially in cases or parental alienation…. a completely unnatural action for children.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a therapist in practice for almost 20 years. My divorce from my sex addict husband and covert narcissist was final three years ago. Since the divorce he has successfully turned my three teenage children against me. I was a very involved parent and he was too. We parented very well together until I divorced him. His tactic has been to undermine me in every possible way. Any consequences that I imposed such as threatening to take away their phones when they don’t respond.. typical teenage stuff, right? My ex put them in his phone plan and told them each that they did not have to respond to me. So they stopped responding all together. They told me that I was the brundt of all his jokes. My oldest has cut me out of her life completely with no explanation. She got married earlier this year and I was not included and of course he paid for it therefore had the ability to insist that her mother be included. I wasn’t allowed to sit in the front row with her father. Not invited to the rehearsal dinner. Not included in the pictures. I was only permitted to attend and watch her walk down the isle. When the photographer took a pic of the bride and groom with the parents, I was not included in that pic either, and was in the room, until that moment when I excused myself. My two oldest are over 18 and my youngest will be soon. My ex has taken two trips this past year out of the country each for 3 weeks at a time. He left our teenage child at his place telling her she didn’t have to stay with her Mother. I actually was on a text that he sent to his family accidentally in which he tells them that “it is actually detrimental for our child to be exposed to her Mother.” As though I’m a virus or a disease and she is better off staying there alone than to be with me. With three weeks left before our daughter turns 18, I received a letter from his attorney threatening to take me to court, if I don’t take down a post on my LinkedIn account. I post articles all the time about Parental Alienation and Divorcing a Narcissist because I’m still understanding what is happening to me. I appreciate this entry. I want to help others that are enduring this evil. I didn’t realize that this could happen when I divorced him. Being estranged from my children is excruciating. They don’t realize they have been brainwashed. I have had to come to terms with this for now and am seeking to find ways to repair the damage that’s been done. So many people do not understand what is happening. My support system really realized how bad this is at the wedding. No one could comprehend what was actually happening until they witnessed it with their own eyes. It was such injustice. He had cheated on me repeatedly in our marriage and it was very public. Our community of friends walked through all of that with us. I didn’t share much with our kids because I didn’t think they needed to know those details. I’m the end that backfired on me. He capitalized in the fact that they don’t know those facts. Our friends and my family know though.. so to watch him so flagrantly and publically alienate me was deeply disturbing to us all. If I try to defend myself or convince my kids of what is happening, it only appears that I am slandering their father. So I choose to just be kind and gracious and be myself and pray a lot. It is maddening.


  4. I have come to the point where I question the wisdom of the ‘innocent’ parent making claims that the ‘alienator’ is a ‘narcissist’, ‘ borderline personality disorder’ or whatever label is affixed. What adults do to each other is separate to what adults do to children. How must it seem through the children’s eyes to have one of their parents labelled? Different if the label has been attached by a psychiatrist after in depth analysis but by one parent of the other?…… what must the children make of it? Does it advance the cause of the alienated parent with their children? Does it contribute positively to the chances of reunification? It’s all too easy to fixate on the other parent when full of hurt, but when what really matters is maintaining healthy relationships with one’s children, it is a dangerous distraction that can deepen the one thing one wants to avoid…… alienation from one’s own children.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not just the alienated parent who use labels – my ex (who is the alienator) has already got her trump card out there and claims both I and my whole family are narcissists. I’d never even heard of gaslighting and narcissism until she brought it up but apparently I am to blame for deteriorating mental state of our children whom I have had no meaningful contact with for 18 months now. I would never use labels publicly and certainly never in front of our children (whom I see during sporadic yet controlled circumstances when I am summoned over so my children can vent at me supervised by my ex). I totally agree that using labels doesn’t help in any way, but it seems to work for my ex as a defence for her actions. “My family and I are apparently bad and have always been bad and our children need to be protected from us” is the mantra. It’s all so heartbreaking and unnecessary.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is why I haven’t taken this to court my two sons have “decided” not to see or speak to me. They are very loyal to their father and the courts will always take into account what the children want or think they want. I am in the waiting stage I tell them I love them and I’m here for them. Although my heart is broken I have to accept and wait and pray. There is no else I can do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As far as I know the courts (UK) also take into account/ start from the position that a relationship with both parents is the preferred option and will not support rejection of one parent if there is deemed not to be justifiable reasons. Perhaps Karen could give some more perspective on this? If there are no apparent justifiable reasons then perhaps there is more hope for you than you think in the courts……if you can get legal support from people who actually know what they are doing and who can keep the focus cleanly on whether the kids reasons for rejecting you are valid or need to be overruled. Wishing you best of luck whatever you decide.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sadsam,

        My case had a few who grasped what was happening right from the off…. but my 14yr old son said he didn’t want to see his mummy even though for the past 13yrs he had been joined to my hip for fear of his daddy!!

        He said he didn’t want to…so that was that! Even a senior social worker suggested he be removed from his father and “phased back” to me. This was totally ignored by the courts as daddy said he’d run away and hurt himself!! So you see Saddam even when those in the know, know, no one has the courage of their convictions to make it right!!

        Like you I hope that if my son becomes an alienated parent as is the case apparently, Karen will have gone some way in making it easier for him to see his children!! And so it goes…..

        Frankie x


      2. Hi Frankie….”He said he didn’t want to…so that was that!’…….. I’m struggling to see how that was just accepted at face value by the courts…….surely he had to give reasons for such a drastic course of action and then those reasons examined as to whether they had any real validity? Maybe I’m being naive here…….wasn’t it the job of your legal defense to push this?

        As for “……. as daddy said he’d run away and hurt himself!! “……. surely that raised issues of his mental stability and therefore fitness to parent?

        Looking back my legal team were useless….. knowing what I know now, it’s easier to see what I would have expected them to do on my behalf and didn’t. Knowledge gleaned too late of course, personally… you say let’s hope future outcomes are appropriate and ease the way of children and parents dealing with all this crap.


  6. I was alienated from my daughter for 14 years and reunited in 2011. I too am still trying to understand how this all happened. Even though I am reunited with my daughter, sometimes I wonder why? When we are all together for one of the children’s birthday, I am never included in pictures and it is OBVIOUS my ex-husband is “The Man in The High Castle”. How hard can alienation be to diagnose when you see a child hating another parent for no apparent reason? I have an extreme interest in the backlash on the psyche on the child forced/condemned (as your article states) to a life with all of the devastating consequences that growing up believing in one parent good/other parent bad brings.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. One thing that strikes me from reading others comments here is how much power is accorded to the ‘alienating’ parent… they don’t allow this and that, yet by whose authority other than their own? When is the ‘alienator’ challenged, especially in public? Assertiveness is a useful life skill in any circumstance but it would seem to be absolutely vital in the context of PA. How is the alienator physically going to stop you being in photos with your own children? Take your own selfies with them! Standing one’s own ground to uphold ones right to be an equal parent to one’s own children needs courage but what a positive demonstration to one’s children that you are not a powerless victim. Alienators are often bullies and the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. SadSam, I totally agree with what you have written. As the targeted parent, the alienation in my scenario happened so fast (literally two weekends) I had no idea what was happening to me. Having said that, my ex, the alienator didn’t deem me powerless, my daughter did it. After I fought this in the courts for approx. 10 months, my daughter HATED me. She would never have taken a selfie/picture with me. I guess I didn’t handle the accusations and outright slander coming out of her mouth via my ex. She was so indoctrinated against me, I didn’t have a fighting chance. Looking back I remember I kept saying to her, “give me a chance”!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Debbie…’s good to hear of a parent being reunited, though heartbreaking that there was a gap of 14 years. Would love to hear how the reunification came about? Any tips for others? Do you mind saying how old was she when you reunited?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi SadSam, my daughter was 26 years old, married and had a 5 month old daughter, I had only seen Elizabeth at her Baptism. I live in Indiana (US), had I not found an internet support group PAS Guardian Angel’s I would never have reconnected. The moderators helped guide me. One night my daughter unblocked me on Facebook and we went back and forth with probably 35-40 messages. I kept all dialogue extremely upbeat, positive, light and added in humor. The internet group proofed some of my early messages to help me. I was a nervous wreck. She was an athlete, so I invited her to come to my town (30 minutes away) to run. It started raining pretty hard so we went to an old basketball gym nearby to run stairs. The whole time keeping our conversation light and warm. We stopped to get a drink of water and that’s when she looked at me and said “I’m sorry Mom, I couldn’t go one day without seeing Elizabeth”. We hugged, kissed and the rest is history. I honestly had almost completely given up. My story is proof, NEVER GIVE UP!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Sadsam, try living through the madness that is the Social Services child care!

      At 14 they deem a child has the right to pick where he lives thus my son got to live with his daddy! Did they know all was not as it seemed…. Yes they did but to ensure their e boxes are all ticked they go no further!!

      The judge in my case advised me to withdraw request for contact as my son was 14 and could choose whether or not to see me, the judge said he was aware of what was happening but had to take my son’s decision into account and didn’t want to rule against a mother who had fought so hard and who’s situation was so obvious!

      That’s what you’re up against Sadsam…. The alienated children know best… The system is so flawed but I appreciate you questioning me in a similar manner to my exhusbands solicitor!


  8. Thank you Debbie for sharing your story….. I’m wondering how many years it is now that you’ve been reunited and if in that time your daughter has talked with you about the missing years and her understanding of why she rejected you? It is truly momentous for both of you to successfully overcome 14 years of separation. May you both savour the years you can now have together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi SadSam,
      We have never discussed the reasons why for the alienation. She holds her Dad (alienator) in very high esteem. It is extremely evident to me she has a deep loyalty to him, so by talking about the rejection she may have to say something negative about him and she would never do that. My observation, she struggles with living a common day. She is easily overwhelmed by too much laundry, cleaning, too much work ( she is an ICU nurse, then coming home to take care of her girls (3), homework and the rigors of daily life. She will fold up and call me for help and I am always there for her. She wants to be her childrens’ best buddy instead of their mother. This is why I want to closely follow Karen as I am trying to understand the alination process, reasons why my daughter struggles with living life and how I can help her. The one thing she totally enjoys is crafting of any kind. I haven’t figured that one out either. I am sure it is fun and calming for her, problem is she does nothing else for hours and hours.
      She did say to me shortly after we reconnected that she totally understands why her Dad and I got a divorce, not sure what that means either? Praying for your reunification. Debbie


      1. Thanks Debbie. So many unanswered questions for you. Your reply has made me think about what Karen has said elsewhere about ‘ambivalence’ – the ability to see one’s parents as a mixture of good and not so good… sounds as if your daughter hasn’t found that place yet and hence her struggle continues. To me having periods of life that cannot be spoken about are like ‘elephants in the room’… one is free until their presence is acknowledged and made real. But Karen is the expert here….


  9. My wife is an alcoholic and we have 4 daughters . The older 2 have been alienating and causing a rift between us as husband and wife .Due to my wife’s addiction I have had to deal with matters for more than 10 years- financial, emotional and others .
    My eldest daughter(turning 23) came back home after finishing her degree and has been home since last year . She watches TV all night and sleeps all day .
    Next daughter (now 21)Younger one has been a party animal for over 5 years and will finish university and would come home .
    The 2younger ones who are 14 and 11 have been meticulously brainwashed and my eldest daughter uses them as a shield to stay home and do nighting .
    She has even manipulated and brainwashed my second daughter and together they have made our lives a living hell by brainwashing the younger ones to the extend of alienating the father (myself) as the older ones behaviours are out of control , they live for free , don’t work nor contribute toward any bills and I have been the only breadwinner since 14 years .
    Now my younger ones are in trouble at school and the Child Care agency is involved and they are being forced to tell lies due to the pressure from the older ones . Matters are so serious and out of control that I am unable to fight addiction as well as parent alienation having to juggle my life with work , social services school , bills etc etc .
    Can any one recommend a good and less expensive lawyer in London – OrUK whoom I can seek advise and evict my elder daughter to get to the root of the problem by making her a responsible adult as well as keeping the family together whilst I deal with other pressing matters at hand .
    I would be grateful .


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