Living in the House of Creeping Dread

One of the things which face practitioners who work with families affected by parental alienation is the reality that they will risk drawing the negative transference, not only from the alienating parent, but also from the rejected parent at times AND the professional teams around the family.  I call this phenomenon, ‘living in the house of creeping dread’ and it is something I have become used to dealing with over the years.

The sense of creeping dread is that feeling one gets when working in trauma filled spaces with psychologically  unwell people.  It is heightened by the lack of knowledge of parental alienation in the helping therapies and it is sharpened by having to work in what can, at times, be an extremely emotional and  psychologically violent space.  In some cases I have worked in, the professionals such as social workers have become personally inveigled into the story which is unfolding, in others the legal teams become avid supporters of their client, to the degree where the wellbeing of the children is completely overlooked.  In one instance, a professional took it upon herself to write to me to tell me that she had concerns about my practice, in that she disapproved of me  undertaking assessment and therapeutic work in a rolling programme of intervention (which is the global gold standard approach to treating parental alienation in families).  This same person then lied and denied what she had done when confronted with it, leaving me feeling that the truth for her was whatever she felt it to be at the time (a perfect mirror of many of the parents I work with).  Over the past year, with missiles aplenty heading my way from over the pond, life in the house of creeping dread is not easy at times.

Understanding why people in this space become psychologically split and dedicated not to healing but to attempting to destroy the work of others, is about understanding the dynamics of the problem of parental alienation and learning how to manage them.  Parental alienation is one of the most damaging behavioural adaptations a child can be forced to endure in childhood and in its largely accepted presence in our society it is, I believe, a child abuse scandal which will one day be fully recognised all over the world.

Surviving in the house of creeping dread as a practitioner, I fully understand the manner in which children have to adapt and then maladapt in order to survive this inter psychic world of secrets and lies.  Being forced to experience in the intersubjective world, the attempt by a parent to destroy the reality of the other or to have to survive the all out war between parents in a race to dominate the subjective experience of each other, must feel bleak and cold.

Therefore, beyond the maladaptive flip over into psychological splitting, as one parent relaxes at having won the child and the other is placed at physical as well as psychological distance, that bleak and cold place must feel like going on holiday for a child after a winter of wall to wall snow.  My question to myself in doing this work, is not why do children become alienated, but why don’t more children become alienated after separation when the conditions in the family and the wider society are ripe in terms of triggering the reaction.

At present, across the pond, in one small corner of the internet, the belief that parental alienation is only one thing – a personality disordered parent binding a child into cross generational coalition in a repetition of generational trauma is a powerful influence on a group of parents.

For these parents,  the reality that a child can become alienated without such a configuration of dynamics is completely denied, despite the abundance of evidence and the reams of peer reviewed literature which shows that alienation in children, (which is widely defined as being the unjustifiable and complete rejection by a child of a once loved parent) is a spectrum problem which requires a clear route to differentiation in order to develop a properly  responsive treatment route.

The rage against the others (personified largely by me)  and the belief that these others are preventing the only solution to the problem of alienation in children, is profoundly demonstrated by the leader of this corner of the internet himself.  Here is another example of life in the house of creeping dread, the manner in which one becomes influenced by the very behaviours one sees in the families we work in.

In this meta drama, which is in itself a mirror of the very behaviours seen in families where children become alienated,  the ‘evils’ of Richard Gardner are extrapolated as being the cause of thousands of children worldwide being left without the proper intervention.  The reality, that Gardner’s eight signs of alienation are simply part of the building blocks of how a case of alienation is properly differentiated in order to respond to it, is completely ignored.  Words are twisted and omitted as they are transferred from this page to that and sleight of hand is used to maintain the defence, which is to drive the subjective experience of anyone who thinks differently into complete oblivion. Thus the complexities of the alienation dynamic are boiled down into either/or, good/bad, alienator/alienated, guilty/innocent. And anyone who doesn’t play by the rules of this game is either a troll, a flying monkey, a representative of evil or reaping the financial rewards of refusing to accept the ‘solution’ to the problem of parental alienation.

Such is the way that parental alienation scissors its way through the perspective and balance of the minds of those affected.  In this house of creeping dread one cannot hold a balanced view and one most certainly is not supposed to be ambiguous about anything.  In this house you are either for or against, in or out, black or white and nothing in between.  Little wonder that alienated children struggle so hard to integrate their sense of themselves as a whole person even through the recovery process when all who touch their lives are busy dividing their belief systems into one thing or the other.

I have lived in the house of creeping dread for a very long time and I am used to the way that people behave here.  I am attuned to the drama repetitions and the efforts people make to dig underneath the foundations of the house to attempt to dismantle it.  I am used to the sabre rattling of the legal teams as they gear up to go into battle on behalf of the parents and I am never surprised by the manner in which anything goes in the witness box in an effort to undermine my credibility.  What I have hung on to throughout all of this and what I will continue to hang on to for so long as I do this work, is that in the midst of all of this, are the lives of children who are being used as cannon fodder for the battle of the previous generation and often the generation before that too.  Those are the lives that matter, that is the right to unconscious childhood which is being stolen from right under our noses and their wellbeing, throughout all of this, is what matters more than anything.

In my deepening of my understanding through my life in the house of creeping dread I have come to understand this.

Children’s lives matter.

Generational trauma or cross projection of blame with a dash of fixed thinking, the alienation reaction in a child is the same, the route to recovery is always very different.

There is no need to destroy other people’s fine work in order to ensure that one’s own voice is heard on this matter.

Many roads to resolution.

Many hands on deck.

Love thy neighbour as thyself.

To love the other is only possible if narcissism has been overcome.

And then

I am thou.




  1. Karen,

    I know that creeping dread so well. The dread that comes from knowing that you are hated, wished dead even. How else to view a force that would take away your most treasured, your children, turning them into mirrors of the anger and hate that precipitated the separation, isolation and eventual alienation?

    The dread that when that long awaited call comes, it will not be one of reconciliation, but perhaps news of the suicide of a tortured soul? I recall decades ago, xW and all three of her siblings, recounting such ideation due to the circumstances of their FOO. For me to discount this would be to ignore history, a history of generations that have all indicated similar agony.

    I wake up to dread every morning.


  2. Hi Karen…. I sent a longer comment earlier today, in fact before the shorter second one you have posted here, yet no sign of it??


  3. Karen – thank you for your constant efforts on behalf of families. I believe the practitioner on my side of the pond will implode upon himself, he has begun to do so in my eyes, and I feel bad for his loyalists. But it is the work and support of professionals like you and many others who inspire me to offer hope to other parents – especially those who need to know that are not alone in their suffering.


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