Anatomy of Alienation: Mapping the Unconscious in Unjustified Rejection

One of the biggest issues in cases of parental alienation is the manner in which the unconscious life of the family carries the secrets which cause the problem of alienation. In that sense, parental alienation can be regarded as being part of the anatomy of the family, carried forward by each generation as if it were a dormant infection.   Some, like Childress for example, like to call this phenomenon the ‘pathogen’, I prefer to think of it as an embedded secret which is handed down through the generations and which is activated in its power to alienate if the dynamics are right.  I have written about this many times over the years and you can read what I wrote in 2013 about trans-generational haunting  and in 2016

The idea that parental alienation is not something which is distinct and different to other familial dynamics is one which is promulgated by those who believe that it could be easily eradicated.  In my experience, far from it being easily eradicated, parental alienation is something akin to a physical disease like cancer, which may never be eradicated but will be increasingly treated by improvements in medical research and trials.  I often feel that parental alienation, which is the outward manifestation of the activation of the ‘secret’ which has been passed down the family line, is a cancer of the unconscious life of the family which will increasingly be understood and treated through ongoing research and development of the work which has been done by others.

In our work at the Clinic we map the conscious and unconscious life of the family in a forensic assessment which focuses upon finding those embedded secrets, which appear as life events in the history of the family, sometimes going back as far as three or four generations.  We do this by building a three dimensional family tree in which we begin with the presenting child and work backwards as far as we can to understand from each parent, the narratives which govern their lives.  In doing so we encounter the ghosts in the nursery first of all, those stories told around the crib of the newly born generation.  It is through these tales from the past that we begin to unravel the mystery of the child’s rejecting behaviours in the present.

Here is a very simple map of the conscious and unconscious dynamics in a case of parental alienation.  Most cases are far more complex than this but this case shows how the ‘secret’ in the past can lead to alienation in the present.

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Our encounter with the child who is using rejection of a parent after separation tells us that the child is defending against something, this is what first alerts us to the reality that this is a case of parental alienation.  If our investigation then shows us that there is nothing which could be regarded as justified in the child’s rejection and the child is showing the signs of alienation which are only ever seen in situations where a child is being pressured by dynamics which have been configured somewhere in the family system, then we must dig deeper to understand what is happening to the child.

On the surface we can see that the mother is being rejected and the father is saying that this is because she could not meet Billy’s needs.  Father is further supported by his own father and together the two of them present as a fused dyad in which the narrative of lack of capacity in mother is strongly promoted.  Indeed mother looks like she is struggling to cope, she is under confident and anxious on presentation.  Billy echoes his father and grandfather and tells stories of how his mother did not feed him properly and how she neglected him.

The alienation aware practitioner hears this conscious story and begins to dig deeper into the history of the family.  Knowing that Billy is using rejection because of psychological splitting means that further investigation on both sides of the family is necessary.  Hearing father and grandfather’s history, the hypothesis that in father’s childhood world, his mother went missing through death, leads to consideration of attachment trauma in which Billy’s father is compelled to repeat the untold and unresolved story of his childhood through his son, by causing his son to lose his mother in the here and now.

Further investigation on mother’s side shows that her dwindling confidence is the result of her long battle with Billy’s father, the lack of support in family services around her and her own parents’ frustration with her inability to protect her relationship with her son.

In mapping the unconscious of this family we can see that the ‘secret’ is the impact on Billy’s father and grandfather of the sudden unexpected death of Billy’s grandmother when his father was 9 years old.  This death, which Billy’s father had never been able to grieve, lay dormant in his unconscious until the death/divorce of his relationship with Billy’s mother, which created immense shock and grief because it came as a surprise.  This shock triggered the unresolved grief from the death of his mother and the subsequent entry into the belief that Billy’s mother could not meet Billy’s needs, was actually the eruption of the unprocessed grief and loss of the past, fused with the unattended and neglected parts of the child within.  The person whose needs had not been met was Billy’s father and the person who had not met those needs because she died was Billy’s grandmother.

Mapping the unconscious is all very well but it leaves us with a question.  If it is not Billy whose needs are not being met and it is not Billy’s mother who is not meeting his needs and if parental alienation in this case is a trans-generational trauma re-enactment, what do we do about it given that Billy has been handed the responsibility for carrying this myth forward?

Given that Billy is adamant that he will not see his mother and given that CAFCASS consider that parental alienation is all about high conflict and so only really focus on the superficial presentation and given that social workers rarely understand how a child’s wishes and feelings can be manipulated by a parent, how do we, in the UK, reconfigure the dynamics which have caused this problem in the first place?

This is the work we are engaged in at the Family Separation Clinic, where we are building internationally recognised standards of intervention which liberate the child swiftly.

You can find out the answers to the questions above at the EAPAP 2018 Conference on August 30/31st where we will, alongside our esteemed colleagues,  be presenting  case studies of reunification work in severe alienation cases and where leading experts will be demonstrating the legal and mental health interlock which brings about resolution for alienated children and their families.  Working alongside parent representatives, this conference brings together a unique opportunity for developing new routes to resolution which meet the needs of different European legislative frameworks.  This conference  is being attended by leading Judiciary from around Europe as well as key legal people, policy makers and practitioners.  Here is where experience power meets research and practitioner expertise to create dynamic change.

Parental alienation is a cancer which affects families around the globe but it can and is being beaten, here in the UK, across Europe, in the USA and Australia as well as South America and many other countries.  All by using similar protocols, all drawing upon the extensive research evidence curated around the world by experts dedicated to changing the lives of children affected by divorce and separation.

Come and join us to hear more about our use of mapping to prepare and deliver interventions.  Come and join us to make your contribution to change in this field.

Tickets for parents available from  Saturday 30 June 2018

Tickets for professionals are on sale here



  1. So obvious when written like that. It’s something I finally worked out for myself after I left my adult daughter and husband to it. The mapping for our family would be very similar to your diagram above. I’m glad I found your site because it helped me to understand ‘the why’ of it all. I can so relate to what you’ve written above.

    My husband’s problems (I believe) are strongly routed in the loss of his mother through suicide after many years of his returning from school only to find her unconscious (head in gas oven/bottle of bills/car engine running in closed garage). The trauma that he suffered made him, as mine made me. He never ever saw me as his family even though I was his wife for over forty years. His ‘family’ was the family he lost when he was 20. His (silent, uninvolved) father from a heart attack and his (precious) mother and sister from suicide within the year.

    As time went on and by the time our daughter was 15 he started pushing me out of our family and succeeded. In the end he told me our daughter was ‘his blood’ – meaning I wasn’t and never was. Just as his mother had told me years ago before we were married that ‘blood is thicker than water’ meaning quite pointedly that she was his blood and I was water – it felt like that throughout my marriage to her son.

    The fact that I was our daughter’s mother, the mother of his child, passed my husband by completely.

    Couple that with the fact that I couldn’t wait to get away from my parents (my mother was I’m almost certain in many ways, mentally ill and I have no idea why she ever wanted children while my father enabled her and went along with everything she did) and I had already told my daughter of my childhood as explanation of why her grandparents showed little interest in her and made me feel so uncomfortable (I never cut them out of my life but I did find it incredibly difficult to be around them) together with the fact that my husband constantly used this information as a weapon………. you have the perfect storm to which there is no answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A picture can say a thousand words, as the family diagram above does. And did so for me also – xW’s FOO was troubled in so many ways, but I never put it together as clearly as when I drew a simple family tree.

    Like many who post here, it was not just me who was severed, but the rest of my family. I had heard the stories of xFIL’s family – how they were absolutely reprehensible, ranking somewhat lower than pond scum. Well – I never met those people, and it didn’t impact my life (sic). A generation further back – crazy Grandma went to her grave still raging about Grandpa’s family – who she had entirely cut out of their lives so many decades prior. Clearly I never knew those people, and it didn’t impact my life (ha!).

    Only a few years ago I decided to noodle a family tree. And there it was – the forest that had been hidden behind the trees for so long. I took a magic marker to the diagram, and drew three X’s – removing not just those people from the tree, but all associated with them. Generations of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. All neatly severed, and none of them ever healed.

    Karen – your description of the “secret” is one that has always struck a cord with me. Oh, could they keep their secrets! And it explains how even today they have closed ranks to keep their secrets, regardless of the damage and misery it visits upon so many.

    Thank you.


  3. I grew up with two core narratives of intergenerational parental alienation and there are times when I think I am making everything up. That, surely,
    it can’t be this multi-layered and complicated: I watch too much television or have read too many books! This post in particular, Karen, and that
    flow-chart are so helpful, I could cry for what we didn’t know in the 1960s and 1970s. I hope to rid myself of the belief that I could have changed
    anything as Youth.

    My father was a ten pound pom and becoming the target parent is so enmeshed with his migration journey that it breaks my heart. To this day
    there are still cronies of my mother (who died 24 years ago) that wave the tattered rags of her campaign flag. And they can’t see the ill-use that
    had been made of them.


  4. The realization that circumstances from our past lives does flow into and influence present day lives. Can see it on the larger scale of the trauma of the holocaust still influencing the way descendants live their lives.

    On an individual scale in the area of parenting it’s ‘gender’ our authorities answer to the issue of separating couples. It’s a new problem (in the scheme of things) the removal of the old, raw necessity of the partnership. From 3% of children living in single parent households sixty years ago it is now over 30% and climbing.

    Remarkable is it’s strict apartheid policy. The ‘clubs’ passport not identifiable by inter-generational trauma, personality, colour, parental ability, morality etc, etc, which are equally shared with non members but gender (94% of single parent households are women according to Gingerbread) .

    Gender overwhelms everything else. Why trouble oneself with individuals true complexity?

    Convenient for authority to uphold the idea of nothing’s changed and employ 3rd wave Feminist ideology as a ‘worthy’ justification to sideline half the population . The equal opportunity to parent and to aspire to parenthood continues it’s degradation into a single determinate apartheid.

    Working alongside intergenerational trauma are the aspirations and expectations handed onto children. A powerful message repeated in children’s life experience over the next few generations- that they are parental stock or sperm donor. This new ‘normality’ is exactly what they will become..


    1. Quote – Nick Branson:
      It’s a new problem (in the scheme of things) the removal of the old, raw necessity of the partnership. From 3% of children living in single parent households sixty years ago it is now over 30% and climbing.
      A powerful message repeated in children’s life experience over the next few generations- that they are parental stock or sperm donor.

      With this in mind, I’d be interested to know the statistics surrounding those who choose not to be parents…….
      (my daughter has never wanted children and echoes her dad that babies and children are boring and childbirth is gross)


  5. With a slight alteration in the polarity and a generation step(on my side) this happened with me and bongo.

    His maternal nans father disappeared out of her life when she was a child and was raised solely by her mum….. Dad’s aren’t essential, dads aren’t needed. His maternal nan was badly hurt and bitter about her dad disappearing with another woman.

    On my side, my grandad lost his dad to a mining accident when he was a boy, due to this my dad’s attachment to my grandad suffered, and this carried over to me…. my dad with little parenting skills afraid of damaging me how he was damaged by his scathing and critical upbringing which led to him having confidence problems and a stoic attitude towards my needs emotions and feelings. I swore I would be a better more connected father and never wanted bongo to feel like I did. My dad’s unresolved pain led him to alcoholism, he didn’t get help for help would have meant acknowledging past trauma from his childhood and the marriage he found himself in with my mum who was indifferent to his needs and trauma from his past…..he just liked a drink he wasn’t an alcoholic in her eyes and indifferent to my needs in regards to a healthy attachment with him. I didn’t understand the depth of things as a kid, even as an adult, things only becoming clearer after he died. Dad wasn’t really there for me as a kid, he laid down the law but did not connect. My dad was massive for me when bongo came along, for the first few years it was different, he couldn’t believe bongos mothers behavior and it was only when he saw it with his own eyes after bongos mother had married the hit man to take me out… what I was having to deal with alone. Then he was massive for both myself and Josh, if it hadn’t been for him I would have lost Josh much sooner. Through my relationship with Josh my dad got to witness and do many things with him he never did with me, I’m sure at times it was painful for him realizing he could have been more for me as a child had his own upbringing been dufferent. I was setting things right, I would have died for my lad… as I know my dad would have for me even though we weren’t attached and somewhat estranged in my childhood he was a good man, he would have thrown himself under a bus to save anyone of us, even more so later in life when bongo came along and my dad had the chance to witness me being a dad and being part of it.

    The trouble was bongos mum had her own shadows to hide on top of the transgenerstional trauma she was carrying from her mother’s bitter loss of a father…. I simply wasn’t needed, I was also a threat because of the truth I held regarding Josh’s almost immaculate conception where I was one of three possible fathers to bongo, afraid of what bongo would think if he ever knew the circumstances and becoming alienated herself.

    One of the dynamics exploited by bongos mother was the fact my dad was an alcoholic and my relationship with him as a child and young man was poor, quite hot in fact by the time I reached my twenties due to being unable to understand the core of his alcoholism not to mention the prevalent cultural narratives in the nineteen seventies…. which as a young child and young man went over my head. I just wanted to be a better dad than my dad for Josh, so he never suffered as I did.

    So combine or pick a part all the history from both my dad, how I was and swore to be, and bongos embittered traumatized untrusting nans attitude towards men and fathers and add to that the perceived threat I was because of the skeletons and shadows in bongos mums closet, the Alienation rained down on me soaking me to the bone, like acid. Bongo meant so much to me, and to my dad too. I know he means a lot to her too and although she was terrible to me I would never have tried to take bongo away from her. Unfortunately this all led to her making some very bad and damaging decisions and behaviors even putting bongo at risk from the moronic bastard she married…. who was fostered out himself in the care system as a child until he was adopted. He needed me to be the devil so he could step up and be a man, a father, something he never had himself to prove his worth and validity. The trouble is you can’t polish a turd. Maybe he could be more than a turd though it looks unlikely in this lifetime as the accumulation of damage caused to others would be too much for him to acknowledge his hand in having completely taken advantage of the situation with bongos mother when she was trying to shut me down, kill off the very strong attachment to bongo and oust me out of his life so she could perhaps sleep at night, because of the things that kept her from resting and sleeping well.

    Without a few people, glorious TimeLord you, a Canadian Doctor TimeLord and one or two more including Matt O’Connor when there was nobody else and that beautiful man Paul Elam, I would be dead, and there are a handful more wonderful incredible people too who kept me from an early bath and transfer to the big team in the sky.

    Love you Karen. There’s only a few people who I give a fuck about what they think of me, I shouldn’t be too harsh on others who can not see and don’t have the capacity to do so but sometimes I want to scream and break through their skulls.

    I was quite combative with my dad when younger, i knew something was wrong and wasn’t putting up with it. I wanted to be different and when Josh came along I wanted to be so much more, and there for him.

    My weakness was my love for him, made to feel unnatural for loving him so much…. even by my own barrister when it was in court years ago when Josh was six, she thought I was weird for wanting to spend more time with him than two days a fortnight. Typical short haired helium filled unmarried childless feminist…. and supposed to be in my corner… She nearly had to learn how to fly out of a second floor window. Weird, fucking weird? Have you got any kids I asked, to which she replied no and what’s that got to do with it.

    It was a time for prayers I’ll tell thee. God knows how I got through…. Without my dad coming good I wouldn’t have. Xx


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