I am currently fully immersed in study whilst preparing for our conference in August. As I continue to read and compare my understanding with my observations of the children I am working with , I find that my awareness of the harm done to them increases. In my observations of alienated children I witness not only the way in which they have had to develop the defence of psychological splitting, I also see the way in which they have been forced to carry burdens which do not belong to them. So much so that their life chances have been radically changed.
In my work I would go so far as to say that in some cases, the very soul of a child has been stolen and in some cases, murdered by the parent who has influenced them to believe things which are untrue. For these children, their life chances are not only radically altered, they are curtailed to the point where there is little hope of them ever finding the way back to the road of possibilities which was theirs on the day they were born. For these children, the ghostly overshadowing of their lives by trauma, is such a powerful thing, that they were born to be controlled by the unresolved past. Is this an acceptable part of living, something we just have to put up with? Or is it something we can and should change? When it comes to the manner in which some children are unable to ever develop the management of their own mind because of parental control, I would argue, it is always something we can and should work to intervene in.
All children are born into Stockholm Syndrome said Oliver James in his book ‘Not in Your Genes’. And it is true that all children are at the mercy of their parents in the first years of their lives. During those early years, the child’s capacity for freedom of mind is very much dependent upon their parent’s ability to guide them and shape them so that they can use their inherent capacity to the best of their ability and in the later childhood years, it is the skill of the parent in letting go appropriately which enables the child’s personality and mind to develop effectively.
For some children however, the force of the parental influence is such that their inherent capacity for self expression, creativity and capacity for relationship with others, is seriously hampered by the overshadowing from parental anxiety, unresolved trauma and dysfunctional belief. These are the children with high intelligence who self censor their capacity to learn, the children with capability to relate to the outside world who shut down their relationships early for fear of upsetting a parent and those who repeat parental dysfunction to the degree where they grow to believe that manipulation of others is the healthy way to be in the world. These children are seen regularly in divorce and separation and they are especially seen in situations where their minds have been manipulated to align with one parent and reject the other.
In families where the manipulation of children to conform to the internal rules of the tribe is strong, it is very common to see children self censor their interests and in turn their capacity for developing an individual sense of self. These are the most painful scenes to witness, it is often like watching children pluck out their own flight feathers and willingly and sometimes defiantly blind themselves to the possibility of freedom of mind and spirit. To get a child to the point where they will willingly curtail their life chances, a parent has to overshadow the child with threat and fear, often covertly, often using shunning techniques (not speaking to a child who does not conform) in order to cause enough threat to the primary attachment bond to bring the child into line.
In my childhood, the idea that you should not ‘get beyond your station’ in life was widely promulgated. The idea meaning that you shouldn’t think yourself better than your parents or behave in ways that made you an outsider. This was typical of seventies working class Britain, where the task of parenting was to turn out a reliable worker who knew their place. ‘Getting above yourself’, in this regard was a shaming label which was used to put a child or young person back in their place. When I look back now, from a place where I not only got above myself, I got so far above that I never went back, the routine use of shaming in working class culture in Britain was a technique which was widely used to alienate a child from their own potential in life. (None UK readers may also recognise this type of shaming as a societal approach to keeping young people in line).
In parental alienation, routine shaming is also used to keep a child in line, the most commonly used shaming being to dismiss the elements of the child which are like the parent who is being targeted, or to ridicule them and belittle them. If one is able to make the child feel ashamed of those aspects of self which are like the targeted parent through doing this, it is all the more easy to force the child to split those parts off and deny them. From there it is but a short hop to the child ‘deciding’ that the parent is either useless, or hopeless, wicked or wanton and that they can be readily dispensed with as a result.
These are clever, subtle and extremely covert ways of alienating someone from their own sense of self, their entitlement to that self and their right to all of the potential which lay within them at birth. And yet these ways are routinely practiced and normalised from the outset of a child’s life, often to the degree where a parent can be split off and denied even whilst the family is intact. Have you ever seen the routine labelling of dad as being deficient, disinterested and downright dumb by a mother and her daughters? Or the ridiculing of a boy as being ‘just like your father.’ These are the tools and the strategies which strip the child’s right to be proud of both sides of their heritage, to learn from each parent and to mix it up to bring about an alchemical transformation of the self which utilises the best of each to bring forth the new soul, the new self, the child as individual and sovereign being.
Those children who are overshadowed by parental trauma, by parental control, by parental determination to ensure that the child never gets above herself, are those who will pluck out their own flight feathers and throw them down in defiance.
Some of these children’s souls have already been murdered.
I cannot think of anything more tortuous to witness than this.
Amy J L Baker is the most well known researcher into the experience of alienated children in the world. She will be speaking about her research, the impact of parental alienation on children and the experience of rejected parents on August 30th at the EAPAP Conference.
During the conference we will be debating some key issues in the field of parental alienation, including the topic ‘Parental Alienation as a Serious Form of Child Abuse’.
We are now convening our Parent Panel for the interactive parts of the conference which will allow all parents who attend to have their say through online voting and commentary. If you would like to join us to help shape thinking in this field, please email firstname.lastname@example.org now. Tickets cost £150 for two days along with free entry to a unique workshop with Linda Gottlieb and Karen Woodall on the afternoon of August 30th.
For Professional bookings please use this link.