One of the greatest difficulties when a child is being alienated is the manner in which the witnessing of the harm being done and the helplessness to prevent it, can cause a parent to begin to mirror the behaviour of the alienating parent. What I often observe in my work is that the pathologically split state of mind is not only present in the child, it is present in the alienating parent AND the rejected parent too.
This is one of the most difficult phenomena to deal with for practitioners, for it not only causes a distraction during assessment, leading inexperienced practitioners to believe that the rejected parent is contributing to the problem, it also causes difficulties in the court process. This issue is one which I have encountered many times over and it is one which I have discussed at length in supervision and with colleagues in the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners.
When we as practitioners are working with the alienated child, we are working with pathological splitting in which the child has divided their beliefs about a parent into good and bad. As alienation aware practitioners, we are working counter to all of the perceived wisdom around children and we are entering into a space which is dominated by the hero and villains schema which emanates from the split state of mind.
This state of mind is contagious. It can cause a rejected parent to believe that they have contributed to the child’s rejection. It can cause practitioners to be attacked by those who believe that the child’s voice should always be followed. And it can cause a kind of pass the parcel blame game amidst professionals around the family as they seek to prove that the root of the child’s rejection lies with one person not the other.
This is a dangerous space to work in. I have said it many times previously. When we are working in this environment where everyone is at risk of splitting, if we ourselves allow any kind of split thinking into our world, we are both ineffective AND contributory to the problems we see.
This therefore has to be heart based work as well as soundly based upon theory. Our hearts must be in it and our minds must be clear about what we are doing, because if they are not, the family affected by the problem of a child’s rejection will soon fall into the schisms caused by the child’s defence.
One of the biggest issues that I witness in my work is when a parent who has been facing the most horrendous rejections, finally reaches the point where the court is listening. This realisation, that the insanity of the world they have been living in has been recognised, drives many to a place where after months and years of deep freezing their feelings of anger, frustration and grief, a thawing begins. In that thaw, can lie a splitting which mirrors what has been done to the child and to the rejected parent and, quite understandably, this produces a wild seesawing of emotion as the attempt to manage those feelings is made. I see this happen again and again and in my work, one of the major tasks I have in reunification, is to ensure that this thawing of the senses does not hijack the actual process of restoration of the relationship.
That rejected parents as well as children and alienating parents are experiencing pathological splitting should come as no surprise. When a child divides their feelings into warm acceptance and cold rejection, the first reaction from parents is to follow that belief and either uphold it or reject it. In that action, determined upholding or vehement rejection of the child’s ‘decision’ lies the very splitting behaviour which the child is demonstrating. For the rejected parent who is forced into the position of vehement denial of the child’s ‘reasons’ for rejection, the trap is set both in terms of their present experience and the future possible experience of reunification. Learning about this trap and how to avoid it is an important task for all parents of alienated children.
One day in the future, when a child says that they no longer want to see a parent after divorce and separation, early intervention services will be available to differentiate the child’s presentation in order to ensure that a parent cannot uphold the maladaptive behaviours. One day, instead of feminist academics in the UK telling the world that children have the right to decide whether they are ‘keen on’ a parent or not after divorce, it will be recognised that abandoning the child to the pathologically split state of mind is not only harmful to the child, it is harmful to the parents as well. One day there will be routine services which triage serious personality disordered parents from those who are driven to uphold the child’s rejection because they either do not understand it or, they quietly find it helpful to their own emotional wellbeing. One day, children’s experiences of divorce and separation will not be dismissed as being of no real consequence and they will not be burdened by being given the decision making power over parental relationships, by academics who are busy furthering their own personal agendas.
One day. But not quite yet. Which is why when we are working with alienated children and their families, we still have to rely on our own skill and knowledge and our own capacity to weave our way through difficult relational landscapes. As we do this work, we rely upon the rejected parent to become our co-therapist in freeing the child from the alienated state of mind. And the freeing of the child, depends as much upon the rejected parent’s capacity to thaw the frozen feelings and simultaneously integrate any splits in thinking. A monumental task when the road ahead is still peppered with uncertainty and when the child remains enthralled by the alienating parent. A necessary task if reunification is to work well.
In truth all alienated children should ideally be removed from the cause of the alienation reaction whilst the work is done to heal the relationship with the rejected parent. In reality it is not always possible to do this. One day, when the absolute truth of this issue is understood and recognised, we will look back at the past six decades and wonder how on earth we allowed so much trauma to be inflicted upon children and rejected parents. In the rear view mirror, those who risked everything to help alienated children, will be acknowledged, but for now, those of us doing this work continue to spin plates and juggle all manner of behaviours in children and their parents as well as in Guardians and Social Workers and other professionals around the family. As we do so we know that at any time the music could stop and we could be left holding the parcel which contains the blame for the child’s rejection. And so we have to do what we can as quick as we can in order to get children out of the danger they are in. As we do so we depend upon the rejected parent to help us to build the platform for the child to return to.
I have worked in cases where the professionals around the family entered a kind of psychotic delusion such was is the madness this issue causes. Like the Salem witch trials, nothing but nothing causes outrage and indignation like children accusing adults of harming them. Maintaining an integrated state of mind within the central vortex of this insanity, it is vital to keep clear about the reality of the dynamics which are causing the problem. In any kind of severe alienation case, mapping a careful and clear route through to liberating the child is about being three steps ahead, five steps to either side with an eye in the rear view mirror. This is not work for the faint hearted. Neither is it work for people who believe that the family can be loved, filmed, cajoled or persuaded into normality. This work is for those who understand that families affected by parental alienation require a firm hand, a clear head and a determined personality. Keeping the heart wide open and the love flowing from the rejected parent is one aim, holding the alienating parent against the wall to prevent them from influencing the child during reunification is the other.
Which leaves me with a plea to all rejected parents. From now on I want you to think about your position in the alienation dynamic differently. I don’t want you to feel sorry for the alienating parent, that would be to soften your heart to the degree where you become walk over material. But I do want you to soften your heart so that you understand that love which is coercively obtained is not love at all but compensation for something which has always been missing. In the midst of recognising that your child requires rescuing from this danger, I want you to keep your heart open to the reality that your child fell into a trap which was likely destined to be set from the day they were born.
When you understand that the person who has captured your child is not obtaining all of the love that has been taken from you but is filling a desperate void through the use of your child, you can begin to recognise how important you are in your child’s healing.
In keeping the love you feel for your child at the forefront of your mind, you keep the doors in your heart wide open and the route to reunification all the more easy for your child to take.