Healing the Heart in Parental Alienation

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.

10 Comments

  1. Hello Karen, thank you for your articles. They have often helped me. It is now just over 12 months since my two sons (aged 12 and 8) refused to see me. It feels like my life will never be the same again and never truly be what it could have been. You’re often the light in a very dark tunnel.
    I am in the midst of my second experience in the Family Court in Australia and have had family reports that describe alienation to a tee yet stop short of naming it. I am a non-birth mother from a same-sex relationship that ended 5 years ago.
    While I am listed as a legal parent with equal shared parental responsibility, I feel incredibly worried for my children and let down by the family therapists and family law system. I no longer know what to do.
    I try to make contact with my sons once every couple of weeks via text or social media. Would you suggest that I keep doing that or am I just pushing them further away? I’m mindful that they help me feel connected to my children but I worry I am unintentionally pressuring them by attempting to make contact.
    Thank you again for your articles.
    Sue

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  2. Hi Karen, I am a rejected parent of my eldest child (other younger 2 not rejecting). We have been in the court system for the past 10 months. 13 months full alienation).We have had every assessment imaginable by both court reporters and a specialist Divorce/separation psychologist. Both report that my ex has partaken in pure and unconscious alienation behaviours but also report that my daughter shares many of her alienating parents’ personality traits and therefore herself is too vulnerable to order a moratorium. They report that she is in a severe psychological split state and that the alienating parent cannot see that what they are doing is wrong. How do you handle such cases where the child also displays personality/behavioural disorders alongside a pure and unconscious alienating parent? at this point, she has been ordered ongoing therapy despite the therapist stating this is untenable while still living with the alienating parent?

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  3. My husband’s son (18) recently resurfaced suddenly and has been back in our lives for about 6 weeks, after over 3 years of alienation. He still lives with the alienating parent, and still has absolutely no clue (as far as we can tell) what has happened to him. I think he still believes he cut his father out because of things that his father did to him. I believe she allowed his return because it will benefit her (or so she hopes). All the old dynamics are back and it is really hard to manage the emotions that have arisen, as you said. I do get that she is not coming from a place of evil, but of fear of loss, anxiety and the inability to see that her son can love his father without being disloyal to her; but it’s hard to see him still not really get the ways in which he is manipulated to keep his primary loyalty to her. You have written before about how reunification is not easy, and that’s sure true! Of course, my husband is happy he’s back, but we again have the stress of how to manage the whole issue. At this point, there has been no mention of her whatsoever or of the over 3 years he was gone.

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  4. Thank you once again for giving me the words to express my experiences, to process them, and to move forward with purpose and by design positively in support of my children who are being alienated one at a time. It began befor birth actually; I was never allowed to attend an obstetrics/gynecologist doctor’s appointment by myself, I thought that meant I was loved; in actuality it was all about control. Control that still exists 9 years after separation. I have always known this was about the alienating parent attempting to fill a void that has existed since his childhood, in our case the children’s father was black sheep of the family and not recognized or treated equally, he longed for his mother’s attention and only received it when he fell ill with childhood asthma, and mental illness in his youth. He developed narcissistic traits to manipulate others in an attempt to get the attention he so desperately needed, and he also displays Munchausen syndrome. I just explained to a sister-in-law tonight who is divorced from from a man that is a brother to my ex, we haven’t spoken in years, and I found that she was experiencing the same parental alienation that I am. Separate lives, different countries; same problem. I have shared her blog with you hoping it gives her the strength and guidance you have given me! XOX Diana

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  5. Thanks for this, Karen – it’s, truely, a sad and tragic state of affairs…..that so many of these (so-called) professionals and custodians of the judiciary appear to have such a limited grasp of common human behaviour and, scarily, of their very own personalities (disordered or otherwise).

    Their inadequate levels of knowledge and training expose incompetence beyond belief when it comes to their failure to understand that it is a common human trait to ‘split’ one’s thinking where there is a lack or absence of awareness that WE ALL struggle with our own fallibility and (if we are not alert to this trait) will stray into the territory of lazily ‘labelling’ and/or ‘splitting’……lacking the basic requirement they should all possess in abundance, ‘ambivalence’

    My strong feeling is that the biggest obstacles in this area are the dissonances these professionals fail to recognise and resolve in their own personal lives, which ‘play out’ in the lives of families they are paid to help and support in their day-jobs.

    “One day in the future, when a child says that they no longer want to see a parent after divorce and separation……”, those entrusted with ‘steering’ the courts will be sufficiently knowledgeable enough and well trained enough to understand the mechanics and dynamics of how children (as well as adults) have their ‘realities’ distorted by a sick personality-disordered parent who needs to learn to look after themselves before being allowed anywhere near a child they are ill-equipped to raise in this world.

    “I’m Spartacus”….(keeping the love I feel for my children at the forefront of my mind, keeping the doors in my heart wide open and the route to reunification all the more easy for my children to take). It feels so much better when you understand how the rules if this game work!!

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  6. Ever wondererd what happens to the child /parent relationship when the Father is alienated because his Children are placed in a Childrens Home and they are declared State Wards?
    Ever wondered what that does to the Child when they are conned into believing it is ‘Dad’s fault?’
    It took me years to learn it was not ……….
    Dad arrived home from work to find we were gone!!!!!!!!
    The impact and control it had on Dad and me and years lost were discraceful.
    Im not out of the woods but have turned my life around in many areas and definitely support ‘Dad’s’
    Things are not always as they seem.
    There are several sides to everything.

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  7. Karen, I know you are very busy with all that’s happening in a positive way with PA, and bless you for all the doors you have opened to those who had no clue what door even to open! You have been a Godsend!

    I still have my 15 yr old daughter with me, she never considered going to live with her daddy but she still has more contact now with her 18yr old brother, my alienated son of 5yrs…….

    What’s my best course of action now Karen?? He is still being bought over by his daddy and paternal grandmother (unsure who buys sports car for young man who failed his A levels but I’m open to suggestion!)

    I’ve pulled back from texting him every month and I’m just trying to keep strong and hope good will out! I’m not expecting an answer to my position but now he’s over 18 what’s the best way you’ve experienced to handle my on-going alienation with him?

    My daughter takes no prisoners with her big brother and says it like it is to him, but how do I handle him now he’s all “grown up”?

    Thanks for all you did and are still doing for all us parents!
    PA truly is an alternative universe…… Frankie x

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