Pass the Parcel: Trans-generational Haunting in Parental Alienation

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.
This poem is one which resonates with those of us who do this work and those of us who have recognised that the parcel we received at birth, handed to us all neatly tied with a ribbon or rolled in news paper and thrust at us, was a welcome package like no other. Because it doesn’t matter who we are in the world, we all receive this on entry to the world, how we deal with it, is part of how we become who we are.
I have written many times about trans-generational haunting and transmission of trauma in parental alienation, it is one of my enduring fascinations and the subject of much of my research work in this field.  Now I am at the place where I am working out how to educate alienated children to understand that the parcel they hold in their split state of mind, belongs not to them but to one of their parents.  And how to help the child hand it back.  Using a blend of therapeutic intervention and psychological education (the bedrock of all successful interventions in parental alienation cases), I am concentrating on methods to build new hierarchies of understanding in the child’s mind, which allows us to increase the child’s felt sense of being in relationship to both parents.
The felt sense is the way in which we experience our inner world.  Used by Peter Levine as a way of healing trauma,  the felt sense and increases our capacity  to experience the inner world and enables us to link intellectual understanding with emotionally embodied experiences.
One of the things that I have always noticed about alienated children is the manner in which they behave as if they are traumatised when the split off ‘object’ of the rejected parent is put in front of them. This leads unaware practitioners to believe that the cause of the ‘trauma’ is the rejected parent when in fact the child is acting out trauma like behaviour because of their fear of the alienating parent and the control that this person holds over their wellbeing.
In fact the real trauma is experienced by the rejected parent, who is aware of the manner in which the child is being used and is rendered both unable to rescue the child and blamed for the child’s predicament.  When we are looking at the role of trans-generational trauma transmission in parental alienation, it is to the rejected parent we must go to find out who, what and why is being passed down the line through the children.
Anecdotally, from our experience over two decades of working with alienated parents, it is likely that they too experienced alienation, estrangement or disruption of familial bonds in some form or other during their formative years.  In some cases we have seen alienated parents realise that they experienced this in their childhood only in the process of our work with them.  What appears to happen is that being alienated or having disrupted childhood family bonds, causes a childhood template to be laid down which leads on to becoming alienated in later life.  Perhaps because the child as an adult is drawn to a partner who resembles their own parents, perhaps because there is an expectation that there will be a gap in the relationship one has with one’s own children (based upon the gap one experienced with one’s own parent).  Whichever it is, there is a strong pattern of pass the alienation parcel in many rejected parents’ lives.
It is therefore not the boundary between the self and the child which we turn our attention to first in our work with rejected parents, but the boundary between the self and the parents and grandparents.  For it is there, in those places, where the answer to the question ‘why did this happen to me’ can be found.  In our exploration of trans-generational trauma transmission, we often find that the mirror of what has happened to the child in the here and now, can be found in the experience of the child inside the rejected parent.  Tracing this pattern allows us to bring to the surface the reality of who is being punished, what is being done in punishment and why this has happened.
On the other side of the equation we examine the boundary between the alienating parent and their own parents and grandparents, seeking again the evidence which shows us the who, what and why of the streaming of the alienating behaviours.
What we most often find is a confluence of two seemingly separate rivers of experience, merging together to bring about the conditions in which the alienation parcel can be passed on.  It is not that both are the same in their intention but the merging of the forces are often almost complimentary, in that the rejected parent is primed for the behaviours of the alienator because of the experiences of their own childhood.
Which is why in reunification work we start with the rejected parent, unravelling the past and examining the patterns of behaviours which enabled the alienator to pass their particular parcel of alienation to the child under the very nose of the rejected parent.  This is not the same as blaming the rejected parent and it is not the same as using systemic family therapy in which everyone in the family is considered to have contributed something. This is about identifying patterns of power and control and of dominance and passivity, of fear based responding based on childhood conditioning and on the sleight of hand which is required to enact such a devastating blow against a child.
Because as Alice Miller tells us, the experiences of the unresolved in childhood will be replicated throughout life as if they are dynamics in the present as the harmed child tries to tell and re-tell their story.  When the child inside the parent is telling the story of alienation, the child in the here and now becomes recruited to the stage as a key player and the rejected parent becomes the big bad wolf, destined to be hunted down and killed on the basis that they will not go away.
In so many ways the story that an alienated child becomes inveigled into is not theirs but that of the previous generation and the tragedy of the child who embraces that drama as if it were their own, is that they too are destined to pass this parcel of wrongly directed blame to their own children, meaning that they too face a legacy of loss when they become parents themselves.
Which is why we have to intervene and help these children to understand that the trauma they think they are facing and the drama they believe they are starring in is not theirs.  It was never theirs and never will be and one day, when the screen burns down to the ground and the truth of the matter is known, those children who have willingly played the lead, are left astounded by the reality that they have been forced to live out the horror story of someone else’s life.
Building a new narrative for alienated children is about rebuilding their understanding of the past, present and future in ways that provide a sustainable framework in which they can see that their lives are not entwined with a parent and not dependent upon that parent’s approval or even survival.  One of the ways that I am currently doing that is using the concepts from Gail Sheehy’s book Passsages, to teach alienated children that there are defined differences between them and their parents.  Using this approach we can build from within, an understanding in the child that their life cycle starts and ends in a different place to that of the parent they are enmeshed with. Showing them the spaces between the generations and the way in which those spaces provide boundaries and breathing places for the new generation coming up behind.
 What we are doing in this work is untangling the threads of unresolved issues which have been handed to the child by a parent in a trans-generational game of pass the toxic alienation parcel.  And in doing so we are improving the child’s felt sense of themselves in relation to parents who are a generation away from them and we are pulling out the unresolved trauma patterns in the parents in order to examine and ultimately resolve them.
I don’t believe we should stop having kids but I do believe we could and should protect the generations coming through by bringing the unconscious to consciousness.  By making the invisible narratives visible and through that making sure that when the music stops. the parcel being handed on to children is alienation free, we change lives in the here and now and in the future.
They fuck us up our mums and dads, they may not mean to but they do.
Understanding the parcel they are trying to make us accept, is the first step in handing it back.
Mark it return to sender in big bold letters.

7 Comments

  1. We asked the guardian to, at least, ask one simple question of the child.
    What did he fear from seeing his father?
    The question wasn’t asked.
    Six years later it’s still unasked and unanswered.
    The smoke and mirrors stay in place.
    The edifice of artifice remains and like the loudly painted stage scenery it imitates, hiding silent, dark and dangerous backstage corners, it’s kept in place by flimsy braces, held down by single weights.
    We are here, going on with our lives now but still ready for when (if) the lights go on.

    Like

    1. CG – even if asked, it is doubtful that the answer would have been enlightening. The one time my daughters met with a psychologist, she did ask them “why don’t you want to see your Father?”. The only response “We are concerned he might be critical of our Mother”.

      And that was that. Shame on me for what I might have done…

      Going on seven years now.

      Like

      1. You’re right Peter – I believe there was no inclination on the part of the guardian to ask any questions that might give ‘difficult’ answers. Instead he chose to close the case down as quickly and as finally as possible (and he left Cafcass two weeks later which is telling in itself). His actions have had traumatic and life changing consequences for all of us. I presume he has no idea. There certainly is no process for monitoring impact of recommendations, which in itself is a scandal.

        My best wishes to you

        Like

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