Your Heart in Their Hands: Critical Thinking for Alienated Parents

As an alienated parent you are in a vulnerable place psychologically.  Alienation forces you to maladapt your behaviours just as your child has been forced to. It also puts you into places where you become extremely vulnerable to the behaviours of others around you.  Alienation renders you helpless and at times hopeless. Those who peddle magical solutions and cure alls, prey on this hopelessness and promise you the change you wish to see in your world.  Observing the routes that many alienated parents take, it becomes apparent that the stages of alienation create predictable points of vulnerability and those must be avoided if you are to maintain your personal integrity and health and wellbeing.

When your child begins the process of withdrawal and rejection of you and you find the words ‘parental alienation,’  your first action is often to read as much as possible about the way in which your child is showing the signs.   Heading onto the internet, you then find yourself surrounded by a community of people who are experiencing the same thing as you.  Suddenly you are not alone, here are others who are suffering too. The stigma you feel, the confusion and shame, recedes a little as you find solace in the company of those who understand your experience.  Here is a place where you can belong, here is a place where you feel heard and acknowledged in your suffering.  Here is a place where you feel safe.

And yet.

For parents who are experiencing parental alienation, here is in fact the place where you are quite possibly at risk of suffering more than you need to and becoming stuck in that suffering due to a human condition called ‘confirmation bias.’

Confirmation bias is the tendency to confirm and uphold beliefs that fit with your own and reject those which do not.  Confirmation bias is the next stage on from feeling safe and acknowledged in your suffering. When you begin to cleave only to one way of thinking about alienation, you are ripe for the stage at which you become recruited to the clan which believes that the ‘truth’ is being suppressed by others.  By the time you reach this point, you are effectively using psychological splitting to cope with the experience of being alienated from your children and projecting that onto the outside world (there is one right way to think about parental alienation and all the others are the wrong way).

Parental alienation is an issue which creates monumental opportunities for people with unresolved trauma to use others who are suffering as defences.  This occurs when alienated parents set themselves up as coaches and experts without the pre-requisite training and without following their own therapy as part of a recovery process.  It also occurs when people set themselves up as leaders with solutions which are 100% successful.  Anyone who needs to use the internet to gather around them followers and devoted fans, is a risk for alienated parents.  Here’s why.

When alienated parents are using psychological splitting to cope with the experience of being alienated they are then open to being recruited as followers of ‘the way’ or ‘the solution’ to the problem they face.  When parents arrive in this psychological mindset they become devoted to their chosen leader and will do anything and everything to uphold the beliefs that are being espoused by this trusted person who has helped them to feel whole and worthy again.  In truth, the sense of feeling worthy and whole in the process of becoming a follower of ‘the way’ is actually a false persona which is built upon the psychological splitting already in play.

The problem with this persona which is adopted as a belief that ’the way’ promises health and strength, is that it isolates parents from the outside world and confines them to a mindset of confirmation bias.  It causes telescopic vision which mirrors that which is experienced by the alienated child and it closes down critical thinking skills and independence of mind which are the very things that alienated parents really need in order to remain whole and healthy.

A child’s rejection is frightening.  It begins with the shutting down of the attachment system in which the child who has been terrorised into believing that you are dangerous to their wellbeing, experiences the triggering of their sympathetic nervous system whilst in your care.  Literally wound up to believe you are the enemy, your child is sent to be with you in a heightened state of anxiety.  Primed to believe that everything that you do is harmful to them, the child blocks your efforts to soothe their anxiety, triggering fear in your own sympathetic nervous system and a heightened anxiety response.  When two people are mirroring fear and anxiety, the mirror neurons in the brain begin to falter and the facial signals begin to trigger warning signs in the brain instead.  As these warning signs increase eye contact stops completely and then the dyad enters the cold zone in which relational flow has stopped and goodwill, trust and interest in mutual wellbeing ends.  Now, parent and child who were once in relational rhythm and flow are experiencing each other as dangerous people, it is but a short hop from here to psychological splitting which enables the child to ‘resolve’ the impossible dilemma they face.  When the pathologically aligned parent upholds the child’s ‘decision’ to reject, the drama is complete.

An alienated parent’s alienation from the outside world and recruitment to ‘the way’ is equally frightening and is caused by a similar process as that described above. In a heightened state of anxiety, an alienated parent is told that there is hope for them after all if they simply follow ‘the way’.  In following ‘the way’ parents then begin a process of defensive splitting in which anything and anyone which does not follow ‘the way’ is dismissed as being harmful or dangerous.  Blocking all efforts to alert them to the fact that they are losing critical thinking skills, parents in this mindset are readied to become part of the army of supporters of the leader of ‘the way’.  By this time your heart is in the hands of someone who is involved in their own meta drama in which you have become a bit part player.

Do you really want your life and your children’s lives to be held in the hands of someone else’s need to play out their defences in this way?

Critical thinking skills for alienated parents are an essential foundation for long term survival and your long term survival is the key to your children’s recovery.  You are not using your critical thinking skills if you are a devoted follower of any doctrine or professed solution to parental alienation on the internet, what you are doing is giving up your independence of mind in return for becoming a bit part player in someone else’s need to be a leader.

You are not using your critical thinking skills if you slavishly believe everything you read and everything you hear on the internet.  If someone’s claim to be 100% successful in reunification sounds too good to be true, it quite probably is.  If someone’s method is claimed as being the very best in the world, it is highly likely not to be.  Anyone who tells you that you don’t need to use court mandated interventions to resolve a child’s rejecting state of mind is playing make believe and those who claim to be expert but whose own children remain alienated are simply defending themselves against the intolerable helplessness that comes with the alienated state of mind.

No-one has THE answer to parental alienation and no-one should be seen by alienated parents as being the leader of the pack.

I understand that in writing this blog I am followed by alienated parents, I also understand that in seeking to standardise the interventions which work for alienated children and families, I am also often regarded by some professionals as being determined to be in charge.  In that respect I own my attitudes and behaviours, I want to prevent parents from being harmed by interventions which do not work and I want to help alienated children get the help that they need.

In doing so however, my whole focus in the world is to demystify alienation and enable parents to use their critical thinking skills and maintain their independence of mind.  My work is about helping alienated parents to find that within them which will create a foundation for their children to stand upon in recovery from the split state of mind.

In this respect I don’t need followers and I don’t need anyone to validate or acknowledge my work. Whilst I find attacks on my integrity tiring and at times anxiety provoking I don’t need alienated parents to support me in either a personal of professional capacity. What I want is to encourage parents to keep their critical thinking skills and avoid the trips and traps which are triggered by the split state of mind.

Your heart in the hands of those who need your admiration and your devotion is a dangerous place for you to be, staying out of that risky psychological place is about retaining critical thinking skills.  Retaining critical thinking skills is about reading widely, maintaining the stance of the ‘curious observer’ in which your emotions do not drive your capacity for reason and your ability to maintain independence of mind is protected.

There are many dangerous places and spaces on the internet for alienated parents, if you find yourself going there and starting to think and feel that one place is better than the rest, step back and take some deep breaths.

Keep your heart in your own hands by recognising that you have the capacity to develop your own routes to recovery through consideration of all of the different thinking available to you.

Pay attention to those places where successful outcomes can be verified, speak to others who have been helped by a method or a solution.  If someone isn’t qualified to do what they are doing, ask yourself why they are doing it, is it for you or is it to defend themselves from their own suffering?

If someone needs to establish their worth by denigrating others, ask yourself why?

Question everything, accept nothing at all at face value, seek references and transparency from those who profess success.  You are your own best advocate, your child’s best protector and ultimately it is your love and your care which will lead your children home to you.

To heal the splitting in your child’s mind you must protect your own mind first.

To bring your children home you must build a road for them to walk on which comes entirely from your own discernment of what works best for your family.

Protect your heart from being broken in the service of someone else’s unresolved drama.

in 2019, keep it in your own hands.

 

24 Comments

  1. Karen, I value your work immensely, and also reading your blogs. But 2 years after finding you & FSC I am very disheartened that the resources available to alienated (or near-alienated) parents is still so minimal. Emails to FSC go unanswered, there is no ability to contact you/FSC by phone & the much talked about training of the judiciary & Cafcass still seems years away.
    Whilst I appreciate you have only a small team & are therefore restricted by your own scarce resource – hours & energy – I have to ask why? Why haven’t you sought investment from outside to bring in the necessary capital to allow you to grow FSC quicker?
    Because as much as I understand you warn parents not to fall into the traps of other promised ‘solutions’ or therapies, these parents are desperate. And this work, and support/communication from a trusted provider such as FSC, is time-critical.
    I have been left feeling very disappointed on more than one occasion in this past year when, already battling ignorances in Cafcass & Family Courts, I cannot access you or another FSC approved therapist to get the information I need to support our Part 25 Court application. When we go in half-prepared, we really stand no chance in persuading a judge.
    We are still in the court merry-go-round & still hope to bring you to work with our children at some point when the process (& judge) allows, but I do worry that we may be let down. What are your plans to upscale this year?

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    1. we have no plans to upscale FSC Ally. Our work is with EAPAP and in developing skilled practitioners who are able to do what they need to do without fear of being complained about or sanctioned. FSC is not intended to expand, it is intended to provide a successful template in court based work which can be replicated through EAPAP. What you seem to miss is the understanding that we are mental health practitioners working in private practice and the opposition we have faced over twenty years to our practice. We are opposed by others who dismiss the reality of parental alienation and we are routinely fighting the ignorance of powerfully funded organisations with the capacity to promote their own anti alienation agenda. We are not an advice organisation, we deliberately do not have a phone line because if we did all we would do is spend our time answering calls. Every penny of what we put into our work is earned by us in our court work, it is only that which allows us to work in the manner we know works. We need to retain choice and independence in our work otherwise we end up being shackled by funding to outcomes which we know do not work. I get that parents are desperate and that is why they are driven to believe in cure alls and magical solutions but the process of change is a greater project than can be achieved by simple investment, in the UK for example, each court is a little fiefdom of its own which works to its own belief system, we can change things one court at a time but we are involved in constant hand to hand combat in doing so. I do not know what your reference to promised Judicial and CAFCASS training refers to – CAFCASS won’t have training from anyone outside of CAFCASS, the Judiciary however are a different matter – I train Sheriffs in Scotland and Judges in England through the Judicial Studies Board and EAPAP Is about to begin a training programme for Judges in Europe. Our Conference in August brought 300 people together and pushed the agenda on. I am not sure why you have not received information that you need for a part 25 application – I receive hundreds of emails weekly along with texts, messages and other requests for help I am afraid that I cannot be personally available to everyone – but if you email office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk and request information for a part 25 application you should get that. Finally, as you are already aware – there is little that can be done by FSC alone – the legal part of this process is essential to ensure that you get the right mental health intervention. I accept that you may not be able to get that where you are but you can educate your solicitor. We have recently been working successfully in Manchester where our work is now established, that took a couple of successful interventions to show that the established practice brings positive outcomes. I agree that putting all of your belief in our basket may well lead to disappointment, we may for example not have enough capacity when or if you get to the point where the Judge will listen. This is why believing in others to bring magical solutions doesn’t help. At no point have I ever presented FSC as the cure all for the problem of PA, I have presented our methodology as being based upon the internationally recognised evidence base and have repeatedly said that the legal and mental health interlock is the route to use. If you attended the conference in August you would understand how EAPAP is rolling out standardisation of services, change takes time to deliver. The key is not to look to me or FSC but to find practitioners who you can educate, solicitors who will learn from people like Fran Wiley and June Venter QC (who have both written very useful guidelines) and to learn how to use the legal system to get the interventions you need. That is what I mean about not putting your heart in other people’s hands. We are two people amongst thousands in the world doing this work, I write as much as I can to assist you for nothing, we do as much as we can on our own to meet the need out there. Shift your focus slightly and you will see that there is a great deal you can do alone, you can use all of the resources we put out without having to pay for our services or anyone else’s. Kind Regards Karen

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      1. The names of other practitioners would be very welcomed. But I’m still waiting to hear of any remotely in our area. I will keep an eye on EAPAP website. Still.

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  2. “Keep your heart in your own hands by recognising that you have the capacity to develop your own routes to recovery through consideration of all of the different thinking available to you.”

    It has taken me a long time to understand what has happened to my family … to so many families.

    I’m still learning and am grateful that your words, among others, have helped me through the process.

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    1. and it is that journey of understanding Caron which renders vulnerable parents even more vulnerable. When you recognise that it is your own story which partially brings you to this place and that you have become unintentionally bound into someone else’s trauma drama then you recognise that the only way to help your children escape is to stay out of that drama and anyone else’s too. I see so many parents becoming experts as a defence against their own suffering, because it is easier to become an expert than to face the reality of the trauma in the self. It is only by standing fully in the face of what has happened to you however and sifting and lifting the stones to deeply understand how you came to this place, that you build the expertise to survive and thrive. And when you have done all of that and you know that you need to keep on learning about yourself in therapy and personal work, that you keep on building a road for your children to walk home on. This is all about owning the self and soul and being true to your own history and your own road home to your own understanding. Whilst alienation is horrific, it is also an opportunity to transform the landscape for future generations so that your unborn grandchildren do not suffer alienation from the parent who was alienated as a child. That is the trans-generational task of the alienated parent, it changes your own life and so many who come after you. Keep your mind wide open, listen to everyone, sift and resift, don’t take my word or anyone else’s word on anything but test and retest, observe and consider, be that curious observer, it is amazing what emerges into your life when you do. K

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another great and interesting article. As an alienated parent into the 10th year I feel all emotions mentioned and discovered one or two new ones I didn’t know existed. There is one exception and that was the feeling of shame mentioned. I’ve never felt that but surely anyone involved in directly (parent, grandparent, courts, Cafcass and social worker) or indirectly (schools , police, friends of the narcissist ) should surely all feel exactly that…..shame.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have kept a healthy distance from that which those people you list attempt to project onto you Matt. If there is one thing our work is aimed at first it is putting the shame back where it belongs. Anyone who cannot recognise that a child’s rejection of a parent is a red flag signalling something is terribly wrong should be filled with shame. One day in the rear view mirror their names will finally be linked to the national shame which will be felt when it is universally recognised that we failed children of divorce and separation on a monumental scale. I hope I live to see that day. Until then we press on. Sending you my very best. K

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Karen, when I first read your post it answered and verified so many things for me and had wanted to ask you a question and realized I can only concept this all in my mind as something that is true or false and can’t yet articulate it into words to explain and can only figure out to ask you if you can link your post to to anything having to do with repeated incidents of abuse and threats carrying over beyond just the alienating parent and with a extreme severe targeted parent’s split of mind? Maybe that’s just too broad of a question if it makes any sense in how I asked it. Thanks!

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    1. I will try to answer your question she has a mother, I need to ask questions first though to make sure I am on the right track – do you mean to ask whether a belief that an alienating parent is harmful to you is psychological splitting? If that is your question and your belief comes from repeated attacks on you then no it is not splitting, it is a rational response to an external threat. Although splitting itself is a rational response too although it appears as a maladaptive response in alienated children and in rejected parents at times too. It is a rational response to an irrational occurrence in which a threat is posed which cannot be seen and which is attributed to the wrong source. Ie: children use splitting to get out of the impossible position of having to relate to two parents when one is determined that the other is bad/mad and should be gotten rid of. It is a response to a threat. Is that an answer to the question you wanted to ask or am I not getting it properly? K

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      1. That brought up so many questions and helped me understand something but put me in the same boat of it being so complex to try to figure out how to say it again. It such a long process for knowing what’s happened (that is being months to years AFTER I read about it in court or medical records way past the fact) to finally get to the point of saying what’s happened but thank you so much for trying to answer it for me!

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  5. Karen, in all the areas in which you write and in which I read you have never once made me feel like you could fix my problem!
    What you did do was make me realise that I needed to be a strong mother, an unashamed mother and above all realise I was a mother alienated by a father as a means of control!
    Many of us do and have found solace in your writings, hearing about other families being reunited, but for me it was the necessity for me to realise that I needed to be strong which has kept me going upwards and onwards, still with a sore heart but with the willpower to carry on for the sake of my alienated son and my daughter who lives with me and deserves to have as normal a life as possible!

    I wish you much success in 2019 and I hope some day to let you know it’s all worked out for me! If not I will have done my best for both my kids and know that I am a wonderful mum!

    Best wishes
    Frankie x

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  6. Greetings Karen,
    Firstly, I found you on the internet and am wary of “confirmation bias.”
    I feel I am dangerously close to a psychological splitting with my older of two daughters , who are currently ages 9 and 11. Their mother has condoned and confirmed the “fears” that only my older daughter has toward me.
    My younger daughter wants to be with me and we maintain our visitation rights, which are court ordered to every other week together. (Applys to both daughters)
    We live in the USA.
    “Parental alienation” is a term most
    people don’t even recognise here.
    Thank you for your valuable work.
    Maintaining critical thinking in the midst of such an emotional situation has been a challenge for sure!
    Reading your posts has been very helpful and informative.
    Thank you again.

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  7. Karen, you write so straightforwardly and powerfully. In all my 16 years of being the AP, I never had any idea that this process of alienation was something I had unknowingly become a part of.

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  8. Your article just reinforces your argument ie not to look to the internet for an open-minded healthy approach to compassionately manage the feelings resulting from estrangement.My children were not “terrorized”; they made difficult choices following difficult times.I have compassion for them and work on having it for myself

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  9. Thank you so much for the useful advise. I find myself going in several different directions trying to make a step in the right direction but it seems I’m going in circles. I’m going on 4 years away from both of my children ( my youngest just turned 18) and it seems like I’ve hit a dead end. Lately I have been listening to positive reunification stories for inspiration. I wish there was a way for both my son’s and my daughter’s therapists to understand what is going on but they have only justified their feelings of distrust in me and I have been blacklisted from any communication with them .(the therapists)

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  10. I am thankfully not an alienated parent. I am instead the spouse of an allienated parent. I feel helpless to offer any comfort or hope that his situation will oneday end.

    Shame or at least feeling shamed by others who do not understand how complexity of the issue is something I understand. When we are asked if we have heard from his girls or if we have tried. Especially during the holidays is extremely difficult.

    Dealing with a borderline coparent is to suffer the systematic removal of your place as a parent is completely taken away. The children have learned to conform their to the alienating parent.

    What can be done? What resources are out there? Children are 17 and 19 now and have little social life outside of their mother. The 19 year old has started college now and refuses completely any contact.

    Is it too late? What can be done when children are old enough refuse contact?

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  11. Karen,
    I see your points and I agree we targeted parents go though a very very vulnerable stage where we are desperate to attach ourselves in a nearly religious fervor to some form of a “way” to view and think about PA.

    Getting too much into other people’s dramas and then even arguing with other targeted parents over th “right way” can become a chronic addiction.

    After 6 years of journey and figuring out how to do my personal work I’ve emerged now in a centered stable place with some thoughts to share with other targeted parents on how to redirect their energies into doing self work first before lining up to join into causes behind leaders.

    When I meet with or talk to fellow targeted parents I can tell pretty quickly where they are generally in managing their trauma.

    So I agree with your points but I also think we need to support building communities of targeted parents who ultimately are ready to support a collective set of actions aimed at affecting change.

    I’d like to send you some of my essays for your thoughts if you would be interested.

    Best,
    Roger

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What do you do when the child enmeshed with the resident parent continues to make false & malicious allegations after the Family Court process has decided that the residency should NOT change? [i] Continue to engage & be a target for criminal allegations that are actively supported by the Crown, yet are baseless & you stand a 50% chance of conviction on a word alone (do not think there are valid checks & balances as they have been significantly eroded by Ms Saunders ex CPS Head), or [ii] Distance to indirect contact – effectively no contact long terms or [iii] detach, disengage & ignore the child keeping a criminal defense intact by having no unsupervised contact for life?

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    1. Mark, I read your comment with sadness!
      My team of solicitors, barrister and indeed the judge himself stated that my son had been manipulated and intimidated into accusing me of a beating given to him by his father, the one that confirmed my decision to take the children and leave!
      My son was 15 and the judge called my team into his chambers and stated that if I did not take a step back and stop looking for contact he would have no choice but to set judgement that I was no longer wanted in my son’s life and issue a non-molestation order against me! He found the situation so obvious, but as with Social services he must play by the rules, and didn’t want me to suffer the humiliation!
      He advised me to write my son a letter which would be given to him by social services! There is no winning with the system Mark even when they see what is happening they work via a tick-box mentality!

      I appreciated that the judge was fully aware of the situation but my son was adamant the beating was by me, so he least I could contact him by text/phone! This to date has not been very successful!

      I wish you better luck than I, but in the great scheme of social workers and courts, I wouldn’t hold my breath!

      Frankie x

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  13. Just referring to the first comment, Karen and Nick Woodall’s book does help parents who are coping with parental alienation and some excellent practical and proactive advice.

    Thinking about critical thinking – not quite the same topic, but something occurred to us just recently. Having seen a child alienated and now 99% recovered. We obtained a defined court order which, despite initial teething problems and threats to move further away and further court applications – is working. Child comes regularly, is more relaxed and all is normal again. Except in the background there is still a parent who wishes to alienate and waits for opportune moments. Court made it clear that the order stands until he is 16. That in itself helped. It meant the alienating parent stopped trying to use the child to prevent contact, because it had to happen. There are still subtle things to do with mobile phones and claiming child doesn’t want phone contact (when it isn’t permitted) but they are manageable. There are still occasions of trying to disrupt the schedule but so far it hasn’t been breached. And there are still comments about how the child should be able to choose which parent to see and trying to tempt the child into going to a special event rather than going to Dad’s. Which again has been managed to avoid the child being in the middle, by negotiation.

    But to get to the point. Children can still be alienated at the age of 16, I am sure. We have seen it before, been through it before, the pressure, threats and brainwashing and the child fearing not doing what the alienating parent tells them to do. And the court order ends at the age of 16. Partway through school exams most likely.

    I fear that we will have the same thing again as soon as a court order ends. People say 16 year olds can decide for themselves. At 16 I needed my parents and couldn’t survive on my own. Then you think – it may only be for a couple of years until they’re 18. But in that couple of years of no contact (and there would be none at all I am sure when fear of being found out is involved and there has been years of conditioning of that fear) ….. It could be years of no contact until the “child” is fully independent with their own home and income. And many young people live at home a lot longer these days for financial reasons.

    So my point is – how do you manage alienation in older teenagers when the courts can no longer make orders.

    I realise we are thinking way ahead – but it is a reasonable assumption to think that as soon as 16 comes along the same things will occur. The alienating parent will say – “child” doesn’t want to come, doesn’t want to speak to you. And that will be that. No more parenting of your teenager through their ‘A’ levels and driving tests and hormones and puppy love and so on. And it would be a terrible thing for a teenager – who cannot either stand up to the alienating parent, or is fearful of doing so, or who is afraid of being forced to choose – because ultimately that has been the alienating parent’s motivation all along – to make the child choose them and reject the other parent. I do not think that motivation will go away.

    Are there any resources – either psychological or legal on this issue – because we are preparing …..We went to hell and back and need to protect the child not just until 16 but until they are their own person.

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    1. Stella….I am in this situation now..The court ,after trial,recognized PA ,and gave sole custody to me.I had no contact with my son for 4 years…he was removed from his fathers ,and put with me at age 16…It has been a year now..I can not find the correct type of help that I need ,since this rarely happens. . I have managed to self help and get by ,best I can ,but there are no resources for this kind of custody change…I have 1 year left,and I do think he may leave and go back to the alienator…I can’t seem to shake my sons beliefs,of being alienated,and the damage that was done by the alienator. ..In the 1 short year left ,before he ages out,I really need help to make this work ,to help everyone involved.

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