Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?
T.S. Eliot. The Wasteland


First post of 2019. I could say Happy New Year but I am late to the party and anyway happy is not what so many who read this blog are.  Here is another year then, one which sees me sitting by the side of things in time out of time.

Retreating from the world is something I have done regularly in life.  This January I am spending time resting, reflecting and researching and in doing so I am recognising how far I have travelled in doing this work.

I am deeply immersed at the moment in the land of the alienated child, which I know well because I spend much time with alienated children, but which I am increasingly recognising is a land suspended in liminal space.

I have written a good deal about trans-generational haunting in my time, it is one of my fascinations and in the decade since I began this blog, I have revisited the theme each time I find myself in that suspended space in time and place.

Alienated children live by and large in a wasteland and many have done so since birth.  Whilst I am acutely aware that the wasteland of emotional and psychological experience is forced upon a child through the actions of one parent, I am also aware that the life story of the rejected parent is an essential component in creating the alienation dynamic.

That is not to say that alienated parent causes or contributes to the child’s use of splitting as a defence, it is to say that the life experiences of the alienated parent are mined for their usefulness in the creation of the child’s ‘decision’ to reject that parent.

In 2014 I wrote this –

I am an alientor. You know me well. You lived with me once and you witnessed my behaviour patterns but you did not spend time studying and internalising them. I know your behaviour patterns better than you know them yourself. I know how to measure you, test you and control you. I know what your hooks are and I know that the depth of the love for your children is a weakness I can exploit. I am an emotional terrorist. I will terrify you into submission. You will do as I tell you to do, if you do not, I will take your children away.

I am an alienator, you didn’t notice that when we lived together but I began my work long before we went our separate ways. I created fissures and fractures within our family and I managed and manipulated reality, though for a long time you did not notice that.

From I Am The Alienator – Karen Woodall  2014

Five years later and I am excavating that liminal space in which the alienated child lives and understanding at a far deeper level, the manner in which parental alienation is the story of a problem long buried in the psyche of family configurations of the past, which erupts into the present during the crisis of the separation of the family in the present.

Truly the ghosts within the nursery are not sheeted but buried in the minds of the children of the past who, when they become parents, are haunted by compulsions to repeat the un-heard stories of their childhood.

And the un-heard stories of childhood lie not only in the minds of the alienating parents, but in the minds of the alienated.

In the wasteland of alienation, what I am finding, in my work and in my research, is the missing voice of the inner thou relationship holds a key not only to understanding how this happens but how to treat the problem and even prevent it.

I am British with a leaning in my work towards Psychoanalytic understanding of families.  Thus I am drawn to Object Relations Theory which I have written about before  both on here and in our book Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal .  In object Relations Theory, the idea that our internalised relationships to ‘objects’ invested with meaning is how we navigate the world is an important one in my understanding of this work.

In my work with alienated children I am often stunned by what appears to be an internal wasteland of the imagination.  Living in almost narrowly carved out slices of experience, these children divide their internal worlds into rooms with locked doors, dark places where they will not go and rigidly controlled internal and external management of experience. Locked down and locked out of their own capacity to converse with themselves, the ‘inner thou’, that good and healthy object which represents a core being whom we must all find and learn to relate to if we are to have an integrated personality or sense of self, is missing.

The missing ‘inner thou’ relationship means that the conversation with the self which is that which allows us to navigate relationships and understand reality, means that alienated children grow to become vulnerable to behavioural restrictions which interfere with relationships with others.

Let me unpack that a little because it is worth understanding if you are in any way involved with children and their parents affected by alienation.

A good example of the lack of the ‘inner thou’ relationship is the alienated child who has shut down their relational capacity to one parent in favour of complete pathological devotion to the other.  In this scenario, the child has not only shut down the relational capacity to one parent, they have given up their capacity to develop a healthy individual internalised self as they have internalised or inculcated the whole of the parent who has pressured them into this position as their substitute for their own internalised self.  Not only that but they have split off all of this parent’s negative and hurtful parts from their consciousness, focusing only on the good which they have then deified.  Any conversations with the ‘self’ that a child has in this condition, are actually conversations with the succubus or incubus parent who inhabits their internalised landscape.  And this parent living inside the child as a deified object is usually one who has an unresolved traumatic secret.  It is that secret which drives the family into the alienation wasteland and it is the conditions of the relationship between that parent and the externalised and split off and rejected parent which gives fertile soil for this story to flourish.

For within alienated parents we often find that there are other secrets which though less toxic and less vulnerable to compulsion repetition, are never the less more present than not and sometimes even unknown.  I have lost count of the number of times in our workshops a rejected parent will say suddenly ‘oh my goodness, I have just realised that I was an alienated child….’  and indeed, the risk for alienated children is, in my experience, not that they will become alienating parents but that they will become alienated from their own children.  Which means that amongst rejected parents will be a higher than usual number of people who were themselves once alienated in some way, not only from significant adults but from their own internalised ‘inner thou’ relationship.

Which leaves the wasteland of alienation looking very much to me like a haunted landscape of repeated attempts down the family line to tell a story, ending in children in the present who are inhabited by the ghosts of their ancestors not even known to them but walking amongst us as large as life.

Much of trans-generational haunting literature focuses upon traumatic events such as war, the holocaust, terrorism and such large scale things.  But what if the trans-generational haunting in children of divorce and separation, is an unrecognised side effect of the impact of our lack of help to children in this family crisis?  What if, in the western world, in assuming that divorce and separation don’t affect children significantly, we have exposed them to being haunted by the unresolved and (by them) the unresolvable?

In my writing – I am the Alienator in 2014 I also said this –

In my mind your betrayal awakened the traumas of people long dead and ignited the fuse that lead to the bomb that blew up our lives. Now, the souls of our children are hostage to wrongs which come howling from hell and you are helpless to hold back the tide which will sweep you and they to the death that is living with losing your children whilst they are still breathing. Your loss not mine which you and not I will have to survive.

My work with alienated children, once reunited with the rejected parent and the splitting healed, is to teach them how to rebuild in the wasteland and find the words and symbols which form the inner conversations with the self.  In doing so I am consciously working with them to build the inner thou, that sense of self that they can use to test their relationship with the outside world and work out for themselves what is real and what is not. In doing so I find that at the same time I am also working with the internalised objects of the alienating and alienated parent. I am often also working with the long dead internalised relatives and the way in which these relationships have shaped, scarred, scoured and scavenged the internal lives of the children within the adults who are parents to the alienated child in the here and now.

This is whole family work, this is intergenerational family therapy like no other, which starts with the healing of the split state of mind and goes on to build new landscapes for all who are affected.

This is work in the here and now which has its roots in the far distant past uprooting unearthly secrets and airing and washing dirty laundry.

Learning to fold clean linen in new ways we give voice, shape and substance to those who walk in the wastelands.



We have added a new workshop for European parents to our schedule for early 2019.  Our workshop in Brussels on Sunday 24th February is for all parents who are alienated or who are experiencing children’s transitional difficulties in shared parenting situations.  This workshop is delivered in English but we will have assistance from translators able to speak Dutch and French throughout the day.

Please note that location of workshops is sent to you prior on confirmation of your booking.  Please note that we do not take block bookings and all bookings must be in the name of the person who is attending.

Click on the image below to go through to book for any of our early 2019 Workshops.

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Please note that practitioner trainings will be announced by the end of January.