I have been working for some time now on a new therapeutic approach with families affected by parental alienation which has its roots in trans-generational family therapy as developed by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and others.
Transgenerational psychotherapy is an approach to working therapeutically with families in which the history of the family and the unseen ties between generations are all accepted, addressed and utilised in recovery of health and wellbeing in the here and now.
My interest in this approach, which I combine with a Psycho-genealogy framework in which a psycho-(archeo)logical dig is performed by the family as a whole in therapeutic work, stems from my knowledge that parental alienation in its most severe form is caused by the unresolved issues of the alienating parent which are leaking through to the child in the here and now.
I first learned of this phenomenon from Dr Lowenstein who is now sadly deceased but who left us a rich legacy in his writings about such issues. In the development of my work with families over the past ten years in particular it is his work in relation to parental alienation which has provided me with a foundation stone upon which to build the idea of a new approach to therapy with alienated children and families as well as encourage me to build upon the historical research evidence in this field.
One of the most powerful themes which comes through my work with families affected by parental alienation, is the silence which surrounds the family on one side (the alienated side) and the almost deafening inter-psychic ‘chatter’ which surrounds the child on the side of the family the child is pathologically bound to. It was learning to listen to this ‘white noise’ and to tune it in so that it made sense to me, which triggered my interest in therapeutic work with families affected by this problem.
I work with parental alienation in the tradition set down by the research evidence. As I do this work I stand in line and look back to those who went before me, honouring their work and accepting their findings, using their knowledge and their skill as the basis for my own contribution to the project of helping families. This is how a scientific field is developed, how new things are found and how the layers of knowledge are laid down like sedimented river beds upon which developmental knowledge can flow. As such I am interested in the work of those who have built interventions which work with parental alienation, particularly those which help younger children. Saving the children in the here and now in a child protection model of intervention is a critical skill for anyone who is working with families affected by parental alienation and it is vital that we continue to use that model to best effect.
Working with older children and adults however requires a different approach because we cannot use a child protection model of work with children who are over the age where the state can intervene to protect the child. This leaves whole generations of children who used psychological splitting as a defence in the years after their parents separated, without help in real terms. When I meet these children who are now adults, I know that their needs are not only real they are urgent. As carriers of unresolved generational trauma, they are in need of attention and a therapy which helps them to both understand and liberate themselves from the traps which have been set in their mind.
Having done this work for many years now, I am aware of the pointlessness of most therapies in their unadapted forms in working with parental alienation. I am particularly aware of how feminist influenced therapies are utterly useless in addressing the problem. As most of the family therapies in use today have been altered by the influence of feminism, causing understanding of power imbalances and inter-relational dynamics to be filtered through the unhelpful lens of ‘patriarchy’, the capacity to arrest coercive control over the child in a child protection model of work is compromised. When working with children who are over the age when the state can offer input and without the power to arrest the control a parent has over a child’s mind, using any kind of feminist influenced unadapted therapy is less than worthless, it is as Dr Steve Miller tells us, doubly injurious to anyone who has been affected by psychological splitting in their childhood.
As my practice with young people affected by parental alienation grows (because more and more of them recognise that they need help to explore the catacombs of their childhood experience), I have the opportunity to explore what a new therapy requires to assist them. As I do so, I have ditched all forms of therapy which have been influenced by feminist theory and because of that I have developed a 360 degree view of the family. In doing so, I grow in my understanding that the dynamic called the ‘telescoping of the generations’ (Fairnberg 2005) is always at play in parental alienation.
The telescoping of the generations is a mode of enquiry in therapy in which the links between the generations appear not as concrete evidenced behaviours, but as that which appears in the transferential resistances. In such circumstances (which I have recently been repeatedly aware of over the years I have done this work), it is not the spoken word which is necessary to listen to and work with, but the actions and behaviours as well as the silences in the therapeutic work and the disappearances and reappearances of the carrier child which must be responded to.
It is these disappearances and silences which are followed by reappearance which conveys the evidence referred to by Abrahams and Took as an encrypted secret. In observing how children in the 8-14 age group enter into alienation, in which their disappearance is replaced in the life of the rejected parent by silence, the reality of the dynamic we call parental alienation is illuminated. Parental alienation is caused by the use of psychological splitting in the period in which the child is developing their own personality. It is psychological splitting, an infantile defence which is induced in the child by pressure in the family system, which enables the child to disappear from the intolerable dilemma of having to hold two realities in mind and to ‘choose’ to align with one reality and erase the other into the unconscious.
So where does vampirism enter the transgenerational story of parental alienation? This is where the use of transgenerational psychotherapy in an adapted form suits people who were alienated as children, because in understanding vampirism (how the undead can possess the living) it is possible to see how the telescoping of generations provides what Jill Salburg calls the texture for transmission of inter-generational or trans-generational secrets which are presented in the here and now as parental alienation.
I have long suspected that parental alienation/ psychological splitting causes an interference with the pruning of the neural pathways at a critical point in the development of the brain. I liken this to creation of catacombs within the mind and personality of the child, a creation of cul-de-sacs in which the capacity to cope with the ambivalence of life is compromised just as it should be starting to expand. When I meet adults alienated as children, even those who have reconnected to the parent they rejected as children, what I notice most about them is the manner in which they have become parentified and put in the wrong place in the family hierarchy. From this wrong place, their view of their own lives and that of their family of origin is skewed. And this skewing of vision is accompanied by an over strong trust and belief in their own feelings.
Put simply, children who have been forced into the place of being parent to their own parents through alienation, are forced to trust their own already distorted feelings in order to survive. Which makes them prime candidates for those who seek to feed from the vulnerability of others, to attach themselves to.
Therapy for adults alienated as children requires the unlocking and unpicking of the telescoping of the generations with an ear for the unsaid and an eye out for the undead walking in the present.
What I am starting to truly know about families affected by parental alienation is that this is a group affected by particular dynamics which have been rendered vulnerable by the generational approach to family separation we have seen since the change in divorce laws in the early seventies. Which means that unless we find effective ways of working with this group of adults harmed as children the risk of the continuation of transgenerational transmission is extremely high. Couple that with the way in which alienated children are rendered vulnerable to being used in a sort of vampirism of the soul by those who attach themselves to people with distorted vision and we can see the risks of repetition of alienation when these adults become parents themselves.
Clearing the way for a therapeutic approach which works for this group of families requires ditching feminism and rethinking how we understand parent/child relationships as therapists. It means bringing awareness of power dynamics to bear in a way which is far beyond the blinkered belief that power is only ever about what men do to women and it means withdrawing investments in existing therapies to work out new routes to recovery.
With an ever clearer road map, travelling those new routes and assisted by adults alienated as children, I expect us to arrive at the destination of a new form of therapy very soon.
Fairnberg (2005). The telescoping of generations: Listening to the narcissistic links between generations. London. The New Library of Psychoanalysis.
Could you explain further the feminist message and the motivation behind it? I am utterly impressed by this form of repetition compulsion. These children who are turned into abusers of their alienated parent are then transformed into the abused alienated parent. Truly new valuable insight for us trying to empower the alienated and open the perception of the child.
The feminist message has been for several decades that the needs of children are indivisible from the needs of their mothers. The family has been attacked as the place where children are brought up in a crucible of security and men have been labelled abusive by default. All major therapies have been influenced by this belief meaning that children’s needs are not properly understood or met. Feminism is a construct which has no place in therapy in my view.
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This is an exciting read but wanted to understand your past comments that the road or route into alienation is the road out and it’s not the same for each family. Is intergenerational trauma a reality for every family dealing with alienation? or just a cluster? so would you say parental alienation is embedded in intergenerational trauma but there are still differing routes into how the child becomes to be in a split state? I am trying to get a visual where transgenerational issues fit into the narrative.
If you conceptualise PA like a cancer (which it is) you will understand that all PA is the psychological splitting in the child but the splitting is caused by different configurations depending on different families. So one family may have a trans-generational element to it (I think most have but we haven’t excavated PA in the way that others have excavated anorexia for example so we can’t know that at the moment). The trans-generational element of it appears to me to come through both sides of the family not just the alienating parent’s side – so there is something in the rejected parent’s side which makes them prime candidates for being involved with alienators as well as something in the alienating side which makes them do it. If PA is caused by the actions of one the reactions of the other and the vulnerability of the child that would make sense. Finding out what it is which makes rejected parents vulnerable to this is my next task. I do know anecdotally that those cases which have a strong trans-generational element at play are those where false allegations are made.
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Thanks Karen, your answer does clarify my question. I have all these puzzle pieces and trying to figure where they all fit together to gain a clear picture of my own families dynamics as would all other targeted parents reading your blogs. I love reading each of your blogs but boy it is so complex an issue. I feel like I just can’t grasp the whole picture but just these bits of the puzzle. Your blogs are like individual puzzle pieces arriving in the mail and you a hit with an ‘aha’ moment but then struggle to see how they fit together with another.. keep the blogs coming! every one of them are informative and give hope,
Could you clarify what you mean by “Feminist influenced unadapted therapy” and please listing the types of therapy you are referring? The trans generational theories you have are encouraging in the understanding of alienation. What is not so clear is the link between failed therapy types and feminism?? Are you meaning therapies built on the construct of the importance of “ mothering” please expand.
My understand is the majority of therapy that involves the importance of the mother-child attachment was actually constructed by men in the field of psychology. Mother child bonding and attachment has been proven scientifically vitally important, which helps us understand when one doesn’t have this deep needed experience one is left to experience a myriad of harm whether by one’s choices or choices to bond to abusive people i.e. herein be the alienator (narcissistic or borderline personality traits) or attract the alienator (insecure or dependent personality traits). Using the term “feminism” or “feminist” may be misleading.
My 20 observation: Traditional talk or cognitive therapies seem to do more harm than good in cases of alienation particularly if the entire family isn’t involved. Most therapists are not versed in alienation dynamics and how they most definitely are trans generational. A big obstacle in working with families in early onset alienation dynamics is 1. The alienating parent refuses treatment 2. The targeted parent and child are under such distress 3. No court here or in The US will force parents to stop their psychologically abusive behavior until the children & other parent are severely harmed. Then you’re dealing with a whole other problem with VERY limited professionals who know how to treat. There’s no such thing is reunification therapy yet courts order this term and therapists list this as their “speciality” without specific training or oversight. Yet it’s ordered by the courts daily and these therapists are constantly failing and harming alienated families. What to do about this?
Let’s not assume that courts in the U.K. won’t intervene because they increasingly do. When I speak about feminist influenced theories I refer to family therapies which were widely influenced by feminism to the point where the hierarchy of the family was erased in some models. What I am advocating here is that therapy which helps adults alienated as children MUST excavate on many different levels as well as take into account the impact of splitting on the developing brain. These people, who were alienated as children, cannot be helped using any kind of theory which espouses a political belief because their world was simply not constructed that way. What to do about those who proclaim expertise when they have none? I spend a lot of time working that one out. When I write about feminism I am remarking on that dynamic which promotes a belief in women being disadvantaged for being women and men being advantaged for being men. It skews the vision badly and takes ones eye from the child.
Hello, I am personally interested in getting help for myself, husband, and two daughters that have all been torn, erased and silenced.
The silence is unbarable as we continue to drift farther away from our love ,two girls, and life itself by greedy narcopaths whom are the creators of parental alienation.
My husband and I built several very successfull businesses of our own, and at times employed family members to not only help financially but also to help those who were in need of positive leadership.
It starts with two jealous realtives casting stones at our success while sucking off our wealth, to empower and transform their social statice.
Starting witb their association to the local welfare service , court judge, attorneys, social workers, counsellors and all the parties being had ,paid by our government to keep my girls in the system of deceit.
This goes beyond the call for a routine referral to child welfare.
My husband and I have remained successfull in the business arena, yet defeated by separation and detachment to “our unit” The “Us” in “our family”.
The Fat Rats, child welfare social workers and justice system in our community would spare nothing to keep upheaval and dismay in our lives .
Parental Alienation is the end to all that I love.
Reblogged this on Madison Elizabeth Baylis.
That quote from Bram Stoker so resonates with me. I still have a clear memory of how
chilled and cold the silence was when my parent’s strategy of alienation ‘clicked’ into place,
half a century ago. What a strange journey it has been out of the catacomb – couldn’t
have found the end of the red thread without this resource.
And if you don’t sort out the familial stuff while you are still alive it continues, just as you left it, untethered careering out of control into the next generation. The hardened attitudes and the prejudices continue in one form or another not through genetics, but through learnt behaviours.
You may feel powerless to make amends but if that is the case make it your business to find out why, put the intergenerational jigsaw pieces in their places.