Life. One thing I know about it is that it doesn’t stay the same. Everything changes and being able to recognise that is one of the key resilience skills for living. In my life right now everything is changing as I continue to navigate the generational shifts coming my way. Moving from one place in life to the next (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively), we find ourselves living our life amongst the lives of others around us, sandwiched between generations still living and those long gone. Truly we are not alone. In the external and internal our lives are rivers running through the landscapes of the lives of others with whom we are linked. Learning to flow, even in the face of loss and adversity is our greatest task of all.
This week, in between the personal responsibilities I am currently managing, I have been reviewing my research with young people affected by the transmission of trauma between the generations. As therapists we say that we get the clients we need and that our work with others reflects the work going on inside. As I review the work that I have done, I understand that which Jung told us –
“a good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor’s examining himself… it is his own hurt that gives a measure of his power to heal. This, and nothing else, is the meaning of the myth of the wounded physician.”
In my journey of working in the field of parental alienation I have come to know that all of the work which is being done between myself and the families I help requires that I know them at the deepest level. It also requires that I know myself at the deepest level. Families affected by parental alienation are dealing with trauma, loss and deeply buried secrets, they require us to understand them and in doing so be able to hold on to ourselves in the midst of their chaos.
During times of personal challenge, the knowing of the self is that which creates the resilience and strength to keep going. Keeping going is what alienated parents have to do in the face of enormous adversity and pain. Understanding how my experiences mirror those of the families with whom I work and knowing where the differences lie, enables me to develop greater understanding and resilience. It enables me to keep my river in flow so that I can assist the families I work with to clear the weeds that prevent the rivers of their life flowing freely.
My commitment to self knowing and self care means that I will follow the instruction to put my own oxygen mask on first before helping others. It is that commitment to the self which enables me to keep going and keep flowing, it is a model of living I teach to every alienated parent I meet on my travels.
In reviewing my work with alienated children suffering inter-generational transmission of trauma I have begun to identify the core elements of therapeutic work which assists families to heal and to begin to flow. One of those core elements is the existence in everyone in the family of the use of psychological splitting. Thus in reunification work, what we are dealing with is not only the psychological split in the child, we are working with splitting in the alienating parent AND in the rejected parent to a certain degree.
I liken this splitting which criss crosses families to meanders of rivers or oxbow lakes formed when the meander forms a diversion and returns to the river. These splits, which are caused by the flotsam and jetsam building up and diverting the flow of the family’s attention through things like false allegations and unresolved trans-generational trauma, cause the flow of the family to falter and eventually lead to narratives which compete around the child about which reality they should be flowing in. A child who is vulnerable through being forced into sharing one narrative to the exclusion of the other, will soon find themselves flowing in an alternative universe to a once loved parent, doomed to uphold and regulate the feelings and emotions of the stronger more dysfunctional family flow. When this has occurred the stench of the stagnant water the child becomes steeped in is overwhelming and the child must create a meander, a split, a disassociation from their own lived experience in order to be able to cope with the pressure being placed upon them.
As a therapist if one is working in this confluence without self awareness and if one is attempting to work in the standard intuitive way, the capacity to clear the weeds and unblock the transmission of trauma is compromised. In effect what therapists do when they work in this way is simply strengthen the splitting and in the face of their failure to effect change they blame the rejected parent who they believe is the person who must change. Having recently heard from one parent who was sent to a therapist to reflect on his own part in the alienation (a ghastly, ill judged and frankly abusive act on the part of the therapist), I have come to understand how little people really understand about how to do this work.
This work is not standard therapy and the problems which cause alienation in a child do not come from the usual sources seen when people attend for therapy. This work is trans-generational trauma clearance in the main, it is a human relational problem created when two families join together to bring a child into the world and it requires a deep understanding of how traumatic secrets, which I have written about many times on here manifest in the here and now.
The capacity to work within and without and across time and space are necessary to do this work. Knowing the path of the river of the self and how that cuts its way through the trans-generational rock formation of the landscape of one’s own life is essential. As a therapist in this space it is not ok to force families into the construct of a model of work which does not fit their needs. This work requires a deep understanding first of the way in which parental alienation presents in families and a sophisticated grasp of the historical literature and evidenced practice which explains the reality of what is faced by families so affected. To do anything otherwise is to fail families and muddy the waters of the lives of the people we seek to help.
As I continue on my life journey, facing all that life has to show me in terms of challenge and change, I understand that the ingredients for successful work in this space are the ability to know the flow of the river of life and to work within one’s own trans-generational spaces first.
We are first of all human. Each and every one of us. And being human we have strengths and failings. Finding our flow before we help others find theirs is essential and in working with families affected by alienation, that becomes even more important.
Life. Our rivers run through it, bordered on all sides by the landscape of the generations gone before us.
Keeping that flow means knowing that landscape. Helping others in that space depends upon it.
Readers are no doubt aware that I am going through some personal challenges at present. I will however, continue to write my blog and keep you updated on all things going on in the world which are about parental alienation.
Radio 4 airs programme on parental alienation – Sunday 12th May 2019.