Missing Pieces: Kaleidoscopic Thinking in Psychological Splitting

Nick and I are today preparing a public lecture for social welfare practitioners and parents in Zagreb, Croatia.. With our partners at theChild Protection Centre in Zagreb, led by Professor. Dr. SC. Gordana Buljan Flanderwe continue our work to raise public awareness about the harm caused to children in divorce and separation when they suffer induced psychological splitting which is also known as parental alienation.

Nick and I will deliver this lecture alongside Professor Buljan Flander and Judge Lana Peto Kujundžić who has thirty years experience injudicial practice in the Municipal and County Court in Zagreb, as well as the Council for Youth of the Supreme Court of Republic of Croatia.  We are honoured to have been invited to deliver this lecture and we are very much looking forward to meeting with our colleagues and partners at the Child Protection Centre again to further our work together.

As we prepare the lecture, which will focus upon the concept of induced psychological splitting in children after divorce or separation, I continue my thinking about how splitting creates kaleidoscopic thinking, not only in alienated children but in alienated parents and also in rejected parents. It also creates the same tendency in professionals who work with alienated children and their families, especially those who do not have much experience of phenomenon of induced splitting when it arises as a defence.

As I have come closer and closer to the reality of what induced psychological splitting does to a child, through direct contact with children and adults who suffer it, I have come to recognise the power of this defence to trigger action and reaction in others.

As I have come closer to recognising what it really is (a defence which creates a false persona), I have come to recognise that in fact what we are dealing with when we are working with alienated children and their families is in fact a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.  The child is acting to protect the mind from being overwhelmed by an impossible dilemma which is that they can no longer hold two realities in mind at the same time.

I have also come to realise that induced psychological splitting also causes splitting in others.  Whilst I will park, for now, the argument that the splitting always originates in the alienating parent and is passed to the child, (I will debate that when I have completed the research work I am currently undertaking), what I am aware of is that splitting is clearly evident not only in the parent to whom the child is pathologically aligned, it is  present in some rejected parents too.

So what is this splitting defence which is core to the problem currently called parental alienation? What I have come to know, as I develop a new therapy for children affected by the problem, is that the core of the problem is induced psychological splitting.

I use the term psychological splitting in a psychoanalytic sense because it is psychoanalysis, most prominently the work of Melanie Klein and Object Relations Theory which has influenced our work over more than a decade at the Family Separation Clinic. Object Relations Theory is concerned with the relationships between people and the way in which people in relation to each other, introject those relationships as objects in the internalised landscape.

Jigsaw puzzles of information

My work has always been focused upon children and it is the experience of the child at the centre of the family relationships, which has driven me to study the experience of children of divorce and separation and to campaign for many years for services to meet their needs.

For over two and a half decades, with Nick, I have written books, delivered training, worked with the UK Government and developed new ways of meeting the needs of children of divorce in an effort to bring change to the way that families are supported through the crisis of family separation.

My overriding interest at the centre of this work, has always been the wellbeing of children and how their experience in the post separation landscape has been largely ignored. In 2012, after witnessing the destruction of our work with the UK government by the women’s rights organisations who sought to perpetuate the myth of good mother/bad father across new government funded services we had written, developed and trained people to use,our decision to walk away from that and set up the Family Separation Clinic to meet the needs of separated families in the model we know works for them, has always felt like the right thing to do.

Whilst at the outset of our work with parental alienation, the concept was largely dismissed and ignored in the UK, almost ten years later it is something which is not only widely recognised, it is now regularly addressed in the family courts in ways that seek to resolve the problem.

As I continue on my journey, working with alienated children and families, researching, embedding training into several different countries and continuing to write books for parents and practitioners, I am increasingly able to focus ever closer on the reality of what children of divorce and separation are really experiencing when they suffer induced psychological splitting.

And so, eventually, here I am, in Zagreb, with the opportunity to share our learning with another large audience in Central Europe ahead of us.

Kaleidoscopic Thinking

For many families where children suffer induced psychological splitting, missing pieces of information create distorted narratives which become bedded down as reality. And it is this created distorted ‘reality’ which originates from the splitting defence in divorce and separation, which creates fragmented information which lead to the fossilisation of the family system.

In turn, this fragmentation of knowledge leads to fossilised beliefswhich becomes the bricks and mortar of the labyrinths which fracture the family affected by parental alienation and which create systems which entrench the family in division and estrangement.

Kaleidoscopic thinking in parental alienation

That creation of a false labyrinth of belief stems from what I call kaleidoscopic thinking in parental alienation. The missing pieces of information become the spaces around which assumption grows into a distorted reality. Should that distorted reality go unchallenged, the false belief, which seeks to fill in the missing spaces, will fossilise and a rigidity of belief and thought will be created for all those who walk in the labyrinths this creates.

That is what happens to children with induced psychological splitting, that is what happens to some rejected parents and some professionals who work with alienated children and families when they do not know very much about the dynamic and how it occurs.

The abnormality of family separation

And here comes the part which I have long tried to flag with governments, with professionals, and with parents themselves. Family separation is an abnormal childhood event, it is akin to a bereavement, it is akin to surviving disaster, it is, in fact, a disaster for the child in psychological and emotional terms.

And that is the rub, the difficult part, the bit where when we begin to talk in these terms, people want to shut us down and stop us from saying it. It is what the women’s rights lobby disliked about our work. But say it we have to because it is true. Family separation is a disaster for children which immediately puts them at risk of developing defensive splitting simply because of the abnormal situation they find themselves in.

And when we try to work with family separation as if it is simply a normal everyday event in the life of the child and we try to behave as if the normal response of splitting to the abnormal situation of family separation, is in fact abnormal, we are getting it, As Steve Miller told us in London, 180 degrees the wrong way around.

Instead of thinking that defensive splitting is an abnormal reaction to a normal situation, we should be recognising that it is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Children do not come into this world equipped to live a separated family life where, the very parents they have depended upon for so long to provide them with holistic care, the parents they are attached to now live in two separate locations.  And yet that is what happens to them and that is what we expect them to cope with by normalising family separation.  And then, when they produce a normal response to an abnormal situation we, in our ignorance, spend all of our time trying to work out why this happens.

The question I ask myself is not why does this happen, it is why does this not happen more often?

The answer to that question comes down to how parents cope with family separation and how they manage the way in which their children adapt to the changes this brings. For many parents can and do cope with family separation well and this translates into healthier outcomes for their children.

Others however do not cope well and it is this particular group of families with whom we are concerned when we are working with parental alienation aka induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation.

Induced Psychological Splitting

Induced psychological splitting in children is a splitting of their own self first. The splitting of the self means that the negative, needy, vulnerable and childlike self is disposed of, split off and denied and in its place arises a false self, a persona, an omnipotent self which will, if allowed, take control of the family system.

What we know about these families is that they will contain someone who is psychologically unwell, someone who is willing to put poison into the family system and, at times, someone who is responding in some way to that.

What they will also contain is a child whose resilience to the behaviours of a parent is low.

The pattern of splitting I am observing in my work with alienated children is that the split in the self occurs first as a precursor to the projection of the split of the parents into wholly good and wholly bad. When I work with adult children who were alienated and who continue to suffer the impact of that, what I see is the presence of the self which is over developed in terms of coping and fixing and under developed in terms of being able to receive help and assistance. It is a particular and repeating theme in therapy with adult alienated children that they cannot receive love and care from significant others which is the tragedy of the defensive split that was caused in their childhood. Not only did they develop an omnipotent self in order to manage the family system, they dispensed with their capacity to need (and thus receive) love and care from the parent they were rejecting.

Which leaves us really back at the beginning of the problem of parental alienation which is that children are the people who are suffering significant harm in their experience of being unable to hold two realities in mind and that harm is long lasting and life changing.

And the dynamics which cause this are the split in the child which causes particular behaviours, the lack of information available to individual members of the separated family and the tendency to form fossilised beliefs around assumptions which fill in these spaces with misinformation.

Kaleidoscopic thinking is a distinct problem arising from the child’s development of split thinking and it is concerned with missing pieces of information around which forms distorted narratives.

This theme is powerful in parental alienation and it works both in the horizontal plane (the relationships between family members in the here and now) and the vertical plane (relationships between family members in the past, present and future).

Next week I will write about how trans-generational transmission of trauma takes place in exactly the same dynamic, of formation of assumption around missing spaces in inter psychic relationships between children and their parents.

Family Separation Clinic – Diary 2019

The Family Separation Clinic is involved in international projects to train, educate and raise awareness of the impact of parental alienation on children.

FSC has delivered and will be delivering around the world this year as follows –

February – Antwerp, Belgium – Het Huis Symposium on Children in Divorce and Separation

May – Ghent, Netherlands – Missing Children Europe – Hear My Voice Conference on Children in Abduction cases

June 12th –  Warsaw, Poland – Empowering Children Conference in Warsaw, key note speech and training to psychotherapists and psychologists at Fundacja Dajemy Dzieciom in Warsaw.

June 27/28 – Bucharest Romania – The interdisciplinary approach of litigation with minor in cases of Parental Alienation Conference

July – Zagreb, Croatia – Development work with our partners at the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb.

July – Israel – Training to psychotherapists and psychologists working with alienated children and their families.

August – St Moritz, Switzerland – Meeting of the Board of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners

September – Philadelphia USA – PASG 2019




  1. My grandchild is 17 years old soon. He was two years old when he was taken by his mother to the EUROPEAN Union and illegally retained. That’s a long time to lose one side of your family.
    I think it’s immoral and not only does it break a bond that is difficult to repair, but it teaches how to manipulate others.
    The court system in the EU is costly to use, often lengthy and stressful for all.
    We need changes in attitudes and consistent outcomes.


  2. “As I have come closer to recognising what it really is (a defence which creates a false persona), I have come to recognise that in fact what we are dealing with when we are working with alienated children and their families is in fact a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. The child is acting to protect the mind from being overwhelmed by an impossible dilemma which is that they can no longer hold two realities in mind at the same time…….”

    This an observation of paramount importance for several reasons not least because it identifies the problem is not inside the child. It is a normal response to a difficult situation.

    In a wider context, looking at mental health in general we make the mistake of assuming the person with all the symptoms (anxiety, depression, phobias, compulsive behaviours, hallucinations, uncontrollable emotional outbursts, etc) is somehow the source of the problem. Tragically we offer therapies to assuage these symptoms within the person when the problem is the faulty familial mechanism that surrounds the individual.
    e.g. We treat the symptoms of “schizophrenia” (that’s a label for a bunch of symptoms) with drugs to alleviate depression and others to sedate over-anxiety to no effect other than to have the individual numb enough not to be a danger to society. The biology of the individual is not the problem. The problem is the trauma they may have suffered and the significant familial relationships that surround their life.


  3. Dear Karen. I have followed and read your blog for about 2 years ongoing. I may never meet you but I want you to know that you have been ‘holding my hand’ and kept me connected to normality/sanity for a very long time. I want to say thank you at the bottom of my hart, and urge you to travel to Norway next time to deliver training to Norwegian professionals. Warmest wishes, Trine.


  4. Hello, thank you for all things you and your husband do for this societyproblem.

    I encorage you, when you speak i public to links to renew the laws.
    Here in Norway, we now have two comitiees, settles from the government. And unions have been given opportunity to hive their opinion about the mandat.

    Which was a look and perspective on the law for children. Which doesnt contain prevent to sabotasje, parental alienation.

    The union i follow most is “Mennsforum”. Because there are, traditional thinking in men, dads and woman / Mothers who are given the most positivity in courts.

    We have good contact with members iin the danish union “union father”.

    In martz 2019 we hold a conference in Oslo with participants from Sweden and Fenmark. About the tjene. Sweden i



  5. What is most important is to teach mediators in familyoffices about Pas. It is those workers which have contact with families in the first stadium of the divorce. And can prevent this psycical violence to childten, by given knowledge.

    The mandat to the mediators must be given a reniewment.


  6. What is highlighted, what ever language or country we live in, the situation is the same. It’s a world wide problem.


  7. Hi Karen,
    When I read your posts I sometimes feel this suspense building and you crack open yet another significant finding, or advancement in our understanding of this complex issue and every post I grasp more but also left thirsty for more understanding. My question for this blog is that you say sometimes the rejected parent response to the alienating parent and child contribute to the issue. Could you give examples on what this looks like?


    1. Hey Freud, I can give you examples of how a target parent can contribute to the alienation of the child.

      1 The child badmouths the target parent. The target parent is offended and sees this as a disciplinary issue, punishing the child and laying down conditions. The alienating parent seizes on this opportunity to convince the child that the target parent doesn’t care and is a bully..
      2 The target parent is critical of the alienating parent when speaking to the child. This puts the child in an impossible dilemma, “which parent should I agree with? I have to make a choice and stay with the boss”
      3 The target parent is a black and white thinker just like the alienating parent, forcing the child to choose the dominant parent.
      4 The target parent lacks empathy and is unable to imagine what the separation process is doing to the child and isn’t equipped to help the child exist contentedly within two different households
      5 The target parent is so traumatised by their own situation that they convey to the child that they must have done something wrong or that they do not care about the child.
      6 The target parent cannot create a safe contextual map for the child to understand, that includes the irrational behaviour of the alienating parent .
      7 The target parent finds it difficult to deal with emotions.
      8 The target parent never did much parenting when they were in the relationship, they lack the confidence to take on a more hands-on role. They want to improve their skills by going on a parenting course but feel this is a sign of weakness and inadequacy which they feel would be seized upon by the alienator and used against them so they don’t learn technique, communication, reason and they miss the opportunity to talk with other parents who benefit from sharing experiences.
      9 The target parent retreats from the child’s life (perhaps fearful) missing opportunities to stay involved. e.g. in school activities, with friends, family, events etc.

      The target parent can be very good at helping the child cope with a co-parenting situation and still lose the child for any number of reasons……….geographical isolation, legal interference, other professional and familial influences, the over-riding influences of the alienating parent etc.

      There is a psychological wall that is being constructed by the alienating parent, one that cuts you off from your children. As they stealthily build the wall the target parent has to be aware and continually dismantling it to allow for the undisturbed free-flow of the child


      1. At least 5 of these 9 points apply to me. I was so stupid then, and wish I had the knowledge I have today.


      2. Vadim don’t beat yourself up over this. It is not your fault if your former partner is coercively controlling, and you feel like you are permanently on the defence your reactions are understandable.
        I can speak about these things in hindsight but was not so aware when coping with the experience myself. There is help, excellent literature offering help with skills, counsellors available to talk to, organisations with members who can share similar experiences and where you can get friendship and support. I made many errors of judgement but was fortunate enough to be given more chances by my children to make amends.
        Despite their faults alienators are human beings who would benefit from help and support just like target parents. Trying to create a freedom and ambience in the mind of the child when one parent seems hell bent on erasing the other parent from the mind of the child is not easy. Personally, I feel the desire to divide the family and take control, on separation, is deep rooted and primitive, perhaps a natural behavioural reaction to a traumatising familial situation. That is not to say it is a good thing


      3. Thanks for your time on this post, these are great examples. There is no perfect parent nor is there a perfect rejected parent. Yes some reactions can feed the alienation and reinforce it too. It parallels to domestic violence in that Women are told to stay safe by not poking the angry bear in any way. Only thing is that what stirs the angry bear is not often logical nor predictable.


      4. nonegenderbias: my original reply to your post (with illustrations) went missing a few days ago but basically I didn’t recognise any of your points in my (abusive) relationship.

        For example:
        Quote: Hey Freud, I can give you examples of how a target parent can contribute to the alienation of the child.

        1 The child badmouths the target parent. The target parent is offended and sees this as a disciplinary issue, punishing the child and laying down conditions. The alienating parent seizes on this opportunity to convince the child that the target parent doesn’t care and is a bully..

        I would rewrite that as ………………
        The child badmouths the target parent. The target parent is offended and ASKS THE ALIENATING PARENT FOR SUPPORT WHICH IN MY CASE WAS “R, you can’t let her speak to me like that” …………BECAUSE the alienating parent (R, my husband) had already told our child (age 14) in front of me, that she was an adult now and perfectly entitled to her opinion about me and anyway, he agreed with her (I was disrespected at the dinner table for starting a ‘boring conversation’!). . The alienating parent IS LEFT WITHOUT A VOICE and all boundaries in the parent/child relationship are not only shifted but wiped out by the alienating parent who has made the child his best friend and ally in his war against his wife! QED

        For a while it was pretty obvious that when my teenage daughter and I were alone together things were very different (in the way that she spoke to me and treated me). As soon as her dad entered the room he had to pick me up every little thing (baiting) and prove to her what a nasty, horrible person I was to him. THAT was abuse and sadly he used my daughter as a weapon at every given opportunity while I danced round treading on eggshells just to keep her in my life. He didn’t want us to be three, he wanted her to himself. I wanted a FAMILY which included BOTH of them..

        Which is why I was interested in HF’s question about abuse and parental alienation.


  8. And yet again I feel left out because I am one of those who lost my daughter within an intact marriage. It is always ‘after divorce and separation’ . What about the rest of us who never saw it coming until it was too late even to go before the family courts ……….


  9. Hey Freud Quote: My question for this blog is that you say sometimes the rejected parent response to the alienating parent and child contribute to the issue. Could you give examples on what this looks like?

    I’d be interested in examples too though I’m sure Karen can’t be too specific.

    However, I reckon I’m a prime example in that, within my intact marriage – where my daughter from age 15 felt she had to protect her dad (from me) and give him back the status he claimed he’d lost because of me eg …. he took voluntary redundancy while I kept on working and although he liked the money I earned he didn’t like the thought that I was then ‘above’ him in the eyes of the world ……………..all this encouraged by him of course.

    My husband was forever setting traps for me to fall into and I fell right in because I never saw any of them coming. I now see it as gaslighting but I’d never heard of that term until after I left them both. As a result of HIS BEHAVIOUR I reacted, objected, complained, raised my voice, spoke in a ‘tone’ he didn’t like. Mostly he set the traps so that I reacted at just the moment our daughter walked into the room and she saw the end (my reaction) , but never his part in it (the beginning). It then became “my awkward behaviour”, not his.

    And if she wasn’t around to see it, he made sure he told her about my ‘awkward behaviour’ and how horrible I was to him. The result was, he was seen as my victim and I was seen as the wicked witch therefore our daughter had to protect him ………. from me.

    Clever really.


  10. I have an interest in International Law, most certainly I will be interested in several other countries you are visiting.


  11. As a more specific (but only too common) example from my journal while I’m on a roll (and feeling cross but there’s a new day tomorrow):

    Christmas 2006, daughter (aged 25) came home while her then partner flew out to spend Christmas with his parents. She was going to fly out and join him for the new year. Everything had gone well. We’d had a lovely Christmas together. On the day she was leaving, I put two bottles of spirits with her bags in the hall while she was packing her car ………. thinking that she might as well take the bottles with her. When (husband) saw them he wanted to know why there were two bottles of spirits with her bags on the floor. I told him that I’d put them there so she could take them with her, because he didn’t like spirits and I wasn’t likely to drink them. Straight away, he objected to my tone of voice and told me (yet again) I was being aggressive (I wasn’t, I’d simply given him too much information) then he finished with “It’s no wonder nobody likes you. It’s no wonder daughter doesn’t like you and can’t stand to be in the same room as you.”

    I was devastated. Everything had been going well. Daughter was on the verge of driving to the airport. I’d put two bottles of alcohol that we wouldn’t drink with her bags and he’d exploded at my so called tone of voice. Right up until that moment everything had been fine. We’d had a good Christmas. Daughter was pleasant and happy. We were about to wave her off and wouldn’t see her again until the end of term in April. But it all changed in an instant.

    As she came through the door she knew instantly something had gone on and of course she concluded it was all my fault, I must have done something ……….. Yet again he’d managed to set me up and I’d fallen into his hole and yet again daughter agreed with her dad, no, she didn’t like me much and then she left to drive to the airport. That was the moment that I knew something had to change. Sadly it never did change until I left them both in 2014.

    Afterwards I found out her take on that incident:

    I know how you feel about me and I know the way I am towards you hurts you however I cannot change the way I feel when things have been wrong for so many years. You keep going on about how much you love me but your love for me has at times been suffocating and dad feels the same way. This morning should never have happened. This morning should have been left with us having enjoyed Christmas as a family, however yet again the argument will stand out against the positives. You just can’t help yourself can you. You think I only ever see the end and not the beginning which I’m afraid is not true. I have seen the whole picture for many years and I have made my own mind up.


    1. So sorry to read this… Can imagine how it tears your heart apart. I had a similar experience, this is why I understand, probably.


  12. Dear Karen,

    You and your Organisation are doing wonderful work in educating ‘professionals’ worldwide about PAS.

    It is child abuse – mentally and emotionally. Children/young adults whose minds are not fully developed; are being manipulated by the perpetrators of parental alienation – rather clever individuals, in my opinion. However, it is their own children’s long term wellbeing that they are affecting and destroying.

    Does the alienator love their child/children unconditionally? If they did, they wouldn’t use/manipulate impressionable young minds as ammunition against the rejected parent.

    As a rejected mother, I praise you and the FSC for your splendid work.

    Kindest regards and respect.


  13. “And yet that is what happens to them and that is what we expect them to cope with by normalising family separation. And then, when they produce a normal response to an abnormal situation we, in our ignorance, spend all of our time trying to work out why this happens.”

    Oh – the normalizing. Among my favorites “what’s the big deal? plenty of people get divorced….”

    Me: “Well, even more people die, and we seldom wish that event upon our houses”

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Why is Dr. Childers on the war path with you? I hate hearing all that negativity when we all want to help these kids.


    1. who knows Beth, I gave up wondering what his problem is with me a long time ago as it is a waste of time which is better spent working with families.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Reading this I realize that I suffered the disconnections as a child…. and now again as an adult with my own now grown children. I don’t know what or how to repair inter-generational disconnects…Different traumas took place such as death of a parent when I was a child…. Then drug use in my children’s generation… Currently I am bonded with one grandchild. Where does Narcissistic Personality Disorder fit in this ?


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