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.
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