We are back in London after our work in Zagreb, which has led to discussions about the next European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners conference in 2020, at which we will launch the standards of practice and training in this field for use across all European borders.
These standards will be the first worldwide protocols of intervention with families affected by parental alienation and will be developed in conjunction with mental health and legal professionals who are leading in this field in Europe.
It is time now to define and declare the route forward for this work and to stand by our knowledge and skill base in making this replicable. With the joining together of powerful practitioners in Europe, such as Prof. Dr. Sc. Gordana Bujlan Flander in Croatia and Dr Simona Vlădică in Romania, this project is in rapid development.
Whilst in Zagreb I saw more of the widespread harm the problem of a child’s pathological alignment and rejection of a parent causes. This is a problem without borders, it is a child abuse scandal hiding in plain sight. Our lecture room was full and there was another room full of parents watching via live stream. In the days since we delivered the lecture, it has been watched around the world thousands of times and we have received many messages in response.
I know how damaging this issue is. To the child, to the parent they are rejecting and yes, also, to the parent to whom the child is pathologically aligned.
I know how damaging it is to professionals who work with these families, the risk of complaint and sanction is high as this is a highly litigious and psychologically unwell group of people and ultimately, this is damaging to the fabric of our society, as a significant group of families fail to get the help that they need.
We are living with a phenomenon which has shown its face in the post separation landscape and which causes trauma to all concerned and yet for five decades we have ignored that trauma in favour of pretending that if everyone simply gets on with divorce and separation, children will get over it.
And whilst many children do, (after a fashion) get over it, some children don’t. And those who don’t are those who are living a trauma story which reveals itself in the dynamics we as practitioners can readily observe.
In the therapy room with alienating parents, the story of what has happened to them becomes very obvious. Driven to behave in ways that cause children to defend against the impossibility of holding two realities in mind, these parents cannot and/or will not see the damage they are doing to their children. For some this is a deliberate campaign of denigration of the other parent, for others it is a firm and yet delusional belief that they are protecting the child from harm.
Parental alienation is not just the story of what happened to the rejected parent although that is where our gaze is drawn to as rejected parents tell us their story. Parental alienation is the story of what happened to the parent to whom the child is pathologically aligned and the story of what that does to the child over time.
The traumatic impact on the rejected parent however, is life changing and life limiting, it is unrecognised and it is often emphasised by the appalling lack of compassion shown by unaware professionals. One of the worst scenes I have ever witnessed, was the unconscious and yet deeply damaging harm done to a rejected parent who had just seen her children for the first time in four years, when a social worker asked her if she would like her to give the gifts she had brought and her children had refused, to charity.
The story of what has happened to the child is obvious when we understand the story of what happened to the alienating parent, the resulting behavioural patterns in post separation parenting and how the rejected parent responded to that.
Those triangulated dynamics – the actions of one, the responses of the other and the resilience or lack of it in the child, are the story of how alienation takes hold. It is the actions of one parent which begin the story, the responses both positive and negative from the other parent which act as the vehicle upon which the dysfunction is carried (by which I mean that alienation requires a rejected parent and the rejected parent is required to be the vehicle for the dynamics which are triggered) and the child’s capacity to resist or not is ingredient the story to be completed. It is when the three ingredients are right (alienating strategies plus rejected parent responses plus a child without resilience to the alienation) that a child uses psychological splitting as a defence. The emergence of an omnipotent self as a defence against the impossible, is what gives rise to the signs of alienation in the child.
That is not to say that rejected parents cause parental alienation, far from it. Neither is it to say that rejected parents are even the primary focus of the trauma story in parental alienation because whilst they suffer trauma, that trauma is a by product of what has happened to the child.
The real trauma story is in the parent to whom the child has become pathologically bound and in the alienated child where the story of trauma is told through the experiences of adults who were alienated as children and who were not helped to resolve the traumatic splitting they suffered. This group of children who are now adults, tells the story of the trauma story in the here and now via their struggle as adults to resolve the split state of mind which began in childhood. It is this project which I am most concerned with in my research and this project which gives clues to the life long damage that is done by parental alienation.
Transmission of trauma through the family affected by parental alienation is the unfolding story in this drama and it is time these stories were told. In Zagreb, as in Warsaw last month, in Belgium earlier this year and in Romania early this month, the same trauma stories are told. From around the globe trauma is suffered in families affected by parental alienation and it is time now to make these stories visible in the world.
Abused children of divorce and separation in this generation and the next, depend upon us to make their silenced voices heard.
Readers may wish to listen to the excellent programme about parental alienation which includes some of the trauma stories we hear in the therapy room which was made by Psychotherapist Philippa Perry for BBC Radio 4 here.