The Divided Self: The Core of the Problem for Adults Alienated as Children

Last week I put a call out to adults alienated as children, inviting them to take part in my research which will form the basis of a new therapy for this group of people.  Alongside the research, I will treat those adult children who are coming forward using a combination of therapeutic approaches which I consider fits the needs of this overlooked cohort of traumatised individuals.

My research group is growing fast, it seems that the problems I have been flagging in this blog have resonated with adults who were alienated as children. It also seems that the concepts I have been exploring on this blog recently have triggered change for some already.

There is little research evidence into the longer term impacts on children of untreated psychological splitting, which is in my experience, at the heart of what children are suffering in parental alienation.  Which means that for those children who never managed to reconnect to a parent and for those who did but who still struggle with the impact of psychological splitting, the risk remains that they continue to blame the parent they rejected for what they suffer in the here and now.

For fifty years or more we have struggled in the western world to face the reality of what divorce and separation does to children. We have looked the other way and hoped that children who cannot speak about the harm they have suffered, will simply get over it.

But they haven’t got over it.  As my work with adults alienated as children increases, I see that the lasting legacy they carry is the toxic effects of traumatic splitting which has gone unrecognised and thus unaddressed for far too long.

Working with dissociated parts of the self has fallen out of fashion in psychological quarters in recent years and yet in psychotherapy, where we work with relationships between people on the outside and relationships between parts of people on the inside, this is exactly where our focus needs to be in helping adults alienated as children.

When we work to reunite younger children with the parent they are rejecting we are seeking to integrate the splitting so that the authentic child can drop the omnipotent defence and emerge from the compromised position they have been forced to adopt.

Anyone who tells you that they are doing anything else but that either do not know what they are doing or are trying to mystify you into believing that they somehow have an answer that no-one else has.

Reunification work with younger children relies upon three things and three things only

1) Enough time and proximity to the parent who has been rejected so that the existing attachment relationship can overwhelm the defence.

2) control over the parent who has been influencing the child – which is usually held by the Court and invested in the reunification practitioner.

3) A practitioner with knowledge of how alienated children behave and the capacity to withstand the pressure of doing this work with a child in a challenging environment.

You will see from the above that without the Court’s investment in a reunification practitioner, which means giving the right order, the right protective separation and the right conditions to mediation the shift in power from one parent to the other.

When those things are in place, if one understands how alienated children behave and how others react around that and how to keep the focus on the proximity between rejected parent and child, the authentic child will almost always emerge.

But what can be done for those adult children who were never helped to be in close proximity to the parent they rejected?  Those adults who are now left with the legacy of what was done to them and who have no idea that the splitting, the self loathing, the confusion, the lack of internal reality is related to the experience of alienation in childhood.

For those adult children, alienation from the self is the lasting unwanted ‘gift’ forced upon them and whilst the shifting sense of self and the fragile ground they stand upon leaves them feeling disorientated and uncertain, finding ways of integrating the fragmented selves are difficult.

And there is an added barrier to the healing of the adult child who was alienated from a parent and who is now experiencing alienation from self.  For how can one heal from an alienation one believed was caused by the actions of a parent in the outside world. And how can one heal from an alienation of the self which one was a willing party to in childhood?  In order to do that, one has to recognise that the psychological suffering in the here and now, matches that which happened in the past.  And one has to understand that the lack of feeling and numbness in one area of life, is weighted by the over investment in perfection in another.

When adults alienated as children recognise that not only do they reject/feel numb about/distance themselves from a parent, they do the same to the parts of their own self which are identified with that parent, they take the first step to recovery.

And when they recognise that their idealisation of a parent equates with the over development of areas of their lives which they may not readily connect to a parent but which, on closer examination are linked to the identification with that parent, they take the next step.

Adults alienated a children behave in many ways but here are some of the signs of continued traumatic splitting which are experienced

  • Over developed caring for others skills
  • Over developed diplomacy
  • Inability to receive incoming care from others
  • Denial of one’s own vulnerability
  • Drive to fix everything
  • Sense of unreality
  • Dissociative states
  • Feeling haunted
  • Feeling as if there are other parts of the self unknown
  • Inability to trust others
  • Inability to make decisions or keep to decisions
  • Capacity to start relationships, difficulty in maintaining them
  • Controlling of other people
  • Holding people at distance
  • Self hatred
  • Loss and longing which rises up and then disappears
  • Dreams about locked doors
  • Dreams about being chased by something
  • Sense of self as omnipotent which switches to worthlessness
  • Possible diagnosis of unstable personality disorder
  • Possible diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder

For those children who were put into an impossible position in their childhood and for whom the normal defence to this abnormal childhood event kept them alive and still here, the reality of traumatic splitting deserves our attention.

Right across the spectrum of what we call parental alienation we are working to address the component parts to find resolutions to the problem.  Until we have the full treatment toolbox completed, we keep on keeping on.

FSC Training News

FSC will be in Israel next week working with psychotherapists and psychologists in this field to train and develop skills in response to the problem of parental alienation.  We are delighted to be invited to do this work with colleagues who are committed to finding ways of addressing the harm done to children of divorce and separation when they suffer from induced psychological splitting.


The EAPAP Board meets in Switzerland at the end of the month to agree international practice standards for assessment and intervention in this field.  The Board will also agree the dates for the second international EAPAP Conference to be held in Central Europe in 2020

Research News

Please contact me at if you are an adult who was alienated from a parent as a child and you would like to assist with research as well as in testing a new therapeutic approach to addressing current day psychological difficulties.

Presentation News

Nick was delighted to moderate the panel discussion below today at the International Association of Relationship Research.  Held in Brighton, UK, this mini conference was focused upon on applied relationships science.



Presentation : Parental Alienation: Impacts, Strategies, and InterventionsSpeaker : Jennifer Harman


Presentation : Being Used as Weapons: Children’s Experience of Being Alienated From a ParentSpeaker : Mandy Matthewson


Presentation : I See a Wall…Then I Cannot Reach My Son: Alienated Mothers, Coercive Control, and Post-Divorce Parent-Child RelationshipsSpeaker : Sietske Dijkstra


Presentation : Using Power Differentials Between Parents to Understand the Type of Violence That Parental Alienating Behaviors Are Speaker : Jennifer Harman


Presentation : Family Law and Parental Alienation in PortugalSpeaker : Sandra Feitor


Presentation : Discussant – Parental Alienation: Impacts, Strategies, and Interventions Speaker : Nick Woodall



  1. Excellent and timely article. Parental alienation is one of the most ignored problems ever. Both if my daughters have been alienated from me and my entire family. One is 20, the other one is 13. It’s terrible what these families go through, especially children. Thanks for your work in this area.


  2. I would love to see an article with practical guidance for parents who get custody of their alienated children. My eldest son (7.5) has been living with me for six months after making a very conscious decision to “switch camps”. I know he and his younger brother were being alienated over the course of at least 1.5 years because I found out about alienation from their symptoms and from what they’ve told me themselves.

    Outwardly he has completely rejected his mother. He refuses any communication with her, rarely speaks about her, occasionally expresses aggressive feelings about her.

    Obviously I can’t be sure that none of this isn’t “learned” from her and I can’t be sure he isn’t doing it because he feels it’s necessary to secure his bond with me. Nor can I be sure that the expressed aggression isn’t a way of channeling other feelings such as loss or grief.

    In a projective drawing test conducted by school psychologist shortly after he started living with me he identified his family as me, him, my new wife, our three cats and his younger brother (in that order).

    Court proceedings for custody are underway. We have a psychological evaluation coming up so we have to be especially careful in what we say when the subject of his mother arises (while we don’t want to invalidate his experience, we must also be careful not to engage in alienating behaviour ourselves). There is objective evidence of neglect and also probable emotional abuse on her side, and we definitely don’t want to make a taboo out of the subject – we want him to feel he can speak freely if he wants to.

    What I find most disconcerting is the apparent coolness with which he has completely cut off a parent at such a young age. Last year his younger brother did exactly the same thing (I picked him up on his 4th birthday and he refused to go back to his mother), it lasted a month before his mother finally picked him up from kindergarten unannounced (after none of her complaints to police accusing me of abduction yielded any results…).

    None of the child welfare psychologists I took him to would even hazard a guess as to what was going on in his head. One did a drawing test with him and pointed to tension in the home environment with his mother, but offered no sensible explanation for his unusual behaviour.

    There is barely any acknowledgement of alienation among welfare bodies in this country (ex-Soviet), never mind understanding. And absolutely nothing in place to help affected children or parents.


  3. Karen, great article and how very relevant to me at this stage age of my journey! I’ve travelled it for many years with you and have my sanity only because of your wisdom in this field! My boy is now 19 so he falls into the adult category now although from what ht his sister tells me he is still very immature. Can I just ask out of curiosity cause there’s obviously some rational reason for it, why now he’s fighting with his daddy and paternal grandmother whom they both moved in with, why is there such difficulty contacting me? I have all through the 6 years sent money, presents, clothes and texted him regularly, but still nothing!! I’ll never give up on him but is it a losing battle or have you reunifed children /adults in worse situations? I’m joining Families need Fathers in September, hopeful to share some of their wisdom!

    Frankie x


  4. Please call me. This was caused by attorneys failing to protect basic human rights. My 14th amendment rights were violated. This gave my x more opportunity to continue the domestic violence. The victim used…our daughter. As a teacher with 46 years working with children… it was a clear game to destroy our family on purpose for money! Call it what it really is. A psychopath attorney, trying to make the most money he can. The child and the care of our family is the last thing on his mind!


  5. Doctor Woodall,
    I am an adult male who experienced alienation as a child., and continuing struggling with what you described in this article.
    I would like to know if you have any advice or information related to practitioners in Canada ore on-line resources.
    Thank you


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