Transgenerational Narratives in Parental Alienation

In 2013 I began work to understand how trans-generational haunting plays a role in some cases of parental alienation. You can read some of what I wrote about it back then here.

Trans-generational haunting is a psychoanalytic concept which is the very basis of the work done by those who have developed the concept of transmission of trauma across generations.  Important in this particular field of work is M Gerard Fromm whose thinking has influenced my understanding of how some cases of parental alienation involve children who psychologically carry that which their parent could not.

I have always been interested in how in some families, unresolved trauma appears in the here and now, seemingly unconnected to the past and when examined, containing all fo the hallmarks of a trauma a child could not have experienced.  How this happens has been part of my research work for the past five years and understanding how holocaust survivors for example, passed on the unspoken horrors of their experience which they kept locked away from their children so that their children did not have to suffer as they did, has helped to illuminate those mechanisms.

I am in Israel this week and a couple of days ago we visited some of the holy sites around the sea of Galilee. As we travelled in this land where so many whose families have suffered the impact of the holocaust, I found myself thinking about how each generation’s secrets, our dirty laundry, our unresolved traumatic experiences, are kept from the next generation.  We do not want our children to suffer as we may have suffered. And yet, in some situations, as part of the process of attachment, children live out the unspeakable, that which was never conscious in the world of their parents but which becomes conscious in the here and now.

In previous writing on this blog I have talked about the harm to children if one parent carries an unresolved trauma which is triggered by the crisis of family separation.  This crisis, brings to the fore, the unresolved trauma which in some cases may never have been conscious in the first place.

In recent months, with adults who were alienated as children, I have been working with approaches to therapy which are trans-generational in nature. I have been combining these with psycho-genealogy, a way of examining the past for traumatic events which leave imprints in the here and now.

Working with a trans-generational approach the therapist will help the client identify the crypt, name the ghost and free its carriers who can then unidentify and differentiate himself from the ancestor’s ghost….and allow the phantom to leave in peace.

Schutzenberger Ancelin.A.(1998) The Ancestor Syndrome. London. Routledge


In some cases of parental alienation, it is apparent that the child who is carrying the alienation reaction, is repeating a behavioural pattern which is configured by past events and people who did not resolve the impact of those.

Unresolved trauma lays buried in the intra and inter-psychic world of alienating families and it can appear in the adult alienated child as traumatic splits which require therapeutic attention.

When a child has grown up in the wrong place in the family hierarchy the adult self may need help to find the right place in relationship to the parent they rejected. An adult child who has looked down up the parent in the family hierarchy for many years, may not be able to experience either the love that the parent has for them or their own need for incoming care.

The experience of  parentification, where the child serves as a caregiver to parent, and spousification, where the child serves as a primary source of intimacy for parent has been written about and worked with for many years by those of us working with families affected by parental alienation and we have been helped in this by Linda Gottlieb who was trained and mentored by Salvador Minuchin. Her book, the Parental Alienation Syndrome is a rich tapestry of knowledge from which practitioners can draw in their work to meet the needs, not only of families affected by parental alienation but by adults who were alienated as children too.

Parentification and spousification are a primary causes of problems for alienated children and in trans-generational therapeutic terms the way in which this has created blockages to the child’s capacity to receive the love and care they were entitled to, is examined.

In understanding this,  the work of Boszormenyi-Nagy is helpful in trans-generational therapy and his approach to illuminating the concept of the ‘inter-generational ledger‘ helps us to take into account the way way in which the past failures to reconcile events and happenings in the family, transfers the responsibility for this to future generations.

This approach is the foundation of the European Association.  This is the psychotherapeutic approach which is deployed after assessment and differential diagnosis which when used by practitioners who understand parental alienation, intervenes in the dynamic, protects the child and changes the future for families.

In working with the FSC model of assessment and intervention we are excavating the past, analysing the present, strategising the future, all within tightly boundaried plans of work which utilise the rejected parent as co-therapist/coach to the child, to bring back relational health and create a new future.

Our time in Israel ends today and we move on to Switzerland where we will be meeting with the Board of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners. On the agenda are several important things, not least the way in which the coming together of so many practitioners in Europe are all, somehow, arriving at the same place at the same time.

In Israel, as in Croatia, In Belgium and Holland, in Portugal and in Germany, in the UK and in Sweden, our thinking coalesces around a multi informed, multi stranded approach to helping families to resolve the alienation dynamic and liberate the child from the shackles of the past which occurred before they were even born.

This shared thinking in Europe, which appears to me to occur in a multiple discovery dynamic  (many people are discovering the same things at the same time) rather than a ‘heroic’ individual discovery approach (one person claims that they have invented something), allows us to share, learn from each other and develop powerful responses which are systemic in nature not only with families but for families everywhere.

Working with our differences and our different approaches and listening well to each other enables the work we are doing to develop quickly and for routes to recovery for families to be multiplied.

In Israel this week we have taught, shared, learned and received and in doing so, collectively, we have assimilated and as we leave, we will take with us the power of that work and the plans we have made for future developments.

As we say goodbye we leave knowing we will soon return and that the next steps are collective and informed by the power of who we are together in the world.

The long abandoned and ignored families affected by parental alienation are both visible in our minds and their needs are held central to all that we do.


Boszormenyi-Nagy, I., & Spark, G. (1973). Invisible loyalties: Reciprocity in intergenerational family therapy. Hagerstown, MD: Harper & Row. 

Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and family therapy . Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Schutzenberger Ancelin.A.(1998) The Ancestor Syndrome. London. Routledge




  1. Dear Karen Woodall,

    it is for me a very interesting point to combine PA and the transgenerational haunting of trauma, because the mother of my daughter ( now 13 years old) is not a victim, but thegreat grandchild of one of the most imortant massmurdereres of the Holocaust and has for me this a transgenerational trauma haunting problem ( I am a lawyer, not a Psychologist), because the family constantly denies the massmurder.

    On the other side, she told me some 15 years ago that she wants desperately a child from me, we agreed to produce our – now – daughter and she seperated 2 days after the pregnancy test about 14 years ago. Ever since she is trying to keep me out of “her family” as she names her boyfriend, herself and my daughter. I know see my daughter 1 day per month, even though, I tried before the Court everything have more time with her.

    In her family. the massmurderer always was a hero, even though he was indicted in Nuremberg in 1948 with the death penalty and it was said in her family that the accusations were wrong, which is not true: We can trace back even now by existing documents at least 160.000 Jews, who were sent to Auschwitz by this great grandfather, but probably, he sent many more to Auschwitz..

    For you, it might be interesting that not only victims of the Holocaust, but also descendants of heavy perpetrators, can have this transgenerational trauma haunting.

    For me , it would be interesting to know, how to deal with such a mother and to protect our child from the PA trauma, which the mother is inflicting on my daughter. Do you have any idea on this ?

    I always had the feeling that her PA is connected to the family trauma, constantly deniying the massmurder and moreover making him a resistance fighter, which is ridiculous.It is interesting for me that you see a connection in the 2 x psychological proplems ( PA and Transgenerational Trauma).

    Best regards

    Henning von Zanthier, Berlin


    1. Dear Henning, I am very pleased to hear from you although very sorry to hear about the situation with your daughter. I am writing now about transgenerational haunting and trauma transmission and will say more about it very soon on here. I feel that the concept of the haunting, which is curated by Abrahams and Torok, is an essential element for anyone working with parental alienation to understand because it is a phenomenon which is well recognised in the psychoanalytic literature and when working with families with PA it can often present in unexpected ways (repeated losses, repeated events in generations after the original trauma occurred). The question of how this occurs is one which has interested me for a long time. Thank you for your comment, I will respond with more thoughts soon. Kind Regards Karen


  2. Excellent, WoW!! your statement, “Parentification and spousification are a primary causes of problems for alienated children and in trans-generational therapeutic terms the way in which this has created blockages to the child’s capacity to receive the love and care they were entitled to, is examined.”, is 100% true!! There is nothing to examine, its proof!! My case is a living testament: my 3 girls (2 adults [23,20], 1 minor [16]) all are suffering from parental alienation/ PAS syndrome. My 20 yr old is the “spouseified child” and when she is unable to psychologically transtion from her view as spouseified [entitlement as her dad’s wife/adult] to that of being my child she degrades me, is bullying me, and sees me as her rival to being his mistress in a triangular relationship with her dad. My minor child currently is serving as the parentified child under isolation from me, unbeknownst to her what its doing to psychologically harm her. All three suffer from different levels of severity to PAS syndrome and to this day my oldest having left home 5 years ago, and still has no capacity to receive the love and care she was entitled too. So, this article is proof to me – the targeted parent/ the alienated parent/ the rejected parent – why none of my girls are greatly affected and unable to receive my motherly love and care they deserve (especially my oldest who is an adult). Its emotionally destructive since its a loss of many memrable milestones for which I grieve. I thank you for clarifying what is now proof exists. Thank you for enforcing the role of the rejected parent being a force to recovery. Such reunification is achievable once they have NO CONTACT to the phantom manipulating their belief system, or else the time and cost is a waste of time. If I can serve as a valuable asset to your research please contact me.


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