Everyday Trauma: Induced Psychological Splitting in Children of Divorce and Separation

Understanding the impact of divorce and separation on children takes us down new pathways of understanding of induced psychological splitting, its manifestation in families and the every trauma it causes which has been hidden in plain sight for decades.

Ever since the early seventies, when divorce laws changed in the western world, the issue of a child’s alignment with one parent and rejection of the other has been a prominent but overlooked part of our understanding of trans-generational trauma.

It is my view, that just like the trans-generational trauma of domestic violence, (which is not about patriarchy but about inter-generational patterns of behaviour learned in the crucible of the traumatised dysfunctioning family), induced psychological splitting in children (aka parental alienation), has been wrongly characterised as only something one parent does to the other.

In my experience as a practitioner in this field, parental alienation is a spectrum problem in families which is manifested as a psychological defence in children and which is caused by a wide range of factors all of which can be traced back to trauma related reactions in one or more family members.  The event of the divorce or separation may or may not be the trigger that causes or releases the trauma which is often present in the family via the background of one or more family members.

The task of the practitioner in this space is to discover, through careful assessment and differentiation, where the cause of the child’s induced psychological splitting comes from and then to reconfigure the power dynamics over the child to release them from having to use the psychological defence which is causing the alignment and rejection reaction.

This is an assessment and differentiation process which uses multiple assessment tools to understand how the child arrived at the point at which induced psychological splitting was the only route they could take to survive.  Once the route into splitting has been identified, the rearrangement of the power and control dynamics (identifying who has the power and neutralising it), is the next step.

Which is why interventions with families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting should always be undertaken in partnership with legal teams.  Mental health professionals, whilst holding the tools to create the necessary psychological changes in the family, do not hold the power to compel parents to change their behaviours.   Only when a Judge is holding the line and compelling change, can mental health practitioners confidently utilise the power devolved to them through this route.  Only then can compulsion to change be held as a goal in treatment.  Understanding how power and control dynamics work in a family affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting, leads to effective assessment, differentiation and management of such cases.

Parental alienation is a family dynamic which is infused with trauma.  From the trans-generational transmission of trauma which comes to light in the  divorce and separation landscape, to the trauma experienced by children using the defence of psychological splitting, to the trauma of the rejected parent (who in my experience suffers induced psychological splitting in response to the helplessness of their experience), this is everyday trauma which is hiding in plain sight.

Five decades and more of this everyday trauma has been experienced by families in the western world and whilst we have called it parental alienation and we have labelled it with signs and strategies, we have not, in my view, even begun to understand how it has become so normalised and so routinely accepted.

How come, for example, in the years that I have been writing this blog, so many children have effectively had their psychological trauma response to the divorce and separation, upheld by statutory services in the UK and indeed around the world?  How come, so many children who have been forced into the psychological defence of alignment and rejection, itself a trauma response to psychological aggression have simply been left to fester with the impact of that?  How come we have looked the other way and worse, have allowed whole movements to grow up which deny the harm being done and which deflect from the reality that we are allowing trans-generational trauma to simply repeat itself through generation after generation?

Those who read regularly will know that my view is that the feminist agenda has distracted us from what is family trauma into believing that this is a battle of the sexes with men as inherent beasts and women as innocent victims of their beastly ways.

Just as violence in the home is a trans-generational traumatic pattern, (which, if one reads the  literature can readily be traced back in the UK to the deep trauma suffered by generations who experienced the violence of wars), so in my practitioner experience, is parental alienation.   Even where a parent is consciously and deliberately causing a child to align and reject there is trauma.  This is not about feminist ideology, this is not about simple matters of conflict, this is about the eruption of everyday trauma around the child which is causing significant harm in the here and now but which has its roots in the past.

Those who read here regularly will notice that we are moving away from parental alienation as an issue which can be reduced down to a formula and towards a recognition of the deeper layers of everyday trauma which can be identified and treated using the many therapies which are useful with families.   Whilst we retain the understanding that to treat a child’s induced psychological splitting we need to work counter-intuitively, the deeper investigative routes we are taking are to understand why this might be.

Combining neuro-science with psychoanalytic understanding and a recognition of the power and control dynamic, we are opening up new channels which allow us as practitioners to work with the reality of what is happening to the child and resolve it.  Not only are we able to resolve the problem for the child in this approach, we are able to treat the problem for the rejected parent and, most recently with colleages, we have begun to look at how we might also treat the problem at source (ie: the parent who is causing the problem).

Using the child’s reaction as a starting point for understanding we can identify who is the cause of the reaction and how we need to change the power dynamic to release the child. Repair of the relationship with the rejected parent first and then carefully managing the child’s relationship with the parent who is the source of the problem is the treatment route. Adapted therapies then become useful within this treatment framework.

Treating everyday trauma which has been hiding in plain sight is a focus of our work from now on. This is a move into developing the principles and protocols of therapeutic treatment of this problem at the deepest level of the family experience.

Now we understand it we can treat it and not only that but we can also begin the process of preventing it.  As our esteemed colleagues at the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb have demonstrated, when trauma is understood it can be addressed in many ways.

Preventative measures which come out of a region which has experienced and recovered from the impact of trans-generational trauma are to be taken very seriously indeed.  In this crucible our work with a child’s induced psychological splitting continues.


EAPAP 2020 – Parental Separation, Alienation and Splitting: Healing Beyond Reunification  will be held on 15/16th June 2020 in Zagreb, Croatia.

This conference will bring together practitioners in the field of child abuse, trauma and attachment  to explore the ways in which existing therapies and models of understanding of abuse and trauma can be translated into work with abused children of divorce and separation.  Taking place over two days, the conference will deliver intensives in different aspects of parental alienation to present a cohesive set of standards for international assessment, differentiation and intervention.

This is a practitioner only conference, streaming of parts of the conference will be available for parents and a parents Q&A session will be co-ordinated on day two.

 

 

 

8 Comments

  1. Of course, the World Wars & more recently in Croatia – that makes so much sense. I also just think general recessions and stress and change in expectations of gender roles and keeping up with a consumer society, all contribute to people (parents) cracking under pressure.

    Much like the DV experts recognise stressful sporting occasions (world cups etc) can drive some fans into aggression, so can day-to-day stresses just tip people over the psychological edge. I think there are so many adults with undiagnosed mental health conditions, personality disorders etc, that our society is so unwell in plain sight.

    The mental health services do seem to be developing pockets of wider therapies, eg EMDR/CBT for those with particular traumas in their life, DBT & Schema Therapies for those who need to re-evaluate how they respond to life & relationships, are just some we are investigating locally for the alienator in our situation.

    We now just need the Court (probably via the instructed psychologist) to order them, as they won’t be taken up voluntarily. As Litigants we have realised that our research/opinion/suggestion is not considered valid by the Court & various lawyers, even those representing our children, indeed in our case it has actually been scorned! But we know that if (a big ‘if’) we can fix the source of the problem, we have more of a chance at co-parenting, whoever’s house these children live at, and whether these children are 8 or 28. They will still be co-parents.

    Meanwhile we also need the Court to protect the children in the immediate short-term, and that is also the objective.

    Parental Alienation/Splitting is indeed a spectrum which we have seen get worse & then better over the past few years in our case through us being PA-aware & building the child’s resilience. Now we have to put steps in place to stop it returning to the worse days.

    Keep writing this stuff please, it really helps formulate the a-ha moments in our minds! Your explanations & support have got us so far down the road of understanding enough to be able to conquer the psychological challenges we all have, ourselves, ‘our’ alienator & most importantly, our children.

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  2. Thank you for your insights. I always thought that you were seeing this from the most useful perspective, from the eyes of the child. To uphold their heritage, their noble ancestry, is a great service to humanity.
    I share your thoughts on the impact of major traumas and their recurring influences on the health of the family. Through the ages generation after generation we fashion personality, shape, mould and blend, our own storyline becoming the essence of who we are.
    Somehow society seems to have lost its support mechanisms degenerating into a battle of egos. The mental health implications of divorce for the family are huge; some families manage to co-parent despite stresses that would render shared parenting a choice. Others are not so fortunate and are in desperate need of professional help.
    Solutions are rarely simple nor easy to fix, but they do require expert mental health intervention for the familial. Mental health problems do not reside within the individual, they collide at the interface of personality and perception.
    The health of our thoughts is in good hands.

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  3. How do we stop it from happening? What steps can be put in place to prevent it? My son has a young child with his ex partner. Now 14 months old. My son is in a battle in trying to get any worthwhile contact. Any contact is thwarted at every turn. Contact in a contact centre broke down. He has 1 hour a week at present and even at that she is not happy. We hope to have a child’s court officer appointed in the next 4 weeks. Will they see through her narcissistic ways and her obvious means to control and own this poor child. She will never encourage tbis child to have meaningful contact with his Dad. What can we do?

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    1. Ideas (from our lived experience)
      Make sure he gives her no reason to refuse contact (from now on at least, if there’s ‘history’) – rise above any attempts to get a sarcastic/aggressive etc reaction

      Keep dates & descriptions of what happened at & between contacts, be organised

      Make sure Cafcass carry out their Child Impact Assessment Framework

      Be willing to do Parenting Programmes

      Build memories with photographs, physical evidence (eg paintings) etc so his child continues to bond with him

      Read a lot so you learn, but try not to pontificate to the professionals – point them in the right direction but allow them to find ‘the answer’ themselves. As one wise woman told me, be the Dr Watson to their Sherlock Holmes!

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      1. Unfortunately;vindictive resident parents have the control card as seemingly fit parents. Archaic views of the older generation (and uneducated on PA) judiciary and resident parents THINK that possession and residency of a child with them is 9 tenths of the law. It is not and some judges are becoming aware (slowly) that PA is happening before their very eyes and within the courts. I spent almost 2 yrs working as a member of NACCC (National Assoc Child Contact Centres) in UK and volunteered and facilitated contact between parents and child. I know first hand experience of my own, of how convincing the controlling resident parent can be to everyone. I also know from personal experience that one day my ex simply did not turn up for 2 occasions at a contact centre falsely claiming that I was intending to kidnap my own children from a contact centre! I should of never been in a contact centre anyway as my ex had previously also falsely claimed that a) I had been sectioned and b) I was a swinger on HIS dating site Company! Of course it was all lies, lies, lies…. Since then and for 15 yrs I had no contact and no legal aid to apply for court orders or fight. If only I had my mum or dad (their grandparent) in the contact centre to’ safeguard myself and our children’ from my ex’s false allegations!
        Your ‘account of what happens in a contact centre’ will be somewhat quashed without any second adult or witness with you ( as contact centre staff are not permitted to get involved or comment). So my best advice is TO get your son to take YOU with him to the contact centre, but the mother has sign a ‘consent form’. If she does NOT sign then this is more evidence that your sons partner , the resident parent is ‘unreasonable’ with a capital U. Because let’s face the reality that if contact is frustrated at every level so far, then YOU must empower your rights at contact centres and therefore empower your grandchild. JED.x

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  4. In my case I had all the ducks lined up. I had 3 mental health experts on side and the social worker family report writer on side. All could see the psychological splitting in my eldest child but the judge did not act in any enforcing way. Each time we faced up to the hearing and my ex husband stated he couldn’t force her to go to my place, he couldn’t get her to the court ordered psychologist the judge just said “ oh well” looks like I can’t do anything here.” Soon this child will hit thirteen and will decide for herself. He was passive and had no clue what to do. I had the mental health team but I didn’t have an informed and active judge and it all fell down like a house of cards. Now the mental health of all my children is being affected by their oldest sisters alienation and spousfication.

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