Everyday Trauma: The Drama of the Alienated Child

“Thus he spent his whole life searching for his own truth, but it remained hidden to him because he had learned at a very young age to hate himself for what his mother had done to him. (…) But not once did he allow himself to direct his endless, justified rage at the true culprit, the woman who had kept him locked up in her prison for as long as she could. All his life he attempted to free himself of that prison, with the help of drugs, travel, illusions, and above all poetry. But in all these desperate efforts to open the doors that would have led to liberation, one of them remained obstinently shut, the most important one: the door to the emotional reality of his childhood, to the feelings of the little child who was forced to grow up with a severely disturbed, malevolent woman, with no father to protect him from her.”
Alice Miller, The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting

The work we are doing now,  is to bring our understanding of what has happened to alienated children to light and to develop new routes to resolution which can be widely replicated.  This project continues apace and increasingly involves clinicians around the world in a united understanding of the need for practice which is informed by all of the therapies which are known to be useful with families affected by induced psychological splitting. The longer we do this work, the more aware we are of the intra-psychic world of the alienated child.  The more we know about this state of mind, the more we can assist in the resolution of the internalised split which has created the drama seen in parental alienation.

Children are vulnerable in the intra and inter-psychic world where their experience is largely in the felt senses.  As such they are sponge-like in their capacity to absorb feelings and beliefs of others and if they are subjected to distortions of the same, they will follow the psychological pathway which is laid out for them, even living out dramas which belong not to them but to those long gone in their family who have left a legacy of unresolved trauma.

As part of my work is currently focused upon the experience of adults who were alienated as children, I am coming to see how, in the felt sense, that unresolved trauma, which is passed from influencing parent to child, lives on if it is untreated. Even where children have reunited with a parent as adults and even when on the outside it appears that resolution of the external split of the parents into good and bad has been resolved, these adults speak of feeling divided.  What is clear to me is that the experience of splitting in childhood, in which the incapacity to hold two realities in mind is induced, is a life long legacy which needs our attention.

I have come to think of the experience of children of divorce and separation as an everyday trauma which is overlooked and ignored by everyone until the red flag of alienation appears and the child refuses completely to maintain relationships with both parents.  It is my view, and always has been, that if we were to pay more attention to the needs of children in divorce and separation for support in what is a barren and frightening landscape for them, we would see much less alienation and much more successful adaptation to the crossing that the family makes from together to apart.

Having worked in the field of family separation for almost 30 years now, I have seen my fair share of successful family transitions and I have seen more than my fair share of families who have failed to make that happen.  What I have come to understand, is that within the families who fail, is an unwell parent hiding in plain sight who is triggered by the everyday trauma of the divorce into taking control of the dynamics around the child.

I have written extensively on this blog and elsewhere about the harm that comes to children when a parent is unwell and the child is rendered completely dependent upon that person.  Working with adults who were alienated as children is teaching me more about the long lasting harm that does.  What is also clear to me is that the induced psychological splitting which is suffered by alienated children is the cause of all of the drama which is seen around the child at the time of the divorce or separation.

In essence, the only way a child suffering everyday trauma which is overlooked and ignored can signal that they are in danger is by using the defence of psychological splitting. As in previous discussions on here, when a child is being terrorised in the inter-psychic world by a loved parent, the only way to cope with this is to create a defence which allows continuation of that love.  Although it is a gross distortion of mind to love one’s abuser, it is an escape mechanism from an intolerable dilemma and as such it is used by alienated children routinely.

We have now had five or more decades of this everyday trauma and it is only now that we are beginning to see a shift in consciousness around the world about the harm done to children in divorce and separation.  For five decades or more the drama of the alienated child has been attributed to the parent who has been rejected, a parent who is healthy and well and who has also been tricked, trapped and entangled into the dysfunctional world of an unwell parent.

We now know that the rejection of a parent is simply a by-product of the pathological alignment between the child suffering induced psychological splitting and a parent who is carrying unresolved trauma.  Knowing that means that our focus upon the drama of the alienated child can begin with understanding the route in so that we can build the route out of the child’s need to use defensive splitting.

In a world which is criss crossed with blame, shame and inter-psychic terror, we are joined with the children who suffer this and in joining them we as clinicians ourselves become vulnerable to a world full of heroes and villains narratives.  From this position, where we are loved by one group and hated by the other, worshipped by some and denigrated by others, where tall tales and conspiracy theories abound and where even those who as professionals should know better are busy diagnosing us online,  we become aware at the deepest levels possible of the everyday trauma suffered by alienated children and the families they have rejected.

Which means that our work is focused where the reality lies and where reality lies, new insights are made possible.

This everyday trauma, this drama of the alienated child is the next child abuse scandal to come to light in the western world.

Suffering little children, who as adults still do, will have their day.


Family Separation Clinic Training and Conference Diary 2020

Iceland –  Seminar for Practitioners  January 2020

Iceland – Workshop for parents 1 February 2020

Information about our Iceland training will be posted here and parents can book onto the workshop via online booking, all details here shortly.

Ireland – (Cork)  Three day training for practitioners 5-7 March 2020 details here 1st December 2019.

USA – May – Conference presentation to be announced January.

Croatia – EAPAP 2020 June 15/16 – Zagreb – Speakers to be announced shortly

USA – NC  October 10/11 2020 for Family Access – Helping Courts to Understand Parental Alienation.


11 thoughts on “Everyday Trauma: The Drama of the Alienated Child

  1. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “Which means that our work is focused where the reality lies and where reality lies, new insights are made possible.
    This everyday trauma, this drama of the alienated child is the next child abuse scandal to come to light in the western world.
    Suffering little children, who as adults still do, will have their day.”
    Only by recognising and fulfilling the NEED to GRIEVE the life the alienated child deserved and should have had will HEALING the SCARS begin.


  2. Thanks Karen.
    Its fascinating, as I’ve said before, to read and understand of your developing knowledge, in seemingly real time. How for me this means a thought I’ve held develops and shifts and focuses, and refines. How a definition I’ve adopted can both narrow and expand, and become both more pointed and more clear.
    The two examples of this in the last two of your blogs are from:
    ‘In Their Footsteps: Trans-generational Trauma in Divorce and Separation’ – where you write “…Induced psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation causes them to be unable to hold two realities in mind. This simply means that the child can no longer tolerate the way in which their lives are divided into two different experiences in the external and internal world.”
    and the blog above –
    “when a child is being terrorised in the inter-psychic world by a loved parent, the only way to cope with this is to create a defence which allows continuation of that love.”
    A light went on for me thinking about how to describe/understand when a child has to say some version of ‘I hate my Dad/Mum’ at the same time as every fibre and instinct in their mind and body is telling them they don’t feel that. The internal/external world.
    And then similarly to acknowledge that these children have to reconcile for themselves how a LOVED parent is saying or doing something that hurts them, and find a way to cope with that.

    I have a dilemma which rears its head every now and then, and did again at the weekend.

    I attended an event where I met and very enjoyably spent the afternoon and evening with a host of new people, predominantly women, with whom I share a common interest. The common interest meant we all got on very well, immediately, and combined later with food and drink meant after we’d dissected and enjoyed our common interest we began sharing bits of our normal private lives – details of partners children etc etc. One of the party revealed that she and her husband had divorced (fairly recently it seemed) and she was now living alone with their two small children (5 and 7). Her ex was living a very short distance away (and they all passed his house each day on the walk to school). As the conversation developed it came out he had the children to stay just one weekend in two, with occasional contact in between. She was snipy about her ex’s new girlfriend (the children were having her ‘inflicted’ on them again that weekend) and his parenting skills (why was he interested in the children now as he’d never been during their marriage etc), and became teary about the effect of the divorce on her children. One of the other women in the group, in a genuine effort I’m sure to be supportive, told her that her children would be ok, that divorce was normal nowadays, that she shouldn’t worry, they’d be fine etc etc etc. I found it really really hard not to say ‘no they won’t be ok, they won’t be fine, unless you change how you speak and how you project consciously or unconsciously your feelings in front of them’. The mum went on to say her 7yr was ‘quite sensitive’ and was ‘picking things up’. I did say, as privately and as un-judgementally as was possible in the surroundings and circumstances, that she should know her children would need help to adjust, and that she should be as supportive as possible in front of them about her ex’s parenting. That she should be happy there would be another set of eyes on her children and someone else to (hopefully) look out for them. There didn’t seem to be any reason to feel the children wouldn’t be safe and ok with the Dad. When she commented about ‘why was he interested in the children now as he’d never been during their marriage’ etc I did quietly say that perhaps losing his marriage had made him realise what he was missing, and that in general being a ‘good enough’ parent wasn’t a bad thing.
    The dilemma is how to say to someone without freaking them out, or putting them on the defensive or making them feel you’re criticising or judging them, that they might just need to look at how their feelings can leak over, albeit unintentionally, and affect their children. I did say to her that whilst she was divorced from her ex, her children weren’t and should be kept safe from adult hurt, but we were in a bar, and I didn’t want to be the judgey sober downer at the party and alienate her (or others around us). What I wanted to say to her was to ask her to swap things around and consider what kind of parent she might be if she just got one weekend in two with her children, and was going to always be playing catch-up. And to say that the price you pay if you divorce is that you BOTH get less time so your children get to feel safe and happy and stable with BOTH parents.
    I found it very hard not to question out loud everyone’s easy lazy assumptions about how/why mum’s automatically get residence, and the genuine kind-hearted attempts to make her feel better about herself, when lord knows it probably wasn’t (all) her fault, but that she would be sleep-walking into troubled children if she carried on letting her adult hurt wash over her small children.
    Because of the shared interest its likely I’ll see this woman again, and we’ve connected via social media associated with the interest. I’m toying with dropping a ‘hello’ to see if she picks up, but then what would I say, what could I say? I don’t live this person’s life. Sometimes I feel like Cassandra – doomed to see the harm people are causing but not able to tell them in a way that doesn’t made me sound mad or bitter or irrelevant or all three.

    And another observation to put here, just because I’m writing, is about the alienation tendrils that creep out and twist and throttle long into the future. How the loss of a child can mean a parent loses the experience of directly parenting their own child through (difficult/normal) teenage years, so their child’s possible behaviour, and that parenting relationship in those lost years is only ever seen through the prism of how they hope they would have parented their child – which when measured up against how any step-children in their life are being parented by their partners through those same teenage years, means the day to day parenting choices made by their partners in front of them can fare very badly by comparison. Just another side effect that ripples out.


  3. Hi Karen
    I have had contact cut by my ex who is exploiting our child moving in with him 2 hours away in order to access a safer school after severe bullying in two primary schools. This arrangement was entered into on the basis our 13 year old daughter would live with him during the week and come home to me at the weekend. Due to his history of violence against me and bullying at her school which he ignored, this contact time was important to me to monitor that everything was ok with our daughter at school and home. However, he has broken contact and encouraged our daughter to cut off all contact whilst presenting this to social services as safeguarding her from my ‘abuse’. Even though I’ve disproved the abuse, because my daughter is presenting this situation as her wishes rather than his, social services have closed the case. Their report is full of his unevidenced allegations, written down as fact whereas my history of abuse at his hands has been left out almost entirely bar one police report. I am having to go through the courts who have refused to do fact finding and Cafcass seem to do likewise, relying on an unevidenced Social Services report, effectively leaving our daughter to safeguard herself, which she has done by aligning herself with the abuser. It’s costing me a fortune to hire legal help and am very frightened that in the meantime, my daughter is becoming more and more estranged from me, isolated at a time when she may well need her mum to navigate growing up in an increasingly pornified world and also that the shared care that I have worked really hard to foster for her benefit has left me completely exposed to his further abuse using our daughter as the weapon. Even if I get some semblance of contact back, I am wondering how I’ll be able to co parent with a person who is happy to use the child as a weapon, regardless of the impossible position that places her in?


  4. Could you look to run an event next year for parents who have had residence moved to them, in how to manage the ongoing relationship with the previous alienator. I am developing a small group of parents in a similar position, none of whom had any protective separation ordered, and who find they are still really struggling with this co-parenting relationship, even though the child now lives with them. There are concerns about ongoing alienating tactics from afar or pingponging for the child to be split again/still. I know they would all be interested to come together to share & also learn.


    1. If you contact me directly about this Ally I will do this for sure because this ties in well to the work I am doing in building a therapeutic for children and families affected by alienation which can be used in these circumstances. K


  5. Hi Karen

    It’s so inspirational, to many of us, to see that just keep keeping on – I’m a believer in the saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and the work you’ve done is gradually educating the villagers

    As an adult who was first alienated from my father at the age of 7, it has only been in recent years (some 50 years on) that I’ve begun to start comprehending the long-lasting harm that a psychologically unwell parents-with-care can impose on a child……in this case, on me.

    An inability to recognise or regulate my most intense feelings and emotions was something I wasn’t even, consciously, aware of let alone able to manage. A poor understanding of how to develop and maintain healthy boundaries with others negatively impacted my sense of Self (often over-compensating for lack of self-esteem with sporting and other natural talents that ‘masked’ my true sense of inferiority) and the way I connected with others……whilst I had a clear sense of my own reality, in challenging situations, it was almost impossible to, simultaneously, hold my reality with that of another (very different) person. In summary, consciously, recognising my own basic human needs was a concept I’d never encountered or developed growing up……because, of course, my own needs were never discussed (or, for that matter, of any importance)

    The ‘escape mechanism from an intolerable dilemma’ that alienated routinely use greatly resonates with me and I can only describe the feeling (back then) as “holding on to nurse for fear of finding something worse”……especially when the alienated parent has been demonised and depicted as someone who cares very little (if at all) for you

    It was only when I first read you writing that ‘understanding the route in is a prerequisite of planning the route out’ that I was able to start making some meaningful sense of my own, PA-related, childhood and, then, gain a better understanding of options for the possible routes out of defensive splitting where my own adult-children are concerned. You also introduced me to the writings of Alice Miller which have been hugely beneficial in the progress I’ve been abler to make with my own journey

    Thanks, Karen x


  6. Hi CG
    Your friend who troubles you with her apparent disinterest in the children’s relationship with their father. Firstly, we don’t have enough information to make a reasoned judgement and any view would be subjective, but something that struck me about this was the mother’s apparent lack of empathy. A sort of blindness of feelings.

    Like you I believe the father needs to be as involved and available as the mother is to the children. His role may be different, but it is important that each parent should appreciate each other’s parenting role.
    You haven’t spoken about the father and his feelings/attitude, but if he were me, I would be wanting as much time with my kids as possible. I don’t think I would be happy about not seeing them just because they were supposed to be with their mother because of a court order arrangement. Hard for me emotionally but something I may have to learn to live with.
    One of the difficulties which may arise when you live close to your Ex is when you see the kids with your Ex, perhaps out shopping or on the way to the playpark. You wave in their direction knowing that your Ex won’t respond (you expected that) but when the kids don’t respond you become alarmed/annoyed/saddened. But, with hindsight you knew the kids couldn’t respond positively to you because their mother would have been upset, perhaps feel that her relationship with the children was being threatened. And for the time being they are living with their mother, so you must accept this kind of behaviour from your kids (it is not their fault, it is a normal response to an emotionally difficult situation).

    Things can be much worse, you could get locked up for being anywhere near your kids, a court order being in place to prevent any potential happy union.

    Co-parenting can be a tricky and delicate operation. The planned lifestyle for the family which takes the form of family arrangements is often fraught with trust issues and insecurities coming from the parents. A clash of parenting styles, concerns about neglect and safety and education. An oversensitive response to triggers and flashpoints simmering, at the ready to justify retribution or further legal action. All the while through potential emotional storms we expect our children to tread dandlebear bridge as part of the family arrangements.

    Your father, the one you are concerned about may not need nor appreciate any advice, but if he were me, I would be forming links around the school/teachers and extra-curricular activities, mutual friends. For example, if any of the kids are artistic then father should be at the school to acknowledge and learn, at least then he will be able to relate to his child and offer specific encouragement.
    But it is so difficult, even though you are proud of making good use of your time with the kids, you are also aware that your Ex. may see this as a threat he/she can become jealous and feel threatened by happy smiling faces returning across Dandlebear bridge. He/she will not want to know the kids had a good time with you. So, the kids learn that all that happens on one side of dandlebear bridge must stay there.

    I liked your story a great deal CG. I think it showed much sensitivity on your part.
    I have said a great deal but nothing that might help so I am going to suggest this, partly because it is what I am involved with now. Make a family tree. The ancestral links on both sides of the family help define our identity. Perhaps take your family tree to your next meeting (that’s both sides of your kids’ family). Or perhaps stories about relatives who lived through a significant life changing global event.
    There are no guarantees in this game of family therapy, if I can put it like that, but if you don’t attempt to make positive changes it is other changes that will make the difference wheresoever they come from.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks nongenderbias9 – I like the idea of the family tree. The child in my life, like so many others, has had one side of their family completely excised, with two name changes to reinforce. Yet they (still, in a middle name) carry the name of a much loved relative. So I’ll do a family tree to bring the roots to the surface


  7. This must come out as a greatest explosion ever, not only in western world but on the whole planet! How many more decades children will be called “betrayers” by adults, instead for those adults understand the cause and change themselves, and break this vicious circle! I was one of those, but now I have such a clear understanding of why my son had rejected me, and by no means I have any bitterness towards him. Every day I’m thinking about him with the greatest compassion. Also, thanks for the portals of information such as this blog, I have a clearer picture of what to do now. And here’s my guarantee : I’m doing it.


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