It will soon be Thanksgiving in the USA. Having come to know small parts of this wonderful country over the past two years, I recognise that in my own intra-psychic landscape, America plays a huge role. From the films I grew up with, to the friends I have made since working in the field of parental alienation, the United States is firmly planted within my consciousness.
And so for Thanksgiving this year, whilst I am firmly rooted in the United Kingdom and the United States is three thousand miles away across the Atlantic Ocean, I am going to be ‘loyal to the absent’ and give thanks for my friendships and the enriching of my life through my connection to that country. It has blessed me with its courage, challenged me with its enormous geography (which leads to a much bigger internalised sense of potential than many of us in the UK could muster) and shown me that the love and warmth of friends with like minds is sustaining in all things.
Dr Steven Covey is credited with coining the phrase ‘loyalty to the absent‘ in his work to help people develop sustainable habits for effective living. I first encountered Covey’s work in my early thirties when I read the seven habits of highly effective people a book about changing your world by changing your habits and internalised sense of self. I was training as a psychotherapist at the time and the book then seemed to be something of an instruction manual for building habits than developing an understanding of the self. I now know that much of is written in the book is a manual for living which allows for the development of a frame of mind which enhances all work upon the self.
Loyalty to the absent is both a habit and a frame of mind. It is an intent and in the work that we do with families affected by parental alienation, loving intent is critical. Loyalty to the absent is a way of being in the world in which the deepest care for those we are working with and those we are making connections with comes first. Loyalty to the absent allows us to choose the people to whom we will be loyal and to focus our energies where love and mutual understanding produces maximum positive impact in the world. Loyalty to the absent is a way of life which when practiced enables you to be creative with others and protective towards them. Loyalty to the absent is to bless those with whom you live and work with the security of knowing that their name is safe with you as yours is with them. Loyalty to the absent shifts our thinking from fear based defence to courage to go forward to create the change we want to be in the world.
I can’t think of anything more necessary in the field of parental alienation than the capacity to live loyal to the absent at all times.
“Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world… If you want small changes in your life, work on your attitude. But if you want big and primary changes, work on your paradigm.”DR. STEPHEN R. COVEY
Being loyal to those whose lives and work and way of being in the world are interlinked with ours is an essential foundation for working with parental alienation. In a world where there is a constant crossfire of attack from all quarters of the internet, where unwell people create conspiracy theories as part of their defence and where splitting of people into heroes and villains is a way of life, finding and establishing a foundation of people with whom to work has been an essential safeguard for me. I give thanks to those people I trust to be loyal to my name when I am not present, whose honesty and integrity means that the door is always open for communication and who know that loyalty to me when I am absent is how trust is built. I am committed to giving the same in return to those people as a foundation stone for intentional practice with families affected by parental alienation.
Because parental alienation is a family problem which is founded upon the reverse principles of disloyalty to the absent. It is a problem which depends upon the disloyalty of others, the willingness to gossip, the drive to shore up lack of self with negative behaviours and the teaching of children to do the same. It is a breaching of the innocence of children, their right to an unconscious experience of childhood by bringing them into the dysfunctional world of adults who need negativity in order to feel good about themselves. Disloyalty to the absent infects families suffering parental alienation by placing one parent at the margins of the family and projecting all negativity upon them. Inside the gang culture created by this deeply unpleasant dynamic, is a feasting upon self righteousness and mutual congratulation that the ‘monster’ has been shunned.
This is a fear based response by people who have psychological problems and who have learned to feel better by making others feel bad. Disloyalty to the absent (or in other words, gossiping, denigrating, conspiracy theory creating and self righteousness) are all part of the parental alienation landscape.
And not just in families either. Look around the world of parental alienation and you will see that the very same dynamic infects many who work with this issue. Those who do this work are not immune to disloyalty to the absent which is created by manipulation of internalised fears. Disloyalty to the absent fractures the team around the family when one practitioner begins to pull against the other and it fractures at the meta level too, when those more interested in power begin to use denigration, misinformation and lies to persuade others of their position. One doesn’t have to look far across the pond to see disloyalty to the absent in all its gory unpleasantness, being used to influence alienated parents via the internet.
When we work with families affected by parental alienation we work to create loyalty to the absent which conveys a set of principles upon which our recovery work rests.
The principles of practice with families
- As your therapist I will work to restore the child’s relationship with you as a primary goal throughout my involvement with your family.
- I will work with you to prepare you for receiving your child back into your life as quickly as possible. You do not need to be fixed in order for this to happen, you do need to be prepared.
- I will work to build your confidence and to help you to understand how your child has been harmed so that you can do the therapeutic work that you need to do when your child comes home.
- I will inform you, educate and support you at all times. As far as I am able to, I will be available to you in real time to assist you through the recovery period.
- I will speak highly of you to your children at all times. I will challenge their misperceptions and I will encourage them to re-find the natural sense of respect that all children feel towards their parents.
- I will not fall into the trap of thinking that building an alliance with an alienated child means that I must validate their false beliefs in order for them to feel safe. This leads to disloyalty to the absent behaviour, which confuses the child and reinforces the rejection.
- Instead I will build the covert alliance with the healthy child which is hidden beneath the alienated self and I will validate this through loyalty to the absent at all times.
- I will, as far as I am able to, amidst the cross projection of blame and the adversarial world of the family courts, bring your children home to you safely as my core goal of therapy.
When we work with other practitioners we also use loyalty to the absent as a core principle.
The principles of practice
- The wellbeing of children and parents will always come first in all of my work with and on behalf of families.
- I will not engage in any practice which is recognised as harmful to alienated children and their families.
- I will not support or promote any practice which is recognised as harmful to alienated children and families.
- I will not be a part of any group which knowingly allows and enables harm to be done to alienated children and families.
- I will put my energies into positive progress in this field at all times.
- I will not engage with destructive people or those who are disloyal to the absent.
- I will maintain a loyalty to the absent mindset in everything that I do in order to build the highest levels of trust and mutual support and safety.
In our work with families we teach loyalty to the absent principles to help them to receive their alienated children back into their lives. In doing so we aim to protect parents from falling into traps and to build smooth recovery routes for children.
Learning Loyalty to the Absent – Principles for Recovery for Parents
- I recognise my child has been harmed and requires my therapeutic help.
- I know that the harm that I have suffered was not my child’s fault or responsibility.
- I will always be loyal to the absent p which means that I will not engage in any kind of behaviour which denigrates or otherwise causes my child to believe that I am the same as the parent who influenced them.
- I will not take personally the reactions of my alienated child.
- I will develop a positive loyalty to the absent mindset in order to re-teach my child the principles of healthy relationship.
- I will transmogrify my suffering into helping others so that it was not in vain.
As practitioners we cannot ask suffering parents to undertake to deliver on the above without doing it ourselves.
As practitioners in order to deliver on our commitments to be loyal to the absent we also need protected places where we know that we are safe.
Through EAPAP and soon in North America, a new network of highly skilled and mutually supportive practitioners is coming to life. A network which is already, in its infancy, fiercely loyal to the absent. In this new crucible of safety and security of practitioners and the children and parents they work with, loyalty to the absent will be a primary goal at all times.
For all those whose loyalty to the absent I am privileged to enjoy (and there are many of you whose warmth radiates right around the world), your steadfastness, honesty and integrity provides a platform upon which a new paradigm in this field of work begins.
The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners is a group which brings together the most senior and experienced practitioners in the field of parental alienation from Europe. This is a voluntary endeavour which is funded by the hard work of these clinicians who give their time for free to develop this organisation to protect parents and the practitioners who work with them. In 2020 the project to build a mirror association begins in the USA.
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.
The speaker list for the EAPAP 2020 conference, which will be announced shortly, includes leading practitioners and researchers in the field of –
- Intergenerational Trauma
- Family Violence
- Personality Disorder
- Family Therapies which are adapted to suit the needs of alienated children and their families
- Object Relations Theory
- Mind/Body Therapies for Trauma
The focus of the conference is upon treatment of induced psychological splitting which is the internal issue which is seen in parental alienation. All aspects of treatment will be explored at the conference where practice standards will be launched.