I first wrote about growing up in a world without windows in 2017. The focus of this piece being the way that the alienated child grows up enmeshed with the influencing parent in an almost cult like existence.
As I continue my research, I see the impact this has upon adults who were alienated as children and the way in which their capacity to define the boundaries of the self is compromised. The psychological impact of growing up in isolation from the outside world whilst being intimately acquainted with the private lives of parents and grandparents causes long lasting harm.
Haydee Fairnberg (2005), in her exploration of how trauma is transmitted through the families, speaks of ‘the telescoping of the generations’ when she describes the way that families collapse the internal hierarchical awareness of the system within which they live.
This has been my experience in working with the most severe cases of alienation, that there exists within these families, a malfunction of structure which means that children are born into a family which keeps its curtains closed against the outside world and its doors open within that secret space.
It has also been my experience that in these isolated, closed off places, there lies a secret. There is a reason the windows are shuttered against the outside world, it is because within there are no doors, no barriers, no boundaries to keep children safe. When children come to assessment being able to tell everything about the sex life of their parents and in some cases their grandparents too, there is grave danger. Throwing the windows wide open on cases like these often reveals sexual abuse in the form of normalised incestuous relationships, which take place in plain sight, whilst others in the family home look the other way.
These are particular types of alienation cases and the more I have done this work over the years, working directly with alienated children and families and now researching their therapeutic needs, the more I recognise that alienation is not one homogenous experience.
Like cancer, alienation can be graded and staged. From the cases which are trans-generational in nature, to the child who is rejecting a parent because of the action/reaction dynamic which triggers splitting accidentally, this experience is not one simple formulaic presentation, which means that just like oncologists, those of us who work with families where a child is rejecting, must define and refine our treatment routes. Giving morphine to a patient who is not dying, will kill that patient or at least make him very sick. Refusing morphine to the patient in severe pain is a cruel act.
Therefore, as practitioners we cannot behave as if every case of alienation is the same because to do so is to fail the child and fail the family miserably. Intervention in parental alienation is in its infancy, now is the time to build new routes to meet the wide spectrum of needs seen in these families.
In the world without windows and house without doors, the cancer of alienation is stage 4 and spreading. It is incredibly toxic and very infectious. To enter into these homes is dangerous for the practitioner because the purpose of the inward looking, open boundaries is to a) keep the outside world away and b) ensure that everyone lives with the same fear based awareness that something must be kept secret.
Anyone who has married into such a family will soon know that they are not welcome when they try to throw open the windows and close the doors. The internalised workings of the family cannot allow this exposure and so the person who attempts to bring fresh air must be put at the margin of the family. Eventually they will find themselves shunned.
The practitioner in this space will find the alienation dynamic turned against them as triangulation which comes in the form of disguised denigration begins to work a particularly poisonous kind of magic.
Disguised denigration is a dynamic seen in alienation and it is based upon triangulation, a concept introduced by Murray Bowen.
Triangulation manipulates people who feel unsafe and is used by people who want to gain and maintain control. It is activated by the manipulator who triangulates a person not present into a situation with another who feels unstable or unsafe. It can also be used to prove to the person who feels unsafe, that the third person not present is harmful. Disguised denigration is part of this process and it shows itself through a process of engineering rivalry between two people, one of whom is not present.
Disguised denigration is perpetrated by the expression of outward support but which on analysis can be seen to be a covert attempt to create anxiety in one person and outrage in the other. When disguised denigration is at play, the practitioner feels it in the same way as the rejected parent feels it.
One of the most powerful signs of disguised denigration which occurs in cases of alienation is when the practitioner comes close to the understanding the truth of the alienation dynamic and how it occurs in a family. This is when the outward expressions of disbelief and shock from the person causing the alienation escalate. It is also the exact point at which the drama culminates because it is when the alienator shows his/her hand.
When you see protestations of innocence and benign intent from the alienator, in a case where you have worked out how it happened, you know that the reverse intention is true. This is when the campaign of disguised denigration will reach its height. What follows is formulaic in how it unfolds.
The goal of this behaviour is to control people in authority to ensure that they do not allow the practitioner to expose the dynamic.
To understand how this happens, the practitioner must look at the people who hold authority in the drama and watch how they are affected in the relationship they have with the practitioner who is going to expose the secret. In most cases this will be the Judge, the Guardian and perhaps Social Workers.
If there is a cutting off of communication between the practitioner and these people, meaning that the healthy flow between those who can rectify the problem is nullified, the alienation against the practitioner in the case is being triggered as a defence against exposure. Triangulation is how this is done. Evidence that this is in play is cutting off communication and splitting.
Practitioners need to be aware at every level of the dangers of being in these houses because the greatest danger is always just before the villain of the piece is unmasked. The harm done to the practitioner, when the covert intent of the alienator, which is to protect the secret within the self, is the same as the harm done to the rejected parent. The outcome is that the power to expose and cleanse is neutralised and the practitioner becomes the recipient of all of the negative transference – ie blame.
When this occurs, the triangulation has done its work and alienation is complete. The family in the house without windows can continue on its way without disturbance and the monstrous is projected outwards onto the practitioner who tried to help.
This is a clever tactic which is narcissistic in nature and which acts in itself as a splitting technique to ensure that the bad parts of the family are always projected outside.
This happens in families and it happens in groups where alienators are present and if you are going to be Columbo in this world without windows and house without doors, you must be aware of the possibility of this happening to you each and every time you get close to the reality of how it happened.
That is why rejected parents in these types of alienation cases are evicted without mercy.
That is why it is dangerous to do this work.
Opening the windows and closing the doors is what is necessary to rebuild a family affected by this type of trans-generational trauma.
Knowing the issue from the inside out allows us to see it, feel it and speak the truth of it regardless of the consequences.
Because children in those isolated houses depend upon us to feel the fear and do it anyway.
Faimberg, H. (2005) The Telescoping of the Generations. London, Routledge
On a day when I am feeling hopeless (I normally push hopelessness far away though I cannot live in hope) THIS article has gone some way to help me because you write, Karen……………..
QUOTE” This is a clever tactic which is narcissistic in nature and which acts in itself as a splitting technique to ensure that the bad parts of the family are always projected outside.
This happens in families and it happens in groups where alienators are present ……………………..”
I swear my husband is a narcissist (covert). His denial of all things defies belief. But it’s not just the fact that you wrote “narcissistic in nature”, it’s because you wrote “This happens in families”. I can, if I let myself, go round and round in circles asking myself why on earth I stayed with him for so long but how could I leave when I knew that doing so would leave me without my daughter. He has made me feel that I was nothing to him and am nothing to my daughter. I was simply a vessel that gave him the daughter who, aged 15, made him feel good.
It’s five years since the end and almost five years since I fled from them both. Tomorrow will be another day….
Thank you for this article. I wish I’d known then what I know now.
sending my love to you Willow, it sounds to me as if you are in one of those situations with a transgenerational theme of narcissistic implanting which goes from generation to generation. You cannot know this when you start out, you only know it too late. Your daughter however can recover if you stay well and stay there for her. The key is being there for long enough for her to break free too. This is the most serious type of alienation in my view but it is conversely often the easiest to treat when the child reaches an age where perspective can kick in. You have to concentrate on being you, and being well and healthy because that is the antidote to the poison pouring down the generations. Sending my love xxx
These children do so depend on you and I have absolute admiration for professionals working in this field. The impact alienators can have on you seems similar to that risk which therapists working with narcissistic personality types have to be so aware of too. It’s unfortunate that there are so few capable of working in both of these areas and I only hope more specialised and aware practitioners become trained and experienced to work in these fields as the years roll on. Keep yourselves well too.
thank you Ally, very much appreciated. I will be in touch about the therapeutic parenting workshop for parents too x
Thanks Karen. I try to send a cheerful email now and again (and cards for her birthday & Xmas) but she’s so entrenched that nothing comes back. I copy in her husband (of four years) but he doesn’t reply either – before I left, when I asked him if I’d ever see her again, he told me he didn’t want to get involved. The following week I was admitted to A&E as an emergency with blood pressure so high it couldn’t be read. I have no idea what if anything my husband told her at time because I heard nothing from her and he (my husband) just carried on as usual. Narcissistic abuse defies belief.
Very well written article Karen.
I am almost in my tenth year of being alienated from my 2 daughters. Totally without evidence of any shape or form. I was deleted from their lives. It has been a horrendous battle with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and addictions. And that’s just the effect it had on me as an adult. What has it done to my innocent children? Thankfully, all these are in the past now and I have substituted these for healthy eating, a heavy training schedule, reading books and self-help, in every way I can get it. Never in your wildest dreams do you ever expect to be thrown into the dirt that is parental alienation. But I have my strength back now and I’m just about to bring a case against the people in authority that turned their backs on my children and me and refused the evidence that would have brought them to safety. I once had a beautiful relationship with both my children which is now damaged, possibly beyond repair; although I chose not to give too much thought to the fact that it is so damaged. A beautiful relationship that has been annihilated by the children’s mother, without cause and absent of anything maternal. It has now got to the stage that the small piece of contact I had with my oldest girl a few months ago has turned into false allegations where my daughter is demanding an apology for abuse that never happened and I really do not know how to tackle this problem. I currently live in Ireland, but my oldest girl had moved to London. My daughter actually took the time to track me down a few months ago and we talked for weeks over text message and she showed great interest in my life as a whole.
Then came the false allegations of physical abuse against me, this being one of the provable allegations I had against my children’s mother during my fight to win full custody.
I would greatly appreciate if anyone could advise me on how to get my relationship back with my children. I really need someone’s advice
This sent chills down my spine, it follows my families case to the tee. My ex-husband tried isolating us constantly and he would even say ‘I just want you by my side, I just want our little family together with the shutters pulled down’ he said it as a guise of love and seduction. He said it often and as my spell wore off I found those comments sickening. The enmeshed relationship goes between him and his Father (the Grandfather) and my eldest daughter is now a privileged member.
Willow, I thought of you particularly as your case also follows this description. But Karen, I wanted to clarify on your comment “sexual abuse in the form of normalised incestuous relationships,” so are you saying sexual abuse has physically taken place with the alienated child or do you mean the sharing of intimate information is sexual abuse in its incestuous blur of boundaries?
Hi HF, what I am saying is that sometimes in cases of this nature there has been sexual abuse which has not been revealed or dealt with by the person suffering it, in other situations it is emotional incest in blurring of the boundaries. I have been reading a French psychoanalysis Ancelin Schutzenberger recently whose work was groundbreaking in understanding how incest in all forms (sexual abuse of children, incestuous relationships between family members and emotional incest, causes the same impact in the body – anismus, which is a traumatic freezing of the digestive tract causing constipation and IBS and other such issues). It seems to me that in these families without windows, which have no boundaries within them, the same impact on children occurs. Ancelin Schutzenberger describes anismus as a splitting of the function of the brain which allows healthy digestion so that the gut receives two messages at the same time – hold on/effort to let go. It seems to me that what we are looking at in these families – be it sexual abuse, incestuous relationships or emotional incest in the form of spousification or parentification, all cause exactly the same problem and alienation/splitting is the core of this.
Willow, I wish you well. You appear to be affected by your Ex to the point he seems to have control over you. I don’t know why you asked your Ex whether you would see your daughter again. That is none of his business. Your relationship with your daughter does not need qualification from him. If everything you do with your Daughter depends on gaining permission from your Ex, then he has complete control over you. (That is not to say that he shouldn’t have a relationship with your daughter; it is to say that you have your own relationship with your daughter and this should be the focus of your attention)
You must at least behave as if you have a parental relationship with your daughter. Emails to your daughter are a good idea, perhaps you could bring news of a relative on your side of the family that she was particularly fond of, or reminisce about something you shared with her that she was particularly interested in, observe present moment events that might be of interest to her.
Try to avoid pleading with your Ex. for fairness or equality or whatever it is you want him to give you. It appears from what you have said that this is how he controls you. Try to work on the periphery, see if you can find a weakness in your daughter’s armoury that will succumb to your healthy parent.
Alberni48 : Thank you Karen for another excellent blog, although I am appalled, sickened by It and the realisation that my grandchildren and their Dad, my son, are victims of this horrendous abuse. As a family we have suffered, still suffering this terrible situation.
There are thousands of families across the country in the same plight, the WHO., has recognised PA., or Induced Psychological Splitting , and has included it on it’s Register of Mental Diseases. Has the information been passed on to the family Courts and Children’s Services? In many cases, ours included, the Courts have colluded with the Alienator via their lack of knowledge; because without their input and decisions we and our children would be in a much better place right now.
There is surely enough evidence out there to justify interventions beginning urgently; our children’s lives are slipping away, some have lost their childhood. What action can we take? Do we take action against Children’s Services. Could we demand that a register is set up in Children’s Services across the country on which children who it is suspected are being abused in this manner, be registered and assessed by properly qualified practitioners?
I know for the children’s sake there has to be the highest degree of sensitivity in handling these cases, and I know that people like yourself are working flat out , but perhaps we need the boost of public outrage, to put pressure on governments to release sufficient money to provide qualified practitioners. At the moment qualified practitioners are only available to those who can afford it, which prices out most people.
nongenderbias9, in reply to your comment :
I didn’t ask MY husband, I asked HER husband if I would ever see her again. During the period when my daughter first shunned me and I was still with my husband but trying to find somewhere else to live with my family in a town 150 miles away ….. her husband came round to our house to borrow some tools. I answered the door to her husband who cheerfully asked how I was. (He was always pleasant when we met) I replied “What do you think?” and then I asked him if I would ever see her again.
It was HER husband who said he didn’t want to get involved. (“I copy in her husband (of four years) but he doesn’t reply either – before I left, when I asked him if I’d ever see her again, he told me he didn’t want to get involved.” )
My husband was very happy it had all turned out the way it had and he continued to flaunt his ‘amazing relationship’ with her while making sure I knew I had none. Some of his latterly overly ‘lovey-dovey arms draped round her shoulders while holding her close’ behaviour with her made me cringe. That was the reason I was leaving. (She had in fact become his new narcissistic supply where once it had been me – until I developed a mind of my own and he needed someone else to massage his fragile ego, someone who wasn’t a wife who expected things from him)
I left my husband (and adult daughter) almost five years ago and have had cause to contact him twice in that time. The last time I DID ask about my daughter but of course he wouldn’t tell me anything about her.
Yes, I was controlled by him for years. I wasn’t an easy person to control (I answered him back/argued my point etc) but he could always shout louder and wouldn’t think twice about pinning me to the wall – all out of sight of daughter who had left home by then. Then, in the next breath (when he’d won) he’d act as though nothing had had ever happened and, if questioned later, denied everything and told me it was all in my head. This (I now know) is narcissistic behaviour. I’ve watched lots of Dr Les Carter’s YouTube videos and he describes my husband perfectly.. If you watch any of them you’ll begin to know how hard it is to escape such a person especially when money is concerned.
I stayed with him so long because he threatened me (when daughter was barely three and we had just lost our five year old severely disabled/handicapped child) that if I ever left him he would take my daughter from me. That threat was enough to keep me. It’s a long story of narcissistic abuse and not wanting to lose my daughter.
My daughter still holidays several times a year with her dad but without her husband who could go if he wanted to but probably feels like a spare part, as I did.
I recognise this dark house, the dysfunctional family and the secret that hides inside it. If you enter this house you are expected to also keep the secret. When you wake up and seek a house with light you are controlled via the only thing they have left, your children. I miss my children everyday but the lights are always on in our home and shine brightly through huge windows.
Great post Karen thank you,
Hi Willow, apologies for misunderstanding which husband you were referring to. It seems your husband’s controlling behaviour influences a lot of other people.
In the psychological space I occupy within the family that I am assisting I can both account for what has been happening and hopefully make changes within the dynamic that will benefit all family members.
I have been following your lead on “inter-generational influences” and am prompted to report on some positive results.
Some months ago, I believed if I opened the eyes of the controlling parent to the damaging influence he was having on his youngest son, then the controlling parent may begin to behave differently and allow his son to mature and develop some independence. (His son is in his thirties so you might expect him to be behaving with autonomy and self-determination, but he lacks these qualities being slavishly dependant upon his father on all matters)
How wrong could I have been?
The recovery method.
To enable me to expose the family to their inter-generational and cultural influences that have shaped them it was important that I gain favour with all family members. You can not do this with outright criticism of anyone. There must be some sort of acceptance and consideration so that trust can be generated.
This undertaken I can help the family focus on their own culture, their history, beliefs and rituals: the dominant hereditary lineage and it’s environmental and social context. (e.g. World wars, racial conflict, political and religious differences etc.)
I found a book in the library which tells the story from a parent’s perspective of bringing up two children in a culture very different from their own. Two cultures diametrically opposed in many ways. This was a tale of Asian parents bringing up their kids in a western culture.
As I worked my way through the book, reading aloud to the son I was opening his mind to an understanding of why his father behaved in such a domineering and controlling fashion.
The parental behaviour pattern described in the text of the book was one almost identical to the one that my client (the son) was experiencing from his domineering father. What became apparent was the frustrations and dilemma which accounted for depression, delusions and anxiety in the son was born of conflicting belief systems. One historical, inter-generational set of beliefs was having trouble assimilating into a new culture and the son was conflicted as if he had to choose between the two.
What he hadn’t come to terms with was the ability to live peaceably within those two different cultures. His father represented the old culture and the new culture was the one he had to live in, because that was where he was. Not only was the son conflicted, but the father also showed high levels of anxiety in his personality.
Father liked the book very much because he thought it justified his parenting behaviour, the relentless drive for academic perfection such that would make the family proud. Lacking emotional acknowledgement, being replaced by rules and skill-based mantra.
Far from seeing the error of his ways (which is what I had originally hoped) father was pummelling me to assert what he thought was good for his son. However, what I am pleased about is the effect reading the book seems to have had on his son; he seems a little more confident, relaxed, able and active.
Could it be simply be the “knowing” that was missing. The son can perhaps see his father in a different light. He knows better now why his father behaves the way he does, perhaps this exposure is all that was needed to release the dominated child from his father’s influence and a recovery onward into adulthood.
You may be wondering what has all this got to do with parental alienation.
Apologies if this is obvious to most of you. I can speak personally as a parent who has struggled to co-parent trying to maintain stability for my children despite two parents living apart and with conflicting ideologies.
It is not the correction of the ways that a parent behaves that releases our children from emotional capture. It is the child’s realisation of the characters and influences in their world that releases them from a domineering and controlling parent.
The threads of inter-generational influences need to be untangled. Our mental health lives at the junction of personality and perspective.