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