Restoring the Hierarchy: An End to Upside Down Thinking

Families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting which is popularly known as parental alienation, experience a catastrophic breakdown in the hierarchy of the generations.  What this means in reality is that children in the family are in the wrong place at the wrong time in their lives.  They are brought there, encouraged to remain there and take inappropriate executive control whilst they are there, by the actions of one or more in the family who are themselves behaving in unhealthy ways.

In my recent studies I have been further examining the incidence of parentification in the families and its role in the destruction of the family hierarchy.   Parentification is something I have written about previously as it is a key symptom seen when a child is suffering induced psychological splitting.  Whilst in 2012 I recognised parentification as being present where parental alienation was happening in a family, in 2019 I recognise that parentification is a key cause of a child utilising the defence of psychological splitting and thus a cause of parental alienation.  This learning, which comes from working with families and recording the incidence of dysfunctional family behaviours such as parentification, means that the treatment routes for such dysfunctional behaviours becomes clearly delineated within an overall package of principles and protocols for therapeutic work with parental alienation.

So clear in fact that we are at the place where a new therapeutic treatment for parental alienation is ready for widespread use.  Meaning that therapists wishing to treat parental alienation can use an evidence based approach which treats the underlying problems in the family, releasing the child from the induced psychological splitting which has caused the pathological alignment and rejection dynamic.

This work to develop the kind of therapeutic intervention which restores the family hierarchy and which constrains the behaviours of the unhealthy parent from which the dysfunctional influence emanates, has been underway for the last seven years. Just in time for the new decade, we are now working on the clinicians handbook to accompany the training which we have been trialling for the past two years and which we will now scale up around the world to increase the number of therapists capable of treating this problem.

This is not reunification therapy.  This is because rejection  of the parent is not the core problem seen in alienation, it is a by-product of the problem.  The real problem, which has been hidden from view, is the alignment dynamic  which causes the child to move to the wrong place in a family hierarchy which has collapsed.

This collapse of the hierarchy means that the family ‘furniture’ has been shifted around so that everyone is in the wrong place at the wrong time in their lives.  Just like children who have been sexually abused have had their childhood innocence taken from them, children who have been made into pseudo spouses or parents in the family have had their right to an unconscious experience of childhood removed from them.  The impact is that the child is in the wrong place in the family at the wrong time in their lives.

Mothers should not make their daughters into sisters or best friends or worse than that look to their daughters to parent them.  Fathers should not be best mates with their sons or seek to have their daughters relate to them as if they are their wife.  When the family hierarchy is in this state of collapse, the child is drawn into an inappropriate position of executive decision making power, which means that they have power over the adults.  And as the old Chinese proverb goes –

Parents who are afraid to put their foot down, usually have children who step on their toes… 

When children are in this wrong place in a family where the hierarchy has collapsed their experience of the world is changed.  In order to get a child into this place a parent will have employed a number of manipulations which are based in coercive control strategies.  Causing a child to feel afraid of being cast out of the family is one such manipulation.  This creates a fear of abandonment in the child and abandonment is what all children fear the most. Shunning or ignoring a child who has enjoyed an experience with the other parent is a powerful way of creating this fear. Withdrawing love and affection and turning the face away when the child returns home is a silent but extremely effective strategy used particularly by mothers.  When a child receives these messages often enough the fear of being abandoned will grow and when it has grown sufficiently and the child has begun to respond to the inter-psychic messages by conforming, a new phase of manipulation begins as the child is rewarded for their compliance.

But the most chilling phase of this manipulative strategy is what comes next as the child begins the process of distorting their own reality using what I have hitherto called upside down thinking but which is actually the splitting defence operating in the child’s sense of themselves and the outside world.

Upside down thinking is that peculiar symptom in alienated children in which they believe that the parent they are rejecting is truly a bad person who is responsible for the rejection.  In contrast, the parent to whom the child is aligned, the one who has created such fear of abandonment in the child that the child has disavowed their own independence of thought and experience, is seen through an idealised lens.

Children in these circumstances will tell you that the parent they have rejected is bad or does not do what a good parent should do but are unable to say anything concrete about what this means.  Conversely they will tell you that the other parent wants them to have a good relationship with the parent they are rejecting, is truly supportive and very sad that the rejected parent doesn’t do what they should do or what they say they will do.  No matter what one does in these circumstances, the child’s upside down thinking remains fixed in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

What has happened to the child is that they have been forced to identify with the parent who has caused them to feel the abandonment threat (which is of course a version of Stockholm syndrome) and they have been rewarded for their compliance.  Now they are seeing life through the upside down lens provided for them by the alienating parent and they are trapped within that dysfunctional view of the world. Not only have they been rewarded for their compliance they have repeatedly had that upside down view of the world reinforced.  When this point is reached, all efforts to free them using traditional therapeutic means are futile.

Upside down thinking is the result of the use of the defence of splitting and the beliefs about the rejected parent are the projections of the suppressed awareness of what the alienating parent is doing.  In utilising the splitting defence, the child has additionally split off all that they identify in themselves which is part of the parent who is being rejected, they have done this in order to be able to live with an upside down reality.

Which is why false allegations are made about the rejected parent which on examination are actually what the alienating parent is doing to the child.  In many cases I have worked in I have seen the curious incidence of a child alleging that a parent is hitting them or hurting them in some way.  On examination, the person who is hitting and hurting is the parent to whom the child is aligned.  The child however has no conscious awareness of this, seeing only goodness in this parent and benign intent.  Even when the child is led by the hand and shown the harm that is being done, the defence is so strong that they will continue to see only goodness and will continue to project upon the rejected parent that which they cannot see in the other parent.

The splitting defence is extremely powerful and is designed to keep the child safe in impossible circumstances.  When a child is being threatened with abandonment in the inter-psychic relationship with a parent who has complete control over them, upside down thinking via the steps taken to manipulate a child into parentification or spouseification and then rewarding them for their compliance, keeps that child in thrall to that terrorising parent.  Breaking free can feel like life or death for the child, which is why therapeutic work which is framed around the right principles and protocols is absolutely essential. It is also why any therapeutic intervention should be held by a higher authority than the family.  Treatment of PA requires a mediation of power as well as the right therapeutic steps. Anyone who tells you they can do this work without that authority is misleading you.

Working with the internal life of the family affected by parental alienation requires a strong hand and a deep commitment.  Correcting upside down thinking in a child is not for the faint hearted.  Neither is it for unskilled and unaware practitioners who often make things worse not better.  Anyone not comfortable with working with defences and splitting behaviours, anyone not willing to work with the negative transference and anyone who believes that restoring health to families affected by parental alienation can be achieved using traditional therapies is quite simply a fool.

Avoid fools if your child is suffering from induced psychological splitting.  Avoid them like the plague because the more I know about parental alienation the more I know the depths of its toxicity. As I have written previously, parental alienation is an emotional and psychological cancer. Just as you would not go to the pharmacy to obtain a treatment for cancer, you should not go to just anyone to get help if your family is affected by parental alienation. Regardless of what you read on the internet, remember that solutions which promise magical outcomes are not solutions at all they are simply promises of magical outcomes.

Before you trust anyone with your child’s mental health, ask for evidence that they have done this work successfully.  Anyone who has done this work successfully should be able to offer you references and should be willing to do so. One day soon this field will be regulated properly meaning that anyone claiming expertise in PA will actually have to demonstrate that. Protection of vulnerable parents and children is an essential task for EAPAP in the months ahead.

There are no magical solutions for families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting but there are treatment routes which use the correct principles and protocols which when held correctly by the court will release the child from the dynamic which is inducing the defence of the psychologically split state of mind.

The therapy route we have developed is doing just that and it is replicable and increasingly proving reliable.  It corrects upside down thinking in a child by restoring the family hierarchy despite the damage done by the unresolved issues in the influencing parent.

In 2020 we will bring this therapeutic training to a wider workforce as well as establish the principles and protocols of practice within the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners.

Just as in cancer treatments, there is a right way and a wrong way to do this work and just as in work to correct family hierarchies, we will unashamedly put our foot down on the wrong ways by setting out the right way and making that available transparent and widely available.  When that reality is in place, parents who are suffering rejection can obtain the right treatment for the right problem.

This is not the only way to treat parental alienation but it rests upon the internationally set down standards of understanding and practice and it works.  And doing what works is what is important when a child’s mind is at stake.

No more generic therapy, no more promises of magical solutions. The mapping of this scientific field in practice is happening right now so that 2020 takes us into a whole new phase where upside down thinking in parental alienation is not only understood, it is repeatedly corrected.

Family Separation Clinic – Training and Conference Calendar 2020


Practitioner Training

Iceland – Rekjavik

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Ireland – Cork – March

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New Orleans May 2020

Training for clinicians in a new integrated approach to therapeutic treatment of induced psychological splitting.

2 day basic training + 2 day advanced training in structured integrated programmes for rapid resolution of splitting in children of divorce and separation.

(This course can be taken together or in two separate parts. Practitioners who completed the two day training in Boston in 2017 and Philadelphia in 2019 are welcome to attend the advanced part of this training).

Course content and costs coming soon.  Limited places available, please email to register.


Zagreb – Croatia – June

Details coming soon


Devon – UK – November

3 day residential intensive in practice with families affected by parental alienation.  For all clinicians wishing to work with alienated children and families using the new integrative approach to therapeutic resolution of induced psychological splitting.

This course is for those wishing to work within a multi disciplinary associate team to deliver intensive structured therapy to families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting.  Mentoring, supervision and development support is offered as part of this training.

Places limited to ten.

Costs and details coming soon.  To register interest in this residential please email


Parent Workshops

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Details coming soon


We will be adding workshops for parents to our schedule in the coming weeks, please check back for details.



(Click the image to go through to full details of conferences and booking/registration)

AFCC – New Orleans, USA

We will be presenting at the AFCC conference on 28th May 2020.

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EAPAP – Zagreb, Croatia

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Family Access – Durham, N.C. USA

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11 thoughts on “Restoring the Hierarchy: An End to Upside Down Thinking

  1. “ The real problem, which has been hidden from view, is the alignment dynamic” – this is spot on. And as courts become stricter to ensure contact happens, the laser focus should not be on whether ‘contact’ is happening (& cafcass therefore patting themselves on the back, thinking their job is done), but on whether the child has psychological issues. Splitting appears at the extreme. But do you think there is a spectrum of psychological stresses upon the child? Is more work needed by psychs to define this spectrum?


    1. Splitting actually appears at the point at which the child is no longer able to hold two realities in mind so it is not the extreme of this problem sadly. The extreme is seen in delusional mindsets and shared psychosis requiring protection from the parent causing it. Actually though the spectrum in my experience is split into two parts – the mild to moderate at which the far end of moderate is splitting and then moderate to severe at which the far end is delusions. The moderate to severe part of the spectrum is influenced by time – the time the child has been using the defence of splitting and the amount of support the child has had for their distorted state of mind. The more time and more support, the more likely the onset of delusional thinking. The spectrum of stresses are actually already defined well but the way that these configure in individual cases is not so yes there is always much more work to be done. In 2020 I want to see research combined with practice so that we are moving this field onto new areas of thinking. I am always learning from others and am going to be in various countries this next year or more doing just that. When clinicians collaborate great things happen, we have such an exciting group of people working together in EAPAP now, I fully expect to see great new treatment routes emerging from countries like Israel, Romania and the Western Balkans this next couple of years.


  2. Thank you for this! I truly believe that there are therapists that are complicit in guiding and leading our kids astray. There needs to be more accountability for these therapists.


    1. Indeed there are Jill. There are those who Steve Miller tells us are dangerous because they think that their intuitive approach is what is needed and they insist on giving it a go for themselves making it much much worse. Anyone who is doing this work therapeutically HAS to be able to evidence success and success means that the child’s split state of mind is integrated. When that happens the child is able to return to a relationship with a parent easily and all of the signs of the split state of mind are healed. We are not describing success as half a day a week where the child still shows splitting or residence transfer where the child is still in the split state of mind. We are describing success as being the wholly recovered sense of self which no longer requires the defence of splitting – measuring that is incredibly important in therapy but there are few who understand how to do it. Fortunately we are in a position of not only doing it but being able to record how and demonstrating replicable successes. 2020 will see us describing the principles and protocols formally and setting them out via EAPAP for practitioners who want to do this work properly to use. We will also be able to protect parents from being forced into taking up therapy which is contraindicated. We are in the early days of properly developing this field in terms of practice but in five years time what we are doing now will be established practice.


      1. How do we get this applied to practices here in America? And CEU’s offered to make sure that unknowing therapists don’t do more damage. My children are all aged out now, but I was told through other sources that some therapist recommended them going “no contact” with me, obviously because they suspect me of being a narcissist, which I’m sure is the narrative perpetuated, and so thus ALL of my adult children are now this way. I can’t even get them to open up to see that perhaps a different approach might be better for at least them to heal their wounds. I’m certainly glad for those who come after me that we will have some standards, but in five years, I’m sure my children will be deeply entrenched firmly in this situation. I’ve missed graduations, weddings, and I’m sure to miss other joys. I’m not just saying this selfishly, but on the behalf of many others who struggle as well. Thank you as always for the great work you do in this field. Please let us advocates know how we can help you.


      2. Jill I am trialling therapy for severely alienated aged out children at the moment. Starting with working with the rejected parent and then moving outwards across the whole family system, I am having some success with this new approach. Standards will be set this coming year and onwards, we will transform this field for parents and the practitioners who work with them. As soon as we are ready to roll out standards I will be seeking help from parent advocates to bring them to the attention of all parents everywhere. Only in partnership work will be change this world for everyone affected. sending my best Karen


  3. You say “Avoid fools if your child is suffering from induced psychological splitting.” However, the target parent rarely has sufficient “control” to prevent the “fools” presence. In fact I was completely hidden from who the fools were and recently when discovering who they were, I have been told to discontinue the insurance so it could be taken over by the alienator. Covert Passive Aggressive narcissists have “all the control” and they use “information” and “deception” at its core to confuse, gaslight, deflect and prevent things. Unfortunately, they actually know the fools will reinforce “the splitting”.


    1. yes I agree, this is why standards of practice are essential in this field. The plan is that we will roll out standards via the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners and then partner in the USA with practitioners to do the same there. Elsewhere in the world, if there is interest we will do the same thing. We are concerned to showcase practice which works and to educate the judiciary and attorneys/solicitors/lawyers as well as CPS and in the UK social services and other family services to understand what PA is and what works in treatment. By doing this we will illuminate the right way meaning the wrong way can be avoided. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t fast enough but with all of this work happening on a volunteer basis it is the best we can do – it will eventually get picked up and recognised as being the right way, we just have to press on. Avoid fools if you can by asking your provider of services for references – in the court arena remember you are a parent not a passive consumer of whatever you are being made to feel you should accept. Be active in searching, reading, educating yourself – go everywhere to get knowledge and keep a critical thinking approach to everything you read and are told. Stick to your core values, be true to yourself. Learn how to manage the court system to mediate the power that the other parent has.


  4. Hi Karen,
    This is all good news and feels achievable more than ever before. I Look forward to 2020 commencing and being a parent advocate for the new protocols in my country.


  5. Hi Karen. It’s great to see that there are upcoming events for Cork, Ireland to educate practitioners. I never thought I would see the day to be honest

    I have 2 daughters that have been alienated from me for almost 10 years. There were no allegations, convictions etc against me. Just total alienation over the course of the years gone by as a result of the constant barrage of emotional and psychological abuse inflicted upon my children by the other parent. I had a court access order which granted me access twice a month from 3pm Friday until 4pm Sunday. Access with my children was amazing; if I leave out the onslaught of welfare concerns they brought to me every single week. I was their rock in the midst of the alienation process and followed up on each and every one of their concerns so as to hopefully secure their safety. At present, I have not had contact with either child for Christmas, their birthdays, 1st Communions etc. I have photos, video recording, documents etc that would prove to my children that the time we spent together was happy; but I think the alienation is now so severe that these would not do any good to mend the rift between us

    To cut my story short, my oldest daughter (now 19) contacted me a few months ago and we were getting along so well. She was showing an interest in my life and I was so happy to hear from her. Then she asked to meet up in London where she now lives and works; it came across as too good to be true after the long period of estrangement. There followed a series of text messages exchanges where she has accused me of being physically abusive toward her when I lived at the family home. These allegations are not true in any way and they actually paint the picture of what was taking place at their home after I left the relationship. I am really worried for my daughters due to the fallout from the alienation. I know you provide help for parents and children in these situations and need your advice on how I can attain this help; for both me and my children. The problem is, I live in Ireland and my oldest daughter lives in London. I am not sure what my youngest daughter’s thoughts are regarding the matters at hand: but I expect it will be much the same as my oldest daughter

    I am desperate to help my children and to be honest I could endure not seeing them if I was confident they were doing ok and not suffering any mental or emotional turmoil

    I would greatly appreciate your help and advice



  6. Thank You Karen, As I have prior posted, I being a targeted mother, in which all my children are aliented today – I know time will rebuild what has been destroyed. Throughout their time being in the wrong place with their “upsidedown thinking” phenomenon the duration of trauma has significant impact to the child’s recovery, and I found just doing the basic, constant role as a parent steadfastly the child will see the stability of love exists to them always being a child. As adults the child within us lives forever, and it is comforting to know my children at one time connected the child in them with the child in me (i.e. we did SO many things together: ride horses a positive childhood experience of my own, sharing with my children, to never forget what it means to be a child. My daughter with severe parental alienation symptoms of abuse lost control of her identity to parentify me and treat me as her rival, to which she became the spouseified child. The pathology distorted her mind with suicidal ideation and attempt. Today she is an adult with Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) who has permanent scars to show as testament to how she lost 10 years of her childhood time, to never getting back. The only thing she can get back is her reconnection of the child in her, to identify with me her mother and reliving that connectedness to the child in me she once saw (i.e. riding horses). She is today finding those connections for which I taught her to sew, she bought herself a machine and has learned to sew. She is still fearful of reprisal to be in normal dialogue with me today, so when contact is made (once or twice a year) its joyful. My oldest is unable to deal with ACE and has yet to seek her connection with me, I have hope for her. My youngest is about to complete high school but is totally disconnected as time and place has her currently in an active state of parental alienation done against her. She is in a dark place, being abused by this hidden form of domestic violence for which the judge completely ignored. I lost my case in court last summer and have not heard from her since, her phone no longer replys, no emails, no means to know other than through 3rd party entities (school) do I know she is still alive. Her father or as I refer to the alientor continues to sabbatoge her equal parenting rights because of his hate. He has taken action to ruin my reputation and unfortunately the legal family court did not stand up and stop. Their only intervention was to enforce therapy where therapy made matters worse. The lesson I learned is two, get the courts to do temporary removal of custody from the alienator who is negatively impacting the child; and never text a conversation or talk unless child is in protection because anything said can be used against you in court. Reunification as Karen defines here is not a solution. Have hope for new treatments to help children with ACE from parental alienation trauma or any other type of abuse and recovery.


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