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
Iceland – Rekjavik
Ireland – Cork – March
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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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.
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AFCC – New Orleans, USA
We will be presenting at the AFCC conference on 28th May 2020.
EAPAP – Zagreb, Croatia
Family Access – Durham, N.C. USA