Working on the inside of families affected by parental alienation gives me a view like no other of the myriad of dynamics which are at play when a child’s induced psychological splitting triggers the domino effect which is parental alienation.
Whilst all cases of parental alienation demonstrate the same clear markers which can be recognised as follows –
- The child is suffering from induced psychological splitting meaning one parent is idealised and the other is rejected in the outer world
- There is an asymmetrical power dynamic around and over the child
The route that the family took to this state of affairs is always unique, meaning that the assessment and differentiation of each case becomes an essential task in order that the correct treatment route is applied.
Whilst some may tell you that parental alienation doesn’t need a diagnosis or label or to be dealt with in court, others will tell you it does.
My view is that anyone who believes that parental alienation can be dealt with by educating parents or providing some kind of therapy outside of the court system, either doesn’t work with parental alienation, has never met an alienated child or exists in a parallel universe. It is nonsense to suggest that parental alienation is about high conflict between parents or conflict caused by the court, it is not. Parental alienation is about the hidden toxicity of generations, of psychological disorder which is hidden in the family or normalised, it is about terrorisation of others by an unwell person, it is about a system being poisoned and children being held captive in plain sight. It is offensive to families affected by this to characterise parental alienation as something which could be eradicated if only the court system were not involved. As leading advocates in the UK have shown us, when the court holds the mental health intervention in a grip of steel, and the mental health intervention is applied to families where assessment and differentiation have been carefully applied, rapid successful outcomes follow.
Parental alienation demands to be held firmly and powerfully by a court system which has a higher authority than the family. When the Judge in a case does so, the asymmetrical power dynamic around the family is removed, meaning that one of the major causes of the child’s psychologically split state of mind is erased.
Power and control dynamics are a core feature in parental alienation and in my experience are a major cause of a child using the defence of psychological splitting. For when a parent is terrorising the child in the inter-psychic relationship into fearing abandonment if they do not behaviourally comply with the psychological signals being sent, losing the ability to hold two realities in mind and entering the split state of mind in order to keep loving the abuser, is what the child is going to do.
Over this coming year I am going to be unpacking for parents, the way in which the domino effect of the child entering the psychologically split state of mind triggers a whole range of other reactions in the family. This is in order to show parents who have been rejected by their child (which remember is a by product of the problem not the core problem), how to repair the damage to their own selves and the damage to their side of the family in preparation for recovery of themselves and their child. Keep this in mind, we identify the treatment route for a family by understanding as closely as possible how the child entered into using the defence of psychological splitting. The route into splitting gives us the route out of splitting, that is why careful assessment and differentiation are key to this work and why any intervention must be held by the higher authority of the court.
As I continue work on my doctoral thesis and alongside that with Nick, write the handbook for Clinicians who want to use an integrated, evidence based treatment route with families, the material which emerges is immensely valuable not only for practitioners but for parents too.
Therefore, as we progress towards formal publications, throughout 2020 on here, I will share some of the work and the thinking so that parents too can understand and use this. Because as one parent who is now in recovery and has recovered his child told us on New Year’s Eve, ‘knowledge about what is happening is like an umbrella‘ and protecting rejected parents from the rain is what I want to do most because of their essential role in their child’s recovery.
Right now in my work I am looking at shame and blame and the way in which those affected by parental alienation are often in the shadow of generational transmission of trauma. This curious phenomenon, in which historical hidden trauma is passed down the family line to be lived by the next generations, is a core part of my research work and it is here where the issues of shame and blame stand out in splendid isolation.
Shame is a relational issue, it is caused by making someone feel exposed in character and is related to morality. It is not something which is children start off in life feeling – think of the way that young children happily run around naked – but which comes as part of developmental phases. Shame is a regulatory feeling at its best, at its worst it is an experience which leaves the suffer shattered in terms of their sense of self as a healthy person. Shame is prevalent in parental alienation and it is infectious and often passed around the family and indeed anyone who works with a family affected by it.
Blame is attached to shame and the carrier of the shame is the person blamed for the problems of the family by others. Thinking about this from a transpersonal perspective, shame can be a contract between the parent and child even before the child is born. A scapegoat in the family is the carrier of the repressed shame and blame (and sometimes guilt, although the shame which is being repressed is often the guilt which is first been hidden in the family).
These dynamics are the hallmarks of the family affected by parental alienation. Forget educating the family affected in this way out of the risk of parental alienation, forget the idea that such dynamics can be cleared by people without power and interventions without teeth, these families are deeply complex and the child is significantly at risk. In my view, a specialised court for families where a child is suffering psychological splitting is the right way forward. More authority not less. More clear differential assessment, diagnosis and tailored treatments which respond to family dynamics over time, are what will address this problem. Just like addiction, parental alienation is a transgenerational pattern of behaviour which requires specialist attention.
This is because treatment of parental alienation requires nuanced understanding and a response to the way that the buried dynamics which caused the problem in the first place, unravel over time. This is how the generation game of parental alienation is interrupted and this is how children so affected will be protected from passing this on to their own children in time.
As a final part of this article I want to look at how shame and blame is passed around families affected by parental alienation as a way of projecting the split off and denied family secrets onto others. This is a critical piece of understanding for rejected parents and it is also vital for any practitioner who does this work because in entering into this work you are exposing yourself to the risk of being the person who is left holding the split of and denied parcels of blame and shame when the music stops.
Having been in this field of work for a long time now, I write from the position of having been the one holding the blame and shame parcel on more than one occasion. Advising you how to recognise when the carousel begins to spin and how to keep the blame and shame parcel in sight so that you are not left holding it, is therefore borne out of painful experience.
What I am telling you here, is the key to understanding how blame and shame is parcelled up and split off from the conscious awareness of the family in which parental alienation dynamics are rife and how to spot it and avoid it when the parcel begins to be passed around.
Shame in families affected by parental alienation is most often related to a repressed secret within the family. Sexual abuse in generations past, sometimes murder, rape, unexplained deaths, mental illness, anything that the family may have felt guilty or ashamed about but unable to face either individually or collectively. Blame is the silent agreement amongst family members for who was to blame for this shame which is too big to be absorbed or accepted. Together these powerful feelings of guilt, shame and blame, are rolled into one parcel and then split off and disposed of into the collective unconscious of the family. Now there is a dangerous parcel which is hidden from view and which is projected onto unsuspecting incomers who do not play the generation game as it has come to be played.
This is how rejected parents end up being rejected, because they do not know the rules of the generation game being played and when they become aware of them they understand that something is wrong. Often, in trying to expose that wrong, the family will protect itself by projecting the hidden issue onto the rejected parent, which is often how false allegations come into play. When practitioners who come into the family to do the work of finding out what is wrong, they become the person upon whom the secret is projected, meaning that the family protects itself from becoming conscious of the problem by projecting upon the practitioner all that is wrong. Projection is a powerful defence, it means that the person doing the projecting sees all that they cannot see in themselves in an external person. Whenever you encounter someone who is shouting loudly about how wrong someone else is, look closely at the person shouting , it will often be exactly that which they are denouncing in the person they are blaming, which they cannot see in themselves.
Practitioners in the parental alienation space are often used by the alienating parent and family members as the receptacle for their negative parcels of blame and shame. Being the receiver of negative transference is something one must become used to in this space. If you look around me you will see blame, shame, negative transference aplenty. People write about me, gossip about me, blame me and attempt to pass shame to me not because they know me, but because in entering into these families and in writing about what I do, I trigger hidden things within their own psyche which they cannot face in themselves. If you are a rejected parent you will be familiar with this feeling and it is important to get very familiar with it and learn how to deal with it if you are going to survive.
How you deal with the efforts to shame by those who are attempting to pass their split off and denied negative feelings is a really powerful skill to possess. Maintaining integrity by understand one’s own negative feelings and recognising that one is not omnipotent but in fact human and as a result of that fallible, is a good first step. For rejected parents this means recognising that whilst you are not to blame for your role as rejected bystander, you still have responsibilities to know yourself and your contributions and to stay out of negative behaviours as much as possible. For practitioners this means recognising that you are not in fact the saviour of the universe and that your own wellbeing comes before anything and everything else. When this healthy mindset is maintained, it is possible to disentangle yourself from the game of pass the parcel of blame and shame which can begin at any time in families affected by parental alienation. Rejected parents need to understand when to stand back and let the practitioners do the work, practitioners need to understand when to hand it back to the Judge to let the higher power do its work.
This is a field of work which is ruled by the very powerful ‘heroes and villains’ motif which controls our lives from the cradle and throughout our childhood into young adulthood. As we move healthily along a continuum of psychological development, we begin to integrate those fairy tales into an acceptance that good people sometimes do bad things. Unfortunately, those children affected by the induced psychological splitting defence, are exposed to one or more adults who have not made that healthy progress in life and so their development is arrested by splitting, leaving them vulnerable to a wide range of problems over their lifetime, not least the risk of living out the splitting by becoming alienated from their own children. This is why we must intervene. This is why this is the emerging child abuse scandal of this decade.
And in that last sentence lies the meta secret. The one that has been split off and denied institutionally, the one that has been buried by the very movement that has governed family separation since the divorce laws changed in the western world in the early seventies. The meta secret, that no-one wants to speak about, is the way in which feminism, itself a splitting of the human race into the good/bad archetype, has ruled family services in the western world for decades.
Anyone who doesn’t understand the impact of this institutionalised splitting, of this burying of shame and blame and guilt into the collective unconscious of the western world and this projection onto fathers of that which is denied in mothers (and the way in which this has affected alienated mothers by denial of parental alienation), does not understand the full extent to which parental alienation has affected the whole of the world.
Parental alienation is a generational game of splitting, of dividing the world into good and bad and its dynamics are complex, dangerous and deeply damaging to children, their families and the practitioners who work with them.
Holding a new reality in mind which leads to a new integrated understanding and approach to treatment is the task for all who do this work in this new decade.
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
Oh Karen, I am going to have to get auxiliary oxygen before reading another story like this explaining my life!
“Parental alienation is about the hidden toxicity of generations, of psychological disorder which is hidden in the family or normalized…”
I saw this, I saw it across generations, genders, individuals. And I saw it for decades. But I just wrote it off as them being nuts. And I wouldn’t let it ever impact “us”. But I was very wrong about who “us” was (were?).
Hidden or Normalized? So many time I pressed the mother of my daughters – “with all the volatility (a polite description), why has nobody in your family ever gone for therapy?”
The answer. Ever time. “Never tell a crazy person that they are crazy”.
Nope. No therapy. No outsiders. No windows and no doors. It took a decade to all make sense to me.
Have you moved the London parents’ workshop back a week? I had it as 7th x
Yes apologies Ally, it was down wrongly as the 7th, it is the 14th. K
Thanks you so much for doing this work. I want to bring up two points. First, you mentioned that paying attention to who is shouting the loudest about how wrong someone else is often reveals what the shouting person cannot see in themselves. I agree completely. However, there is another kind of shouter in these situations that must not be ignored: The genuinely wronged person who is frantically trying to get someone to recognize the truth of what is happening to them through the alienation, and possibly the supportive “truth telling warriors” in their lives. Early on, some rejected parents go this route once they have figured out what is happening, but still believe that logic and reason can solve the problem. They believe family, friends, and courts will be supportive if they can see the issue clearly. Of course, this approach fails every time, and truth tellers of all sorts get even more wounded when the cold Fish Eye is cast in their direction even by people who were counted on as close friends and family. It seems nobody likes to face truth directly, and so ultimately, alienated parents who initially go this route find themselves even more vilified and isolated. This desperate, but unfruitful, defense is a natural human reaction to being the recipient of an i justice. Perhaps this is a uniquely American phenomenon, but I doubt it. Considering this, it is important to bear in mind when observing the shouter that it is vital to sort the Self-blinded from the Truth Teller.
My second point is about feminism. Thank you for having the courage make that critique out loud. Of course feminism is mostly a reaction to many of the worst expressions of patriarchy, and the energy of that reaction has helped make tremendous strides in awareness of issues surrounding domestic violence. Unfortunately, it will never be as successful in shifting society as it might like until it is willing to admit that mothers are just people who have had (or adopted) babies. They are not infallible, they are not saints, and some are as capable themselves of every atrocious act of manipulation, violence, and malice that men are.