The Experience of Alienated Mothers: Denied, Shamed and Blamed

On International Women’s Day and amidst a growing wave of negative transference, it is time to pause and look at the ways in which mothers and fathers suffer the experience of being rejected by their child differently.

By focusing on mothers today, I am, by no means suggesting, that women suffer more or that mothers are somehow more important.  Women suffer in the alienation landscape differently to men and they are also pushed out of their children’s lives differently too.  That does not mean anything other than the way they live this experience is different and it is always important to understand that equality does not mean treating everyone the same, equality means treating people differently in order to enable them to have an equal voice.

Having worked with equality issues for much of my life, the issue of how mothers and fathers experience rejection by their child is one which is of great interest to me.  The way in which mothers and fathers who are rejected by a child are perceived by societies is also an important interest.  Jennifer Harman’s research on this aspect of parental alienation is informative in this and it is the way that mothers are conceptualised in society which brings with it the deepest levels of shame that we see when children reject parents.

Despite feminism, as women we are still raised with the idea that the very essence of motherhood is that we are the most important parent in the child’s life and that our role is primarily that of mothering and that all else comes next.  This is such a confusing message in a world that also tells women that they must be working outside of the home, successful in everything they do and at the point of separation they absolutely must assume primary care of the children.

Mothers are most often alienated in a pattern of behaviour which is the very definition of coercive control.  The removal of the right to care and share the upbringing of a child through the control of the child’s mind and feelings about their mother is often an overt strategy which begins with very common language patterns.  In our assessment work with families where children are rejecting their mother we hear the same repeated phrases from fathers –

‘She wasn’t interested in the children when they were born’

‘She isn’t very motherly, she is more masculine and interested in working’

‘She has some kind of psychiatric disorder that prevents her from connecting to the children’

‘I would love them to have a relationship with her but she is mad/bad/sad’

Commonly used phrases in mother alienation – FSC 2019

When we investigate a child’s rejection of a mother we seek to understand the patterns of behaviours in the family leading up to the child’s outright refusal. What we most often witness are the terrorisation of the mother and the witnessing of this by the children.  In that scenario, the inter-psychic messages being given to the children are that their mother is unable to be strong enough to protect them and in the dynamic which is described as identification with the aggressor, the terrorised child identifies not with the mother they love and are afraid for, but the aggression of the father. This is a survival mechanism which is largely unconscious and employed as a defence by the child because if their intra-psychic awareness is that they will be targeted next and their mother cannot protect them from that, their only option is to bend to the aggressors will in order to survive.

If we keep in mind that the child in the post separation landscape is highly attuned to the different messages passing between parents in a space which has now opened up between them, it is easy to see how mothers who leave and hope that their children will be able to manage that space are eventually condemned to the fate of losing their children completely.  This space is not a neutral space and the children are not impartial in this space either, they are vulnerable  to whoever is willing to take control over them.  When the child says an absolute no therefore,  to a relationship with a parent, in the absence of any abusive behaviour by the parent who is being rejected, it is an indication that they have had to use the defence of psychological splitting in order to survive what has happened to them.

Defensive splitting, which only happens when the child is in an intolerable position and unable any longer to hold two realities in mind, causes a child to become fixed and rejecting and at the same time, in the case of being forced into splitting by a father, the child suffers a traumatic bonding which is caused by the fear that they feel of the father. A fear that they turn into loving the father blindly as part of the defence they are using to survive.

I should say here that the alienation of a father is no less traumatic for a child who is forced to split by an alienating mother but it is different. Children who are forced into psychological splitting by their mothers are more likely to suffer enmeshment and the inability to experience themselves separately from their mother who colonises their experience and renders it indivisible from her own.

Death of the psychologically healthy child by suffocation with the mother’s own unresolved needs (enmeshment) is what we see most often in children who are rejecting their father. Death of the psychologically healthy child by terrorisation of the child into identification with the aggressor (stockholm syndrome) is what we see in mother rejection.

To give voice to mothers who are alienated we worked on a project called Living Losses in 2015.  This brought together a number of mothers to share the common threads in their experience. The words of mothers whose children had rejected them after separation can be heard as part of that project. (press the picture to go through to audio interviews)

Screenshot 2020-03-08 at 10.35.54

In all of our work in this field, it is the negative transference which colours the experience of anyone who does this work (negative transference is that which is denied in a person and projected onto the therapist or other emotional object), which is most noticeable.

Rage and spite about things which are unresolved in the self, which are split off and denied in the self and then projected at others is something which often obscures the plight of alienated mothers and obfuscates the reality of their lived experience.

An example of this is the denial of a child’s induced psychological splitting by the women’s rights groups and the projection of the belief that children only ever reject a parent because of something that parent has done.  Whilst there is a nod to the experience of alienated mothers in an attempt to call this phenomenon domestic violence by proxy, this is the classic obfuscation of denial and projection.

If this were simply domestic violence by proxy the children concerned would not be using psychological splitting as a defence and would, on recognition of domestic abuse in the family, simply be moved from the abuser to the healthy parent.  Unfortunately, because this is not just domestic violence by proxy but a mental health defence utilised by the child, this does not happen without a huge fight on the mother’s part.

This is because the children, captured by identification with the aggressor, display fear and terror not of the father but of the mother who is depicted as not motherly, never having been interested and cold and uncaring.  Until or unless this reality is properly understood, explained and acted upon, it is not possible to resolve it by declaring it simply domestic violence by proxy because the systems within which we work, will not allow it.

If a child says no and then says they are terrified of a mother then that is what will drive the case and all the jumping up and down and saying that the courts are biased against mothers in the world won’t change that.  What will change it is an acceptance of the reality that what is happening to children when they reject, is that the children themselves are having to maladapt their behaviours to survive the pathological alignment with one of their parents.

We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot say a child always tells the truth when they are rejecting their father but that the child is being forced to lie when they reject their mother, because the mechanism in the child which causes that is the same and the behaviours we see in children who reject mothers and fathers is the same. How that is caused in children however is different and we would do well to recognise and articulate that better.

Underneath the socio political denial  of this problem in post separation families, lies a mental health problem which is configured in the child as a survival mechanism.  Understanding how mothers and fathers live with the result of this is essential, understanding how it is caused is equally important, making sure we release children from the defence so that they can love their father and their mother is our overarching goal.

The concentric circles of denial, projection, blame and shame are powerful in parental alienation and it is vital we pay attention to them.

As the negative transference rises against progress in this field, we must not let our attention be dragged back into the swamplands of gender wars, but must understand difference in the lived experience of alienation, in order to build strong coalitions for positive change in this space.

Celebrating and supporting each other is how we will do that and preventing splitting between alienated mothers and fathers is an essential part of that process.

Today I send my support to all mothers  who have suffered the loss of a child still living. Your experience is not denied, it is recognised, validated and understood.

Together we press on until the reality of this social ill is fully understood around the world.

17 comments

  1. My gosh..here we go with the pity for mothers and how the aggressive behaviour of the Male is the ‘norm’.. let me tell you the so called victim mother is the biggest alienater of innocent children in the western world and other areas where the female is dominant in the corrupt practices of the family court. Here in Guernsey we have the most corrupt jurisdiction with no recourse. The current Head of the judiciary and the government is so corrupt and untouchable it’s scary. Male suicides are one of the highest rates in the western region..human rights are none existent for alienated children and fathers..the victim mother has all the power, human rights and legal aid..the family court lawyers take in millions every year here in Guernsey..nothing and I mean nothing is done. Members of the child Services and associated Services have been responsible for deaths of children and they then start up consultation practices to further destroy children and fathers….dont tell me about bloody women who are victims..my experience is totally the opposite..they epitomise pure evil and narcissistic behaviour with the help of a ultra feminist/femiman system..my 2 children have been verbally, physically abused by their victim mother, her partner, her family..she even put myittle Princess through 2 invasive examinations bases on false allegations I abused my little girl…her partners brother assaulted my little boy..nothing and I mean nothing was done..the ultra man hating magistrate virtually called my son liar…welcome to good old corrupt Guernsey…no wonder the NSPCC left the island..

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  2. It’s so tramatic.

    At times you wonder how you function and stay alive.

    I have some tips if you need.

    Colleen🤗💓🙏😇🇨🇦

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  3. O come away, O human child…..
    May these sorrowful experiences be a thing of the past sooner rather than later.

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  4. This article is spot on Karen and you are certainly right regarding QUOTE: “Until or unless this reality is properly understood, explained and acted upon, it is not possible to resolve it by declaring it simply domestic violence by proxy because the systems within which we work, will not allow it.”. END QUOTE. I have heard the same thing over and over again from partners of abusive men who insist that PA does not exist (because their ex partners accuse them of parental alienation syndrome (PAS) in court in an effort to take their children from them). Instead these women insist that the phrase ‘DV by proxy’ is more than adequate to cover what happens to those of us who first become targeted parents and then become fully alienated parents..

    I don’t know if I dreamed it, but to help these women there seems to be the very beginnings of an idea to look at the whole family (which I know you do alongside looking at the child) in cases of proved DV and a willingness to accept that men who abuse their wives may well be abusing their children in some way. Maybe THAT will finally close the gap.

    Peter………
    I am sorry that you feel as you do. I can feel your pain, it screams out at us with your words ….. but what Karen says is true. She is writing under the banner, if you like of ‘ International Women’s Day’ but I know that, come Father’s Day, the emphasis will be on alienated dads of which I know there are more than a few. Whether you are an alienated dad or an alienated mum like me, the pain is exactly the same. A living death. Hell on Earth. And it feels like all hope has gone out of the window.

    Look again at Karen’s first two paragraphs and know that all alienated parents, mothers or fathers, share the same pain. I know that you are angry (I’m angry) but expressing pain through such anger directed at your alienating partner will not help you get your children back. They don’t want to know about your pain and anger. My daughter doesn’t want to know about mine. She doesn’t want to know what her dad did to me. She loves him and to her, he is perfect. In their world, I am not; I am wholly flawed, crazy. I hate what my husband did but I don’t hate him. I simply am, for want of a better word, utterly bemused as to how he could be so determined to airbrush me, the mother of his children, out of her life as though I was less than a surrogate, a nothing in his eyes. I will never understand how it could happen to me and to my once loving and lovely daughter. But he made it happen and I live with it.

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    1. Willow, may I point out I have never abused my ex in front of the children or when my ex has accused me of the most horrific allegations in front of my children, to many others via social media and parents at my childrens schools. Yes I am angry. I’m pleased this is demonstrated via my original post. But, this anger is never directed at my ex..Equally, I acknowledge their are alienated mothers..in my location this is so very very rare so excuse my apparent sexism and lack of understanding..any father who alienates a mother from her children or children from their mother because they seek revenge are no better then those women who behave the same. The irony of my situation is I have 3 older children and 5 grandchildren..my younger children are from my second marriage..I babysit for my grandchildren and yet I’m alienated from my 2 younger children..the ex of my younger children had a string of affairs during our marriage, and left me with my 2 children asking for a divorce on valentine’s day..my youngest was just 2 months old..I started fighting for contact on December 11th 2011..I’m angry my ex wife cqn abuse and use my 2 children in such an appalling way with the help of corrupt practices and lawyers..even a local clergy person of the Cof E gets thousands for writing discriminationary reports against fathers for the family court and charges over £250 per alienated fathers to attend Parental classes…utter utter disgraceful…one alienated father spent half a million pounds fighting to see his children..family court lawyers in Guernsey are morally bankrupt but financially rich from destroying fathers and childrens rights..So, please excuse me if I’m appearing somewhat angry..not with you or other alienated parents regardless of gender..

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      1. Pete, your anger is understood and recognised as valid, I guess when you start off saying things like ….here we go with the pity for mothers…. it makes it difficult to listen properly to the rest of what you want to say. I am writing about mothers because it is international women’s day, I will write about fathers on fathers days and other days, there is no intent to hold one above the other, simply to think about difference and how mothers and fathers alienate their children differently. K

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      2. Karen, I fully understand. I’m most certainly not sexist. I understand the past and current struggle of women in the world. I’m a great supporter of equality regardless of gender, religion or sexuality. In saying this when ones whole life is destroyed purely because of their gender one must say this is not right. Mysandry is alive and well and flourishing in Guernsey especially in the family court. Destroying a childs life and creating the MH victims of tomorrow is not the signs of a caring society but a broken rotten system. Today my ex wife sent her FB freinds a message accusing me of not having xo tact for a reason..insinuating abuse was the reason..this is so so wrong..I have no recourse because I am not allowed to respond..her shocking and disturbing post stems from me seeing and talking to my child for the first time since boxing day 2014. By chance I saw my child..it was the most amazing feeling in the world..my child smiled when we spoke..nervous because her chap was present..the second occasion my ex was..today I saw my child again – by chance..this time there was an intimidating person also there..I spoke to my child ignoring the person. I left soon after as my son looked very very anxious..I cried when I was home..seeing my child look so scared because of his mothers narcissist behaviour..sadly, the media in Guernsey are run by free masons who control all voices of dissent..

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      3. You have our support Pete – know that despite all that is thrown at us we all know the truth of this terrible social and it’s impact. Sending support. K

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve recently begun researching “narcissistic sociopath”, as this is what I’ve come to realize is the closest to what my ex husband would be classified as, and this was very informative and educational. Thanks again!

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  6. Peter I am sorry that you are treated so badly by your ex and the system. It defies belief what people can do to one another and I for one find it very difficult to comprehend that they not only can, but they do without even a backward glance.

    Your child smiled when you spoke ……………… One day your child may break free and come to you. You don’t say how old your youngest are, but I assume they are young and therefore not free to find you….. yet.

    My husband told me shortly after our first child (profoundly handicapped by a very rare neurological degenerative ‘disease’) died …”If you ever leave me I will fight you for custody and I will win. You will never see her again”. The daughter he came to fully alienate was not even three years old when he told me that. I cannot even remember him ever picking up and cuddling, kissing or even helping me with our first child and after she died he would never speak of her or openly remember her again. It was beyond painful but I stayed with him because I couldn’t bear to lose my other child. By the time our surviving daughter was 15 he had fully turned her against me but I still stayed and clung on knowing that if I left him, I’d never see her again. I was prepared to pick up crumbs if it was all I could have and it was. Five years ago I could take no more of his cruelty and continuing emotional and verbal abuse. My daughter told me to get out of her life. He shrugged and when I told him I was going he told me “Good, I won’t have to share her with you any more”. He told me that, even though I had been a very good mother “She grew up and saw you for what you are”. What he meant was, he TOLD her what I was in his eyes and to him I was worthless. She believed his every word and even repeated some of the phrases he used to attack me. I left. I was broken but I have survived and I found a wonderful PEACE without him. I have not seen or heard from my daughter in over five years and I know that without help (which is too late since she is now an adult but still enmeshed with her dad) she will never change her mind or the beliefs about me which he planted.

    I repeated my story here because Peter, you still have hope. I have none. You have other children. I have none. You have grandchildren. I will never know the joy of a grandchild. Believe me I know the pain and I know the utter disbelief and pain of deserving none of this. I also know what it was like to be married to a narcissist though even now I can hardly believe all the things he put me through or all the losses in my life. You see, to me Peter, you are lucky because you still have children in your life and you still have a glimmer of HOPE.

    We are all hurting Peter and we need to stick together.

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    1. Willow, your story always hits me. I did know of your first child and her consequent death and to be told you can not talk about or grove her. You are still a Mother of two children to have the Father tell you not to speak of her again is in humane. I also find it interesting how similar our experiences are. I was pushed into an abortion by mine when we were in our early twenties and was never to discuss it later we suffered a miscarriage and again his response was bizzare and I was shut down from discussing . When our first child was finally born he said in the hospital no matter where you go I will always find you. Again it was bizarre comment then when fell pregnant with our third which he really pressured for he said “good now you have 3 kids no man will ever want you” again bizarre comments and I felt tricked and used. What I now realise was sexual and procreation abuse.

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      1. Hi Willow, truly sorry to read your traumatic experiences at the hands of a barbaric, exploitative insult to the Male gender. I empathise with you..because I had had cancer and therefore chemo the only Avenue opened to us for children was IVF..I truly believe I was used to give her children..when she left for an ex she meet again on FB she cleared out the bank account, paid for his flights, and set up home with the ex wife of one of my best freinds.this after severely beating me up..she wanted me to hit her so she could ‘get me for something’. I didn’t of course. Anyway, her fun over when he went back to his partner she wanted to come back..I told her no..she then assaulted me in front of the children and called the police..she accused me of assault..I was having contact with my 2 children from the March to the December when she stopped contact.she had another chap who like the first chap insisted my son call him ‘daddy’. My nightmare and my childrens nightmare started on 11 December 2011…its still going.. May I ask if you would be so kind and sign my petition and circulate to all your freinds etc..your support would be most most appreciated….Can you help get my petition to 99 signatures by the end of today? I started a petition and I need you to sign and share it now. please share on your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts
        http://chng.it/tn5Lnp9C

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  7. Hey Freud?!
    Hello again (big smiley face emoji if I could only post one on here!)
    We were too innocent to know what we were getting when they found us weren’t we? I was 17 years old when I met my husband and I missed so many red flags….. or excused them and thought it was me that was the problem. Now I know better.

    Perhaps times have changed since I was 17 (it is a VERY long time ago) but I’m not always sure we’ve come so far. Before we were married, I told him that I’d missed my period (very unusual for me to be that late). His immediate reaction was to ‘air punch’ my stomach. Why didn’t I run for the hills!!!!

    I had a miscarriage between having my two children and it was in the days when no one had any sympathy. In hospital I cried and was told to pull myself together by the nurse on duty. When I got home next day it was ‘business as usual’. It was as though nothing had ever happened. Maybe it was just the times I lived in. There was no emotional support when I found out that our first child had a condition ‘incompatible with life’. I cried almost daily for the two months between that bomb shell and giving birth to our second child. They had told us when I was 7 months pregnant, there was a one in four chance of our unborn baby having the same condition and I was terrified. My husband told me “I’m sick of coming home every day to your miserable face”. So I tried to hide how I felt. There was no counselling then and no counselling when she died. I was desperate for help to cope with my almost three year old (thankfully unaffected) but there was nothing, nothing at all so I muddled on as best I could. I hope that things are different now. It crippled me when the first anniversary of her death arrived, and I cried only for him to ignore me and from then on he acted as though he hadn’t even thought about the meaning of the day let alone remembered her.

    What frustrates me now more than ever before is that he could do what he did and have no conscience about it and, not only that, but my daughter thinks he is the best dad that ever lived. My self esteem was and still is shot to pieces and I still find it very hard to let people in. It’s a crazy world that we have lived in.

    My husband was damaged by his parents and I got caught up in it all. How damaged my daughter is remains to be seen. There are times when I long to have her in my life but there is such a brick wall guarding her; it will never come down.

    xxxx

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    1. Yes, my ex also very damaged by his parents. Your comment of “I don’t want to come home to your misery”. God so similar to me. I was told that many a time over During critical periods. I was never aloud to be sad otherwise his needs would not be met. However, my nightmare continuous as my children are still young. My eldest still semi alienated but my two youngest are not and we have equal shared care….. now my middle child is being pressured and recruited with cult like messages from my eldest daughter who sadly believes her Dad. My middle child has both her Dad and older sister making constant comments and her poor self is crumbling. I am again powerless to do anything having spent much of my money on the first court trial with a hopeless outcome because of the over cautious judge who would not act swiftly and decisively. The control and abuse continuous on me and my children. This week I just really struggled with the continued power he has. It’s never going to stop and some days I just get so tired of trying to keep my head above water. But then I look at the photo of my girls on the fridge and I gather myself together and rally on. I am looking forward to Karen’s online workshop For rejected parents to gather More skills to keep moving forward as best I can.

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