These are extraordinary times. Travelling through London to our Therapeutic Parenting workshop yesterday felt eery. Absence of people, like absence of toilet rolls on the shelves in the supermarket, does something to the brain, it activates our biological drive to survive. Fear is contagious, it causes anxiety and confusion, it forces us into dependency on survival instincts. When we see an absence of people on the streets, it reminds us that there is something to fear.
I was in our local supermarket a couple of days ago waiting to pay for my shopping and my eye was caught by the headlines of the day on the newspaper stand.
As I stood, waiting for the panic buyers to empty their trollies of loo roll and pasta (I could not quite believe it was true but there it was in front of me, people were buying toilet rolls and pasta in bulk), I wondered about the impact of that statement, which had been beamed around the world, on the children already self isolating from a parent because they are suffering from alienation.
I know how alienation works in children. It is a defence mechanism, caused by psychological splitting, which hides the healthy part of the child behind a false self which is made up of several parts. These parts of the alienated child, (which contrary to what is being said elsewhere on the internet, are not dissociative – ie multiple personalities – but permeable parts caused by the traumatic impact of being pressured by a parent), are how a child copes with the impossible position they placed in.
Understanding how alienated children move between those parts, means that I know that there is always a part of an alienated child which is aware of the parent they have rejected and which worries about and longs for that parent. That part is the healthy part, which is hidden by the defence structure. Whilst that part remains unconscious for much of the time, (the purpose of defence mechanisms is to keep things unconscious to protect the child), at significant points in a child’s life, the defence may weaken or break and the child comes into full consciousness of their feelings of love, worry and longing for the parent they have rejected.
The Covid19 pandemic is one of those significant points and headlines which warn that families will lose loved ones, are exactly the type of trigger which could weaken the defence and allow the true feelings of the child to emerge.
All around we are being urged to take care of each other. In the midst of stockpiling and panic buying, we are being told that our survival will depend upon altruism, not greed and self interest. People are starting to think about their neighbours, about older people and those who are self isolating. New behavioural patterns, beyond the knee jerk reaction to fear, will begin to emerge and these will be based upon connectedness and supporting each other’s wellbeing.
Now is the time to let your alienated child know that you are there, that you are well and that you are thinking about them. Now is the time to be the parent you are and to signal to your child that you are still here. If you are grandparent, now is the time to signal to your grandchild that your family are around you, protecting you and thinking about you. Now is the time for all alienated families to show their alienated child what healthy family love and care looks like.
Because your child is already self isolating via the defence mechanism they have been forced to utilise. Your child is already cut off and helpless to act upon their worries and fears and cannot reach out to you to check that you are still there for them. If all that you can do as a parent at this time is send your child a packet of hand sanitiser (should you be able to find one) or simple a note to remind them to wash hands, don’t touch their face and that their age group is not going to be affected and you are going to take care of grandma and grandpa, that is enough. If you cannot do that, a post on social media (yes they do look) about looking after each other and families supporting each other, is enough. You are not going to get anything back from these small gestures, but you are going to give them the healthy parenting they would receive if they were not blocking your incoming care due to their self isolating behaviours.
You do not stop being a parent when your child self isolates because they are alienated. Just because your child has used a defence of splitting the self and projecting that at you, does not mean you are not their parent. All of the behavioural manifestations of splitting are designed to get you to go away. If you obey them, you are simply following the wishes and feelings of the parent who has caused this in the child, a parent who is more likely to be more concerned with their own feelings than those of the child, a parent who cannot provide healthy care. That leaves the alienated child without any healthy parenting at all. Put second to the needs of the parent who is causing this, your child is also forced into a defence which blocks your incoming care. Self isolated, alienated children suffer neglect of their needs because of this, it is important to show them you are still there.
Yesterday at our workshop for parents we heard from a father and a mother who received their children back into their care after residence transfer. These parents, whose cases were heard ten years apart, told the story of how children become alienated and what happens when they come home. These parents had never met before yesterday, they live hundreds of miles away from each other. Each talked about the recovery process that their children went through from the alienated state of mind to the integrated state of mind. Their children are very different but the stories we heard, which were almost ten years apart, were incredibly similar and the child’s recovery route was almost exactly the same
This evidence, from real life, which is rich in content and which provides for us the knowledge base to build treatment routes which work for alienated children, shows us that during active phases of alienation, children are still aware at some level, of the healthy feeling they have for the parent they are being forced to reject. The way that children move between the permeable parts caused by ego splits, accounts for the way in which some children emerge from alienation rapidly (in seconds for some children) and the way that others take a much longer, much more unpredictable route to recovery.
Most of all, these case studies tell us that during active phases of alienation, it is vital that you keep signalling your survival to your child because there will be times when the split off parts of the self will emerge and their feelings for you will be available to them.
This pandemic is one such time and it is my view that all alienated children will, at some points in the coming weeks and months, be worrying about you and hoping you are ok.
You are their parent, during these extraordinary times, it is vital that you show them you are still here.
I am also seeing the effect of Covid 19 in my practice, with some parents reporting shifts in their children’s rejection responses. We, perhaps, should not be surprised that proximity seeking behaviours are activated at times of heightened anxiety. As Nolte et al (2011) suggest, ‘the biologically based activation of a child’s attachment system following distress entails coordinated behaviors that aim to address the stress response by eliciting the attention, and by ensuring the proximity and protection of attachment figures.’
In other words, stress and anxiety stimulates the biological function of the attachment system which, in turn, has the potential to confront the child with the split off object. In children, or adult children, who have become alienated, if that stimulation is significant enough, or the split off object remains sufficiently accessible within the child’s relational constellation, it is reasonable to believe that dynamic change may be possible. Rejected parents who remain attuned to this need not be passive and can, as Karen suggests, find ways to amplify any potential for change through signalling to the child that they are available to provide the warmth and care that the child is driven to seek.
Reference: Nolte, Guiney, Fonagy, Mayes & Luyten (2011). Interpersonal stress regulation and the development of anxiety disorders: An attachment-based developmental framework. Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, 5: 55.
The two cases studies from our Therapeutic Workshop provide rich evidence of the benefits of residence transfer and how alienated children recover. Working with Professor Jennifer Harman from Colorado University, these will be evaluated alongside other cases we have worked in where children are now over the age of eighteen, to provide evidence on recovery routes for alienated children.
Legal Statement Update – Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall – Family Separation Clinic, 50 Liverpool Street, London EC2M 7PY
For a period of time we have been the subjects of a false and grossly defamatory campaign which has been pursued against us. The sustained targeting and malicious posts have appeared on a website and recently on a twitter account and have caused us alarm and concern for our safety.
More than 40 articles and posts have appeared some of which are posted within a few minutes or days of each other. These have been posted by the same person as they are drafted in a similar style with similar subject matter.
Harassment behaviour is identified from at least one known person in addition to the author of this site.
We have instructed lawyers in this matter to obtain by all means necessary, the identity of the author of this site and to take all necessary actions to address harassment and defamation by known persons as well as persons unknown. In the meantime we reserve the right to apply for an Interim Injunction restraining the publication of the words complained of on both the Website and the Twitter Account above at Court 37 (The Interim Applications Court of the Queen’s Bench Division) in the event that the statements identified are not removed within 7 days.