Covid19 and Your Alienated Child

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.

Screenshot 2020-03-15 at 11.38.12

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.


From Nick:

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.

 

 


15.3.2020

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.

 

18 comments

  1. My grandchild is in Madrid, a total lock down. I haven’t been well enough to visit this city for around 5 years, this is what happens parental alienation succeeds.
    I worry for him, the pollution is high there, the lockdown will most certainly clear the air.
    It’s effected his 18 years of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thankyou Karen for this post, amidst all the worry and fear surrounding this Corona virus, there could be a positive for some alienated children and parents, a bit of hope that our alienated children could, out of fear be able to access their deep subconscious mind and gain back their deeply buried feelings of love of their alienated parent. My 18yrs old is alienated and is immuno compromised and I am beside myself with worry , his father even ridicules suppliments which I tried to give him to help boost his immune system , everything positive I have tried to help him with his health has been refused and laughed at , I just hope and pray he doesn’t get this virus , and I feel so helpless that I can’t reach out to him at a time like this, although I will of course keep trying. As usual Karen , you always restore my strength and courage to keep going on and not give up, and you bring a little beam of hope to this unbearable situation. Thankyou for all yours and Nick’s continuing support and help .

    Like

  3. She emailed me!!!!!!

    And she even asked me if I am ok!!!!!

    Love it,🇨🇦☕🙏😇💋🤗🤷🔥🌞

    Like

    1. yes, I have no doubt that there will be many children worrying about their parents and grandparents during this time Colleen. I am delighted to hear it, now that small line is open you can build on that and use this terrible pandemic into a positive to strengthen the path home to you. Love never dies, it is a simple and enduring truth. x

      Like

    2. Many thanks for such a powerful and informative event Karen. It was particularly helpful to hear from the parents who had achieved residence transfer with recognition that a lot of further work and patience is then required.
      Good luck to all.

      Like

  4. Thank you so much for this latest post. I think this is the clearest description of alienation that you have written so far and I see it so clearly now. I have already written to my four babies ( now all in their twenties ). I worry about them immensely and it had not occurred to me that they would also worry about me. I am typing with streams of tears coming down my face. I too have wondered if this pandemic will give them courage to reach out. It has been a very long time for them and they are adults now. I also want to say that I am sorry that you are suffering with all the good that you have done in your work. You are dealing with some very unwell people and I would not want to go near any of them myself having been through all I have been through. Thank you for your work that you have done and continue to do on all of our behalf. It is because of you that I can live my life with the hope that one day, and perhaps soon, that my four beautiful children will be able to come back and we can work to repair the damage that has been created. Thank you and best of luck to you.

    Like

  5. 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.

    Like

  6. I received this message from a father who was alienated for many years today – he is back in touch with his eldest daughter who sent him this –

    “I Watched this film tonight and it really upset me and (I know it’s not real ) but I just wanted you to know I always thought and cared and about you and spoke about you even when I didn’t see you , you still mattered to me and S too! S will come round she just needs to see for herself, like I did, how twisted M really is then we all should Just let it go and forget about that toxic part of life! Xx”

    Like

  7. After so many years of hoping that an event good and natural might trigger something in my daughters, I moved perversely to hoping for something bad to trigger them. Anything but the nothingness of alienation. Amazing what this does to us – that our hope is for something bad to happen, to those we love, just to upset the status quo. Perverse…

    Younger daughter has her college closed – home with Mom I presume. I have emailed her (and her sister). I don’t know if these are blocked like my texts and calls, but the silence coming back is just as deafening as the past almost four years.

    I am very easy to find. I hope they find me.

    Peace and good luck to all of you.

    Peter

    Like

  8. We sent a message. We are with the alienated child’s grandparents and we said we are ok and they are ok. We posted a picture of the child as a youngster. The result was the last avenue of not even contact, just the ability to look at a profile, was blocked, as was the ability to leave a message, even though they haven’t been read in years. I suppose at least this means feelings were triggered and maybe that’s better than apathy but the door has slammed shut, whereas it had been slightly ajar. The blindness to the truth is still seemingly fixed. The total sadness at what we and the child are missing continues. We carry on, living our best lives.

    Like

    1. The door slamming shut is a sign of movement, all is not lost and you should not see this as anything other than what it is, the trigger reaction – it will change, you just need to keep watching and living. Sending my best to you Karen

      Like

      1. Yes. I agree. It triggered a reaction, a feeling, maybe pain, possibly probably anger, but it moved and stung and that’s good. Indifference is the killer. If the unread messages are now read (without being seen to be read) all that will be read is love and compassion and empathy. Along with an apology and a call for forgiveness. The child’s enmeshed (maybe not so anymore) parent is a social media friend, so I also think the reaction is because the photo and the comments will be seen by them, and the shutdown means the child can placate them (or self protectively align with them) if needed.

        Like

      2. I searched around through other circuitous routes and found a couple of recent pictures of the young person (can’t call them a child anymore) pursuing hobbies and a livelihood (and obviously enjoying them) that showed the apple clearly didn’t fall far from the tree, indeed it’s fair to say it fell straight down! Whether the alienated young person subconsciously acknowledges this or not they are echoing and now undertaking activities and pursuits, using skills, experiences and predispositions that have been handed down from parent to child, and grandparent to parent to child. The parent and the child are doing the same things, just time and space apart. It made me smile and weep at the same time.

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  9. Thank you, Karen, for your workshop in London last Saturday. I was so happy to be able to attend and learnt so much. I suppose there won’t be any more face-to-face workshops for a while…. I’ll carry on reading your blog and follow your advice, and Nick’s, on this post. Best wishes to you both.

    Like

    1. Alan, I just put your name to your face!! Apologies for not making that connection on Saturday, it was lovely to see you again. I will be circulating information about the WhatsApp listening circle over the weekend. Kind Regards Karen

      Like

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