n. estrangement from oneself, typically accompanied by significant emotional distancing. The self-alienated individual is frequently unaware of or largely unable to describe his or her own intrapsychic processes.

Social alienation

is “a condition in social relationships reflected by a low degree of integration or common values and a high degree of distance or isolation between individuals.

We are living in the era of alienation, from the self and from each other.  Our world is now the size of the house we live in and our contact with our neighbours, friends, family and society is mediated via screens.  Now we all know what it feels like to be alienated from the self and other people.  We have all experienced what happens when someone is forced to adapt their behaviours in order to survive.

Watching as we all went through the same process of having our individual choices and control over our lives removed, I was reminded of how children become alienated, first from their own sense of sovereign self and then from one of their parents, a process in which they are first passively and then actively engaged.

On March 23rd in the UK, we listened to our Prime Minister tell us that we must all stay at home.  This announcement came after a build up in the media of the threat of Covid19 and images of hospitals being built in record time.  Having been prepared for the outside threat to our lives, the announcement came as no surprise.  We went into lockdown willingly because we knew that if we did not, great harm would come to us and those around us.

At first some could not tolerate (or perhaps believe) that this was necessary and there were scenes shown to us on TV in which those who had broken the rules of lockdown were shamed.  Coupled with the increasing pictures of people who had survived Covid19 who were telling us to stay at home and announcements of increasing deaths, we were soon all in line with what was required of us.

Social distancing is now so normal that when we go to the supermarket we automatically stand the correct distance apart and we do not need a measure to prove that, because we have all internalised what the safe distance is.  It has taken three weeks for that to happen.  Three weeks of feeling threatened by an outside malevolent force, three weeks of being shamed for breaking the rules and three weeks of clapping for the people who work on the frontline.  Our lives are now governed by the heroes and villains motif of alienation.  It has taken three weeks to get a whole country to that place.

As we continue into our next weeks of social distancing and stay home/shelter in place orders, we will progress through the next levels of defence.  We will bonded to the abuser (Covid19) which has kept us prisoner and depend upon our heroes (frontline workers) to keep us safe.  This dynamic will be seen when we are afraid to go back into the world in the way that we were once unconsciously free to.  When the end of lockdown is in sight, the collective adherence to the rules will break down and dissonance will begin. Is it safe to go back to our old life?  What will we do if Covid19 takes control again? Is it better to stay where we are? Better the devil we know and are now controlled by, than risk the freedoms of dependency upon our own mind again.  As we reach this stage, our dependency upon the frontline heroes, (naturally so because we ARE all dependent on those heroes) will be gradually shifted across to government and their scientific advisors.

Freedom of mind and independence of spirit will be slow to return and a cautious and somewhat defended version of the self is what will emerge from lockdown. There will be skirmishes between political parties, inquiries into what went wrong and difference of opinion about what happened to us for many years to come.  Our collective mindset is likely to be forever changed by this experience and a quickness to defensive splitting of things into safe/dangerous and therefore good/bad, will be a lasting legacy we will all live with.

Now we can all understand why a child becomes alienated from a parent, because we have all been through the process. That process is exemplified by what has happened to us all in just three short weeks.

  1. An external threat to our wellbeing is made apparent to us.
  2. A parental figure takes charge and tells us what we must do.
  3. Our behaviours are encouraged by constant streams of images, words and intentions, all designed to make us afraid of an outcome.
  4. We are rewarded for our compliance with the new rules.
  5. We are shamed if we do not comply with the new rules.
  6. We are shown images of people who have suffered and survived who tell us that we must do as we are told.
  7. When we go out into the world we voluntarily follow social distancing rules.
  8. We internalise the message the heroes and villains motif.
  9. The virus is the enemy and the parental figure will save us.
  10. We do not need to think for ourselves anymore because in an unsafe world, we just have to follow the rules to stay safe.

Compare that to parental alienation.

  1. An external threat in the form of a parent is brought to the child’s attention either overtly or covertly in the inter-psychic relationship.
  2. The parent with control tells the child that they will keep them safe from this threat.
  3. The child’s behaviour is controlled by a constant stream of words and images and worries and fears which are conveyed either overtly or covertly.
  4. When the child complies with the new rules, there is reward.
  5. When the child does not comply, shame and shunning is used to bring the child into line.
  6. The child is told about the suffering of the parent who has control, either overtly or covertly. The child is told to do as they are told and they will be safe from that suffering.
  7. When the child goes out into the world there is an automatic compliance with self isolation from the other parent.
  8. The child internalises the hero/villain motif.
  9. The other parent is the enemy and the parent who is the hero is saving the child.
  10. The child doesn’t need to think independently anymore, following the rules keeps the child safe.

The ingredients for alienation in any of its forms are quite simple –

  • A large dose of external threat
  • A figure willing to take control
  • Exposure to words, images, feelings and fears
  • Reward for good behaviour
  • Shame for non compliance
  • Words from those who have survived and want us to do as we are told

Leading to

  • Automatic compliance
  • Internalisation of the heroes and villains motif

Leading to

  • Dependence on another to keep us safe from the enemy
  • Alienation from one’s own mind, there is no need to think anymore, following rules keeps us safe.

There is no need to wonder  why children become alienated from a parent because we have all just gone through the process of alienation from the self and each other in just three short weeks.

It is not right now that we will suffer the cognitive, emotional and psychological impacts of our alienation from self and other other people, it is later, when the lockdown lifts that the impacts will be visible.

There is therefore no need to wonder why children who are alienated appear to do well during the period of ‘lockdown’ in their rejection of a parent but then struggle during transitions in later life.  The impact of alienation shows later, when the threat has passed and the lasting legacy of what has been done is apparent in the everyday life of the child.

Alienation is a life experience, it is a problem with a human face and we are all prey to it.

Understanding how easy it is to become alienated from the self and others in the current circumstances, may help us to understand further how to protect children in the days, weeks and months after divorce or separation.

At the very least it should demystify the problem because we have all just experienced it.

We are all living with the consequences of alienation of the self and from other people in the age of Covid19.

Rejected parents and their alienated children have been forced to live like this for very long time.