EAPAP Conference 2020 News

This year, the EAPAP Conference brings together some of the most skilled clinicians in working with children’s induced psychological splitting, along with highly respected clinicians in the treatment of trans-generational trauma and its treatment and researchers who are concerned with power and control in families affected by divorce and separation.  The conference will examine areas of concern in families affected by alienation such as false allegations and attachment trauma and will also hold key lectures successful interventions with children affected by induced psychological splitting (alienation).

Child protection is the core theme of the conference, which is hosted by the Child Protection Centre of Zagreb.

This is a conference for practitioners.  It is designed to enable those who are already involved in this space and those who would like to know more, to immerse themselves in learning, discussion and consideration of all of the key issues which affect families where children are induced to use the defence of psychological splitting in divorce and separation.

The conference has been expanded to include a third day which will be open to the public with additional lectures and materials available for those who attend.

From Professor Gordana Buljan Flander, Ph.D.

Dear colleagues, children’s friends from all sectors,

After careful evaluation of the corona virus epidemic, which has brought us this unpredictable time, and with the desire that all already registered participants have the opportunity to listen to the lecturers which we have gathered for you, we have decided to adapt and hold the Third European Conference with international participation EAPAP (European Association of Parental Practitioners) organized by the Zagreb Child And Youth Protection Center in the form of LIVE WEBINAR from September 16-18, 2020.

“Parental Separation, Alienation and Splitting: Healing Beyond Reunification” is the name of the conference, from which the course of action and goal of EAPAP is clear, namely a deep understanding of alienation and other difficulties for children related to parental separation, as well as the development of clear and scientifically based guidelines for the work of all child protection professionals.

The Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center’s Initiative “28 Truths of the Profession in Protecting Children from Emotional Abuse in Parental Divorce: Establishing Good Practice in Croatia” from last summer garnered more than 800 signatures from experts of different profiles from Croatia and the region, after Karen and Nick Woodall held lecture in Zagreb,

The lecture was viewed in person and via live stream video by more than 3000 interested experts and practitioners.

This excellent response from the Croatian expert public has unambiguously shown the interest, need and goodwill for further development in this area, which is not surprising since about one third of parents’ divorces are complex and the most frequent victims of adult difficulties, poor system coordination and relentless flow of time – are kids.

EAPAP is opening a new chapter on child protection in this area in Croatia, and more than twenty eminent lecturers from Europe, the USA and the region are expected, with multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral, scientific, but also practical presentations, discussions and solutions.

We look forward to your arrival and taking new steps in child protection.

On behalf of the Organizing Committee,

Professor Gordana Buljan Flander, Ph.D.

REGISTRATION LINK: https://en.eapapzagreb2020.com/registracija

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Alienation of the Self From the Self: The Problem for Children Induced to Use Defensive Splitting

I continue my work with families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting. Regular readers will recognise that I no longer use the term parental alienation very often when I am writing, this is because as a psychotherapist, working in clinical settings, the reality of what I am working with requires the correct labelling of the problem.

It requires the correct clinical label because to use the phrase parental alienation in therapy is to entrench the defence not release it. In my work with families I have not often used the label parental alienation but I have in my writing in the past. I no longer do so because I recognise that it is unhelpful in practice with families and it is unhelpful in discussions about the issue.

There is a worldwide drive at the moment to push the work done in this field back into the shadows and to project upon it the negative transference from ideologues who want everyone to believe that induced psychological splitting in a child of divorce and separation is not real.

This ideological stance, which holds that only abusive fathers claim that their child is alienated, is an organised industry, which is focused upon returning the power over children after divorce and separation, to the hands of their mothers.

Whatever we call it, alienation of a child in divorce and separation is a real thing.  In assessment, all of these children show the same signs of induced psychological splitting, in which they experience the world in black and white terms. Most, if not all, show signs of identification with the aggressor, a psychological defence which enables a child who is afraid of abandonment or other such threats, to split off and deny the anxieties which come with that and project them at the parent they are rejecting. It does not matter whether those children are being influenced to do that by a mother or a father, the clinical markers are exactly the same. Leaving the claim that parental alienation is only used as a tool by abusive men, wide open to dismissal.

Mothers who are rejected by their children experience the same thing as fathers, their children behave in more or less the same ways, although the narrative is slightly different around the family. In rejection of mothers, children and their fathers will describe mothers as cold, detached, never interested in the children, mentally unstable and harmful to their children. In rejection of fathers, children and their mothers will describe fathers as dangerous, abusive, never interested in their children, narcissistic and harmful to their children.  However we want to describe this to the outside world, the markers are the same and when alienation is being used as a tool by abusive parents (and it sometimes is), the reality is that the clinical markers seen in children, which all emanate from the use of defensive splitting, are simply not present.

Keeping the focus on children who suffer from defensive splitting means ensuring that their experience is articulated carefully and repeatedly.  If we look away from the core of this issue for too long, the ideological belief that children’s needs are indivisible from those of their mothers takes hold again.  Children’s needs are not intrinsically linked with the rights of their mothers, they are individual and sovereign and they require our separate attention.  Neither are children’s needs intrinsically linked with the rights of their fathers, they are individual and sovereign and require our attention.

The reality of what happens to children who reject a parent outright after family separation, when the clinical markers of induced psychological splitting are present, is that they are suffering an alienation of the self from the self.  Amy J L Baker wrote this in 2007 in her book ‘Breaking the Ties that Bind’ (page 107) and it is that one simple sentence which, in my view as a psychotherapist, working with children in recovery from alienation, sets out the whole of the problem for the child.

Induced psychological splitting in a child of divorce and separation causes alienation of the self from the self,  which means that what we are working with clinically is what Winnicott (1965) called the false self.  This self arises via distorted parenting practices and the projection of parental anxieties onto the child who creates a defensive split in response.   This defensive split causes the child to mirror behaviours back to the parent who is causing the problem, confirming for them that their anxieties are with foundation. In reality, this is how alienation in a family begins.

In my work over the past decade, I have understood that the behaviours in children who are said to be alienated are indeed the result of this false self.  This has enabled an understanding of why children who suffer it are so determined that they are not being influenced by a parent and it has helped us to develop an approach to structured interventions which does not entrench the problem but relieves it.  What I have also come to understand, is that untreated, this false self in a child, continues into adulthood, which is why it is so very difficult for those who were alienated in childhood to understand what has happened to them.

The false self is the adapted self. In therapeutic work it presents as an organised self which is often well structured and capable. The false self is often a people pleasing self, keen to ensure that others are kept stable and happy. In this respect, it is easy to see that the child of divorce and separation, who aligns with the anxious parent who is wounded and angry, has learned to regulate that parent by providing them with the perfect helper in their time of need.

The false self however is a sign that the child’s right to a sovereign self has been taken from them. It is a sign that the child has been co-opted into a coalition with another or others who have imposed their beliefs upon the child. As Alice Miller told us, in her book Thou Shalt Not Be Aware (1981)

Only when we acknowledge the trauma involved can we being to understand how childhood repression poisons all subsequent relationships for its victims.

The work that we are now doing at the Family Separation Clinic is focused upon the development of theory and practice with children of divorce and separation which enables all psychotherapists to work with children who are induced to use psychological splitting as a defence.  Putting together the psychoanalytical evidence with the interventions which are focused upon resolving trauma is the basis of this work.

With skilled clinicians from around the world, we aim to help children of divorce and separation who suffer alienation of the self from the self, to find the help that they need to return to their true sense of self.

A right which has been repeatedly removed from too many children for too many decades because of ideologically driven focus upon the rights of parents over the needs of children.

A tragedy which has been overlooked for far too long.

 

References

Baker, A., 2007. Adult Children Of Parental Alienation Syndrome. New York, NY [u.a.]: Norton.

Miller, A.,  1981. Thou Shalt Not Be Aware. London: Pluto Press.

Winnicott., 1965. The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. New York: International Universities Press.

 


EAPAP 2020 – Parental Separation, Alienation and Splitting: Healing Beyond Reunification.

Featuring leading clinicians in the field of trans-generational transmission of trauma, attachment and relational trauma, power and control dynamics and treatment of alienation in children and families, this conference will take place this year with a focus on clinical practice with families.

More news this coming week.

Where the Bodies are Buried: Relational Trauma Through the Generations

As I continue my research work, the concept of transmission of relational trauma through the generations, stands out clearly against the backdrop of many of the cases of parental alienation I have worked with.

Clearly marked with significant unexplained events, the families where children who are induced to use the defence of psychological splitting in the trans-generational case of relational trauma, are indelibly marked with behaviours which are very difficult to understand.

The child who reports to their mother that they were sexually abused by their father, when there is no evidence of this at all. The children who say that their mother has broken their arms and legs, when there is nothing to be seen. Reports of harm done in circumstances where the parent accused has not been in contact with the child at all, which lead to convoluted explanations of how the parent (who was in prison at the time) could have escaped without anyone knowing to abuse the children and then slip back into custody without anyone knowing.

These are not easy situations to work with and the first rule in all trauma transmission cases is to protect the child above all else.  Unfortunately, because of the way in which so many professionals prefer to take the words of the child as the spoken truth, protection is often the last approach which is taken.

A child in a case of transmission of trauma across the generations is not speaking their own truth but is attempting to articulate an unutterable truth which has lain hidden in the inter-psychic world of someone in the family, often for decades. Finding where the bodies are buried in such families has been my abiding interest in this field, because it is clear that when the bodies are brought to the surface, the children in the here and now are liberated from the shackles of the past.

This isn’t easy work, because the purpose of secreting the trauma away in the inter and intra-psychic, is to enable the person who suffered it to continue to live without psychic disintegration.  As each generation is born, the hidden capsule of trauma is passed in the attachment, creating an unknown legacy which will erupt when the configuration of dynamics around the carrier child is right.

Most of these families present in the same way.  They are closed and inward looking, defensive and protective against the outside world, they are without boundaries on the inside.  Each person in this family has access to all information about all other members. The person who has split off and denied the trauma, may no longer be alive, but a living shrine to his/her memory will be carried within the family. You will hear the evidence of this in the hushed and reverent tones that family members use when they speak about this person. If alive, this person will be the rock of the family, the one who holds it all together, the one who survived a hell that is unspeakable.  If dead this person will quite possibly be brought alive through the naming of a child or grandchild whose life is intended to prolong the existence of the quality of the person who is revered.

Silence in these families is rare. These families talk a lot, shout a lot, make a lot of noise. They appear to be jolly and busy and to the far circles of their existence, they may be admired as being a productive and a happy family.  To the closer circles of their family, especially to the ones who do not join with the idealisation of the trauma carrier, the atmosphere is claustrophobic and slightly nauseating. The denial of the trauma produces a false familial self and an individual disconnection from authenticity.

When working with such families the protection of the children first is essential because when they are pushed into using defensive splitting, it is usually because they are becoming entangled in the manifestation of the secreted trauma.  False allegations in these cases are often bewildering because of the way in which a parent is fused to the allegation which is being made by the children. Even in the face of evidence of absolute impossibility of abuse having been carried out (as in the case of a parent in prison), the efforts that this parent who is fused to the allegation, will make to explain how it is true, make it clear that this is not abuse by a distanced parent but something else.  On separation of the child from such a parent, the retraction of the allegation is swift, leaving the bare bones of what is happening exposed.

I am not someone who believes that people who make false allegations of this nature should be punished, they have suffered enough. I do believe however, that people who carry trauma in this way and who have passed it to their children, should be prevented from forcing their children and grandchildren to carry the result of the trauma forward.

In such circumstances, where children are relieved of the burden of carrying unresolved familial trauma, I also see that if the parent or grandparent who is carrying the trauma is not assisted, their contact with the children cannot be safe.  I hope before I finish my time in this field, we will have found a way to help sufferers of this trauma to resolve it, so that they are able to provide safe contact for those children whose lives do not belong to the past but to a free and healthy future.

Alienation of a child is not a right/wrong issue, it is not about good and bad and it is not about heroes and villains. It is about the deeply complex traumatic landscapes which are inhabited by families and about the ways in which we have yet, collectively, been able to to assist them effectively.

Learning about how to work in this landscape is about understanding the depth and complexity of it, bringing up the bodies is about respect, care and service to families.

This is about working in a field hospital, not being on a battlefield. It is about understanding that each individual family suffers its own unique issues. It is about responding to those issues in ways that are tailored to the needs of each member of the family, the one who caused the problem as well as those who suffer it.

Above all this is about being human in a world which lost its humanity for someone a long time ago.

Protecting children whilst keeping that in mind is how we proceed in this landscape.

Protecting The Vulnerable: Differentiation Skills for Rejected Parents

One of my biggest fears for parents who suffer rejection by their children is the way in which this causes emotional and psychological vulnerability. Loss of critical thinking skills does not just happen to alienated children, it happens to rejected parents too.

This is because the problem of induced psychological splitting in an alienated child, which occurs in the child first and then radiates outward to the parents, the wider family and beyond to friends and even to family pets, is a negative projection that the rejected parent has to deal with.

Negative projections are a mechanism for dumping everything that someone cannot carry in themselves, onto others.  Receiving this is a bit like being used as a trash can.  Carrying all of the blame and shame of being rejected is disorientating and it is extremely anxiety provoking.  Mix that up with the potential for being in contact with psychologically unwell people on the internet, having to deal with the influencing parent and carry on with day to day living and there comes a time when break-down looms for many parents.

Differentiation skills are essential for rejected parents and the rules of coping are very clear.

  • Keep your own health and mental wellbeing firmly at the forefront of your mind. Choose where you put your energies and where you put your focus.
  • Find others who have recovered their children and ask them for help. Do not trust any who cannot show you their own capacity for successful change.
  • Take the greatest care when seeking advice from any non legal people about your court case. Too many parents have tripped into a nightmare by not knowing the very serious rules which apply in the family courts.  Do not share anything from your case with anyone who does not have permission to see your paperwork.
  • Do not talk about your personal case on the internet, do not name your children or the parent who is influencing.
  • Take the greatest of care with your online interactions with others and in groups.
  • People who lead groups should have the capacity to demonstrate their qualifications for giving guidance and should know the parameters of their role. Do not be afraid to ask for information about what qualifies someone to give you guidance.
  • Campaigning is great, it is not however the antidote to your case and nor is it the antidote to the problem of induced psychological splitting in a child. Well organised campaigns work wonders, poorly organised campaigns cause devastation in the struggle to raise public consciousness of the problems affecting children in the post divorce and separation landscape.
  • As I have said before, question everything, keep your critical thinking skills sharp, learn for yourself what is necessary to get through and do not put blind faith in anyone.

And finally, here are some things to keep firmly at the forefront of your mind, because it is not the case that we are all in this together, some are in it for very different reasons and as rejected parents you are vulnerable to not being able to see this.

Therefore as you navigate the online world of the rejected parent remember –

  • Not all parents who claim to be rejected are.
  • Not all allegations are false.
  • Not all claims of expertise are based in truth.
  • The problem of alienation is highly unlikely to be eradicated anytime soon, the problem is human, it has a history and like Covid 19 it is probably here to stay.

The National Association for Alienated Parents in the UK can be reached here

NAAP represents parents who have been unjustifiably rejected by a child and uses a differentiation approach to support of parents, ensuring that it is a safe and trusted space for parents who are suffering the results of rejection.

Training to members of NAAP took place in February of this year and counselling support for parents affected by alienation will be available through NAAP shortly, supported by my supervision.

NAAP is run by Peter Davies who is legally qualified and by Andrew Teague who  campaigns for change across the UK, organises training and who is developing educational materials in schools in England and Wales.

This is the only group that I am involved in supporting in the UK, this is because of the qualifications and experience of the team and their proven commitment to protecting rejected parents and their children from harm.


 

Haunted: The Way of the Unconscious Alienator

One of the most complex alienation scenarios is that of trans-generational haunting, a concept explored by Abrahams and Torok in their book published in 1994 entitled The Shell and The Kernel.  For anyone who does this work, the possibility that a child is being influenced by the inter-psychic relationship with a parent to whom they are strongly, anxiously and defensively aligned, should be a key aspect of any assessment.

I read somewhere recently, an indignant thread by mothers who were making fun of the idea of unconscious alienation, not knowing in their defensiveness, that they were giving clues to the reality of their lived experience.  The atmosphere of trans-generational transmission of trauma is defensive, it is angry and indignant and it is thick with denial.  The idea that children who are in the care of parents who are carrying trans-generational trauma which is unknown and unresolved, cannot become alienated, is like telling the world that Covid 19 cannot be transmitted between parents and their children. This is how unresolved trauma passes in such cases.

Case History (based upon a real case which is heavily disguised to protect the children and parent to whom they were eventually moved)

Anna, Louis and Leanne were three children who lived with their  mother in a farmhouse in the countryside. Their grandmother and her fourth husband lived in a converted barn on the property.  Their mother and father separated after four years of marriage.  Anna, the first child, was born two years before her parents got married. Louis was born the year of their marriage and Leanne was born in the year that the couple got divorced.

When their parents separated, their father left the farmhouse to live with members of his family some seventy miles away. He didn’t own the farmhouse, it was owned by the children’s grandmother, who had allowed the family to live in the property whilst they were together. The mother stayed on after the father left and the grandmother moved in leaving her husband to live alone in the barn.

On the three occasions that the children left the farmhouse to stay with their father at his home seventy miles away, the mother and grandmother were extremely disturbed. The grandmother wanted to find out where the children were going and tried to persuade their father to stay in a hotel close by. When he said no, she tried to get him to stay in the barn with her husband but the father was determined to take the children for weekends at his new place.

After the second occasion, the children came home with stories of the father’s drunken escapades. He had left them alone and gone drinking in a local pub with his brother. The mother and grandmother were horrified and drew together to discuss the situation. The grandmother stopped going to the barn to see her husband completely and the whole family began to live in a state of locked down anxiety.

On the third occasion that the children went with their father for the weekend the eldest child telephoned her mother to say that their father had attacked them in the night.  The mother, grandmother and grandfather, now recruited by the grandmother to assist them in retrieval of the children, drove the seventy miles to collect the children.

When they arrived the children were not there and a state of heightened panic set in. The grandmother called the police to say that the children had been abducted. A search of the area ensued.

The children were eventually found playing on the beach with their father and some of his friends and their children. A game of cricket was underway which was spoiled by the police arresting the father for abduction. 48 hours later, with the evidence of his paternity and the arrangement for his care of the children, the father was released.  He did not see his children again for 36 months. What occurred during that time was little short of horrific.

A case of trans-generational trauma transmission in divorce and separation can cause enormous damage to children and to parents. To the parent who is rejected it can cause immense harm and life changing psychological injuries from which it may not be possible to recover. This is because this kind of alienation of a child is undertaken at such deep inter-psychic levels of interaction in families, that it can be impossible to detect without awareness. The reality is that this kind of alienation is not about brainwashing the child, it is not about bad mouthing or alienating strategies and it has far more clinical markers than the ordinary cluster of signs which denote psychological splitting is present in children.

Bako and Zana (2020) describe the core experience of individuals carrying unresolved trauma  thus –

The damaged self cannot shift the individual out of this state. The traumatised person is unable to reflect either on himself or on the external world: he exists as if this sudden, unexpected event could repeat itself at any moment. He lives in this self made intra-subjective space, and it is here that he operates his relations. It is through this space that he perceives, interprets and reacts to the world and events around him.

Bako and Zana go on to say that the risk factor for a trauma becoming trans-generational is the silence that surrounds the original traumatic experience. If that has not been spoken about it cannot be symbolised, (language gives symbolic meaning to experience) and thus it cannot be digested as part of an experience which happened but which is no longer happening.

When the event is silenced and the victim cannot digest it, the splitting off of the unutterable suffering is left unmourned.   In these circumstances the trauma victim can only perceive the world through the felt sense of this defence and the trauma hibernates in the unconscious. This is the concept of the crypt which Abrahams and Torok (1994) speak of and which Bako and Zana (2020) describe as a capsule which resides in the unconscious. What happens in these circumstances is directly pertinent to what we see in trans-generational trauma transmission in cases of alienation – (page 15)

In the intrasubjective psychological space, robbed of some of his feelings and experiences, the traumatised individual is lonely and feels that he cannot share what has happened to him. To resolve this loneliness, to be able to take unspeakable experiences and share them with others, he chooses a more concrete form of sharing the experience. He is able to share the internal world he inhabits, the atmosphere he lives in, by creating an extended intrasubjective state or field of experience, through which is able to relate to and communicate with others. This extended intrasubjective field can be called a trans-generational ‘atmosphere’. This internal space – in which the trauma survivor lives out his important relationships – is safer for him than the threatening outside world. The survivor draws his environment, family – including yet to be born children – into this atmosphere and it is mainly within and through this atmosphere that he is able to communicate with them.

This trans-generational ‘atmosphere’ is described by Haydee Faimberg (2005) as being the ‘telescoping of generations‘ which is a presentation which is all too clearly seen in these cases of alienation of children.  In such families, there is no hierarchy between the generations and the past appears in the present and infects the future through the family holding a defensive position, in relationship to the unutterable suffering of the traumatised victim.  Such a person is seen at the heart of the family with the family members each holding protective positions between that person and the outside world. Often spoken about as being the ‘rock’ of the family, collective identity coalesces around the idea of that person holding the family together. In reality, that person’s unresolved trauma is that which has created the tightest of silences around the trauma capsule and which has created the over exaggerated defensive coalition seen in such families.

Case History – putting the pieces together

For Anna and Louis and Leanne, their involvement in the defensive coalition with their family extended to escalating and serious allegations of sexual abuse against their father. Unchecked, these allegations spiralled out of control to fantasy like proportions. All three children were examined but there were no signs of sexual abuse. All three children were ABE interviewed but there was nothing in what any of them said which was externally corroborated or even considered by the police to be possible.  Horrifically, the children’s father was on bail for the period of time that all of this unfolded, even though he was not with the children when the sexual abuse was said to have occurred.  Eventually the conclusion was reached that the allegations were emanating not from the mother but from the grandmother. Investigation of her life showed the source of the trauma which was being projected into the present.

For this grandmother, loss of children from her first marriage was an unspeakable trauma from which she had never recovered. After her husband left her to return to France, he took her three children with him and she never saw them again because they died in a fire at their home with their father aged 6, 8 and 12.  This grandmother, had gone on to have five more children with her second and then third husband.  Those five children were clustered around her even though they were all over the age of thirty. Two lived at home with her, one lived in the farmhouse and the other two lived just five miles down the road in the nearby village.  All of these children had had children of their own. All of those children were clustered around this grandmother who was considered to be the heart of the family.  Most of the grandchildren had mothers and fathers who fell in with the expectation that close to home was how this family lived and home was where this grandmother was.  Only Anna, Louis and Leanne had a father who did not conform to the unspoken expectation that staying close to home was the correct way to live.  He suffered significantly for this.

Anna, Louis and Leanne became the living representations of three children who were taken to France, never to be seen again.  The tragedy for the original trauma victim in this story is that the unresolved encapsulated loss led to another loss in the here and now as the three children were moved to live with their father. Sadly for the family, the return to the silencing of the trauma, via the belief that the children had been telling the truth about the sexual abuse and that the Court had got it wrong, meant that the children had to be protected from their maternal family.  Despite all of the evidence, the children’s mother had still wanted to subject them again to examination for sexual abuse. Even when the facts were put in front of them, denial and focus upon the father as perpetrator continued. 

I would like to say that these cases are rare but in my experience they are not rare, they represent a significant percentage of overall cases of alienation.  This is why the recent Appeal Court Judgment in Re S is so welcome because it clearly sets out the reality that unconscious alienation of a child is as serious as conscious manipulation.

With the growth of campaigns which deny alienation and which themselves appear to be refuges for parents involved in this kind of harm to children, it is all the more important to clearly set out the routes by which unconscious alienation of a child can occur.

Instead of encouraging denial and continued blame projection,  families where this type of alienation of a child is present, need clear routes out of the dense fog that hides the multiple layers of defensive splitting that hides unresolved trauma.

If we cannot do that, then we are merely condemning those who suffered trauma in the past, to replay it out in the present and future using as yet unborn generations of children as pawns in that re-enactment.

The way of the unconscious alienator is not difficult to understand if you know where to look for the dynamics which occur in such families.  Healing the problem relies upon making the unconscious conscious and addressing splitting, denial and projection behaviours.

Children are sovereign beings who have the right to live their own lives, freeing them to do so is the most important task of all for anyone who is working in this space.  These children are suffering from a non accidental injury to their mind and they need urgent protection.  Dealing with the splitting and denial that children can be haunted by a past they have no knowledge of, is an important part of that work.

 

References

Abraham, N., Torok, M. and Rand, N., 1994. The Shell And The Kernel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Bakó, T. and Zana, K., 2020. Transgenerational Trauma And Therapy. London and New York: Routledge.

Faimberg, H., 2005. The Telescoping Of Generations. London: Routledge.

 

 

The Right To An Unconscious Experience of Childhood.

The United Nations Rights of the Child is a set of commitments to supporting children to live a life which is free from harm and which enables them to enjoy relationships with everyone who loves them.

In the recent Judgment (Re S) the Court of Appeal set out its expectation in terms of the way in which children affected by alienation should be protected.

8.  As to alienation, we do not intend to add to the debate about labels. We agree with Sir Andrew McFarlane (see [2018] Fam Law 988) that where behaviour is abusive, protective action must be considered whether or not the behaviour arises from a syndrome or diagnosed condition. It is nevertheless necessary to identify in broad terms what we are speaking about. For working purposes, the CAFCASS definition of alienation is sufficient:

When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

To that may be added that the manipulation of the child by the other parent need not be malicious or even deliberate. It is the process that matters, not the motive.

This is a highly significant statement, which properly sets out the route by which the Court seeks to protect a child who is being alienated.  It clearly shows that whether the parent who is the cause of the alienation of the child is doing it deliberately or doing it unconsciously, the harm to the child is the same.

Further clarity is given in the following statement about residence transfer.

  1. Cases at the upper end of the spectrum of alienation place exceptional demands on the court. It will recognise that the more distant the relationship with the unfavoured parent becomes, the more limited its powers become. It must take a medium to long term view and not accord excessive weight to short-term problems: Re O (Contact: Imposition of Conditions) [1995] 2 FLR 124 per Sir Thomas Bingham MR at 129. It must, in short, take action when and where it can do so to the child’s advantage. As McFarlane LJ said in Re A (Intractable Contact Dispute: Human Rights Violations) [2013] EWCA Civ 1104; [2014] 1 FLR 1185 at 53:“53. The conduct of human relationships, particularly following the breakdown in the relationship between the parents of a child, are not readily conducive to organisation and dictat by court order; nor are they the responsibility of the courts or the judges. But, courts and judges do have a responsibility to utilise such substantive and procedural resources as are available to them to determine issues relating to children in a manner which affords paramount consideration to the welfare of those children and to do so in a manner, within the limits of the court’s powers, which is likely to be effective as opposed to ineffective.”

Contrary to what some have said in recent months, the Court is the place where power and control over a child by a parent who is unwell or who is simply determined to drive the other parent out of the child’s life, should be dealt with.

The statement that the more distant a relationship with an unfavoured parent becomes, the more limited its powers become, is a welcome recognition of the need to act early in such cases.

The final part of the summary of this Judgment, sets out that early action is essential and that it is not necessary to wait for serious harm to occur before action is taken.

13. In summary, in a situation of parental alienation the obligation on the court is to respond with exceptional diligence and take whatever effective measures are available. The situation calls for judicial resolve because the line of least resistance is likely to be less stressful for the child and for the court in the short term. But it does not represent a solution to the problem. Inaction will probably reinforce the position of the stronger party at the expense of the weaker party and the bar will be raised for the next attempt at intervention. Above all, the obligation on the court is to keep the child’s medium to long term welfare at the forefront of its mind and wherever possible to uphold the childand parent’s right to respect for family life before it is breached. In making its overall welfare decision the court must therefore be alert to early signs of alienation. What will amount to effective action will be a matter of judgement, but it is emphatically not necessary to wait for serious, worse still irreparable, harm to be done before appropriate action is taken. It is easier to conclude that decisive action was needed after it has become too late to take it

In all, the points set out, offer greater clarity on how the Court can manage a case where a child is seen to be rejecting a parent without justification and offers a road map for dealing with the most difficult cases, which are seen when a parent is unconscious of what they are doing, but nevertheless harmful in their actions.

A child has a right to an unconscious experience of childhood. Unfortunately in too many cases of alienation, that childhood is absorbed into the world of the influencing parent, who plays out their own unresolved issues.  This kind of behaviour is widespread and is actually endorsed by ideology, which promotes the idea that a child’s welfare is synonymous with the rights of its mother.

A child is an independent sovereign being.  A child’s welfare is promoted by enabling that child to live free of influence, other than that which is positively aimed at enabling the child to grow healthily in mind and body.  Sadly for too many children in alienation cases, by the time it is recognised that harm has been done, the child’s mind has been colonised with the unresolved issues of a parent.  This forcing upon a child of feelings and experiences which do not belong to them, is undertaken in what is called the inter-psychic relationship, which in these circumstances, is the interaction between the mind and psyche of a parent and a vulnerable child.

A child whose mind has been colonised in this way, is left little in the way of their own independent thoughts.  Sadly, some celebrate this, the phrase ‘now he/she knows how bad her father really is‘ is one  I have heard many times, in cases where a child has been systematically influenced in the inter psychic relationship to the point where they begin to reflect back to the influencing parent, the behaviours that the parent is longing to see.  Unfortunately, many parents in these circumstances, usually but not always mothers, are supported in their distorted beliefs by campaign groups, who uphold the idea that children cannot be influenced against a loving parent but only ever reject a parent, because of harm which is being done by that parent.

Protecting a child’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood is the work which is done by those of us who are involved in this space. It is not easy, due to the mental ill health of some parents and the fixated and obsessed behaviours of others. Surrounding this work is a highly toxic arena of people with distorted ideas and obsessive points of view, who encourage those who are unwell or themselves fixated, into states of mind from which they can never heal.

I consider that what the Court said in this judgment is to be welcomed. It offers strong guiding principles which protects children from the harm that they suffer when they are forced to use the defence of psychological splitting.

When the major concern is children’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood, the world we work in immediately becomes a safer place.


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Parental separation, alienation and splitting: Healing beyond reunification

Separacija roditelja, otuđenje i oporavak djeteta: Razvoj standarda dobre prakse

Exciting news about the EAPAP 2020 Conference will be available shortly.  The Scientific and Organising Committee are working hard on the rescheduling which will take place this year.  Check back for details.

 

Court of Appeal Judgment – Parental Alienation as a Child Protection Issue

On April 29 2020, A highly significant Judgment in the UK Court of Appeal (Re S Parental Alienation: Cult) was delivered by Lord JUSTICE McCOMBE, Lady JUSTICE KING and Lord JUSTICE PETER JACKSON.

Underlining that parental alienation is a child protection issue, this Judgment gives exceptionally clear commentary on the Court’s view of the problem of a child’s unjustified rejection of a parent after divorce or separation.

Sections of the Judgment which set out clearly the view of the Court of Appeal are below. Section 13 is of particular significance in thinking about the issue of parental alienation from the perspective of protecting the child from harm.

  1. At the outset, it must be acknowledged that, whether a family is united or divided, it is not uncommon for there to be difficulties in a parent-child relationship that cannot fairly be laid at the door of the other parent. Children have their own feelings and needs and where their parents are polarised they are bound to feel the effects. Situations of this kind, where the concerned parent is being no more than properly supportive, must obviously be distinguished from those where an emotionally abusive process is taking place. For that reason, the value of early fact-finding has repeatedly been emphasised.
  2. As to alienation, we do not intend to add to the debate about labels. We agree with Sir Andrew McFarlane (see [2018] Fam Law 988) that where behaviour is abusive, protective action must be considered whether or not the behaviour arises from a syndrome or diagnosed condition. It is nevertheless necessary to identify in broad terms what we are speaking about. For working purposes, the CAFCASS definition of alienation is sufficient:

    “When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

    To that may be added that the manipulation of the child by the other parent need not be malicious or even deliberate. It is the process that matters, not the motive. 

  3. Where a child’s relationship with one parent is not working for no apparent good reason, signs of alienation may be found on the part of the other parent. These may include portraying the other parent in an unduly negative light to the child, suggesting that the other parent does not love the child, providing unnecessary reassurance to the child about time with the other parent, contacting the child excessively when with the other parent, and making unfounded allegations or insinuations, particularly of sexual abuse.
  4. Where a process of alienation is found to exist, there is a spectrum of severity and the remedy will depend upon an assessment of all aspects of the child’s welfare, and not merely those that concern the relationship that may be under threat. The court’s first inclination will be to reason with parents and seek to persuade them to take the right course for their child’s sake, and it will only make orders when it is better than not to do so. Once orders are required, the court’s powers include those provided by sections 11A to 11O of the Children Act 1989, and extend to consideration of a more fundamental revision of the arrangements for the child. We agree that whilst a change in the child’s main home is a highly significant  alteration in that child’s circumstances, such a change is not regarded as “a last resort”: Re L (A Child) [2019] EWHC 867 (Fam) at [53] to [59] per Sir Andrew McFarlane P. The judge must consider all the circumstances and choose the best welfare solution. 
  5. Cases at the upper end of the spectrum of alienation place exceptional demands on the court. It will recognise that the more distant the relationship with the unfavoured parent becomes, the more limited its powers become. It must take a medium to long term view and not accord excessive weight to short-term problems: Re O (Contact: Imposition of Conditions) [1995] 2 FLR 124 per Sir Thomas Bingham MR at 129. It must, in short, take action when and where it can do so to the child’s advantage. As McFarlane LJ said in Re A (Intractable Contact Dispute: Human Rights Violations) [2013] EWCA Civ 1104; [2014] 1 FLR 1185 at 53:

    “53. The conduct of human relationships, particularly following the breakdown in the relationship between the parents of a child, are not readily conducive to organisation and dictat by court order; nor are they the responsibility of the courts or the judges. But, courts and judges do have a responsibility to utilise such substantive and procedural resources as are available to them to determine issues relating to children in a manner which affords paramount consideration to the welfare of those children and to do so in a manner, within the limits of the court’s powers, which is likely to be effective as opposed to ineffective.”

  6. Unhappily, reported decisions in this area tend to take the form of a post mortem examination of a lost parental relationship.  Re A (above): 12 years of proceedings, 82 court orders, 7 judges, 10 CAFCASS officers, no contact.  Re D (Intractable Contact Dispute: Publicity) [2004] EWHC 727 (Fam)[2004] 1 FLR 1226 (Munby J): 5 years of proceedings, 43 hearings, 16 judges, no contact.  Re A (Children) (Parental Alienation) [2019] EWFC B56 (HHJ Wildblood QC): 8 years of proceedings, 36 hearings, 10 professionals, no contact despite an attempted change of residence. In some cases (e.g. Re A) a formal finding of a breach of the state’s procedural obligation under Article 8 was made. Another recent example is Pisica v Moldova (Application No 23641/17) 29 October 2019, where a mother was deprived of contact despite five years of proceedings during which she had obtained orders for the children to live with her. Finding a breach of Article 8, the ECtHR stated: 

    “63.  The Court  reiterates that although the primary object of Article 8 is to protect the individual against arbitrary action by public authorities, there are, in addition, positive obligations inherent in effective “respect” for family life (see, amongst other authorities, Glaser v. the United Kingdom, no. 32346/96, § 63)…

    … 

    66.  In cases concerning a person’s relationship with his or her child, there is a duty to exercise exceptional diligence, in view of the risk that the passage of time may result in a de facto determination of the matter (see, for example, Ignaccolo-Zenide, cited above, § 102; Süß v. Germany, no. 40324/98, § 100, 10 November 2005; Strömblad v. Sweden, no. 3684/07, § 80, 5 April 2012; and Ribic, cited above, § 92).

    73.  It is against this background of increasing alienation of the two children from the applicant that from July 2013 she asked the court to decide the custody case in a swift manner. Despite this request and her many complaints about P.’s actions, the first-instance court took a year and a half to decide (see paragraphs 12 and 31 above). This added to the overall period during which the applicant did not have meaningful contacts with her two children, while P. continued to be able to alienate the children from her (see paragraphs 12, 13, 18, 21, 23, 24, 26, 33 and 34 above). This delay in deciding the case is contrary to the principle of exceptional diligence referred to in paragraph 66 above.

    80.  In the light of the above considerations, the Court finds that, in the present case, the domestic authorities did not act with the exceptional diligence required of them (see paragraphs 66 and 73) or discharge their positive obligations under Article 8 of the Convention. There has therefore been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention in the present case.”

  7. In summary, in a situation of parental alienation the obligation on the court is to respond with exceptional diligence and take whatever effective measures are available. The situation calls for judicial resolve because the line of least resistance is likely to be less stressful for the child and for the court in the short term. But it does not represent a solution to the problem. Inaction will probably reinforce the position of the stronger party at the expense of the weaker party and the bar will be raised for the next attempt at intervention. Above all, the obligation on the court is to keep the child’s medium to long term welfare at the forefront of its mind and wherever possible to uphold the child and parent’s right to respect for family life before it is breached. In making its overall welfare decision the court must therefore be alert to early signs of alienation. What will amount to effective action will be a matter of judgement, but it is emphatically not necessary to wait for serious, worse still irreparable, harm to be done before appropriate action is taken. It is easier to conclude that decisive action was needed after it has become too late to take it. 

In the context of a worldwide backlash from those who seek to deny that manipulation of children’s minds, either deliberate or otherwise, exists, this Judgment is extremely important in determining the reality of the problem and how it should be managed in Court.

Those of us who work with alienated children and their families around the world consider alienation to be a non accidental injury to the mind of the child.  This Judgment suggests that the management of parental alienation should be in line with all non accidental injury interventions, which put the need to protect the child as early as possible in the process of recognition of harm, before all else.