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.



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.

10 thoughts on “Alienation of the Self From the Self: The Problem for Children Induced to Use Defensive Splitting

  1. Yes Karen, I completely agree. I have long understood that the greatest tragedy in my case is not that I have lost my daughters, but that they have or may yet lose themselves. They were both, at 12 and 10 (when I last had regular contact with them) vivacious, bright, outgoing, caring and dynamic children – clearly just beginning to develop strong individual characters. Both I think have found sanctuary and applied themselves, as you describe, in school and both are high academic achievers…but I fear their souls have been emptied and I know their mother continues to advance every possible obstruction to them having anything whatsoever to do with me. i remain living a life in a state of perpetual torture, but I can cope because I lived for 50 years in relative joy. They are living an entirely false life and when and if that comes crashing down I wonder if all they will only ever, as adults, live in a state of torture? – a life with none of the deep, developing joy they were so full off before?


    1. My experience of working in therapy with young people who were alienated as children Robert is that they can and do recover – the false self protects the capacity for the true self to grow so whilst there is damage, it is not irreversible damage – the key is that the child searches for the truth as they grow older and the holder of the key of truth – which is the healthy parent – is still there when the child finds them. That is why we say that living the healthiest life is so important – you hold the key to your children’s authenticity. K


  2. Thank you. I have always sub consciously (sometimes consciously) been aware of this and I worked so hard to encourage and develop their positive thinking and understanding about their world, as they grew. Even now, there is lots of evidence – in their academic choices and what motivates them, that they have at their core a robust, honest, adventurous and life affirming approach to things. I feel I gave them that, or at least contributed majorly to it. Everyone says they will recover and I will be here to help, as if and when they want me, but I by no means believe they will necessarily recover. Their mother’s determination not to share them – to cage them within the (real) stockade she has built around the house and imprison them emotionally is beyond measure. trying to articulate her actions has become meaningless – there literally are no words anymore. I am sure they do not receive all my letters and they rarely reply now. It is agonising not to be able to share their lives; it is worse to think they may one day be consumed by regrets and a guilt that of course is not theirs to own.

    The comments in your article about a world in which so many believe that fathers are no good and should be disposed off underpins this horror show and was very much responsible for my Ex finally severing the relationship between me and our daughters. No one would listen to me, my submissions were not read and I was actively prevented in Court from speaking or questioning anything..It was a lynching of me; driven by institutionalised prejudice that cast me as an undesirable influence on my daughters lives and ignored all the evidence that very clearly showed otherwise.. I am so grateful you and others keep working to try and change that. I truly did my best for the girls and I brought them joy.and helped them to grow strong.


  3. Quoting Robert Lang, above: The comments in your article about a world in which so many believe that fathers are no good and should be disposed off underpins this horror show and was very much responsible for my Ex finally severing the relationship between me and our daughters.

    This makes me so sad. The other day, whilst walking on the old railway track with my sister and our dogs we passed a family – mum, dad, little girl and little boy. The little boy was on dad’s shoulders. The following day we saw dad coming across the fields with little boy, again on dad’s shoulders. He stopped to chat with us (at a distance). My sister asked if he was furloughed and dad laughed and said no, they’d got Universal Credit. It wasn’t the same but he had never been happier than during this lockdown. Every morning he walked for two hours with his little boy (aged three) mostly on his shoulders. He said he had finally had chance to enjoy his little boy and his daughter who sometimes joined them and sometimes not. He loved being with the children and his wife. The children were amazing. He felt like they were a REAL family and he wasn’t looking forward to having to go back to work sometime in the future.

    My heart bled for what might have been if my husband had been able to be anything like that dad. I would have given anything, done anything, to have a dad like that in my children’s lives but it was never going to be. My husband just didn’t know how to be a dad and neither did he want to be one until my daughter became of interest to him when she was 15 and only then because she gave him the adoration he wanted.

    But how lovely that such families exist and have rediscovered the simple joy of their children during lockdown. I’m noticing it more and more and whilst it makes me sad/jealous, it mostly makes me smile. It’s lovely to see and surely one huge plus in a sea of lockdown misery.

    How sad that some parents don’t know how to be parents. How sad that some women (and some men) don’t think that the other parent is required (I feel very much like I was a surrogate for my husband who only had an interest in my daughter once she could hold an adult conversation with him and become his best friend)

    My best wishes to you Robert Lang and to all other mums and dads like us. Doesn’t help much I know, but I for one don’t think (good) dad’s are unnecessary. I think they are gold dust like that dad with his little boy on his shoulders..


    1. Thanks Willow.
      I have many wonderful memories of exactly the sort of thing you are describing and because I did share my daughters lives to the full up until they were almost 13 and 11 I must hope that those memories are also within them and will help to reunite us one day.


      1. Robert,

        So often reading your words I feel that they are my own. My girls were 15 and 13 when they left. Now 24 and 21 and not a glimmer of break in the pathology.

        And my experience during years, and six judges in Court sounds so, so similar. If I had not lived it, I would have never believed it could happen.

        What a damn shame.


    2. Willow – I have always believed my son was that sort of dad. He would have given his boys the world and walked through fire for them. Looking back now, I think there was a sense of nervousness about him, that he might lose his boys, maybe he tried too hard. In any event, he has now been replaced as a father by a stepfather, who oddly enough has children of his own yet condones the fact that the two boys have completed obliterated their father from their lives.


      1. Yvie and Robert
        I’m sure Karen would say that those memories are in there SOMEWHERE even if right now they are buried deep.
        I do know how hard it is though and I shall remember that dad for a very long time. Maybe I’m too much of a “romantic” at heart, I don’t know. On another site that I “frequent” because I just have to speak out….. there is presently a thread slating anyone who says “not all men”. I posted a copy of the story of the dad (above) and guess what, as expected the “hurt and triggered” posts have arrived slating men and men who turn a blind eye. I just cannot and will not think that way. I prefer to think of people as people. Too “romantic” a view for some I guess. (I feel like saying oh grow up for goodness sake!)


  4. Welcome
    Manifest gracious thanks sincerely
    For patience.

    We are Talking Feather
    A charitable project of the 501(c)(3) organization
    Interplanetary Development

    The simply clear communication of the terms – child’s induced psychological splitting – are indeed essential and relevant in international contexts.

    We recognize that a child with induced psychological splitting often experiences a broken or disassociated loveness bond with a biological parents or an extended family member or patchwork non-biological loved one.

    The child with induced psychological splitting often maintains a mutual contact path open to the individual or individuals with whom the child is psychologically separated or split from.

    Indeed the individual parent or extended family member often also maintains a mutual contact path open to the dissociated parent or individual.

    The dissociated individual who is split, separated, or in some form “alienated” from the child experiencing the induced psychological splitting – often seeks out, maintains, or hopes to find a mutual contact that may assist in re-establishing even the most basic communication with the child.

    The gentle, respectful indian concept of the Talking Feather is considered a possible path.

    With the multiple forms of mechanical communication present at the moment, including yet not limited to email, chat, messenger, blogging, Instagram, interactive role playing games, social media based mechanisms, sms text messages, mobile as well as land line, all seem to be attempted and in some moments assisted or blocked by the ones causing the induced psychological splitting and the child with the induced psychological splitting.

    Kindly consider responding to this comment to the ongoing posts in the present Woodall hosted blog.

    The concept of the Talking Feather, as a formal cultural manifestation – may or may not be of the culture of the child with induced psychological splitting or those directly or indirectly causing induced psychological splitting.

    Talking Feather may be able to gently and respectfully reach out to counsel when a restraining order has been placed against direct or indirect contact with a child exhibiting induced psychological splitting or those considered to be in some way responsible for inducing the psychological splitting.

    The gentle and respectful focus on the psychological term induced psychological splitting has significant merit, in part to identify aspects of the simple reality of the condition of a child and those individuals interacting with the child.

    Clearly the “child” may be of relatively any age, and the phenomenon of induced psychological splitting may occur and manifest at childhood and other moments in the life of a being.

    Talking Feather is simply one name or cultural symbol for a process or method of gentle and respectful communication by and between those beings who have experienced a loveness connection or a loveness bond. is one communication vector interlink.

    Talking Feather focuses on loveness bond and gentle respectful communication relating to induced psychological splitting and children.

    For those not responding or resonating to the gentle or respectful term of loveness bond or loveness connection, there are other gentle and respectful terms for the bond between children and parents – biological and non-biological connections to children.

    Talking Feather may assist in some way or form with gentle, respectful communication in bridging and recovery of contact with a child, of any size or number of earth revolutions around the sun breathing air on the planet.

    Talking Feather may communicate poetically and non-poetically as an individual or organization so wishes.

    Kindly ask any and all questions.

    Manifest Gentle Respect



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