In reading some of the online campaigning around the family courts these days, you would be forgiven for thinking that all fathers are dangerous to their children after separation and all mothers are victims  who are simply protecting their children when they  cut off contact.

Alternatively, you would be forgiven for thinking that all fathers are victims of parental alienation and all mothers are making false allegations of domestic abuse.

In the midst of this you might draw the conclusion that anyone who works with alienated children is a hero or a villain depending on which side of this particular split narrative you are standing on.

Parental rights after family separation are right back on the agenda in the UK and once again, the lack of attention paid to the needs of children is simply the unintended consequences of a game of ideological football.

Depending on which side of the campaign trail you find yourself on, the issue of children’s rejection of a parent after family separation is either

a) always something children do because the rejected parent has caused it


b) always something children do because the aligned parent caused it.

In reality, a child’s outright rejection of a parent after family separation is something that children do because of the dynamics they are surrounded by and there is more than enough evidence outside of Gardner’s theory of parental alienation, to show that these dynamics are the very definition of coercive control of the child.

At the heart of the problem of a child’s rejection of a parent after family separation, when the child is displaying psychological splitting, is a pathological alignment with a parent who is causing, either in the conscious or unconscious (inter-psychic*) relationship, an abandonment threat.  This threat, which conveys to the child that the parent either cannot or will not cope if the child is not available to regulate the parental anxiety, causes the child to hyper align with that parent.

Unlike overt forms of emotional abuse, such as denigration or terrorization of the child, boundary dissolution takes more covert forms that may be veiled under a guise of parental solicitude, effusive warmth, and camaraderie. Nonetheless, (…) the burden of meeting the emotional needs of the parent interferes with the child’s progress through development.’

Kerig, P. K. (2005). Implications of parent-child boundary dissolution for developmental psychopathology: Who is the parent and who is the child? New York: Haworth Press.

The UK government’s definition of coercive control includes the following statement –

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour

A child who is already subordinate and entirely dependent upon their parents is, in the case of alienation, isolated from all forms of support other than those which are approved of by the parent who is causing the problem. A child  is deprived of obtaining independence and cannot resist or escape from the parent who is influencing them. The child’s behaviour is regulated by the influencing parent when they are drawn into compulsive caregiving via boundary dissolution.

An alienated child therefore, is a child who is experiencing coercive control in their absolute dependence upon a parent who is causing the child to feel anxiety about being abandoned. This threat need not be overt but can be a simple conveyance of disapproval via the withdrawal of affection should the child fail to uphold the alignment with parental wishes and feelings.

This subtle but powerful dynamic, is seen in many cases of alienation. It causes self alienation in the child as a primary condition (self alienation is the creation of a  false self which is utilised as a protective defence against the incursion into the child’s integral sense of self by the influencing parent).

In coercive control however, is where matters become complicated,  because it is the case that mothers and fathers alienate their children differently.

Fathers alienate in a pattern of coercive control which we are more readily able to recognise because it is the pattern we are used to being told about. Children identify with their aggressive fathers and reject their mothers because they are unable to manage their feelings of fear of their father and so in order to keep themselves safely attached to an aggressive father, they split off and deny the part of the self which is identified with their mother which makes rejecting her whilst loving the aggressive father possible.

Mothers on the other hand, alienate their children via a pattern of coercive control behaviours which violate the child’s intra-psychic boundaries, invading the child’s internal landscape and threatening the child with abandonment.  In such circumstances, children identify with their boundary violating mothers and split off and deny the part of the self which is identified with their father, which makes rejecting him, whilst loving the boundary violating mother possible.

The defence in both circumstances is splitting of the self which is projected onto the parents, which is the underlying dynamic seen in alienation.

In actual cases of domestic abuse splitting is not seen and children are likely to have to be protected against the abusive parent because they will still want to see them.

In actual cases of alienation, splitting is seen and children reject a parent outright showing little or no empathy towards the rejected parent.

Those who do this work understand this difference , meaning that children whose parents have been abusive to them, are not routinely sent to be with those parents, despite the misinformation which attempts to persuade the outside world otherwise.

The silencing of alienated children through the parental rights fight is a serious problem which causes children to remain trapped in a bell jar of the influencing parent’s psychological issues.  The efforts to hide this reality in the UK, are quickening, with a ramping up of ideological warfare and an accompanying poisonous rhetoric.

Fortunately, alongside the escalating misinformation, a steady line is being plottedwhich establishes the reality of what alienation is, what it does to children and how it should be dealt with before it is entrenched. is increasingly visible.

Children who have been silenced for too long, in the face of the return of parental rights wars, require those who understand, to keep on giving voice to their experience.

*inter-psychic, meaning between two minds.

Understanding Induced Psychological Splitting in Children of Divorce and Separation – A Two Hour Online Seminar With Karen  Woodall

August 6 2020 at 4pm GMT

Book Here

The underlying issue seen in parental alienation is the defence of psychological splitting. This is a reflexive defence in a child which comes into play when the dynamics around the child are impossible for the child to cope with.

Induced psychological splitting causes the child to become alienated first from their own control over their sense of self, the results of this are denial and projection onto the parents of the split sense of self.

Understanding how children behave when they are psychologically splitting is important because it enables you to understand how to respond to them. What seem like strange behaviours, are actually easy to recognise and respond to when the defence is recognised.

Helping children to integrate the parts of the self which they have split off and denied is a key part of their recovery.

Suitable for parents and practitioners, this introduction to understanding alienated children will cover –

  • The dynamic of induced psychological splitting, its presentation in children and the recovery process
  • A psychoanalytical analysis of the problem
  • Therapeutic treatment of the problem using trauma informed practice
  • An introduction to the benefits of therapeutic parenting for alienated children

£30 per place

This seminar will take place on ZOOM, you will be asked for your name and email address on booking.

A ZOOM link will be sent to you the day before the seminar takes place.