The following is an excerpt from our new book about Therapeutic Parenting which is coming soon.
I will be expanding on all of these themes in our upcoming seminar on Understanding Alienated Children on August 6th at 4pm GMT. Booking link below.
Having given the John Cornwell Lecture for the FMA Annual Conference which was chaired by Lord Justice Moylan last year, I am pleased to be working with the Association in delivery of frontline training for practitioners via webinars during Covid times and in further face to face trainings as lockdown allows.
I have found webinars to be a really useful way of working, giving an opportunity to present ideas and discuss how they translate into practice with parents and practitioners working with families.
I look forward to meeting everyone who wishes to join me in August.
Prepare by helping yourself first
The experience of losing a child to the problem of induced psychological splitting (alienation) causes dreadful loss, anxiety and grief. It also causes anger, shame, guilt and frustration. When you know that the loving bond you had with your child has been destroyed and you experience the horror of being unable to get other people to understand that the destruction of it was not of your doing, you may suffer from a complex form of post traumatic stress disorder.
C-PTSD can cause you to feel as if you are dissociated at times. Dissociation appears in your life as numbness, confusion and a sense of ‘tuning out’ of experience. You may have felt at times as if you are not really present in the world, or you may have experienced dizziness, a whirling sensation or feeling destabilised inside.
Knowing that your child is being harmed and being unable to do anything about it is a terrifying experience. C-PTSD is something that all receiving parents must be aware of and know how to identify in themselves. If you are highly anxious, unable to sleep and have repetitive thoughts, it is important that you find a good therapist who understands.
Parents who have been rejected are a dreadful double bind in that the lack of information about alienation means that too many people still assume that a child has rejected you because of something you have done. Getting the right kind of help from people who truly understand is essential to survive this situation.
You may need additional help. If you are experiencing stuck feelings, repetitive thinking, flashbacks and high anxiety states, you may find a non talking therapy like EMDR helpful. EMDR works by unsticking the memory parts of the brain and separating out the feeling state from the memories. EMDR is used in trauma therapy and it is useful for rejected parents whose experience is traumatic.
Therapeutic parenting works on the principles of helping yourself first so that you can help your child. Just as you are told to put on your oxygen mask first before putting on your child’s mask in the safety announcements in aeroplanes, getting therapeutic help for yourself is an essential part of helping your child. When you have therapeutic help to rebuild your sense of self and deal with the traumatic impact of being rejected, your healthy self can come back into consciousness.
Remember, the action of alienation is not just about inducing splitting in your child, it is about inducing splitting in you too. The purpose of alienation is to alienate your child from their own sense of self, your child from you and you from your own sense of yourself as a healthy parent. It is about total destruction to gain absolute control over the child in the most extreme of cases and therefore in order to help your child, you have to help yourself first.
Inner Child Work
We are all still children inside our adult selves and some of our behaviours in the here and now come from our experiences of being children in relationship to adults. One of the important things you must remember when your child returns to you, is that they need you to remain in your adult self.
The idea of all of us having different parts of the self comes from various schools of psychotherapy. Transactional Analysis for example teaches that we have three ego states of Parent/Adult/Child from which we interact with others. Humanistic psychotherapists consider we have parts of self which are known and unknown to us. In our work we recognise that the child we were continues to live within us and that any unresolved conflicts which remain from our childhood are often projected onto others.
This is a psychoanalytic way of thinking about ourselves in relationship to the past, present and future. In working with alienation, we are also aware that we need to take into account the transpersonal perspective.
Transpersonal means the relationships beyond our conscious mind and the influences of past generations upon our present selves. Thus arises the concept that we can be in relationship to people who were important to us in our childhood via our internalised ‘objects’, which are people from the past to whom we continue to relate in our imagination and inner world. In cases of alienation, the relationships we have with others are often overshadowed by other people who are not present as well as those who are. Which means that a child may become alienated not because of something a parent is doing in the here and now but because of the influence of people who are not even alive and the way that this shapes the behaviours of the parent to whom the child is aligned. Here is an example of what we mean by this.
When we fall in love, we fall in love with our own self as much as the other person. What we love about the other person first, is their reflection back to us of our own self. This is called the ‘honeymoon period’ and it is full of wonderful feelings and emotions. Unfortunately the honeymoon period is an illusion, which means that wonderful though it is, it will pass and reality will break through. That reality is the fact that the person we have fallen in love with is not perfect, they have flaws and they are different and separate from us.
As we realise that the person we have fallen in love with is a different and separate person, we begin to project other things onto them that we expect from them because of the relationships in our own childhood. We behave towards our loved one in the here and now, as if they are someone from the past, most often one of our parents. Therefore, whilst we are in an adult to adult relationship, our internal ego states move in and out of relationship with us, meaning that our inner child self may sometimes come up against our loved ones internal ego state. When two adults are relating from their inner child states, conflict and arguments can occur.
The internalised ego state of parent/adult/child are always at play when you are parenting an alienated child, who is likely to attempt to become the adult or parent in relationship to you. If your own adult/parent ego state is fragile, then you are potentially going to move into a relational situation where your child is being your parent or attempting to act as if they are your parent.
This is a real problem for receiving parents, because the defence of induced psychological splitting in a child produces an omnipotent false self which appears as part of the defence. This omnipotent false self is a little like that which appears in teenagers as they move through the developmental stages of separation and individuation on the road to adulthood.
Being Aware of Your Inner Child
|Healthy Child Self
||Conflicted Child Self
In our experience, one of the most common scenarios which occurs in alienation is the onset of the induced psychological splitting which is caused by the alienating parent and the way in which this triggers responses from the rejected parent. In our view, the actions of the alienating parent can be both conscious and unconscious, that means that some alienating parents do this deliberately and others do it as a pattern of ongoing behaviour learned in childhood. Whether the alienating parent is doing this consciously or not however, the end result is the same, the child begins to use the defence of psychological splitting and projecting blame towards the rejected parent.
Remember that induced psychological splitting happens because the child can no longer compartmentalise their experience of living between two parents who are split apart in the outside world. Because of this, their behaviours begin to switch, denoting that they are adapting to fit the pressured situation they are living in. At the end of their capacity to switch behaviours to meet the needs of two parents, one of whom is causing pressure to align and reject because of their own maladapted and distorted beliefs, children will utilise splitting to relieve themselves of the intolerable burden of trying to maintain a relationship with someone they are aware is disliked, not trusted or hated by the other parent.
In doing so the child splits their own sense of self into at least four parts. The healthy part of the self is now in need of protection and what appears is a false self with omnipotent features. This self believes that they are in charge and that it is their role to defend the parent that they are now aligned with. The good part of the child is the part which is idealised, it is the part which identifies with the aligned parent and it creates a sense of omnipotence. The bad part of the child is that which contains all of the regulatory feelings of guilt and shame which would normally prevent a child from rejecting a loved parent. The defensive part of the child is the angry, rejecting, refusing and sometimes violent part of the child which now says no, I will not see that parent.
In the good part and bad part of the child reside the identifications with the parents and all of the heritage which goes along with that. In the good part of the child which is conscious for the child is the perfection of the preferred parent. In the bad part of the child resides the bad things that the preferred parent does which is now completely out of the child’s conscious mind. In the bad part of the child resides everything to do with the rejected parent both good and bad as well as the bad things that the preferred parent has done. Along with those split off experiences are the regulating feelings of guilt and shame.
The role of the defensive part of the child is to keep the bad part as unconscious as possible for as long as possible. This is why rejecting children do not want to see you, do not want to talk about you and do not want to think about you. This splitting off must be defended in order that the child remains capable of holding a sense of self in the world. It is a normal defence in a very abnormal situation.
The healthy part of the child, that which you remember with great love and which you wonder whether will ever return, lies buried beneath these three parts which arise as part of the child’s false persona. What you see in alienated children is the omnipotent self which is supported by the defensive self. What you don’t see is the bad part of the self which is repressed into the unconscious and the healthy part of the self which lies beneath the bad part.
When these parts begin to emerge in an alienation reaction, if what you do is respond in return from your own conflicted child self a perfect storm arises. This is often what is seen just before an alienated child enters into a fully split state of mind in which their rejection of you is fixed and refusing.
When you receive your child back into your life, it is essential that you both understand and are aware of how the alienated child will trigger your own conflicted child self and that you recognise that the defensive part of the child wants to trigger that part of you in order to gain control over you.
Just like teenagers will fish around in the inter-psychic relationship with a parent for the weak spot they can exploit, alienated children will deliberately push your buttons to find the point at which the internal conflicts you have to cope with from your own childhood, will make you vulnerable.
Many rejected parents who are re-parenting their alienated child will say that they feel as if their child is trying to be an adult or parent in the relationship with them and it is true, they are. This is the outcome of induced psychological splitting, the child has adopted behaviours which are maladapted and which attempt to manipulate adults and especially parents. In this respect they are acting from a place which they do not have the capacity to understand or cope with. They are trying to behave like parents and adults in a family hierarchy which is broken.
Your role is to rebuild that hierarchy by preventing them from triggering your internalised inner child conflicts by working on your own issues away from your child. Knowing your trigger points as well as possible, knowing where you need re-parenting and finding a therapist who can offer that to you is how you will protect yourself and your child from re-entering the emotional and psychological entanglements created by induced psychological splitting.
Your aim is to remain in adult/parent state for almost 100% of the time at first. This means that your child cannot trigger your conflicted child part. Playfulness with an alienated child comes later, when the risks of the child attempting to manipulate you into conflicted child self are reduced by the healing of the splitting in the child. Remember when play fighting used to ‘end in tears’ when you were little? Trying to ‘play fight’ with your alienated child will definitely end in tears if you attempt it too soon. Your child does not possess the capacity to play fight when they are in the split state of mind. They have little perspective and can only perceive you in a one dimensional way. Do not tease, argue with or use any other kind of childlike behaviours around your child in the early stages of reunification, instead concentrate on staying in adult/parent state of mind as much as you possibly can.
Thank you Karen for this very interesting and informative post.
Thank you Karen. I just signed up for the webinar.
hi Leilani, look forward to seeing you! Have missed you! x
Hi Karen, I am a visual learner and often doodle concepts into pictures as a way to understand layered concepts. Out of interest do you include visual diagrams in your text? For example the discussion above on the child’s four parts? On another note very excited on the upcoming workshop, your online parenting program and the arrival of your new book. Take care HF.
I like your description of the emotions alienated parents are feeling and in a way these are behaviours that you would normally expect in such heart-breaking situations. I too would describe it as stressful but not disordered because the word disorder carries a stigma with it that in a sense marginalises even victimises the individual. For example, a medical doctor on diagnosing PTSD will view this as something that has gone wrong in the head of the individual. This, within the bio-medical restrictions of their education, will more than likely lead to a treatment being prescribed involving the use of neuroleptics. This is not the answer to the individual’s problems and will likely only add to the problem, an increased dependency upon medication, shielding them from the difficult task of fathoming out the nature of the dialogical processes within the familial network that led to their present predicament.
A Doctor, face to face, will see your symptoms (depression, anxiety, paranoia etc) and treat accordingly, from the drugs cabinet. This is not helpful, it doesn’t address the problem and simply acts as a crutch upon which you are in danger of becoming dependent. The cause can be addressed with knowledge.
Whatever this problem is, it is not contained within any one individual, it is not biological, it is relational and familial. It is emotional, a reaction to deeds and thoughts committed within close relationships.
Let’s not dismiss the alienator and their feelings, how trauma might predict their irrational behaviours. What do they now want? Is it to feel important, to feel justified, to save face, to be right? What kind of bubble do they create around themselves and the children that exclude others? Are they insecure, do they feel threatened?
Having attended one of your courses I would highly recommend this one, an understanding of what might be going on is the best way to start plotting a route back to healing relations.
One of the things I had noticed (I am still incommunicado with my Ex) is that positive vibes coming to her through my children does no harm. Not that my Ex might ever hear that, but my children did and that is what makes it easy for them to move between households. My Ex may still uphold the vision of me as a bad, inadequate person (and who is to say she isn’t right) but it is important that the children don’t get to see their mother as a bad person, that would only leave the children with a difficult task of deciding which parent they were going to align with. My Ex could be described as upset or stressed, but not wicked or bad, and there would always be a justifiable reason for that stress even if I had to imagine what that reason might be.
Why is it that in Alberta, Canada the medical, psychological and judicial community doesn’t seem to know Anything about the alienation?????
This is 2022!!!! Don’t these people read???
Very very few tasked to help families in crisis understand these dynamics in the US either.