Putting the child at the heart of what we do when we are working with families affected by relational trauma after divorce and separation is a core principle from where we begin and end our involvement with families.
Child centred practice means that we assess and treat the family affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting, from the perspective of how it has affected the child first and then the rest of the family.
We do this because at the heart of the problem we call alienation are abusive parenting practices and whilst these have been hidden for decades by ideology, which aims to distract the onlooker to believe that all children who reject a parent are doing so because of something that parent has done, the reality of what happens in these circumstances is now well illustrated and documented. It is also well curated into the case law in the UK which means that the courts are increasingly getting to grips with the reality of what is going on around the child which causes the hyper alignment and rejection dynamic which is seen in cases of alienation.
Working from the child’s perspective outwards, the first point of assessment is to understand whether the child is using psychological splitting as a defence. If the child is doing so then the further assessment aims to understand why. Children who use psychological splitting as a defence are seen to be hyper aligned with one parent and completely rejecting of the other, they are also contemptuous and disdainful towards the parent they are rejecting and can be seen to act in parentified ways, protecting the parent they are aligned to and speaking a narrative which mirrors theirs. On closer examination, these children will often, in the process of clinical observation, demonstrate a switch back into normal relationship with the parent they have been rejecting, only to revert to the contemptuous disdain seen previously when clinical observation ends.
Parentification is an attachment disorder, it means that the child is not receiving the care that they are entitled to receive. As such, when it is severe and the child has no other form of support, the welfare threshold (UK) is seen to be met. The observation of families for up to thirty hours at a time, demonstrate the child’s dilemma. A child should not be taking care of a parent’s emotional and psychological needs. A parent and child are not one complete whole. The child has the sovereign right to an independent self and the role of a parent is to take care of that right and ensure that the child grows with a capacity for perspective in relationships with other people.
Children living in families where relational trauma after divorce and separation leads to alienation, first of the child’s own self from the self and then, projected outwards to the hyper alignment and rejection dynamics which demonstrate alienation is in play, are at risk of harm. Whilst there is a drive amongst some groups to characterise the hyper alignment and rejection behaviours in a child as justified rejection, there is no correlation between behaviours induced by psychological splitting and actual harm caused by the parent who is being rejected. When a parent HAS been abusive, the child will show a more ambivalent rejection.
Some ask why it is important that the child who is induced to use psychological splitting as a defence is helped. These people usually accompany this with the idea that the child will come looking for the parent when they are ready. Others say that children don’t need two parents so why bother. In reality, this is not about parents at all.
This problem is not about contact, it is not about two parents, it is not about the importance of family. In reality, this is about the harm being done to a child in the hyper aligned relationship with a parent who is transferring their own unresolved trauma onto the shoulders of the child.
It is about child abuse, which has been hidden from view for decades and which comes to light in the maltreatment of children who are forced into the use of psychological splitting as a defence, because they are trapped in the coercive control behaviours of a parent with serious emotional and psychological problems.
When we work with families affected by relational trauma after divorce and separation we are working with abused children who are held in the grip of an unwell parent who is unable to separate their own feelings and experiences from that of their child. In doing so we are working with highly charged emotional content and super charged psychological control. Helping children in the here and now is what we are doing but at the same time we are also further triggering the unresolved trauma responses of the parent who has caused the hyper alignment. A parent who can only see the bad in other people and good in themselves.
Little wonder this field of work is so polarised, little wonder it is full of blame and shame projection, hatred and terrorisation of those who do this work and Courts who make decisions about the wellbeing of a child.
Resolving psychological splitting gives enormous relief to children and returns them to an integrated self which has sovereign rights to an independent mind and an unconscious childhood.
Working with colleagues around the world, I am reminded again and again that the reason we do this work is to raise to consciousness the hidden abuse of children in divorce and separation.
Presentations on Family Violence at the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners Conference
Two key presentations on family violence and coercive control will be heard at this conference. Professor Jennifer Harman will examine the behaviours seen in parents who cause psychological splitting and alienate their children and Dr Sietska Dijkstra will examine the impact of coercive control on post divorce relationships between mothers and children.
This is the third conference of the European Association and demonstrates the commitment and intent of the core participants to build a network of excellence and strengthen the relationship between research and practice in this field.
The cost for the conference is
3 day registration fee – 203 Euro
1 Day pass for day three (open to public) 81 Euro
All prices include VAT.