Alienation of the self from the self: a transgenerational legacy?

Next week the third Conference of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will take place online. Examining the psychological backdrop to the problem which manifests itself in our current day experience in the form of what is popularly called parental alienation, this conference sets the scene for a paradigm shift in how we think and work with it.

Manifesting itself as a child’s outright rejection of a parent after divorce or separation, parental alienation is, in fact, a relational trauma which emerges because of the decompensation of family dynamics. When the component parts of this relational trauma are examined separately, it is possible to see how, when they converge, the result is that children are induced to use the defence of psychological splitting. When a child is using psychological splitting they are suffering alienation of the self from the self first. What comes afterwards is the perfect storm of reactive splitting which creates the wasteland known as parental alienation.

The component parts of this relational trauma are many and all are made manifest via the unresolved trauma stories of the people involved in the drama and the projections these create. The power and control that a parent with unresolved issues holds over the child is the triggering projection, the child’s own projected split of good and bad onto their parents is the heart of the problem and the rejected parent’s reactive splitting is the screen upon which the unresolved trauma story plays itself out.

In so many ways, it is possible to read this story by analysing the narratives which surround it, because it is that which tells the real story of the unresolved trauma story.

On a meta level this is seen in the campaign groups which surround this issue. The projections in the splitting are clear from the narrative. Listen to the story from two different view points.

There is an evil industry which has grown up around the family courts which involves unscrupulous people who work for large sums of money who support fathers who make false claims of parental alienation and who routinely take away children from innocent mothers to give them to abusive fathers.

There is an evil industry which has grown up around the family courts, which involves unscruplous people who work for large donations from the government, who routinely teach women how to make false claims of domestic violence in order to prevent fathers from having relationships with their children.’

On a micro level, the splitting in the family is clear from the same projeced narrative.

The other parent has caused this, they are to blame and they should be punished.’

This split narrative emerges from the dynamic of unresolved trauma which arises in the post divorce and separation landscape and which injures children of separated parents due to the lack of support and understanding. Because it is a primitve defence we are dealing with and not much is known about how it manifests, as practitioners, we risk being drawn into the splitting, sometimes becoming the recipients of fierce negative projection as part of the established defences.

If, therefore, all we do in trying to help families affected by splitting projection, is mirror the splitting back to those families, the truth of the harm which is being done, which is the child’s alienation of the self from the self, will remain hidden.

It is not possible to treat splitting by using a split narrative. It is not possible to treat splitting by playing a blame and shame game. If we are going to move on with the treatment of what we call parental alienation, we are going to have to get beyond one dimensional understandings and beyond interventions which move the child from one parent to the other without treating the splitting.

This is what the conference next week heralds for us. A big step into a new world of thinking about the problem we have called parental alienation which is actually a relational trauma and which can be treated by all psychotherapists if they know how.

We know that this problem has at its roots a projection, this is why the problem is counter intuitive in treatment. What you see is not what you get, it has to be interpreted to understand it and then it has to be absorbed by the therapist and reflected back as an integrated whole.

We know that this problem causes children immense suffering, all of our work with families shows us the long term impact of this problem and the psychological scarring if it is left untreated.

We also know that if we are going to find a long term treatment route which can be successfully replicated, those of us who do this work are going to have to survive the negative projections from the campaigns based in splitting and projection which surround us.

This is what the conference next week also heralds. A way of thinking and working in an extremely difficult and litigious space, a way of protecting the self and others in order to be able to survive in it for long enough to bring help to families and understanding to the outside world.

The primary defences of splitting and projection are powerful defences against anxiety and unbearable unconscious feelings. When we enter into a world which is driven by such primary defences, we risk drawing the transference to us so that the people we are working with come to behave as if we the people who hurt them in the past. This is why this space is so dangerous for practitioners, this is why there is such a high level of risk. We are working to protect children of divorce and separation from transgenerational traumatic alienation of the self from the self and in doing so we are encountering the split off and denied experiences of parents which are projected at us.

Navigating through these waters of knowledge and skill development requires courage and fortitude, it requires a srong sense of self and a teflon coat. But it also requires the capacity to be open to new thinking and deeper understanding and it is this which we are seeking through the next phase of our work with colleagues from all around the world.

I hope you will join us next week online. The programme is exciting, it unpacks the very heart of this problem and takes us deeper into understanding, further into differentiation and right to the heart of successful treatment routes which are being used around the world.

All children have the right to an unconscious experience of childhood. All children have the right to live free from the problem of alienation of the self from the self.

Until all of our children have the opportunity to survive and thrive, our collective work continues.

KEY PRESENTATIONS NEXT WEEK

Theory

Assessing and treating alienation using a psychoanalytic model 

Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall

Power and Control

Parental alienating behaviours: An unacknowledged form of family violence 

Jennifer Harman

Attachment

Attachment – (re) rupture in COVID-19 

Mirela Badurina

Attachment pitfalls   

Gordana Buljan Flander

14.30-15.00    

Toxic stress in children 

Vanja Slijepčević Saftić

Clinical Perspectives

Perspectives from Israel 

Inbal Kivenson Bar-On and Benjamin Bailey

Splitting: A psychiatric perspective 

Milica Pejović Milovančević

Keynote Lecture

The shadow of our ghosts: Generations of ruptures

Jill Salberg 

False Allegations

False allegations of abuse in families 

Domagoj Štimac

Addressing false allegations in court 

Brian Ludmer

Protecting Practitioners – Allegations against professionals

Karen Woodall and Kelley Baker

To join us, book here.

3 comments

  1. Again Karen, a good read! Thank you. The repetitive reading helps to cling the words you say into my mind.
    A question that rose while reading is: is it only the trauma of the supporting parent that causes the split?
    Or do you think there is a mix possible? Both the supporting parent and the alienated parent can have unresolved trauma’s? Though the supporting parent’s issues might be of bigger impact to the child to split.
    What is your experience on what you have seen in your work?

    Can parents also enlist to join the online presentation?

    Kind regards, Caroline

    Like

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