Silence is golden: avoiding the he said/she said trap in alienation

Karen and Nick Woodall

Today we have been working with Mediators from MIKK in Germany, the International Centre for Family Conflict and Child Abduction. Delivering to specialists in this field is a real privilege because it furthers the project of working across borders to build a network of alienation aware professionals.

Our work throughout the pandemic has increased significantly and whilst we have not been able to travel physically, we have been working across many borders in terms of geography and other fields of work, to build connections and develop awareness. Working with specialists in child abduction, family violence, child development services, family therapy, neuroscience, attachment and alienation, in nineteen different countries around the world, has created a significant network of highly skilled people.

In September, over four hundred clinicians joined the European Association’s conference online. That conference, which can now be viewed online, is a lasting foundational legacy of the work that has been done in raising awareness of relational trauma in divorce and separation.

Our next event is a Clinical Seminar with six leading psychotherapists who work with relational trauma, including alienation of children in divorce and separation, which has attracted sign up from over two hundred people already, from eleven countries around the world.

This work is developing despite the backlash from parental rights groups, despite the fact that all of us who are prominent in this field of work are subjected to constant attack on our reputation. Working closely together, clinicians from many countries are supporting each other, can interact safely and can develop the interventions which are necessary to help families where alienation is present. Discussing these attacks with colleagues recently, raised for me, the strategy that I have used to protect rejected parents for all of the years that I have done this work. I call this strategy the silence is golden approach to avoiding the hooks and traps that are laid in your way when people with psychological problems try to draw you into conflict.

I have written about the silence is golden approach before in 2017 – for anyone who faces false allegations and negative projections, it is the go to strategy, because what it does is prevent others from classifying what is happening as a he said/she said situation.

For rejected parents it is an absolute necessity, because what the other parent is doing to you is trying to draw you into a scenario where you can be depicted as being contributory to the problem.

The strategy is based upon the principle, that if you are in a net of false allegation or negative projection that someone has thrown around you, stop struggling. Stop calling attention to the net, stop looking at the net, stop allowing the net to exist. That net is someone’s else’s projection. It only becomes real if you give it attention because it is a projection. When you realise that, the net no longer exists.

It sounds easier said than done. Staying silent when someone is badmouthing you, not responding when someone is baiting you, standing still whilst someone is causing your child harm is about as counter intuitive as it gets. Of course you want to shout, of course you want to draw attention to what is happening, but like the parent who dangles the child over the crocodile pit and who pulls it away when you shout help, wasting your time playing someone else’s negative projection games is just that – a waste of time and precious energy. It is also extremely stressful.

During periods of great stress, I have always attempted to do three things.

  1. Find purpose in my daily life and a higher level of understanding of what is happening to me.
  2. Care well for my body, for without this safe container, all that I am would not and could not be.
  3. Take a longer view so that the tyrannical grip of anxiety is not in control of my day to day living.

For rejected parents, this is a strategy to adopt in order to cope with the longer term difficulties which come with the territory of being an alienated parent. When you are coping with court hearings, contact refusals and children’s outright rejection, anxiety and fear about the loss of the relationship brings a sense of loss of control over your life. When this experience becomes all encompassing, suffering is heightened and fear takes control.

Do not let it happen.  When you are in the tightening net of alienation, perhaps with allegations being made and things being said which are untrue, stop struggling.  If you continue to struggle you will simply tangle yourself up further into the alienation narrative which is being spun around the child and you will both fail to stop it and cause yourself more suffering.  When you are in the midst of the pain, stop struggling and simply be. Take care of your body and feed your soul.  If you have faith then place your trust in that, if you do not, relax into that which gives your life meaning.  This too will pass and change will come.

Much suffering is caused unnecessarily by being focused upon the alienation dynamic which you can see but others can’t.  In these circumstances you must approach your strategy to restore the relationship with your child, calmly and systematically.  If you are taking care of yourself, you are taking care of your ability to fight for your alienated child and as a result, you are parenting your child in the only way available to you right now.  Eat, rest, exercise and make sure you reconnect with what matters to you in your own heart.  Whilst I know that your children matter the most, focus upon those things which keep you alive and vital and present in the world.

If you focus upon the fear and the what if, you will find yourself tangled back up in the net of anxiety.  If you focus upon your strength and what is within your capacity to change, you will find yourself growing stronger and more able to withstand the challenges ahead.

The world of the rejected parent is filled with uncertainty. There is no end to the suffering and the psychological changes which come with bereavement cannot be followed. Instead what you must cope with is the repeated spike of hope which is dashed and the injustice of the child’s damaged mindset.  Additionally, around all of that, is the negatively bonded alienating parent who will, if they can, twist and jerk and turn the line to control you.

Do not let them.  Retrieve the power of the alienating parent over you and relocate it within you.  If you focus on their control and their power and the injustice of that, you will sink beneath the waves of their emotional chaos.  If you focus upon what is within your control and your power to change, you will find yourself becoming more stable and more able to cope in the longer term.

Anyone who spends their time negatively projecting things upon you is afraid of you, afraid of your health, afraid of your success, afraid of your vital place in the life of your child. Anyone who tries to stick labels onto you (look at the labels carefully because what they label you with, they are suffering from themselves, it is a projection), is suffering from a splitting of their own mind. When you encounter someone of this nature, silence is golden, disconnection is essential and absolute clear blue water should be flowing between you and them in every way, every single day.

That way your health grows and other people can see the reality of what is happening. Instead of seeing someone making allegations and projecting blame and you reacting like a fish on a hook, what they see is the reality.

If you want to catch a fish, you have to stay quiet. Getting people to understand what is happening, demands silence.

Don’t fall for the he said/she said trap, keep your own trap shut instead. That way you don’t muddy the waters, giving those with the power to stop the person doing harm, the chance to see what you can see. When they can see it they can take action.

And when they take action, the energy you could have expended in shouting for help, has been saved to use on more important things. Like living. Like loving. Like being the healthy person and parent that you are.

Avoid the he said/she said trap. Keep your own trap firmly shut.

Working with Relational Trauma in Divorce and Separation

A Clinical Seminar on Zoom

What does working with a child who rejects a parent actually look like? What are the clinical issues which are seen and how do psychotherapists understand the issue of alienation of a child? Amidst the arguments about what alienation is and how it is differentiated from estrangement, leading psychotherapists from six countries will join together to discuss the issues which arise in doing this work. Topics such as recognising attachment disruption, the impact of early developmental trauma on a child, the experience of divorce and separation for children and identification of relational trauma in parents, will be explored in this two hour seminar.

Reunification work will be discussed within the context of understanding alienation of a child as significant emotional and psychological harm and the concept of non accidental injury to the mind will be considered within an exploration of alienation as an act of child abuse.

Setting this discussion within the landscape of six different cultures, means that the differences in legal frameworks can be explored as we examine the Court as ‘super parent’ in these cases. Looking at the ways in which families have reached the outer edges of their capacity to manage the problems alone, considerations of the mental health interventions necessary to protect children will be central to this seminar.

Finally the practice standards necessary to deliver this work successfully and the need for practitioner protection from efforts to do harm to the reputation of those who do this work, will provide a road map for future work in this evolving field.

Featuring Psychotherapists from Six CountriesBenny Bailey from Israel, Joan Long from the Republic of Ireland, Claire Francica from Malta, Mia Roje from Croatia, Kelley Baker from the USA and Karen Woodall from the UK.

Please note that this seminar is being recorded on November 10 2020 and the link to watch it will be sent to all who have registered with us shortly afterwards. If you would like to register for the link please email me at

The recording will be made available on here and a wide range of social media platforms around the world during the week of November 16th 2020.

The seminar is being delivered free of charge through the Lighthouse Project as part of our ongoing work to raise awareness of clinical work with families affected by relational trauma in divorce and separation.

18 thoughts on “Silence is golden: avoiding the he said/she said trap in alienation

  1. Thank you. I have been following this advice for a few months.
    I employed a solicitor who write to my ex, saying communication would stop as the children were old enough (18 & 14) to communicate directly with me.
    My 14yr old refuses to speak to me telling me I need to make arrangements with her dad. He knows this is going against the solicitors letter, so instead of encouraging her to speak to me, is telling her not to.
    It’s devastating but I’m sticking by this advice
    Any further advice would be really welcomed!


      1. I am not My Cubs, but I believe I am in a similar situation. Any direct or even indirect communication with my ex is so toxic and abusive that I can see at some point needing to take legal action to stop him from communicating with me in any way.


      2. His texts were abusive and continuous. They were making me ill.
        He didn’t need to message. It was a way of control.
        I’ve not blocked his number. Simply asked via a solicitor for him to stop.


  2. Karen, This blog is just so true, not struggling in the net. I have been alienated for four years now and have become seasoned in the dips and waves of contact issues. I am now able to keep focused on the long term goal, keep calm and systematic and just keep picking myself up, dusting off the dirt and moving forward. One step forward then three steps back, one step forward, two steps back. I know another Mum whose alienation has just started and like myself, I watch her struggle and struggle in the net because she believes (like I did) that this was doing something proactive, this was fighting back, this was not letting go. I watch her being enveloped by the pain and loss, like her anyone telling me to slow down, focus on myself, gain your power back by not reacting was like telling me if my daughter had some rare disease to just do nothing. It felt crazy and bewildering. I couldn’t see that just shifting my focus to these healthier behaviours was actually far more productive, I had more power and I was able to step out of the net. To be honest, I think any newly alienated parent struggles in the net at first, almost like a rite of passage, you have to have done this first before you are able to step out of the net.


    1. I agree, struggling in the net is a rite of passage, if we can help parents move through that bit quickly they stand a better chance of showing the world what is really going on. K


  3. This is so important. In my situation my 13 year old son has become an expert at the projection and blame he learned so well from his father. When I don’t react to this in responding to his horrible emails, I am accused of not facing “reality”and not taking responsibility for my “actions”. It is so painful. Not the accusations so much (although they are also horrific) but more because it proves how damaged my boy is and what a long, hard road he has ahead of him. And all I can do as his mother who is supposed to protect him is to be silent. And if course to keep living my life which I do every single day for me and for my son.


    1. the more I know about this horrible problem, the more I know that it is all about how projection entangles other people’s mindsets and forces them to look the wrong way. Unwell and angry people projecting create the net, the children are proxy projectors and controllers in those circumstances.


    2. Oh my! I could have written this!
      Both my children & ex say that I need to take responsibility for the position I’m in!
      I’ve also had the unfounded allegations made against me by the children. I know now not to defend them as I’m then accused more and feeding his rhetoric that I’m unstable & out of touch.
      It’s like the alienators all go to the same school.


      1. It is shocking and disturbing how similar all of our stories are and makes it that much more infuriating that every single mental health and family law professional does not know about or accept that this form of abuse exists. Once you know the symptoms, it is so easy to identify. Many thanks to Karen and her team for continuing to educate those who need to know!


  4. Sadly Karen your wisdom has come too late for me….but every word of what you say is true…..I struggled and made things worse for myself…..hey ho…..we live and learn….life goes on..


    1. Longlost – please do not blame yourself for struggling, it is almost impossible not to when you are in the trap of the negative projection, everyone’s instinct is to shout help, everyone’s felt sense is the injustice and cruelty of this position. But it was not your fault. But for the behaviours of the influencing parent, the negative projections, the use of external biased services perhaps and the personality profile, but for the focus not on the children but the self, but for the parent who did this – you would not be longlost at all. You may have made some contribution at the outset because of what was being done, but this was not your fault and you do not need to carry blame and shame alongside everything else. Being alive to what you did is useful, the rest is the other parent’s baggage projected, put it down and move on and find your healthy place. Sending my best Karen


  5. I was just incredibly moved by the article. I was taken back to the time about two years ago, when I let go of my daughter after my son. And how bad I felt. I spent almost a whole week sleeping, plagued by nightmares, devastated. With the help of a handful of dear people and the presence of my youngest child, I somehow survived the days.
    When I look back now at the time up to the present day, my development seems almost unbelievable. I still have no contact with my two other children, but I am a human being again, a woman with feelings, with goals, with ideas and above all with the joy of life.


    1. This is how we want parents to feel, this is where we want you to get to, to that place where you are not in the net and the poisonous tentacles of the projections are not infecting you every day. I am glad to hear of your healing, this is your life too and like putting on your oxygen mask first, living your life healthily is the only way to help your children.


  6. I agree with Karen that our children need us to be travelling well. I thinks it fosters their confidence in us. I have found using mindfulness, yoga and meditation to be very calming. There are great resources available at no cost online. Jon Kabat-Zinn who created mindfulness based stress reduction has lots of great meditations and yoga sessions and inspiring talks about mindfulness on YouTube. is also a great resource with free courses. Also offers the full MBSR course online for free. I have also used floating and found it to be powerfully supportive when covid was not an issue. Nothing gets my distress levels down as well. Our new dog was also a strong driver for me to pick myself up because he needed me, and his steady love has been so healing. We all need to find ways to support our physical and emotional wellbeing, and even find ways to experience joy and growth, in spite of circumstances that we may be unable to change right now.


    1. Thank you for the guidance here it is really helpful – and dogs are wonderful creatures for helping in these circumstances, horses are too, in fact any creature we can connect with. (Dogs and horses are fantastic in reconnection work too).


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