This week I recorded a clinical seminar for the Lighthouse Project. with five highly experienced practitioners in the field of relational trauma in divorce and separation working in different countries.
The title of this blog, which introduces this seminar to you, is taken from a picture, shown in the seminar, by Mia Roje Djapic, a psychologist from the Child and Youth Protection Centre of Zagreb. Bruises on my soul is the title of a picture drawn by a formerly alienated child, to depict the suffering of induced psychological splitting. In the seminar, Mia introduces us to the ways in which children who have been in abusive family situations depict themselves and how alienated children depict themselves. She further differentiates, children’s drawings of their experience of high conflict, to show the ways in which we can understand the difference in our work with families.
This is a seminar which is rich in clinical content, in which the big questions about this work are addressed with thought and grace and great care. Comparing how six clinicians, in six different countries in the world, are all working with the same phenomenon, Dr Benny Bailey, a social workers and psychotherapist in Israel, draws our attention back to the reality that these are families affected by dysregulated behaviours which impact upon children but that they are ultimately, ordinary families which with help can move on to healthier ways of living.
Dr Claire Francica from Malta, introduces the need for a unified understanding of this emerging discipline and how working in the consulting room requires a team approach in which everyone understands the assessment and treatments necessary. Joan Long, a Psychologist and Psychotherapist from the Republic of Ireland, speaks at length about the risks to children and the core realities of working with boundaries in families where these are not present or leaky, putting children at risk. Dr Kelly Baker from the USA, speaks eloquently about the special moments in reunification, when a child who has been fiercely rejecting, allow incoming care again from a parent and calls for training for all disciplines in understanding this hidden form of child abuse.
I am priviliged to work with these colleagues and to draw from them, inspiration, support and clinical learning to continue the development work of EAPAP so that our network of alienation aware practitioners can keep growing.
Thank you to these clinicians too, for their courage to undertake risky and difficult work, in a field which is not well understood and which itself is criss crossed with splits and divisions. I join with my colleagues in hoping that the next decade brings a more unified approach to this field so that children in the future get the help that too many children in the past decades have been deprived of.
On behalf of my colleagues, thank you for watching.
This video is free of charge, its purpose is educational and to raise awareness so please, feel free to share it widely.
Dear Karen Thank you so much for allowing me to watch the seminar. I do have a few things to say about it. Please forgive my clumsy correspondence, I’m just so excited and relieved that this topic is being discussed. I have mentioned the program that I developed some time ago. I called it Refit. It’s written and somewhere in between that attic. It might be helpful, it might not, I’m not really sure. It is based on my understanding of the root that the alienated child takes into alienation and the root out of alienation towards a much healthier family dynamic. It is based on my idea that the weakest link is not the child but the alienator who was once a child but never grew up and doesn’t know how to get his/her needs met. I’m not saying the child is not the weakest, obviously it is because it’s a child. It’s a trajectory that I’m trying to explain. It seems to me in my experience before the child splits they become overwhelmed, I think you say this, but I think we need to linger on what is so overwhelming. We know the outcome is splitting because the child cannot emotionally cope. I believe they act like a parent trying to protect the alienator because they appear to them as the weakest link. If this is making any sense perhaps you may like to hear about my program. You might remember that I am an alienated child mother and grandmother but I don’t think I was alienated from myself which is why I expect to fix my problems with the resources out there in the university of life.
What would I like to see in 10 years? Clinicians and therapists understanding the cause of alienation and Holding the space and being there and witnessing reunification, refitting perceptions of what it is to be a parent.
Not just fix the problem if alienation but helping to create the conditions in familial relationships so that alienation doesn’t occur, and if it does how everyone Educated on how to have a relationship, something like that.
I have to rush off now. Thanks once again Kind regards Pauline
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I absolutely get what you’re saying. You have said a few things that I totally agree with and concluded long ago about my own ‘case’ – I am an alienated mother.
“It is based on my understanding of the root that the alienated child takes into alienation and the root out of alienation towards a much healthier family dynamic. It is based on my idea that the weakest link is not the child but the alienator who was once a child but never grew up and doesn’t know how to get his/her needs met. It is based on my idea that the weakest link is not the child but the alienator who was once a child but never grew up and doesn’t know how to get his/her needs met.” ……………..and ……………………”We know the outcome is splitting because the child cannot emotionally cope. I believe they act like a parent trying to protect the alienator because they appear to them as the weakest link”
(In my husband’s case, he saw me as ‘a threat’ and had to keep me ‘below him’ in the hierarchy ie keep me under under control, his control. There were things he thought gave me more ‘status’ than him, not least my teaching job and he couldn’t deal with it so he made himself out to be a ‘victim’ whenever our daughter was around and told her about every tiny fallout or row we had in our marriage. . As a result our only surviving child felt she had to protect him – from me! But it stemmed. I believe. from his childhood fear of losing his only family or as he called it “his blood” following his mother’s several suicide attempts when he was a schoolboy – he was the one who found her each time’. It morphed into him not being able ‘to share’ his blood – his daughter – with anyone, especially me. or as he put it when I finally told him I was leaving “Good, I won’t have to share her with you anymore”)
Just watched the video from beginning to end. Wow! Thank you to all involved.
Would you agree on the fact that social perspective, the perspective of the norms of a group, enhance the PA?
Adolescents are more vulnerable than grownups so they want to be cool, they do not want to fall outside the group. The mom or dad they are aligned to makes the group rules. They want to obey. So the group ( mom/ dad and the kids) is stronger than the individual (alienated mom/dad)
Would you agree this is a dynamic?
in some cases, yes but in order for that to be true, the adolescent has to split off and deny an aspect of self to allow that to happen.
Thank you for your answer. So if I understand correctly, the split off in children comes before the following the rules of the group the aligned parent is making. For instance the rule is: we do not talk to your mom/ dad.
This is only a group rule which the child follows whenever the child has split off and denies the aspect of self?
I wish to become involved and to support the Lighthouse
Thank you for your recent blogs on ‘Relational Trauma’. Your message resonated profoundly with me. Subsequently, I wish to become involved and to offer to you my experience as an alienated parent and a writer who has enabled young people (13-18yrs) and children (6-12yrs) to use storytelling to find their authentic voice and to show their stories to wider audiences in regard to their personal experiences of self-harming and attempted suicide.
I would be grateful if you could let me know how I could join with you and others and support your call and cause in a way so that a network of alienation aware practitioners can keep growing.
I know you have been especially busy since August preparing the EAPAP 20 Conference and sharing its excellent ‘Takeaways’, though would just like you to know that I have emailed you several times earlier to request a little guidance, on which I had hoped you would come back to me; perhaps now you might be able to soon.
Meantime, I continue to receive and enjoy reading your blogs. Thank you so much for each of them. They shine a light into a dark corner which I feel is increasingly becoming more and more illuminated through your life-changing and indeed life-saving work.
Sending you my best regards.
Hi Patrick, I am sorry that we have not come back to you yet. We are absolutely overwhelmed with work at the moment and are trying to install an automated booking system in order to meet demand. There are only 3 of us at the clinic so it is hard to meet demand but I apologise for the lack of response to your emails. Could you mail me at email@example.com and I will set things up for you. We can also discuss your kind offer of help which is very much appreciated. Kind Regards Karen
Karen, I cannot say thank you enough for all you are doing to bring awareness, standardized and more effective terminology, therapeutic treatments and most of all HEALING for those of us affected by this profoundly sad phenomenon / trauma. You and your colleagues brought such insightful perspectives in the seminar to something that’s truly hard to define – as professionals and parents. This is insidious and twisted and complicated with massive emotions and despair tied in, that by the time we finally understand what’s occurring as the rejected parent, the quest to have definitions to explain the complexity of it all often gets lost in an over simplified label of “high conflict” divorce. You truly hit the nail on the head there. That term needs to go away. And that cloud of “high conflict” divorce energy and subsequent fight to define what is truly happening to our kids to the people who we hope have them power to help FIX it , actually perpetuates the perfect breeding ground for the favoured parent to continue wreaking havoc.
You’ve helped put words and context on some strongly paralyzingly feelings. And as a Mom of alienated children who has been going through this for close to 8 years now, and I stand accountable for mistakes I’ve made to perpetuate what’s occurred as I also continue working through my grief, I applaud all of you for your efforts, help and love that you bring to help – especially for our children who need the support the most. As you said on the call, it takes a special person to help in this dynamic because it’s soul-sucking with often no easy or logical resolution. Thank you for all you do.
I also appreciate your collective insights on how important it is to move away from prolonged legal battles to define or prove what’s occurring versus immediately focusing energy on getting to the children so they feel safe or supported sooner.
I am now emerging from the fog of it all and can say wholeheartedly the faster we can get parents out of being caught in the narcissistic supply trap or being caught in the drama loop by feeling the need to justify ourselves or clear our names, the better chance we have of preventing deepening damage to our kids by truly focusing on them and stopping the cycle that leads to their severe splitting. I am hopeful for healing for my children for their own healing, and to help break the pattern of generational trauma for their own children. It’s people like you and your colleagues who help keep that hope alive. Thank you from my heart!
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It was good to see how professionals from different countries were all recognising similar situations of child abuse. I was particularly impressed with Zagreb where the mental health experts work in a team. I feel a collective approach where understandings of the problem have a similar interpretation stand a better chance of success.