Perspective and the ‘penny drop’ moment in parental alienation

Perspective: a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.

Penny Drop : used to say that someone finally understands something after not understanding it.

Please Note: In this post I am using the term ‘parental alienation’. I am using it because I want to show you how that label is being utilised by the campaigners who are trying to undo the progress made over the past decade, in bringing the experience of abused children in divorce and separation to light. Whilst I no longer use the label, largely because it is not necessary to do so in my work in this field, I do still work with the concept of alienated children and I consider the word ‘alienation’ to be an absolutely perfect description of what is being done to children who outright reject a parent, in circumstances where there is no evidence that a parent has caused them harm.

When a child is induced to use psychological splitting in divorce and separation, it is because there are recognisable maladaptive psychological behaviours being used in the family in which they reside. Those behaviours include coercive control, enmeshment, parentification and spouseification. Control behaviours include psychological aggression, threats both overt and covert and verbal manipulation as well as emotional and psychological manipulation such as threatening the child’s sense of safety and continuity of care. When a child enters into the state of mind we call psychological splitting, they do so in order to continue living their lives without psychological disintegration. This defence mechanism, which is infantile in nature, collapses the child’s capacity for perspective and critical thinking and causes hyper vigilence and alignment with one parent and outright rejection of the other. The defence can be caused by the actions of one parent against the other, the actions of two parents against each other or the actions of one and the extreme reaction of the other. In my experience of doing this work, the type of pressure placed upon the child prior to the onset of the defence of psychological splitting requires differentiation. The source of the pressure requires identification and the testing of whether one or both parents can change their behaviour, leads to isolation of the cause of the onset and therefore the route that must be taken to resolving the dynamics which have caused the defence. When the dynamics change, the defence drops, but getting to the point where the defence drops in the child’s mind, referred to colloquially as the ‘penny drop’ moment, depends upon how we intervene and who else is working with us or against us.

I cannot think of any other field of work, in which assisting an abused child requires the capacity and tenacity to withstand the kinds of personal and professional attack that those of us who do this work suffer. At times, it feels like being on a battlefield, trying to help children, whilst being heavily shelled from all directions. This is not because we do this work in the family courts, it is because we do this work in a world in which the campaigns to obfuscate reality, make it feel like anything goes and anything can be said and done. In effect, the uncontained psychological behaviours which are seen in cases of alienation, are mirrored in the uncontained behaviours of those who campaign against the concept of alienation. Let me explain what I mean by that because it goes right to the heart of why, the label parental alienation is being relentlessly attacked by campaigners and why perspective and the penny drop moment are so important both in doing this work and in talking about the problem in the outside world.

In situations where a child is being induced to use psychological splitting, the impact on the child is alienation of the self from the self, the appearance of a false persona and the removal of the child’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood. The scientific evidence of the harm that is done to a child when they are threatened with abandonment, coercively controlled, parentified or spouseified is clear and abundant, and the evidence of what happens to a child who develops a false persona is well documented.

When a child is being induced to use psychological splitting, their capacity for perspective and critical thinking is removed. In short, the defence of psychological splitting, prevents the child from being to experience the world from the right place in the family hierarchy.

All families are hierarchical by virtue of the fact that there is usually at least a couple of decades between each generation. Grandparents have the greater perspective of having lived a longer life, parents are in the here and now in actively caring for children and children are being cared for. That is the natural order of families and exists regardless of whether the culture within and within is authoratarian, permissive, or a mix of both. Children and parents are not friends, they are not mates, they do not exist on the same generational plane. A healthy family has a hierarchy and children are helped to respect the older generations within it.

This is because children do not come into the world with the capacity for perspective and critical thinking. They are helped to build those skills through the relational networks they are born into. Similarly, children do not have the emotional and psychological capacity to make decisions for themselves, they are helped to build the capacity to make healthy decisions through relationships which assist in the development of the brain. Nature and nurture are in constant relationship as the internal and external experiences are cycled and recycled by the developing child. The idea that children have capacity to make adult decisions is one which is promulgated by those who wish to inveigle the child into the wrong place in the family hierarchy. Children do not have the same perspective of their parents as their parents have of each other. Forcing a child to share adult perspectives is abusive because it puts them in the wrong place at the wrong time and removes their right to their own perspective (and feelings) about a parent.

Children who are inveigled into a parent’s perspective of the other parent are being triangulated, pressured and ultimately coercively controlled. This is because the child does not possess any power in the adult/child relationship and must depend upon parents entirely for their wellbeing. A child has no independence, no money, no way of making money, no means of escape and no-one they can talk to other than the people they are utterly dependent upon. When a parent causes a child to understand that loving the other parent is not acceptable (for whatever reason), the child has no choice but to obey the command. Whether that is issued overtly as in bad mouting, labelling and denigrating or covertly as in manipulating, fear inducing and withdrawal of affection, the child recognises that they have no means of escape and mus conform.

Going to the meta narrative of the campaigners who attack the label parental alienation, the exact same dynamics can be observed. As the observers of this narrative however, we are not dependent children, we can retain perspective and we can use critical thinking skills to avoid being brainwashed.

The notion that parental alienation is a discredited theory used by abusive men to abuse women who have left them is, at its heart, a perfect alienating strategy. What its proponents are attempting to do, is brainwash the reader into believing something which isn’t true. What they are also trying to do, is distract the observer’s attention from the experience of the child and roll that up into narratives about the family courts, which are designed to shock and create fear. The goal is to disorienate outsiders and convince them that something is very wrong. Looking at the kinds of research ‘evidence’ that these narratives are built upon and the exposure of the woozels being used to convince the outside world, the only way that I can think of to describe what is being done by these campaigners, is alienation (a deliberate attempt to destroy perspective and critical thinking skills about what is happening to children in divorce and separation in the public at large).

So what about the ‘penny drop’ moment and the return of perspective. The penny drop moment is that point at which the defence in the child drops and they return to the right place in the family hierarchy. In doing so, the child recognises that the allegiance to a parent has been coerced due to fear and anxiety and the parent they were taught to fear is not frightening at all. In reaching this point, the child’s split sense of self integrates and their denial of their own heritage is resolved. When the child welcomes back that side of the self they have denied, the projection onto parents is retracted and the block to the rejected parent’s incoming care is removed. Now the child can feel the side of the self which is identified with the once rejected parent and the lopsided narrative of living is balanced. The penny drop moment is something I have witnessed many times over, in children of divorce of all ages. It is a magical moment, when the child is reunited with the whole self and perspective returns. From this place, the child (at whatever age) can regain the lost energies which have been put into keeping the defence in place. The tangled becomes untangled, on the inside as well as the out.

Currently what is happening around the world is a concerted effort to prevent the penny drop moment from occuring in children, as well as anyone who works in this field or observes this field. There is a determined and joined up effort to obfuscate and deny the reality of alienation of children and to attack the label parental alienation with as much force as possible. At the same time, fogging techniques and gas lighting, both strategies being claimed by the campaigners as tools of abuse, are being used against anyone who does this work or who researches in this field. Strategies of denigration and confusion abound as campaigners on both sides of the fence attempt to take control of the narratives.

Stepping outside of this wild west landscape, we are focused only upon the ways in which alienated children are helped to build perspective and critical thinking skills. We keep in mind, the power of the legal and mental health interlock, to bring about resolution and we follow only, the path which brings greater awareness of how to do this work. This vision, which is tunnel in terms of determination to bring about change for abused children in divorce and which is detailed, nuanced and differentiated in terms of understanding how alienation in children presents, how patterns of behaviours in parents are understood and how true alienation is isolated from claims of alienation, is the driving force behind all that we do.

This way of working, which is shared amongst serious practitioners in this space around the world, is how we will continue to educate and iluminate the reality of alienation of children in divorce and separation. This is how the power of the penny drop moment and perspective is protected for children and all who want to help them.

This is our project for 2021.

12 comments

  1. Hi Karen,
    Once again you have absolutely nailed it.
    The only problem is that our not fit for purpose family court just cannot get their head around it, and ultimately, they wrongly determine the best interests of the child. The burgeoning family law industry know that this is their cash cow and they throw all efforts to undermine any matter in which this scenario is raised.
    I only how that you, and others, working at the coal face can bring about change.
    Love your work.
    Please keep pushing this forward.
    With sincere regards from a loving, but alienated, parent.

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    1. I agree Paul. In addition to the Family Courts corrupted thinking I also found that they refuse to even entertain the evidence available that the rejected parent (me) seeks to submit. They simply start from a pre-determined agenda to destroy one or other parent and having identified which is the easiest to hurt the most, off they go.

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  2. Karen you put all my thoughts in to words i spent every penny I owned and alot more to gain re access to my baby girl and fight for the court to help us which thay did and after years we could be together again only for my x to move country with her new husband and my baby but only after thay had broken me to the point iv sold 2 houses to fund the case iv nothing left apart from a bill from child support for 4,000 and 300 pounds a month direct debit payed to her not even noing where my baby is and no monny left to fund my next battle I feel I’m supporting my x in breaking her court order and have no way to pull my self from the mire

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  3. Another excellent article Karen. I wish you and the team all the very best of luck in your 2021 endeavours.

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  4. As ever Karen you have described succinctly and accurately exactly what my daughters have been put through. It’s approaching five years now and as I’m sure any parent alienated from their children for a long time will say: it only continues to get more and more painful with each passing day, week, month and year.
    I understand your explanation of the Penny drop moment and the analysis of how this may enable an alienated child to rediscover their true self and a new and healthy relationship with the alienated parent. However, in a world and especially in UK society, where the demonization of men is now common place in all media and in many other aspects of life that children encounter as they grow older, it is harder and harder for me to believe that my girls will ever come home. Their mother’s second husband, now also her Ex, has told me point blank that she made him very aware she would never ever allow me to recover a relationship with our children, which she destroyed when they were 12 and 10 years old. She did this because she could not accept how much they loved and wanted to be with their dad. YES – that’s why she did it. That’s 100% true…she picked her moment, when they were vulnerable adolescents (particularly the older of the two) and the Family Court just lapped up all her lies. She’ll never stop and I think the world at large is determined to ensure that the girls can never recover a relationship with me. I am really struggling with this reality. Really struggling.

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    1. So sorry to hear what you wrote Robert. I feel for you I really do – not very different to what I’m living through. Stay strong mate and have faith.

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      1. Thank you fariajc. It’s kind of you to suggest it, but I wont pursue the new forum you’ve mentioned. I comment on Karen’s posts only infrequently now, as I find that trying to distance myself from the reality is part and parcel of a way of coping. I was in touch with NAPP (National Association of Alienated Parents), a little while ago – thinking there might perhaps be a new avenue to explore there, but sad to say I’ve realised that whilst there is more exposure, more discussion, perhaps even more recognition of what’s happening to so many parents; nothing is actually being achieved – largely I think for the reasons I mentioned in my earlier comment. The time will come when it will end, but what that end will be I don’t yet know. There is a history of alienation in my Ex’s genealogy – her maternal grandmother did something very similar to her first husband and his children lost him. They found him again, on his deathbed and in circumstances which I’m quite sure must have been appallingly hurtful to him. I think that’s what my Ex plans for me. Its not going to happen. Thanks again.

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  5. Its my daughter’s eleventh birthday in two days time. I a writing from India and was divorced in 2016, my ex deserted me when my daughter was two years old and I never saw her again even after getting the visitation rights at the time of divorce they managed to estrange me from the love of my life. My ex is a confirmed case of OCPD.

    Karen I have no words to describe how I felt reading this piece. And happy that experts in the field are working on this. I write to you from India and I hope some day soon my daughter gets to grow up and read about this stuff. Please continue your great work and I am The Penny Drop Moment will become a movement.

    I think one major problem is that alienated parent or children do not get to talk about this, and all the voices are scattered globally and the voices that speak, stay within the cliques and coteries of the sufferers and victims and does not go beyond that. If something can be done about it in an organized manner at a global level this can than become a big turning moment; to help remove this inevitable pain that we go through and help blossom thousands of lives across the world that can than spread the light and love to make this world a better place…

    Thanks Again and All the best !

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  6. “In situations where a child is being induced to use psychological splitting, the impact on the child is alienation of the self from the self, the appearance of a false persona and the removal of the child’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood. The scientific evidence of the harm that is done to a child when they are threatened with abandonment, coercively controlled, parentified or spouseified is clear and abundant, and the evidence of what happens to a child who develops a false persona is well documented.”

    I mourn for my children’s loss of innocence at such a young age. That short but sweet time of innocence in our childhoods, if we were lucky enough to experience it, is so important to our healthy development. Breaks my heart…

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