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.