Working with the language of parts in helping alienated children to heal

Inner Child Work

We are all still children inside our adult selves and some of our behaviours in the here and now come from our experiences of being children in relationship to adults. One of the important things you must remember when your child returns to you is that they need you to remain in your adult self.

The idea of all of us having different parts of the self comes from various schools of psychotherapy. Transactional Analysis for example teaches that we have three ego states of Parent/Adult/Child from which we interact with others. Humanistic psychotherapists consider we have parts of self which are known and unknown to us. In our work we recognise that the child we were continues to live within us and that any unresolved conflicts which remain from our childhood are often projected onto others.

This is a psychoanalytical way of thinking about ourselves in relationship to the past, present and future. In working with alienation, we are also aware that we need to take into account the transpersonal perspective.

Transpersonal means the relationships beyond our conscious mind and the influences of past generations upon our present selves. Thus arises the concept that we can be in relationship to people who were important to us in our childhood via our internalised ‘objects’, which are people from the past to whom we continue to relate in our imagination and inner world. In cases of alienation, the relationships we have with others are often overshadowed by other people who are not present as well as those who are. Which means that a child may become alienated not because of something a parent is doing in the here and now but because of the influence of people who are not even alive and the way that this shapes the behaviours of the parent to whom the child is aligned. Here is an example of what we mean by this.

When we fall in love, we fall in love with our own self as much as the other person. What we love about the other person first, is their reflection back to us of our own self. This is called the ‘honeymoon period’ and it is full of wonderful feelings and emotions. Unfortunately the honeymoon period is an illusion, which means that wonderful though it is, it will pass and reality will break through. That reality is the fact that the person we have fallen in love with is not perfect, they have flaws and they are different and separate from us.

The internalised ego state of parent/adult/child are always at play when you are parenting an alienated child, who is likely to attempt to become the adult or parent in relationship to you. If your own adult/parent ego state is fragile, then you are potentially going to move into a relational situation where your child is being your parent or attempting to act as if they are your parent.

This is a real problem for parents whose children return to them, because the defence of induced psychological splitting in a child produces an omnipotent false self which appears as part of the defence. This omnipotent false self is a little like that which appears in teenagers as they move through the developmental stages of separation and individuation on the road to adulthood.

In our experience, one of the most common scenarios which occurs in alienation is the onset of the induced psychological splitting which is caused by the alienating parent and the way in which this triggers responses from the rejected parent. In our view, the actions of the alienating parent can be both conscious and unconscious, that means that some alienating parents do this deliberately and others do it as a pattern of ongoing behaviour learned in childhood. Whether the alienating parent is doing this consciously or not however, the end result is the same, the child begins to use the defence of psychological splitting and projecting blame towards the rejected parent.

The Role of Projection

When the child begins to use the defence of psychological splitting, it causes a reaction in both the alienating and rejected parent. This is because the splitting response in the child is accompanied by projections onto the parents, one projection is wholly good and the other is wholly bad. These projections have a particular quality, they are projections of the child’s splitting of their own ego, dividing the self into good and bad first, is the precusor to the projection. The projection onto the rejected parent, contains the child’s split off identity with the rejected parent, which the child now fervently denies and it also contains the self hatred that the child experiences in the splitting reaction. Finally, the projection contains the inter-psychic material which has been passed to the child by the influencing parent. This projection can be so powerful and so painful that the rejected parent has to use the defence of splitting in response in order to avoid psychological disintegration.



Adult Self
Possesses ability to problem solve Is aware of self as adult in relationship to others Maintains a stable sense of self Has the capacity to understand the difference between subjective and objective experiences Searches for win/win outcomes Sees the bigger picture


Parent Self
Has the capacity to put the child’s needs ahead of own Does not compete with child Invests time and focus into child Capable of sustaining patience Nurtures Understands child’s needs for support Provides safety Is consistent in responses



Healthy Child Self
Playful Freely laughs and enjoys life Creative and spontaneous Friendly, open and warm Curious Affectionate Innocent Open


Conflicted Child Self
Angry Ashamed Vindictive Uncertain Anxious Embarrassed Vengeful Secretive Self centred
The Inner Child States in Rejected Parents

Remember that induced psychological splitting happens because the child can no longer compartmentalise their experience of living between two parents who are split apart in the outside world. Because of this, their behaviours begin to switch, denoting that they are adapting to fit the pressured situation they are living in. At the end of their capacity to switch behaviours to meet the needs of two parents, one of whom is causing pressure to align and reject because of their own maladapted and distorted beliefs, children will utilise splitting to relieve themselves of the intolerable burden of trying to maintain a relationship with someone they are aware is disliked, not trusted or hated by the other parent.

In doing so the child splits their own sense of self into at least four parts. The healthy part of the self is now in need of protection and what appears is a false self with omnipotent features. This self believes that they are in charge and that it is their role to defend the parent that they are now aligned with. The good part of the child is the part which is idealised, it is the part which identifies with the aligned parent and it creates a sense of omnipotence. The bad part of the child is that which contains all of the regulatory feelings of guilt and shame which would normally prevent a child from rejecting a loved parent. The defensive part of the child is the angry, rejecting, refusing and sometimes violent part of the child which now says no, I will not see that parent.

In the good part and bad part of the child reside the identifications with the parents and all of the heritage which goes along with that. In the good part of the child which is conscious for the child is the perfection of the preferred parent. In the bad part of the child resides the bad things that the preferred parent does which is now completely out of the child’s conscious mind. In the bad part of the child resides everything to do with the rejected parent both good and bad as well as the bad things that the preferred parent has done. Along with those split off experiences are the regulating feelings of guilt and shame.

The role of the defensive part of the child is to keep the bad part as unconscious as possible for as long as possible. This is why rejecting children do not want to see you, do not want to talk about you and do not want to think about you. This splitting off must be defended in order that the child remains capable of holding a sense of self in the world. It is a normal defence in a very abnormal situation.

The healthy part of the child, that which you remember with great love and which you wonder whether will ever return, lies buried beneath these three parts which arise as part of the child’s false persona. What you see in alienated children is the omnipotent self which is supported by the defensive self. What you don’t see is the bad part of the self which is repressed into the unconscious and the healthy part of the self which lies beneath the bad part.

When these parts begin to emerge in an alienation reaction, if what you do is respond in return from your own split child states, a perfect storm arises.

When you receive your child back into your life, it is essential that you both understand and are aware of how the alienated child will trigger your own split self and that you recognise that the defensive part of the child wants to trigger that part of you in order to gain control over you.

Just like teenagers will fish around in the inter-psychic1 relationship with a parent for the weak spot they can exploit, alienated children will deliberately push your buttons to find the point at which the internal conflicts you have to cope with from your own childhood, will make you vulnerable.

Many rejected parents who are re-parenting their alienated child, will say that they feel as if their child is trying to be an adult or parent in the relationship with them and it is true, they are. This is the outcome of induced psychological splitting, the child has adopted behaviours which are maladapted and which attempt to manipulate adults and especially parents. In this respect they are acting from a place which they do not have the capacity to understand or cope with. They are trying to behave like parents and adults in a family hierarchy which is broken.

Your role is to rebuild that hierarchy by preventing them from triggering your internalised inner child splits by working on your own issues away from your child. Knowing your trigger points as well as possible, knowing where you need re-parenting and finding a therapist who can offer that to you is how you will protect yourself and your child from re-entering the emotional and psychological entanglements created by induced psychological splitting.

Your aim is to remain in adult/parent state for almost 100% of the time at first. This means that your child cannot trigger your split child part. Playfulness with an alienated child comes later, when the risks of the child attempting to manipulate you into the split child self are reduced by the healing of the splitting in the child. Remember when play fighting used to ‘end in tears’ when you were little? Trying to ‘play fight’ with your alienated child will definitely end in tears if you attempt it too soon. Your child does not possess the capacity to play fight when they are in the split state of mind. They have little perspective and can only perceive you in a one dimensional way. Do not tease, argue with or use any other kind of childlike behaviours around your child in the early stages of reunification, instead concentrate on staying in adult/parent state of mind as much as you possibly can.

Over the years that I have done this work, I have come to recognise that alienation of children in divorce and separation is a readily understood defence mechanism which causes splitting, denial and projecting behaviours. What you see is not what is really going on in alienation precisely because it is a projection. When a child is showing the signs of psychological splitting, it is essential to remember that projection is a defence which is caused when the child is living with an intolerable secret. That secret is that the parent who is causing the rejection is the one who looks as if they are loving the child. The child cannot express that reality because they are captured by their utter dependency upon their parent, meaning that their vulnerability to coercive control, emotional and psychological manipulation is total.

Much damage is done to children in these circumstances and to rejected parents too. Understanding the dynamic means that as a rejected parent, you can begin to understand how to help your child recover.

1Inter-Psychic, meaning between two minds

Therapeutic Parenting for Alienated Children – What it is, why it matters, how it helps – 24th March 2021

What is Therapeutic Parenting?

Therapeutic parenting is a high nurture, attuned style of parenting which assists children who have suffered early developmental trauma, to build healthy attachments.

Why does it matter for alienated children?

Alienated children are more likely to have suffered early attachment trauma and, even in circumstances where this is not the case, they are likely to be suffering from attachment disruption caused by the experience of being alienated from a parent.

Anyone who is parenting an alienated child, must be aware of the ways in which this impacts upon the child’s behaviours, responses to adult relationships and different living arrangements.

How does it help?

Alienated children require that their experience and behavioural patterns are deeply understood and responded to in ways that help them to heal. Adapting parenting styles when your children are demonstrating signs of alienation, is a crucial strategy to support their resilience and recovery.

Who is this seminar for?

Parents and carers of children who demonstrate the alignment and rejection behaviours which are typically seen when a child becomes alienated.

This seminar will also help practitioners who wish to understand how to respond to the needs of alienated children, using techniques which are based upon internal family systems therapy and therapeutic parenting.

Date: March 24th 2021 @ 4pm GMT

Duration: 2 hours with 30 minutes Q&A with Karen Woodall

Cost £40 for 1 month’s unlimited access

Book Here

2 comments

  1. That is very astute and insightful, Karen.
    It is very difficult to think of a previously beautiful, gentle and loving child as vindictive but it happens. I have experienced it and would never have seen it coming. The secretive part is also very hard to handle- the very fact that a previously loving child has learnt to be secretive as a survival mode is indicative of any number of other abuses by the alienating parent that have brought the child to that point.

    Like

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