The harm which is caused to children who are induced to use psychological splitting as a defence, begins with the lack of differentiation in one side of the family of origin. Whilst there are families where both sides of the family have differentiation issues, it is usual that one side has a stronger problem and that this lack of differentiation on one side, prevents normal relationships on both.

Let’s start with what I mean by differentiation.

The concept of multigenerational transmission process describes how small differences in the levels of differentiation between parents and their offspring lead over many generations to marked differences in differentiation among the members of an extended family. The information creating these differences is transmitted across generations through relationships. The transmission occurs on several interconnected levels, ranging from the conscious teaching and learning of information to the automatic and unconscious programming of emotional reactions and behaviors. Relationally and genetically transmitted information interact to shape an individual’s “self.”

The Bowen Centre for the Study of the Family

Differentiation, in these terms, means the development of a sense of self, which is separate from others, for children who reject a parent after divorce and separation, there is a high likelihood that the development of self has been impeded prior to the separation, by an enmeshment with a parent.

Enmeshed relationships mean that there is a lack of separation between self and other. For a parent who has been brought up in a family where lack of self is a dominant feature, enmeshing a child feels normal, because it is the enmeshed relationship which creates a sense of safety. In enmeshed relationships, family is the place which is closed to the outside world and ‘out there’ is something to be afraid of. Enmeshment therefore, can feel cosy, safe and normal, when it is in fact, anything but.

At the heart of family relationships where self is poorly differentiated from other, are triangulated relationships across the generations, where what happens to a child in the parental relationship, is replicated when the child becomes a parent. We learn how to parent by being parented ourselves and we often compensate for the problems we experienced as children, when we have our own. Triangulation often means that relationships are distorted, for example when a mother and grandmother form a parenting partnership and the child involved loses a parent as a result. This is a common theme in alienation of children, where a parent is removed in order that an enmeshed parent/grandparent relationship is replicated.

The problem for the alienated child over time, lies in the lack of a differentiated self and thus an inability to build a stronger ego. A child in these circumstances, must fight to define the edges of their sense of who they are and is often overwhelmed in the process by the repeated inter-psychic demands to capitulate to the demands of the enmeshing parent. Such a child, when older, is often elevated to the position of carer or friend of a parent and is bestowed with a special role within the family system. If this child, as an adult, begins the process of differentiation of self, perhaps by meeting someone, repeating crises within the family of origin will act to pull the child back into the place of caretaker. This is how such a family is kept stable and any attempts by an outsider, a new partner perhaps, to pull this person out of the enmeshed position, will be experienced by the family and that person, as abusive.

Entitlement is a strong feature of these families and it often arises from the unresolved trauma which is being transmitted from within. Hidden trauma which is unattended to, can cause someone to use compensatory strategies to manage the harm which has been done, feeling entitled is one such strategy (I have suffered and therefore I am entitled to have you take care of me). Unconscious patterns of constraining children due to the drivers caused by unresolved trauma (I was harmed and you will be harmed unless I prevent you or constrain you in some way), is another strategy which is used. These patterns of influence, which are passed in the lack of differentiation and enmeshment, are all seen in families where children reject a parent outright after divorce and separation. The problem for these children is the combined power that the parent holds over the child and the child’s poorly differentiated self.

The problem of a child’s rejection of parent is a multi-facted issue which requires practitioners to differentiate the aetiology and then build successful interventions. The problem with this issue being the intensity of the work and its setting in the world of splitting, denial and projection. These are powerful primitive defence mechanisms, which demand a strong framework for treatment. When the intensity in the family is amplified by the actions of campaigners who act from the same undifferentiated sense of self, practitioners are left exhausted, frightened and very much at personal and professional risk of harm.

This is why we must educate the world to understand what is really happening when a child rejects a parent and act to ensure that those with power to deliver change for harmed children of divorce and separation, truly understand the issues which are seen. This is the task we have set ourselves in the International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children –

To differentiate and educate the public about the harm which is being caused to children by induced psychological splitting and to prevent that harm, protect alienated children and support their recovery.

IAPAC 2022

As we build up our 2022 conference programme, we will be developing awareness campaigns and resources to support education of all of those who work with families affected by divorce and separation. We will shortly announce the full programme for IAPAC 2022 which will be a hybrid conference in June (14-16) in Acre in Israel.

Family Separation Clinic News

Holding up a Healthy Mirror

This course for parents will run again in March and I will be opening up bookings next week.

Court Instructions

We are currently only accepting instructions in the High Courts of England and Wales, Republic of Ireland and Hong Kong. Lower court instructions are currently not being accepted.

FSC Evaluation

This is in progress with early outcomes due in 2022

Practitioner Training

We will not be running any further practitioner training groups until completion of the evaluation and accredited training which is due 2022/23.