Psychological Splitting is the core sign which is seen in children when they are being pressured by a parent after divorce and separation. Pressure on the child can be caused deliberately or accidentally, it can be a conscious act on the part of a parent or an unconscious one. The result however, is that the child is triangulated into adult concerns and is rendered hyper aware of the dynamics between the parents or how one parent feels about the other. When a child is in this position in a family, their unconscious experience of childhood is violated and they are put at risk of serious harm.
Psychological splitting in a child causes them to hyper align with a parent putting pressure on them and to reject the other parent. The child using psychological splitting then finds a way to describe to themselves and others, why they are rejecting a parent. Explanations range from somewhat ridiculous reasons such as not liking a parent’s way of talking to serious reasons such as allegations of abuse. When the reasoning for the rejection has been shown to be without foundation, the child can be considered to be alienated, the alienation suffered by the child is from their own authentic sense of self first, this division into good self/bad self, is then projected onto parents.
A child using psychological splitting can appear to have an authentic self and a false self, the false self is seen in relationship to the aligned parent who is idealised and the rejected parent who is demonised. When a child uses psychological splitting as a defence, they are using denial and projection which are primitive (infantile) defences. When those primitive defences begin to take hold of the family system, the aligned parent (who is often also using those same defences) is comforted and the rejected parent is terrorised. Rejected parents are often pushed savagely into the use of reactive splitting, in order to survive the injustice and horror of the scenario which is unfolding. For too long, this family relational trauma has been tolerated, dismissed as irrelevant (kids do fine without a parent) or denied by those same people who use primitive defence mechanisms to control others.
Since 2020 I have been working on developing training for rejected parents, which educates and empowers by explaining what is happening with, strategies for respondng effectively to this horrible family separation trauma. I have been talking about this recently, to Alienated Children First and you can watch that discusson below.
The reason for developing training of this nature for parents who are rejected, is not because parents in this position have caused the rejection, it is because I know, from working with alienated children since 2009, that the best therapist for children in recovery, is that parent. I also know, that in order to be the most effective in healing the child, parents who are rejected, must learn how to adapt their parenting to fit the needs of their child. Alienated children are not like other children, they are suffering from a defensive splitting which can persist even when there is no longer any need for the defence. Helping your alienated child, either directly or from afar, using evidenced strategies which are tailored to meet the particular needs of this group of children, is what this training is all about.
Since late last year, some sixty parents have joined me for a weekly two hour class in which we have worked through all of the concepts of this new curriculum for rejected parents. Together we have looked at emotional regulation, mapping your child’s journey, mentalisation, traumatic splitting, pacing, signalling to your child and the techniques of therapeutic parenting adapted to fit the needs of your child. Some of the outcomes of this work have been powerful, with parents saying that they feel healthier, more confident and clearer than ever before about how to manage the problem of their child’s psychological splitting. Some of those parents are continuing their journey with me on higher level courses and from the end of May, I will be opening up a therapeutic development group for parents who wish to build skills for self help and helping others, I will post more about that soon.
The Family Separation Clinic News
The Family Separation Clinic is now focusing upon building resources for families and practitioners who work with them and developing training for parents and practitioners to bring knowledge, skill and understanding about psychological splitting, its impact on children and how to treat it. Whilst we continue to do some work in the family courts around the world, our major focus is upon development of the workforce and raising awareness of the fact that the problem which is labelled by some as parental alienation and by others as resist/refuse dynamics, is actually the onset of a well known defence in the child, triggered by pressure on the child and the impact that has on the family as a whole. We know, that by explaining what this defence is, those with the knowledge and skill to do this work, will come and that supported by the right resources and parents who know how to engage in healing strategies with their children, this work will become easier.
The past two years have seen an onslaught of deliberate mischaracterisation, manipulation and deliberate harm to this field, which is actually about protection of children and the traumatic impact that divorce and separation has on some of them. Having moved beyond that deliberate battle to fog the reality, supported by investment to enable us to develop resources, we are working with colleagues around the world in creating change.
(Please note that FSC can only accept instructions in cases in the High Court of England and Wales currently. Consultancy work with Local Authorities is considered on a case by case basis.)
The International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children
The International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children, will showcase some of the work we have been doing on therapeutic parenting, with an additional workshop for parents at the end of day one which is focused entirely upon practical strategies for building the path for your child to walk home on. Seminars in psychoanalytic understanding, structural therapy and working with primitive defences, feature prominently in the programme which will be published next week. The entire conference focuses upon practice with alienated children because it is treatment and healing which is our first concern.
You can read more about the conference and book here.
Holding up a healthy mirror: Becoming a therapeutic parent to alienated children
An online course for alienated parents and their families with Karen Woodall
Session 1: Tuesday 3 May 2022
Session 2: Tuesday 10 May 2022
Session 3: Tuesday 24 May 2022
Session 4: Tuesday 31 May 2022
Each session runs for two hours from
16:00 to 18:00 BST
You can check your local start time for the first session here (just click the link and enter your city in the blue box):
About this course:
Children who hyper align with a parent and reject the other in divorce and separation are usually in the age group 8-14 years. This is because this age group is in a stage in which their sense of self and personality is under development and the ego is not strong enough to regulate the anxieties which are generated by the experience of attachment disruption in family separation.
What we know about children who experience these difficulties, is that they can be helped when one of their parents is able to understand their experience and in response, hold up a healthy mirror. When the holding of this mirror is consistent, the child who has suffered from induced psychological splitting which is demonstrated by aligning themselves with one parent and rejecting the other, can experience an integrated sense of self which assists in recovery.
In order to hold up a healthy mirror, the parent in the rejected position must first address the reactive splitting that they are likely to have suffered. Reactive splitting, which occurs when the child rejects, (often accompanied by false allegations), can cause a parent to feel natural reactions such as anger, bewilderment and shame. These feelings, which are normal in the circumstances, can become blocks and barriers to the child’s recovery as the parent refutes the allegations and shows the child their reactive feelings. In these circumstances, the child withdraws further, struggling with their own guilt and shame and begins to split off their feelings further.
Restoring health to rejected parents begins with an understanding of what has happened internally and how that has become entangled with the child’s own splitting reactions. When parents are able to map this splitting across the family system, their own reactive splitting can integrate and they can begin the work of developing the healthy mirror needed by the child.
Parents who have healed reactive splitting can then learn to apply the skills of therapeutic parenting. This is an approach to parenting children who are suffering from attachment disorder due to being emotionally and psychologically harmed. Alienated children with therapeutic parents, are shown in evaluation, to be able to recover quickly from the underlying harms which have caused their rejecting behaviours.
On this course you will learn:
- What psychological splitting is, how it occurs and why
- How to identify your own reactive splitting
- How to integrate split thinking in a fractured landscape
- How to build integrated thinking strategies
- What to embrace and what to avoid when rebuilding health in the face of alienation
- How to build the healthy mirror your child needs
- Mentalisation strategies for mirroring health
- The power and importance of consistent mirroring
- How other parents have used integrated mirroring to bring their children back to health
- Therapeutic parenting – an integrated skills set
- Building a consistent communications strategy for recovering your children
- Working with the counter intuitive approach necessary to enable alienated children to withdraw their projections
- Staying healthy amidst the chaos caused by psychological splitting
Based upon successful work with many families around the world, Karen Woodall will share with you the deep knowledge of how to recover children from the nightmare landscape of psychological splitting. Karen has helped families to rebuild health and wellbeing with children of all ages and has developed a structural approach to working with alienation which is easily translated into strategies which can be used by parents.
‘I have worked with Karen Woodall for two years now and both of my children are back in our lives and thriving. One of my children was alienated from me for ten years and she is clearly suffering the impact of that. With Karen’s guidance, I am working to address her attachment difficulties, which I now understand and recognise. Karen’s guidance works, it helps children to come home and then heal. It has been invaluable to me to do this work and understand and feel skilled as parent again.’
Emma, Mum to two children aged 16 and 19.
‘My children are both in their thirties and I despaired of ever seeing them again. I have worked with Karen for six months and am delighted to say that I seeing them both regularly now. Working with therapeutic parenting skills, I have begun to understand how they have been affected and I can help them with confidence and see the difference it makes. I am recovering a sense that I can do something about this nightmare and that makes all the difference in my life’
Jack. Dad to two adult children aged 32 and 37.
This course will be recorded and can be purchased by parents and family members in Australia and New Zealand.
- This webinar will be held on Zoom.
- To gain access, you must provide a valid email address along with your name and PayPal order reference number (you will receive this by email from PayPal after you have made payment).