“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The project to protect children from abuse after divorce and separation continues around the world, helped by the gathering of professionals in Acre in Israel last week at the IAPAC2022 conference. Our work shines a light on the way in which children’s needs, which for so long have been regarded ideologically, as being indivisible from the rights of their mothers, are individual and related to their right to live in healthy relationships with all of the important adults in their lives.
The conference was opened by Judge Erez Shani of the Family Court of Tel Aviv, who spoke of the need to be the light in the world in the work that we do to protect abused children in divorce and separation. Being the light in a world which is often full of the primitive defences which cause people to act without foresight, takes courage, something colleagues in this field from around the world have in abundance. There is strength in numbers and last week 248 professionals working in this field from around the world, showed their determination, by standing with children who do not have a voice of their own due to the harm they have suffered in parental separation.
The conference heard from colleagues in Croatia and Serbia, the former country having witnessed media manipulation combined with local politics to silence pioneers in child protection. Terrorising those who do this work is a common tactic of ideological campaigners, who feed the media and public figures with one sided narratives, which serve only to further an agenda to hide the abuse of children.
They seek their own allies who uncritically endorse their status as victims and trump their cause.Johnston, Gans Walters & Friedlander, 2001
False allegations are not just the weapon of parents seeking to control their children’s relationships after divorce and separation, they are the weapon of those who seek to disavow their own responsibility for harming their children, by projecting blame onto others.
Facing negative projection is however, one of those dynamics which we simply have to accept if we are going to properly protect children in this space. Primitive defences are powerful and come into play when people are trying to survive in difficult circumstances. Primitive defences are aggression, denial, splitting, projection, fixation, fantasy, identification, passive aggression, rationalization, reaction formation, idealization, and acting out and it is easy to see, when they listed this way, that they belong in the realm of early childhood. Unfortunately for many children, they are pushed back into the use of primitive defences by parents who themselves are unable to hold an integrated sense of self due to harm which they suffered in their own childhood. Transgenerational trauma repetition is easy to understand when working with children who are aligning strongly with a parent and rejecting the other, the alignment dynamic gives the child access in the inter-psychic relationship, to split off material from the denied abuse suffered by the parent and sometimes the grandparent. Acting out the alignment and rejection dynamic, means that the child is in the wrong place at the wrong time and, having access to secrets which they have no capacity to understand or process, the child reflects back to the parent the anxiety of the unresolved trauma.
This work and this world is full of big feelings of anger and hurt and hatred, It is awash with grief and suffering. At times, as I bear witness to this pain, I wonder how anyone can survive in this landscape which is riddled with terror and shame and the shadows from those who are unable to contain the blame projections. And yet we do and in doing so we learn from the children we work with about their lack of a language to describe their experience. And as we learn about that lack of language, we begin to recognise that the landscape we are working in is full of symbolism which is borne of fear and anxiety. When words fail, feelings give shape to metaphor and when we learn the meanings of those metaphors, we see that in the shadows lie the attempts of children who are alienated from what Dr Inbal Baron Kivenson calls ‘the lines of joy’ and which I would call an unconscious experience of childhood, to ask for help. Standing by those children means understanding the world from their perspective, seeing the helplessness and hopelessness which comes from being subsumed by a parental agenda and being able to create routes out of the trap which enables growth and freedom.
Last week colleagues shared knowledge and re-dedicated themselves to continuing to helping abused children of divorce and separation, whatever it takes and however long, we will be standing by.
Holding up a Healthy Mirror – Course for Parents
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.
Purchase of tickets to this course offers access to the recordings by all participants for up to one month.
- 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).