We are now working on the resources for families affected by a child being induced to use psychological splitting as a defence in divorce and separation, this includes training for social workers who are, in my view, the people to do the structural re-organisation in families which releases the child from the double bind which causes psychological splitting. With investment funding, these resources will be widely available and will be supported by the outcomes of the evaluation of our work with families and the testimonials of now adult children assisted by our interventions. An example of what we are doing is below.

What is induced psychological splitting?

Psychological splitting is one of the primitive defences which are used in early life. Splitting is a psychological defence which allows the person to cope with overwhelming emotions by seeing someone as either good or bad, idealised or devalued. This makes it easier to manage the emotions that they are feeling, which on the surface are difficult to reconcile. An example of this in divorce and separation is when children find it difficult to cope with the contradictions in being parented by two parents who live apart and who do not communicate or, when they are exposed to negative beliefs about a parent, which are expressed by the parent they usually live with. Psychological splitting is a defence which is seen in some personality disorders, it is also seen at times in teenagers who go through a phase of polarised beliefs about the world (everything is wonderful or everything is terrible).

Psychological splitting is induced in children of divorce and separation by a parent who exposes the child to negative beliefs about the other parent, leading to the child using splitting as a way of relieving themselves of the dillemma of trying to love a parent who is being portrayed as harmful to their wellbeing by the other parent. When splitting occurs, the defence causes the child to split off their sense of heritage, connection to a parent and deny all positive feelings. When this occurs, an idealisation of the parent causing the problem arises which is powerful but often brittle in that it appears as if the child is defending the parent. In teenagers, where splitting behaviours are common anyway, differentiating behaviour is essential to determine whether the child is splitting as a result of being influenced by a parent.

Differentiation of splitting in teenagers

This is a differentiation grid which enables social workers/practitioners/parents, to understand the difference between normal teenage behaviour, transitional difficulties in teenagers who move between households and teenagers who are induced to use psychological splitting, the purpose of this is to ensure that work with teenagers who reject a parent, is properly supported by social workers who are able to differentiate behaviour effectively. This prevents a young person from being assumed to be alienated when in fact their behaviour might be due simply to being a teenager. The differentiation grid is accompanied by training which is set in a social work framework of child protection, the purpose of this is to help social workers to identify how children and teenagers suffer harm when they are triangulated into parental feelings about the other parent.

Core Markers of Induced Psychological Splitting

You will see from the differentiation grid above, that psychological splitting causes children and young people to behave in a particular way. The core markers of this defence in a child are lack of empathy for the parent being rejected and contempt. This is often accompanied by an omnipotent sense of being completely in control of events, this can lead to challenging behaviours such as running away, making further allegations and threatening harm to the self or others.

In this scenario, where a child is acting out rejection (which is always accompanied by lack of empathy, contempt, dismissal of the rejected parent and a very strong expression of preference for the aligned parent such that the parent appears idealised), there is a double bind present caused by psychological and emotional pressure from the aligned parent to demonstrate rejection – ie: The child is pressured into acting out the covert wishes of the aligned parent. In such circumstances, protecting the child from the covert control of the aligned parent is essential, this allows the child to drop the defence which is being induced and allow the incoming care of the parent they have been forced to reject.

Observing Splitting Behaviours

When splitting is present in the child, it is vital to investigate and observe over time how the alignment with a parent is maintained. Close observation allows for further differentiation so that an understanding of how the child is being controlled or enmeshed with a parent can be built. When this evidence is available, decisions about how to assist the child can be made.

Working with children and young people who are using induced psychological splitting in a child protection framework requires that splitting behaviour is established as being present from the outset and a forensic investigation of how that is caused is necessary. Just as we would not treat all physical illness in the same way, we do not approach the psychological and emotional problem of splitting in children generically. Each family is different and each child is different, in addition, each child is the subject of their own lived experience, however complex that experience may be. The first task in any intervention with families where children say no to a relationship with a parent after divorce and separation,is to establish whether the child(ren) concerned are using the defence of splitting and then differentiation sharpens an understanding of why that is happening. Subsequent work with the family helps to determine how the splitting is induced and what can be done to prevent that harm so that the defence in the child drops and the child can shift back into a healthier relationship with self and others.

Differentiating splitting and rejection for other reasons

Differentiating induced psychological splitting, in which the child is captured in this double bind, from what some call ‘justified rejection’, relies upon the child’s presentation and the circumstances in which the child is rejecting. In our experience, some children do reject parents because they are unable to cope with that parent’s behaviour towards them. In such circumstances however, the child is seen to be able to explain in reasonable terms, what the parent is doing and why they no longer wish to spend time with them. Evidence in observation confirms that the child is not splitting and is not idealising or demonising parents.

False allegations of alienation

Sometimes a covert pattern of manipulation occurs, in which a parent accuses the other of alienating the child as part of a strategy to alienate the child themselves. Being able to differentiate this is essential in order to rule out false allegations of alienation. In my experience, this covert use of the allegation of parental alienation is seen in situations where there has been domestic abuse and where a parent (usually a father), is seen to attempt to control the mother. In such circumstances children are often told that the mother is deficient in her parenting and that she was never really bonded to the child. The paternal grandmother is often very present in the family system in this scenario and the children will be seen to shift towards an idealisation of their father/grandmother and demonisation of their mother.

Claims of false allegations of alienation

Some mothers who are influencing their children, claim that the allegation of alienation is a tool being used by the father of their children to continue to control them. Careful observation of the family system is necessary in such circumstances to ensure that this is not a covert pattern of post separation control by the father against the mother. In both of the above scenarios, determining whether the child is using the defence of psychological splitting is the starting point for forensic analysis of behavioural patterns which give clear evidence of what is happening in the family system.

Learning point

If the child is not dividing their feelings for parents into wholly good and wholly bad, something other than pressure from an influencing parent is causing the problem. In such circumstances a careful global assessment, which takes into account the history and background of the family system is necessary.

If the child is dividing their feelings for parents into wholly good and wholly bad, the child IS being influenced via pressure from somewhere in the family system and an observation trial is necessary to locate the source of that pressure. Observation trials should include observing the child with the aligned parent as well as the rejected parent. The observation with the rejected parent should take place as early in the assessment process as possible in order that the rejected parent’s capacity to cope with the child’s behaviours is understood. It is often in carrying out this observation that the covert resistences in the aligned parent will be seen. In such circumstances it is possible to evaluate what the necessary intervention is to release the child from the double bind.

Wishes and Feelings

Children who are being induced to use psychological splitting are being emotionally and psychologically harmed. As such their wishes and feelings must be heard in the context of that harm and must be understood as an expression of the double bind they are suffering. This does not mean that wishes and feelings must be ignored but rather, they must be understood as a maladaptive response to a distorted experience of being parented.

The above is an excerpt from our training for social workers which is currently being completed. This will be a downloadable resource which can be accompanied by face to face training where required. This training will be available in several languages and is produced with the support of private investment funding. The training will include evidence from the evaluation of the work of FSC over ten years.

Learning and Listening Drop in Circle

Facilitated by Karen Woodall

Every two weeks starting Tuesday 4 October 2022, 17:00 – 19:00 UK time.

The restoration of health, for 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.

This is a bi monthly drop in group which can be attended regularly or just as a one-off. The circles will be facilitated by psychotherapist Karen Woodall until the Christmas period of this year. Each session will focus on a particular element of therapeutic parenting for children with attachment difficulties due to divorce and separation and will comprise of 45 minute input and then an hour and 15 minutes of group discussion. Participants can attend to listen and learn and to share and receive knowledge. The basic requirement is simply curiosity about helping alienated children. The cost of each session is £40.00 (including sales tax).

Please note:

A link to the event will be emailed to you, separately. This may not be sent until a few hours before the session is due to begin. If you have not received the link, please check your spam folders. If you are still unable to find the email, please contact parenting@familyseparationclinic.co.uk

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Instructions in Court

The Family Separation Clinic continues to accept instructions in the High Court of England and Wales, the Republic of Ireland and Hong Kong. We are currently experiencing a high volume of enquiries and the waiting time for clinical trial/therapeutic work post judgment is 20 weeks. In addition, I am currently fully booked for instructions in England and Wales until March 2023, I continue however, to provide consultancy to Local Authorities involved in Section 37 reports and Public Law cases. If yu have an urgent enquiry please contact office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk