This year I have worked with many families at different stages, of the journey which emerges when a child is induced into the primitive defence of psychological splitting after divorce or separation. Having mapped this journey now across all stages, it has become all the more important in my work to stop at different places to understand further what these children need. My doctoral thesis is focused upon the phenomenological experience of rejection of a parent in childhood, my work in the family court is about treating the problem of rejection in children up to the age of 18. My work with rejected parents this year however, has been to assist them to understand and use the skills of therapeutic parenting, because it is this skill set which is most needed by older children who are moving into spontaneous reunification.
Responding to the need for more support for families, our Holding up a Healthy Mirror Course, which has been delivered to over two hundred parents this year, has built a therapeutic route to assisting parents to reframe their understanding of the problem of a child’s rejection. As a result, a group of people who are highly skilled in therapeutic parenting has evolved, which provides a basis for further development of this work.
2023 is all about understanding and responding to the specific psychological needs of children who are seeking to come home, to help more famlies to receive their children with the skills they need. This is because these children, who suffer from the impact of induced psychological splitting, have particular needs as they enter adulthood which can only be responded to by the parent who they have rejected. Therefore, as we deepen our understanding of what lies beneath this problem of alignment and rejection, we discover more about how to respond to it. Sharing this knowledge of what lies beneath and assisting families to build the skill set to help children, is one of our core goals for the coming year, because when parents understand what has happened to their child emotionally and psychologically, they are empowered to activate their healing potential. It is, in my experience, it is these dwellers on the threshold, which have the power to create the greatest opportunities for children of divorce and separation to fully heal from the harm which is caused. This harm is caused by the pressure upon the child from a parent and the lack of awareness of what the problem is as well as the lack of treatment routes.
When Children Come Home
There are many challenges for parents whose children are making their way back to a relationship with them after complete rejection, not least the defences of the child and the attachment distortions which caused these. Some children find a parent but continue to believe that this parent is the bad parent they rejected, some understand that the parent they rejected did nothing to warrant that rejection, some are coping with the impact of what they have suffered. So what have these children suffered? The reality is that they have suffered a great deal but have been led to believe that their experiences are not worthy of worrying about. There is a lack of witnessing for these children or advocacy for their experience. What we know about these children from our clinical work however is that the patterns of their experience, are recognisable in terms of what is reported via parents who are receiving them back into their lives. The commonalities are attachment disruptions and the related issues which flow from those, the major of which are as follows –
Splitting is a primitive defence, it occurs when the world is overwhelming and impossible to digest without dividing it into pieces or parts. Splitting is the core problem experienced by children who align and reject after divorce and separation and it is well known in the psychological literature as being a problem for children with emotionally immature parents. When a child has suffered from psychological splitting, there is likely to be a latent vulnerability such as an attachment disorder. For some children, the breakdown of the parental relationship, triangulates them into adult matters, causing attachment disruption such as parentification.
Parentification is an attachment disruption which causes children to take care of emotionally immature parents who depend upon their children for positive reflection and psychological support. So many of the children who seek to reunite with a parent spontaneously, struggle to do so because they are parentified. You can learn more about this in the video below/
Children of divorce and separation who are parentified have been pushed into this maladaptation due to the leakage of emotional and psychological affect from a parent. When this occurs and a child also feels abandonment anxiety, they are driven to align with the parent they fear will leave them or not cope without them, rejection of the other parent is a by-product of that response.
Children Reuniting Have Psychological and Emotional Tasks to Complete
Children who are reuniting but who have not addressed their internal splits or who have become parentified, or both, will behave in particular ways which show that their core self is unstable. This table shows the way in which children who are still vulnerable this unstable state of mind will behave, on the left hand side is the behaviour of the unhealed self, on the right is the stabilised self which has integrated the split state of mind.
Parents whose children are reuniting with them, must be able to understand the behaviours which are displayed by their children in order to be able to assist their children to integrate the split off parts of self and stabilise their sense of who they are. This is why we say that the most valuable therapist for the child is the parent they have rejected, it is because this parent holds the key to enabling a stabilised sense of self through mirroring to the child a positive external relationship.
Parents who wish to assist their children to recover from the harm caused by induced psychological splitting, must first understand what splitting is. This video, featuring Otto Kernberg, describes splitting and why it is a problem.
Sharing this information with parents and then observing how this enables children who are reuniting to build a stronger and more stable sense of self is only part of what we are doing. In healing the child from the use of primitive defences, we are helping children to withdraw their projections of good/bad onto parents, enabling them to recognise that this sense of their parents is not real. As we do this, we also strengthen the core self of rejected parents, by absorbing anxiety, digesting and reflecting back to them that they are healers and not causative factors in their children’s rejection. In doing so, we build the self of the mother or father back and prepare them to become therapeutic parents in the lives of their children.
The dwellers on the threshold of this intra and inter-psychic pain, which has caused such harm to generations of children, are in my view, the people who will bring the greatest change through into the world of future generations of children. In 2023, this evolved way of working with families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting, will be made transparent and available for everyone to see and use.
Family Separation Clinic News
Clinical Handbook This is in revision in preparation for publication and offers a detailed treatment map for all practitioners who are working with families affected by a child’s induced psychological splitting.
The Handbook of Therapeutic Parenting for Children of Divorce and Separation is nearing completion and I will make the publishing date and links to purchase available here in 2023.
Course and Resources The Clinic is now focused upon the development of courses and resources for parents and practitioners which will be available for download in 2023. The popular course called Holding up a Healthy Mirror, which is an introduction to Therapeutic Parenting for children suffering from psychological splitting and attachment disorder, will be available for download early in 2023. Further courses for parents, entitled Higher Level Understanding and Reconnections, will be available both live and for download and information about these will be posted here and on the Clinic’s website http://www.familyseparationclinic.co.uk
Downloadable resources will be available on a rolling basis at the Clinic’s website.
Practitioners courses are currently in development, these will be delivered from a new platform and I will introduce this here early next year.
Social Work Training Pathways We are currently delivering two social work training pathways, where the FSC model is being embedded into management of public law cases. The outcomes of these cases are being evaluated to provide an evidence based treatment pathway for social workers dealing with serious cases of induced psychological splitting in children who are removed from a parent due to psychological and emotional harm.
Other resources are also in development with the support of private investment for which we are very grateful as it allows us to both develop the FSC model of work and make it available around the world for others to use.
12th December – Holding the Child in Mind – 19:00-21:00 GMT – Cost £40 per person, (family members can attend for the cost of one place).
Holding the child in mind is the way in which rejected parents can build therapeutic parenting skills. Understanding how we all need to mentalise the needs of people not present to build empathy and understanding, is the focus of this Listening and Learning Circle. Mentalising skills will be shared in this circle along with examples of the power of holding space for children who are not present and signalling to them that it is safe to reconnect.
This circle is for all parents who wish to understand and/or deepen their therapeutic parenting skills. Working with Structural Therapeutic understanding, we will look at the way in which counter intuitive communication with children who suffer from induced psychological splitting, offers opportunities for reconnection. Using a live case study with a reconnected parent, this listening circle will give you the opportunity to ask questions and find out how it feels when a child comes home and why holding the child in mind is such an important skill for all parents in the rejected postion.
20th December – 19:00-21:00 – Encircling with love – a Special Christmas Circle focused on the needs of rejected parents – Cost £20 per person (family members can join for the cost of one place).
This circle is reduced in cost to £20 to enable as many parents to join as possible and if any parent cannot afford the £20 cost but would like to join, they can email request a free place by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This circle is focused upon the health and wellbeing of rejected parents and offers support and care to every member of a family where a child is currently rejecting.
The needs of rejected parents are many but the first need is to be recognised and understood. This circle provides a safe space for those who are grieving, those who are surviving, those who are coping and those who are reconnecting.
Facilitated by Karen Woodall, this is a place to pull up a chair, light a candle and be together to share stories, be hopeful and know that you are not alone.