• Cross-generational coalitions – A parent enlists a child to create a coalition against the other parent.
    • A parent will get all of their emotional support in relation to spousal problems from one of the children.

Hyper-alignment with a parent, accompanied by rejection of the other, is seen in some children of divorce and separation. It is also seen in other family situations and can be seen across generations even when families live together. The usual scenario in which this pattern of hyper-alignment and rejection is seen in divorce and separation, is when the child hyper-aligns with the parent with whom they live with for most of the time, but it is not always this way. Some children who spend time with a parent that they do not live with, are also manipulated into the hyper-alignment and rejection pattern of behaviour. These patterns of family alignments and coalitions is well understood in the family therapy literature which describes the existence of behaviours in families which cause the risk of hyper-alignment between parent and child.

Enmeshment is when there is not a well-defined emotional boundary between two people in a family.

  • A person in an enmeshed relationship will feel the emotions of the other person without having the ability to understand that it is not their emotion or that the emotion did not originate with them.

The key to understanding how this happens is not to look at the relationship with the parent the child is rejecting but the parent with whom the child is hyper aligned, because it is within this relationship that the answers to why this pattern of behaviour has arisen in the child is found. When this is understood by professionals, rapid progress can be made in protecting the child from harm.

Most cases of hyper-alignment between a parent and child, will come to light after family separation but the patterns of behaviours will have been in place in many families before the breakdown of the adult relationship. Hyper-alignment between parent and child, is caused by many things which are not readily seen by the outside world and in fact the problem can look like an extremely close relationship (my daughter is my best friend, my son is my rock), are good examples of how these relationships present themselves.

Hyper-alignment is caused by enmeshment, which is a diffusing of the boundaries between the parent and child, where the child is inveigled into the adult relationship to support a parent. Examples of this are when a parent has a weak ego (sense of self) and looks to a child to make them feel good about themselves, this removes from the child, their own sense of vulnerability and builds instead a false sense of self, in which the child believes that they are both responsible for and the saviour of, a parent who is not coping well. This leads to the onset of parentification an attachment distortion which causes life long psychological and emotional harm if it is not interrupted. It is not for children to give emotional care and stability to their parents, when this occurs, the life chances of the child are changed, sometimes irrevocably. It is in the hyper alignment with a parent, that the behaviours in the parent, which cause this pattern of behaviour in children are found.

Treating hyper-alignment in children of divorce, requires a depth understanding of the hyper-alignment relationships which are seen as the presenting problem, as well as an ability to provide stabilisation, regulation and resilience building in parents in the rejected position. Understanding how the child came to be in the hyper-aligned relationship, requires a close examination of the parent to whom the child is hyper-aligned as well as an evaluation of the capacity of the parent in the rejected position, to take up and use therapeutic parenting skills. Using a trauma informed approach to doing this work, the rejected parent is evaluated using strengths based assessments and is supported to stablise any reactive splitting by using co-regulation strategies between therapist and parent. Learning how reactive splitting* causes dysregulation when trying to engage with the child, helps parents in the rejected position to avoid the traps of negative projection which are strong in these systems. Working as a team, therapist and parent provide a co-regulated space in which the hyper-aligned child can experience the split off part of self in the form of the rejected parent. This is careful and delicate attachment focused work which heals the splitting in the child which causes hyper-alignment and its associated psychopathologies. This is the start of the child’s emergence from the hyper alignment, which is about extracting the child from the emotional and psychological double binds, which are woven in the inter-psychic relationship between influencing parent and child.

In structural terms there is a difference between the way in which fathers influence or manipulate their children to become hyper-aligned and the way in which mothers do this. Fathers are far more likely to use strategies which are visible and understood as coercive control. Children who are hyper-aligned with their fathers, are more likely to be verbally and physically aggressive to their mothers whilst children who are hyper-aligned with their mothers are more likely to be enmeshed, parentified and passive in their resistance to their fathers. The similarities in all children who reject are the presence of psychological splitting, which is seen on the outside as a hyper alignment with one and rejection of the other parent but which on the inside, is a splitting of the ego or sense of self in the child, which causes a false and omnipotent self which lacks empathy and is often contemptuous. This occurs whether a child is hyper-aligned with a father or a mother and it is this pattern which shows us that this is a distinct issue for children of divorce and separation which exists outside of feminist theories of coercive control.

Working with a psycho-neuro-biological understanding of what is happening to these children and a structural approach to therapeutic intervention, brings clarity to the treatment route and demonstrable success even in the most complex of cases. In 2023, the evaluation of the FSC approach will bring transparency this work through the voices of children who are now over the age of eighteen, who were hyper-aligned and as a result were found to have been emotionally and psychologically harmed by the family courts in the UK. These children were moved from fathers to mothers and mothers to fathers during the last decade and this evaluation is part of a year of outputs from FSC which will make this work transparent as well as replicable, in ways which demonstrate that the claims made by those who try to deny that children of divorce can and are caused serious emotional and psychological harm by parents who manipulate them, are quite simply, untrue.

*reactive splitting is a defensive process observed in many rejected parents, in which the psychological and emotional distress caused by a child’s contemptuous rejection causes splitting off of parts of self as well as reactive projections of hurt and anger. This can contribute to a feedback loop of splitting and projection which becomes entrenched.

2023 Resources for Parents

Listening and Learning Circles

These popular online circles are for all parents and grandparents and wider family members in the rejected position, who want to learn more about therapeutic parenting and how it helps alienated children. The only requirement for attendance is curiosity and a willingness to listen and learn and, where you feel you can, share your experience. Facilitated by me, the next six sessions are as follows –

January 24 – 19:00-21:00 GMT

Understanding Latent Vulnerability and How Therapeutic Parenting Helps

This is a circle which focuses upon the longer term needs of children who have suffered induced psychological splitting. Introducing the trauma concept of Latent Vulnerability, the skills to work with children who have suffered attachment disruption, which is seen to cause psychological splitting, will be explored.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

February 7 – 19:00-21:00 GMT

Supporting Grandparents to find their healing place and power

This circle is for grandparents in families where children align and reject. It is to enable grandparents to understand what is happening to children and how they are well placed to provide the help that children need. Based upon Structural Therapy, this circle will work with hierarchies in families and how to build healthy structures for children both absent, present and returning.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

February 21 – 19:00-21:00 GMT

Communicating with Alienated Children

Therapeutic Parenting skills can be used even if you are not able to see your children. By understanding the child’s experience, it is possible to find a way of communicating which can trigger change in your child’s responses to you. Based upon the successful circle held in 2022, ‘Writing to your Alienated Child’ which has produced a significant number of reports of successful reconnection following use of the strategies shared in that circle, this circle will expand upon communication strategies using creativity and curiosity as well as therapeutic parenting skills

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

March 7 – 19:00 -21:00 GMT

Introduction to Therapeutic Parenting Skills

This is an introductory session for parents who are new to therapeutic parenting. Using basic skills as a starter, we will explore how understanding the self as a therapeutic parent, changes the way that you signal your position to your child. Whilst this is an introductory session, all parents are encouraged to join this circle to build up shared momentum for knowledge and skills amongst rejected parents. This develops the capacity of the rejected parent community to assist other parents who are new to this experience.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

March 21 – 19:00-21:00

Helping the Parentified Child

Parentification is one of the key problems facing children who are manipulated in divorce and separation, it is a covert manipulation which can be difficult to spot, precisely because, as Dr Steve Miller always pointed out, it looks like a close and loving relationship.

There is no need to be helpless in the face of the parentified child however and, because the relational networks in the brain are constantly open to change, learning how to help the parentified child is a powerful tool to have at the ready for any parent who has been forced into the rejected position.

This circle will focus upon understanding how parentified children behave and how to operationalise strategies to help them.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

April 4 – 19:00-21:00

What is really happening when a child rejects a parent outright

The evidence is clear that a child who rejects a parent outright after divorce and separation, is not doing so because that parent is abusive. Instead, it is the parent to whom the child is aligned who is causing harm and it is the alignment we should be looking at because it is this which is abusive to the child. It is abusive because, even though it looks like love, it is a fear based response which is underpinned by the biological imperative to survive. In the framework of latent vulnerability, what we are seeing when a child aligns in this way, is a child who is already vulnerable in the parental relationship, succumbing to underlying disorganised attachments. This circle will explore the reality of what happens when a child rejects a parent and will focus on how therapeutic parenting can assist the child to recover.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

Book Here

Online Courses for Parents

Holding Up A Healthy Mirror

This popular Therapeutic Parenting Course will be available on demand shortly.

Higher Level Understanding

This live course for those who have completed HUAM either live with me in 2022 or on demand in 2023, will be delivered three times over the coming year, I will announce the next delivery shortly.

Trainings for Parent Coaches

I will deliver a training for coaches who wish to use therapeutic parenting with clients in the first half of 2023 and will announce delivery in the coming weeks here.

Trainings and Resources for Practitioners

We are in the process of developing a suite of trainings and resources for practitioners which will be delivered from a dedicated training platform, I will update when these are ready here.

Instructing the Family Separation Clinic in Court

We regret that we cannot accept any instructions from the lower courts in 2023. High Court instructions for clinical trials for therapy in cases where children have been found to have been emotionally and psychologically harmed can be accepted, please do not propose the Clinic without enquiring about our availability first. Please see here for enquiries

Coaching and Psychotherapy

We have limited space for coaching and psychotherapy, please enquire at appts@familyseparationclinic for availability

New for 2023

If you would like to be added to the mailing list for my newsletter for Therapeutic Parents, please mail me at parenting@familyseparationclinic.co.uk and head your email – ‘please add me’. The Newsletter goes out regularly and gives you full details of all online groups and resources as well as giving you reading lists and reminders to support your therapeutic parenting journey.