When I write about the issue of children’s alignment and rejection after divorce and separation rather than parental alienation, it is because as a psychotherapist working with children who display this behavioural pattern, I am working with the underlying psychological dynamics which are present in the family affected. As a psychotherapist, I need to understand those dynamics in their entirety, because in order to treat them, I have to be able to understand how they appear in the family system. I also have to understand how treatment must be delivered in the correct manner at the correct time. If I do not understand this, then what I am doing is experimenting and experimenting with this problem, is never a good thing to do.
This problem is, in my clinical experience, a childhood relational trauma which is caused by the primitive defences of denial, splitting and projection, in children who are vulnerable because they are triangulated into the dissolution of the parental relationship. Whilst the presenting problem appears to be the rejection of a parent, the actual clinical problem is the child’s alignment with a parent which is pathological. The pathological nature of the alignment is rooted in the attachment maladaptations that the child has been forced to make due to the parental demands in the innter-psychic relationship. This is reinforced by the parental power and control over a child which enables the fusion of the relationship to take hold. Enmeshment and abandonment threat are the two key dynamics which are seen when working with alienated children and it is this which makes this a childhood relational trauma.
Childhood Relational Trauma
Relational trauma is a term used to describe the aftermath of abuse, neglect, maltreatment, or abandonment within a relationship. Experiencing childhood relational trauma, can affect how a person sees themselves and the type of relationship they believe they “deserve. Whilst the word ‘trauma’ is often used to describe the type of abuse we are familiar with, physical or sexual abuse being the most commonly recognised forms of childhood harm, emotional and psychological abuse is also a childhood relational trauma. In fact emotional and psychological abuse, especially that which feels to the child as if it is a loving bond, is a particularly insidious form of abuse, prescisely because to the child it feels so good. Being an adult’s ‘special child’ because the adult needs the child to regulate their feelings, places an impossible burden upon a child which creates a sense of omnipotency AND deep discomfort. The child at once likes the feeling of being the special child, whilst struggling against the inverted bond which they are aware of. An inverted bond in this regard meaning that the child is aware that the parent is looking to them to have their needs met. Childhood relational trauma leaves a lasting legacy, this video explains more about why.
What Lies Beneath Alignment in Divorce and Separation?
When we examine the alignment between the child and parent we can see varying levels of interpersonal threat which cause the child to respond in ways which reassure the parent that they are in control. This is a feedback loop which begins with parental signals to the child that it is not acceptable to love the other parent, discomfort which is leaked to the child when it is time for the child to spend time away, projection onto the other parent of the split off anxiety in a parent, which is shared with the child either verbally or unconsciously and which ends with the child conforming to the will of the parent by aligning strongly with them.
Parentification is one of the biggest problems that I see in my work with adult children of divorce and separation and this goes for those who were not alienated from one parent as well as those who were. Parentification is a boundary violation, in which children are used to meet the needs of a parent. In divorce and separation, many children are pulled into this position for a time but as the family rights itself and parents move on in life, they return to being the parent. This next video explains that transitional period very well.
For other children, the role of parenting a parent continues long after the divorce and separation and the child can be bound into an alignment with a parent which becomes a hostile coalition against the other parent. In the psychological literature, this is articulated especially well by structural family therapist such as Salvador Minuchin.
There are particular features of families affected by hostile coalitions between children and parents, I wrote about this in a blog some years ago. Working with these families requires a particular approach, a skill set which includes a deep knowledge of how such families present and how that is different to the internal world experienced by its members. In such families, the hierarchy of relationships is inverted, with children often seen as having more power than the adults, parenting is not an actual process in these families, which operate more like a cult, where loyalty to the system comes before experiencing of one’s own emotional and psychological needs. In such circumstances, children cannot develop a sense of self but instead coexist in the inter-psychic world of the family within diffuse boundaries which lack the definition between self and other.
There is much more to say about Childhood Relational Trauma in divorce and separation and over the coming months we will be exploring all those things which lie beneath, as part of our project to curate a body of knowledge which is rooted in the psychological literature, for parents and practitioners to use in healing and treating families affected by a child’s alignment and rejection behaviour.
The Healing Power of Grandparents
Our listening circles provide a regular point for parents who are developing their therapeutic parenting skills, to meet and discuss this approach to helping children who are aligning and rejecting after divorce and separation. Our next circle is for grandparents, to help them to understand their place and strengths in helping to heal children who are suffering after divorce or separation.
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.
Further circles are planned as follows –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Clinic only accepts cases for treatment after fact finding and where psychological and/or emotional harm has been identified and in England and Wales we only accept instructions from the Central Family Court or the High Court as well as selected Local Authorities and associated Courts. We can accept instructions for an Independent Social Work assessment in the lower courts however and have limited capacity for this in the coming months. Please see here for enquiries about this
how is this so utterly poorly understood in 2023 by mental health people and judges? It is unconscionable that parents have to educate the professionals, it is irresponsible that this is even open to debate whether or not it is real, and finally, it is unbelievable that it is not recognized as criminal behavior.
APA – American Psychiatric Association was Founded at 1844
APhA – American Pharmaceutical Association was Founded at 1848
APA – American Psychological Association was Founded at 1892
ICD – International Classifications of Diseases was Founded at 1900
WHO – World Health Organisation was Founded at 1948
DSM – Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders was Founded at 1952
The first edition of the ICD in 1900 named eleven psychiatric syndromes in addition to somatic diseases. This was not a success, because many institutes wanted to keep their own labels. Over time, diagnostics varied in most countries and even per institution. The diagnosis depended mainly on the personal views of important physicians.
DSM-I was not accepted by the American Medical Association because DSM was not aligned with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). That is why a new version had to be made, this became DSM-II (1968)
Mental Health Act 1963
Deinstitutionalization Through Optimism: The Community Mental Health Act of 1963
The world followed this illusion!
Kennedy’s vision for mental health never realized
DSM-II & ICD 8a were both accepted in 1968
After 1968 the APA – APhA – DSM – WHO – ICD they have gained a foothold worldwide and managed to anchor it legally in the law.
The world population around 1844 was around 1.2 billion, there are 6.5 times as many people in the world today, Between 1844 & 2023 there are 179 years of development,
they have introduced Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into our society, but its origins seem to be a mystery. They know very little about the influence of disorders on the family and society.
They know how to make that credible, but I don’t know who I can take seriously anymore.
ROUTLEDGE PSYCHOSOCIAL STRESS SERIES
Charles R. Figley, Ph.D., Series Editor
Understanding and Assessing Trauma in Children and Adolescents:
Measures, Methods, and Youth in Context by Kathleen O. Nader, Ph.D.
Aggression And Its Associations
A number of theoretical perspectives have been applied to youths’ aggressive behaviors (Crick et al., 1998; Ford, 2002; Laird, Jordan, Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 2001). These perspectives include social learning theory, coercion theory, cognitive conceptual framework, and victimization model among others. A belief that multiple pathways lead to aggression allows for the contributions of peer rejection, child traits, peer influence, and other aspects of youth and life.
Huesmann et al. (2003) have described several of the theories that attempt to explain the long-term relationship between exposure to violence (direct or via the media) and aggression. Among them are social-cognitive, desensitization, aggressive behavior stimulating exposure, third-variable, priming and arousal, excitation transfer, and general
arousal theories. Social-cognitive theory attributes the link between exposure to violence and aggression through the learning of schemas about a hostile world, aggressive scripts for social problem solving, and beliefs that aggression is acceptable. Desensitization theory suggests that, with repeated exposure to violence, the normal negative emotional response
(e.g., elevated heart rate, perspiration, discomfort) to observing violence, blood, and gore habituates and the observer becomes desensitized. This in turn may result in a flat response to planning or thinking about violence. Another theory is that aggressive behavior or its correlate stimulates exposure to violence and thus engenders the relationship between them.
The third-variable theory proposes that, because a wide variety of demographic, family, and personal characteristics (e.g., parenting factors, socio-economic status [SES]) have correlated with aggression and with specific other variables (e.g., trauma, violent TV watching), the long-term positive relations between aggression and any one of the other variables may be derived from their joint association with one or more of these “third variables.” Priming and arousal theories observe that stimuli previously paired with exposure to violence or items that inherently suggest violence (e.g., weapons) activate memory traces for aggressive scripts, schemas, and beliefs. These priming stimuli, coupled with a provoking situation, are more likely to result in aggression. Excitation transfer explains that, after an initial exposure to violence (via media or in person), a subsequent provocation may be perceived as more severe than it is because the emotional response to the previously observed/experienced violence is attributed to the later provocation. Alternatively, the general arousal theory suggests that arousal after observed or experienced violence may simply reach a peak that reduces any inhibiting mechanism’s (e.g., normative beliefs, previous self-control) ability to restrain aggression. These theories are not mutually exclusive (Huesmann et al.).
Researchers also have theorized a relationship between aggression and temperament or personality. Functionally similar to the mechanism in most social animals for controlling aggression, Blair, Jones, Clark, and Smith (1997) suggest the existence of a violence inhibition/control mechanism (VIM) in humans. Blair and his colleagues posit that the normally developing child’s VIM initiates a withdrawal response when activated by distress cues. Deficits in the VIM at an early age disrupt the normal developmental trajectory, resulting in failure of moral distinctions and the reduced suppression of anger. When coupled with cognitive impairments or a maladaptive social environment, VIM deficits may result in psychopathy. Rothbart and Bates (1998) note that specific dimensions of temperament are associated in differential manners with internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Although a continuity model (the persistence of behavior over time) might apply, they favor a vulnerability or predisposition model. That is, specific youth characteristics may make a child more vulnerable or prone to particular specific types of development.
Ford (2002) has described a preliminary model for conceptualizing the relationship between violent traumatization and conduct disturbances such as oppositional defiance and aggression. Recognizing that not all violent victimization leads to conduct or other disturbances, Ford postulates that, when it does, violent victimization is followed by dysregulation of both emotion and information processing followed by severe and persistent problems with OD and covert or overt aggression. Trauma symptoms such as information processing biases and impulsiveness then compound posttrauma reactions.
Youth, Environmental, and Experiential Characteristics
Aggressive behavioral development has been linked statistically to a number of factors in youths including genetic predispositions, social cognitions or information processing patterns, neighborhood quality (including ongoing war or inner-city violence), domestic conflict or family instability, propaganda, group regression, neurobiology, mental-health
problems, modeling and imitation of others’ behaviors, harsh physical experiences in early life, exposure to other violent traumas, watching violent television, coercive discipline, rejection by peers, chronic goal-blocking, unacknowledged shame leading to increased frustration and anger, early conflict-ridden or insecure attachments, high levels of specific narcissistic traits combined with low self-esteem, early physical aggression, failure to succeed in school, relations with deviant peers, and specific temperament traits (Aber, Brown, & Jones, 2003; Barry, Frick, & Killain, 2003; Chamberlain & Moore, 2002; de Castro et al., 2003; Dodge et al., 1995; Klain, 1998; Laird et al., 2001; Rutter, 2003; Scheff, 1997; Volkan, 2001). In addition to the specific youth characteristics, histories, and experiences that have been associated with aggression, cultural and countrywide conditions are as important as, if not more important than, individual differences. For example, the current crime rate in the United States is much higher than the rate in 1950 (Garbarino, 2002; Rutter). Some of these conditions and characteristics may lead to a number of vulnerabilities or symptoms.
Manifestations of aggression vary across age. For example, simple forms of aggression peak in early childhood, major conduct disturbances tend to appear at a later age, and major crime peaks later still (Rutter, 2003). Aber et al. (2003) found that a general shift in children approximately between the ages of 8 and 9 included self-reported increasing levels of cognitive processing that placed youths at risk for future aggression and violence.
Research has distinguished between the profiles of early-childhood-onset (early emerging life course, persistent and stable trajectory) and adolescent-onset antisocial behavior (Laird et al., 2001). Early starters are at greater risk for a number of child and adult problems (e.g., maladjustment, criminal behavior) (Laird et al.; McBurnett, King, & Scarpa, 2003). Effectively examining the relationship of aggression to other variables requires
understanding differences in the types of aggression as well as its manifestations at various ages.
Types of Aggression
Study results on the magnitude of gender differences in aggression depend in part on the way aggression is defined (Chamberlain & Moore, 2002; Crick, 1995). Studies have identified a number of types of aggression including reactive or proactive, social, indirect, physical, relational, and verbal aggression (Crick et al., 1998; Table 3.1). There is some variation in the way that forms of aggression are defined. Recent studies have focused on two main categorizations of aggression (reactive or hostile and proactive or instrumental).
Reactive aggression is characterized by retaliatory or defensive responses to provocation or frustration (Crick & Dodge, 1996; Crick et al.). Proactive aggression is deliberate, goal-directed behavior governed by external reinforcements (e.g., obtaining a desired goal).
Crick and Dodge found that proactive aggressive children (ages 9 to 12) evaluated verbal and physical aggressive acts more positively than reactive aggressive or nonaggressive youths. They were more likely to endorse instrumental and self-enhancing goals than relationship-enhancing goals. Reactive aggressive youths (fifth and sixth graders), on the other hand, attributed hostile intent to peers (even when none was intended) more often than nonaggressive youths. They were less likely to give peers the benefit of the doubt.
Dodge, Bates, and Pettit (1990) found that hostile attributional biases predicted later aggressive acts. Using ambiguous situations and probe detection tasks with boys and girls ages 11 to 16, Schippell, Vasey, Cravens-Brown, and Bretveld (2003) found that reactive
aggression but not proactive aggression was associated with biased attention to ridicule, rejection, and failure cues. The bias was in the direction of suppression of these cues, however. The authors suggest that this suppression may insulate youths from recognizing information that would correct their erroneous interpretations, from becoming aware of the inappropriateness of their behaviors, and from altering their self-concepts.
Dodge and Coie (1987) and Dodge, Coie, Pettit, and Price (1990) subdivided proactive aggression into two categories (see also Schwartz, Dodge, & Coie, 1993). Instrumental aggression is aimed at a nonsocial outcome such as the acquisition of a position or an object. Bullying aggression aims to dominate or intimidate a peer. Schwartz et al. studied the transactional behaviors of victims and aggressors (see “Aggressor and Aggressee,” below).
The study of childhood aggression has focused primarily on overt aggression, which harms others through the threat of physical injury or through actual physical damage (e.g., pushing, hitting, kicking, or assault) (Crick, 1995). Recent studies have shown that a relationally oriented form of aggression is more characteristic of girls (Chamberlain & Moore, 2002;
Crick; Crick, Nelson, Morales, Cullerton-Sen, Casas, & Hickman, 2001; Greenwald, 2002b; Simmons, 2002). Relational aggression harms others through the threat of or actual damage to their peer relationships (e.g., exclusion, withdrawal of friendship or acceptance, gossip) (Crick; Crick et al., 2001). Both forms of aggression can be either reactive or proactive.
In most countries and at different age levels, overt aggression is more common for boys than for girls, and relational aggression is more common for girls than for boys (Chamberlain & Moore; Crick et al., 1998). Relationship aggression is more common for adolescent girls than for younger girls (Chamberlain & Moore). In ambiguous situations, both overtly aggressive and relationally aggressive youths more often attribute malicious intent to peers than nonaggressive youths (Crick; see “Information Processing,” below; chapter 14). Girls have been more distressed than boys by relational aggression (Crick; Crick et al., 2001).
Living with the passive-aggressive man: coping with the personality syndrome of hidden aggression—from the bedroom to the boardroom / Scott Wetzler. Ph.D (1992)
THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PROFILE
The passive-aggressive man may pretend to be sweet or compliant, but beneath his superficial demeanor lies a different core. He’s angry, petty, envious, and selfish. He’s often not as good as he pretends to be, but neither is he as bad as he feels he is. How do we reconcile these “irreconcilable opposites”?
Understanding the cause of a person’s behavior does not excuse it. The person who serves food in a soup kitchen several nights a week after work only to “make up for evil thoughts” is no less admirable for doing it.
Similarly, the fact that the passive-aggressive man’s behavior is motivated by psychological dynamics, such as anger, dependency, fear of autonomy or power, doesn’t make him any less responsible for his actions.
Understanding passive-aggression doesn’t make hurtful behavior any more tolerable. If a passive-aggressive man treats you badly, then it matters little why he does it. However, by writing this book, I hope to help you resolve the problems of living or working with him and to understand the psychology behind his game. The better you know him, the less likely you are to be threatened or victimized by him.
You’ll find that the following traits pretty much describe the range of passive-aggressive behavior. A passive-aggressive man won’t have every single one of these traits, but he’ll have many of them. By the same token, these traits don’t make up the man’s whole personality. He may have other traits as well, which are not passive-aggressive.
As we go along, I’ll guide you through the steps in learning how to cope with a passive-aggressive man—containing him, confronting him and accepting him—and if he is willing to help himself, helping him change.
But first, what to look for?
—Fear of dependency. Unsure of his autonomy and afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs—usually by trying to control you. He wants you to think he doesn’t depend on you, but he binds himself closer than he cares to admit. Relationships can become battlegrounds, where he can only claim victory if he denies his need for your support.
—Fear of intimacy. Guarded and often mistrustful, the passive-aggressive man is reluctant to show his emotional fragility. He’s often out of touch with his feelings, reflexively denying feelings he thinks will “trap” or reveal him, like love. He picks fights just to create distance between you.
—Fear of competition. Feeling inadequate, he is unable to compete with other men in work and love. He may operate either as a self-sabotaging wimp with a pattern of failure, or he’ll be the tyrant, setting himself up as unassailable and perfect, needing to eliminate any threat to his power— male or female. Few passive-aggressive men are “good sports.”
—Obstructionism. Just tell the passive-aggressive man what you want, no matter how small, and he may promise to get it for you. But he won’t say when, and he’ll do it deliberately slowly just to frustrate you. Maybe he won’t comply at all. He blocks any real progress he sees to your getting your way.
—Fostering chaos. The passive-aggressive man prefers to leave the puzzle incomplete, the job undone, taking on more and more responsibilities until his life is nothing but unfinished business. He sets up ongoing chaotic situations that are intolerable if your life is linked to his. But should you offer a useful suggestion to improve things, just watch his resentment grow.
—Feeling victimized. The passive-aggressive man protests that others unfairly accuse him rather than owning up to his own misdeeds. To remain above reproach, he sets himself up as the apparently hapless, innocent victim of your excessive demands and tirades.
—Making excuses and lying. The passive-aggressive man reaches as far as he can to fabricate excuses for not getting to a meeting on time, making love, meeting deadlines, and fulfilling promises. As a way of withholding information, affirmation or love—to have power over you—the passive-aggressive man may choose to make up a convoluted story rather than give a straight answer. Not only is he a genius at ignoring reality when he so chooses, so he is a virtuoso at spinning tales to make reality look better.
—Procrastination. The passive-aggressive man has an odd sense of time —he believes that deadlines don’t exist for him. As he dawdles and procrastinates far beyond most anyone else’s limit of patience, opportunities are lost and time is squandered.
—Chronic lateness and forgetfulness. One of the most infuriating and inconsiderate of all passive-aggressive traits is this man’s inability to arrive on time. By keeping you waiting, he sets the ground rules of the relationship. And his selective forgetting (“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to pick up the groceries”) is, literally, not to be believed—it’s too convenient and self serving, used only when he wants to avoid an obligation.
—Ambiguity. He’s the master of mixed messages and sitting on fences, and his language is filled with nonspecific suggestions. He’s good at “maybe we can go away for the weekend … let’s hang loose … maybe we can have dinner.” When he tells you something, you may still walk away wondering if he actually said yes or no.
—Sulking. Feeling put upon when he is unable to live up to his promises or obligations, the passive-aggressive man retreats from pressures around him and sulks, pouts and withdraws. Deep sighs are his preferred mode of communication, which makes reaching him all the more difficult.
As these traits tell us, a passive-aggressive man tries to hide his insecurities and fears by grandstanding. The key to his personality is the fear underlying his aggression. Once you know this, you’ll be empowered to act differently and try to change the relationship, or decide to leave.
What I hope to impress upon you in this book is how to recognize and know a passive-aggressive man for what he is, not for what you wish he could be. There are many ways of dealing with a passive-aggressive man that can help you minimize the consequences of his behavior on you. In time, you won’t fall for the same emotionally torturing games again and again. And, most of all, if he is willing, you’ll be able to get the best from him and make your relationship work. Before I continue exploring the intricacies of the passive-aggressive man, let’s look at you, how he makes you feel and what you can do about it.