Since 2020 I have been developing and delivering a stepwise recovery route for parents in the rejected position who wish to help their children to recover from attachment maladaptations which are caused by divorce or family separation. Over the past three years, well over three hundred parents have attended this course, listening, sharing and learning about how to deal with being in the rejected position.

The rejected position is how I have come to understand the way in which parents are divided by children in their minds when they are suffering from induced psychological splitting. This is a different way of thinking about the issue of children’s alignment and rejection, shifting the focus away from the idea that this is about high conflict and towards the underlying psychopathologies which cause the child’s defensive presentation. Parents in the rejected position are those who are not the cause of the child’s behaviours, although they may contribute inadvertently through the sheer terror of seeing the inexplicable behaviours of their child. Parents in the aligned position, are those whose relationship requires careful scrutiny, because it is here that the origins of the pathological enmeshment/coercive control/interpersonal terrorisation and other behaviour patterns can be seen.

Against the backdrop of intense mischaracterisation of this problem the pull back to the portrayal of the problem as either ‘he said/she said’ or high conflict between parents is seen. In addition, those of us doing this work, find ourselves under immense psychological pressure from those who create public narratives, which are based upon deflecting attention from the harms which are caused to children. Many of these narratives are based solely upon the stories of those who have been found to have harmed their children and as such are expressed as fact when they are anything but. Keeping a clear mind in the midst of this minefield of projection, is essential for all parents in the rejected position, who have been subjected enough to the projections of the influencing parent. Working with our mentalisation based Holding up a Healthy Mirror course, is a positive way to stay safe amidst the harmful cross currents in this space.

Children are seen to be experiencing induced psychological splitting when they are strongly aligned to one parent and completely rejecting of the other. Rejection is often accompanied by contempt and an omnipotent presentation in the child which denotes anxious control of the family system. Parents in the rejected position are quite simply NOT being rejected by their child because of harm done to them by that parent, they are rejecting that parent because they are subjected to patterns of behaviours which cause them to use defensive splitting in order to carry on with their lives as best as they can. When children are seen to use defensive splitting in circumstances where there are high levels of suspicion and extremely low trust between parents, the escalation of the belief that a child is being harmed by the parent being rejected can begin. In such circumstances, especially where children begin to cling to a parent in a defensive alignment, patterns of ruminative behaviour in the parent to whom the child is clinging, triggers a spiral of blame projection. When this occurs, defensive splitting in everyone in the family system begins and blame projection intensifies.

It is easier to pull a child back from a defensive splitting trajectory than treat it when it has taken hold. This is because when a child enters defensive splitting, it is because they are not longer capable of holding two realities in mind and must, as a defensive structure, split their experience of the self and others into wholly good and wholly bad. The projection onto parents of this split, is the point at which the child refuses to see a parent again, escalating their reasoning for not doing so. When the aligned parent shifts their position to support the child, the harm done is concretised and the child is locked into the defensive structure. Psychological splitting in childhood leads to longer term harms, all caused by the regression of the child to a primitive state of consciousness during essential developmental phases. This is no temporary problem, for many children who entered into defensive splitting in childhood, the harms are long term and serious. Splitting as a defense may allow the child to carry on as normal for a time, but the loss of the whole self over time, causes difficulties in all area of life from sense of self to capacity to make decisions, trust others and build healthy relationships.

For too many generations of children, lack of understanding of what is happening when children align and reject, has left them without any route to recovery of the whole self. Worldwide, this problem has been addressed through different lenses, PA Theory, Resist/Refuse Dynamics, Ecological Model of Systemic Family Therapy, Attachment Based PA and more. Some consider this to be a problem of the contact that a child has with a non resident parent, others consider it to be a problem of polarisation, some say it is about high conflict, others say it is about attachment. The Family Separation Clinic works with the problem from the perspective of relational trauma, recognising that what is being treated is the onset of primitive defences in the child at the heart of a family system which is dominated by those defences. Identifying where those defensive behaviours originate, protecting the child from them and then treating the splitting to recover the whole child is how the Clinic approaches these cases. Treating the splitting in the child requires a parent in the rejected position to have the capacity to mentalise the child’s experience and work with therapeutic parenting to integrate the adapted self. When this work is complete, the child’s resilience to unhealthy parenting strategies, provides protection from ongoing harm.

Teaching parents in the rejected position how to mentalise their child’s experience requires the parent to recover first from the reactive splitting they suffered during the onset of the child’s alignment and rejection behaviours. When parents are able to hold a consistent internal experience of self as whole, healthy and appropriate, the risk of repeated reactive splitting diminishes. This reduces the harm which is caused to parents and builds skills, knowledge, advocacy and capacity to speak up for the child, in a parent who has been deeply harmed by the experience of being rejected by their child. When parents in the rejected position are enabled to understand, stabilise, anchor and operationalise new strategies for helping their children to recover from the underlying harms which are caused by attachment maladaptations, they are in a position to provide healthy care which supports the recovery of the child’s integration. Moving from reacting to responding, parents in the rejected position are the lighthouses in their children’s journey home.

Holding up a healthy mirror

(Please note, if you are booked on this course, the link will be sent to you directly later today).

We have opened up bookings three times over the past week for this course which is now almost full with only three places left. This is the last time we will run this course live as it is being recorded for watch on demand due to the numbers of people who wish to take part. If you would like to join us tomorrow, be quick, we will not be able to make anymore places available.

Tue 14 Mar 2023 08:0010:00 GMT

Online, Zoom

Holding up a healthy mirror: Becoming a therapeutic parent to alienated children

An online course for alienated parents and their families with Karen Woodall

The course will be delivered on Zoom, in 4 x two-hour sessions, on the following dates:

  • 14 March 2023
  • 21 March 2023
  • 28 March 2023
  • 4 April 2023

Cost £180 .00

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 on 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.

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

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