This week we have been travelling and training as well as broadcasting to the world. In St Helier, the Jersey Centre for Separated Families was hosting a training day for a fantastic new group of volunteers. On a baking hot day, we worked with another amazing group of people, developing more support to parents on the island who are experiencing separation and the problems that it brings to adults and children alike.
On Sunday evening, from our hotel bedroom, to an audience drawn from across the globe, we discussed alienation and the role of domestic violence on a webinar for Parental Alienation Awareness Organisation (PAAO). Throughout all of our work this week we have been meeting families and people who care about them.
Families and the people who live in them are the whole of what we do when we work with family separation and the problems that arise from it. In that respect we are working in the crucible of the future generation’s developing selves and we are shaping the lives of the parents that our children will one day become. Working with families where alienation strikes, the concept of family, how it is configured, and what it brings in terms of messages to our children is a core element of what we do at the Family Separation Clinic. Some of what we discussed in our training and our webinar was drawn from ‘Psycho-Genealogy’ a therapeutic framework that we use to understand the way in which alienation reactions have arisen in families. Psycho-Genealogy is something that I am using in my own research work, as well as therapeutically with parents and it is a powerful tool for understanding how trauma patterns of behaviour can be transmitted through the generations. One of my big suspicions, evidenced by the work that I do with families, is that an alienated child is very much at risk of becoming an alienated parent when the time comes. How this experience is affected by the internalised experience of being parented is what I am currently examining.
This week then, with the summer break upon us when some of you might have some extra time to think about your family tree, I thought it might be useful to outline for you, how this important idea is useful in understanding your own experience of alienation.
Our family is the place where we learn, as children about how to be in relationship to others. It is where we learn that we are either important or not important, loved or not loved and it is where we understand how being in relationship to others makes us feel.
Our family is also how we learn to be parents to our own children. Parenting is often something which is considered to be inherent in our nature, something that we do not have to learn. Actually, a great deal of learning about how to parent children is taken in the very earliest days of our existence. As babies and children, the way that we are handled, loved, nurtured, responded to and guided, sets out the blue print for how we will ourselves, one day, care for our own children. So much is given in those early days. Not just the day to day care of a growing child but the template for the next generation, which is sown and nurtured in the fertile fields of the child’s receptive self. Little do we know it but what we are doing in caring for our children, is also caring for our grandchildren and our great grandchildren too.
When a child is born
When a child is born a family is created. This family, however it is configured, is made of narratives from all of the people who are involved with the child. Maternal and Paternal narratives are powerful drivers in our lives, they cause us to be the mum and dad we eventually turn into. They also transmit, the messages about family which have laid dormant in our selves until we are transformed into family by the arrival of our children. Some of these messages are buried deeply in our own unconscious selves. Some are buried in the fabric of our existing families. Most of these messages are silent, spoken only through action and expectation. The child’s arrival however activates these messages which rise up from the unconscious and into our conscious world. Some of those messages might be about the value of children or their place in the world, some might be about what it means to be mum or dad. And some are messages from the past which come hurtling into the present unexpectedly when a child is born. Understanding that we born into a tightly woven network of relationships, is how we begin to understand the power of the family, its history, its narratives and its compulsions.
The lives of others
When a new family is created it is a weaving together of two different narratives. The story of the world according to two different and distinct families, is brought together to weave a new story for a new generation. This bringing together is not without its difficulties and we do not, as yet, enter into the act of this weaving together, with a passport or a full disclosure of our family story and our family secrets. Whilst falling in love is wonderful thing that protects us from seeing the warts on our beloved’s face, it is also something that propels us headlong into a process of offering our hidden selves to someone whose self is also hidden from us. Whilst this often ends up happily, for those who experience alienation, the ending is often catastrophic. This is because, when examining the family trees of those who experience alienation, it is clear that estrangement patterns do not arise out of the blue or in a vaccuum. It is astonishing how many alienated parents that we work with were, themselves, either alienated children or living in families where estrangement from loved ones was normalised. So much so that I wonder whether estrangement in the family as a child is a key indicator for becoming an alienated or alienating parent. It is certainly clear that shunning, estranging and rejecting, are very powerful relational patterns in alienation situations, often visibly striking on one side and absent on the other. So much so that creating a family tree in cases of alienation is one of the tools that we use to enable parents to understand what happened to them and why and how this may be a case of transgenerational transmission which can be extremely difficult to avoid.
Whilst I do not have time this week to take you through the steps of creating your own family tree, thinking about your family and it’s historical narratives is one way of starting the process of building your understanding. Key to being able to help yourself and your children where alienation strikes is the understanding of what has happened and how, in many many cases, this is almost an inevitable part of your parenting, forced upon you by the other parent’s silent narratives which you could not hear or see until it was too late. When you understand the power of this, you can begin the process of standing back a little to gain some perspective. This was not your fault, it could not be avoided, you were almost lured into this situation by the ancestoral call which was locked into place across the generations. When you gain this kind of perspective, you begin to see the road ahead open up. You are still a parent, you are the parent of an alienated child in a transgenerational transmission of estrangement pattern. Escaping this yourself is the first step, helping your child to get free is the next. Like putting on your oxygen mask before you help others, psycho-genealogy can help you find the building blocks to the exit route. Becoming your family’s transitional character (the person who changes the historical narratives) can change not only your life and your child’s life, but the lives of those who come after you. Breaking alienation patterns can rescue not just your children but their children and their children’s children too.
I am writing more about this in my book Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal. The delay in getting this published is simply down to the overwhelming workload that we have at the Clinic and the demand for help and guidance. I am however, committed to making certain that you get your copy and I will be completing it in August ready for publication in September when we will also be launching a very exciting new initiative – watch this space!
The Webinar on Sunday evening was recorded and will be available from Parental Alienation Awareness Organisation shortly.