Happy Mothers Day Mum

Having told you that I wrote my last blog sitting in the hairdressers chair, I am feeling that I can share a little bit more with you about who I am and how I got to do this work. Today is Mothers Day in the UK. For too many years of my life I didn’t have a mother, not because I didn’t have a mother, if you know what I mean, but because my mother had been erased as a mother in my mind by my paternal family. This was not done within the context of a family separation, but was a cross generational coup, in which my paternal grandmother took me for a replacement for the daughter she had lost to miscarriage only a few years before I was born. I lived in Minuchin’s world of role corruption. It took me years to work out that the mother I had been poisoned against was not the wicked witch they all portrayed her to be. But I did it in the end, to the degree where today I will wish my mum a happy mothers day and know, with all the benefit of healing, that I am doing so from the right place in my family line. No longer alienated through the manipulations of others, I am free to experience the good, the bad and the ugly parts of my relationship with my mother. That which is like me and not like me, that which gets ugly at times as we clash in our likeness and that which is, at the end of the day, simply about being the daughter of a woman who married into an unhealthy family. For which those of us not part of that unhealthy drama, all paid the price.

Alienation in children arises from being around psychologically and emotionally unhealthy people. That’s it really. That’s all there is to it.  Children born into families where there are cross generational toxicities, where there are secrets and lies and where children’s needs are not put first, are all at risk of alienation. In my family, cross generational toxicity caused the normal attachment processes to collapse so that children in the paternal family did not have a hierarchical experience of being parented. Either you were ‘in’ or you were ‘out’ on the paternal side of the family and if you were ‘in’ you were party to everything, there were no boundaries, information about people within and without flowed like rivers and alliances were built upon pitying those who were outsiders.  To be ‘in’ was to feel prized and special, it was also to fear the shunning of those who were ‘out’ and to know that cold rejecting pity was the lot of those who crossed the line.  Staying ‘in’ was an important task for all children who were named as being ‘one of us’. Aligning the self to the elders in the family and rejecting those who were seen as threats, was how we achieved our safety.

The paternal side of my family was about as unhealthy as it gets in terms of psychological, emotional and physical safety for children. Survival within that viperous nest meant having perspective as well as so much more taken and broken deliberately. This was done to protect the family secrets, those which had been handed down through the generations for each successive round of children to carry on and carry out. And they did. And but for my drive to understand the psychological world of the family that I lived in, but for my determination to exorcise the ghosts in the nursery and but for (wait for it), feminism, my fate would have been to carry those demons downward and forward into my descendents lives.

Feminism saved me because it helped me to recognise that there was something nasty in the bosom of my paternal family. Unfortunately for too many years feminism also ensured that my split thinking (caused by my paternal family) carried on.  Whilst feminism saved me, it also flipped the split thinking in the other direction, meaning for too many years I simply transferred my rejection of my mother to my rejection of my mother AND my father, whilst maintaining my entwinement with my paternal family. But it saved me, there is no doubt in my mind. When I look back now I can see how feminism taught me how to evaluate healthy and unhealthy relationships within the family and eventually, when the tide turned, I was able to see, finally, the truth of what had happened to my mind.

Alienation is not an easy process to recover from and some days as I do the work that I do with children I recognise the stages that I went through. Some days I still find myself learning and still find myself processing the way in which my mind, once broken, was healed. My healing came, as all alienated children’s healing comes, with time spent with my mother and a lot of it. Over the past years I have spent much time with my mother, in lots of different settings as we have recovered those things which were taken from us and understood how it happened.  My mother is not perfect. Far from it. She can be fixed in her thinking and fierce and she can appear at times to be cold or angry in turns although she is not those things on the inside. Sometimes my mother is happy and sometimes she is sad, sometimes she is does things which are kind and make me feel good about myself and sometimes she just irritates me. Sometimes I cannot spend too much time with her because I cannot cope with the similarities between us and other times I wonder how I will ever bridge the gap in our way of being in the world.  But much of the time now, as we spend time together which is quiet and peaceful, I watch how she tends her garden and how the flowers and plants that she nurtures grow so healthily. I watch her teaching her great grandson to read and I appreciate the sharpness of her mind. A mind which was never stretched the way it should have been, a mind which was far too perceptive for the family she married into. A mind which was silenced in my life by severing its influence on me at a very young age.

My mother told me a joke last week and I laughed out loud because it was funny and the way she told it was funny.  And then I put the phone down and realised that at the age of fifty plus I never knew my mother could tell jokes. How sad. What a loss –  for me. I never knew my mother could tell jokes.  And I said a silent thank you for the gift of recovery of my mind, my perspective and my relationship with my mother.  My mother is not perfect but then who is?  My life took a great long detour around places it never should have been because my paternal family were deeply unhealthy people who strove to keep their secrets by driving out everyone seen as a threat to exposure.  I was taken, abducted, may as well have been kidnapped by aliens, so far from my mother was I removed.  I recovered, I am healthy, I know now that people do good things and people do bad things. Most of all I know that those things which they preyed on in my relationship with my mother were not evidence that she was  mad/bad or dangerous to know, they were simply the tools that they used to break my perspective and convince me that they were perfect and she was not.

No-one is perfect.  Some people are unhealthy. My mum is the first but she is not the latter.

And so for you mum, here it is in all its absolute balanced and integrated honesty.

I love you. Happy Mothers Day.

 

40 comments

  1. Everythinghappensforareason · March 6, 2016

    Thanks for sharing that, Karen

    Like

  2. Linda Turner · March 6, 2016

    Reblogged this on Parental Alienation- UNCOVERED and commented:
    Having told you that I wrote my last blog sitting in the hairdressers chair, I am feeling that I can share a little bit more with you about who I am and how I got to do this work. Today is Mothers Day in the UK. For too many years of my life I didn’t have a mother, not because I didn’t have a mother, if you know what I mean, but because my mother had been erased as a mother in my mind by my paternal family. This was not done within the context of a family separation, but was a cross generational coup, in which my paternal grandmother took me for a replacement for the daughter she had lost to miscarriage only a few years before I was born. I lived in Minuchin’s world of role corruption. It took me years to work out that the mother I had been poisoned against was not the wicked witch they all portrayed her to be. But I did it in the end, to the degree where today I will wish my mum a happy mothers day and know, with all the benefit of healing, that I am doing so from the right place in my family line. No longer alienated through the manipulations of others, I am free to experience the good, the bad and the ugly parts of my relationship with my mother. That which is like me and not like me, that which gets ugly at times as we clash in our likeness and that which is, at the end of the day, simply about being the daughter of a woman who married into an unhealthy family. For which those of us not part of that unhealthy drama, all paid the price.

    Like

  3. Kat · March 6, 2016

    The in/out mentality really struck me during a recent event which initially baffled me. What struck me next about it was that I have been seeing it for years and never noticing it and that it is actually a powerful means of keeping a child in line and aligned with the “right” people – them and us. If say, a child comes home from school and has done something bad a healthy parent would probably ask the child to reflect on their behaviour and if it is a grey rather than a black/white scenario the child might be asked to reflect on how this made the other person feel and could they have handled this better. All this in an environment where the child is loved and supported, though the child will probably not like it much. However, an in/out mentality will result in reflective support for the child regardless of what has happened and the parent will take a stance against any consequences the school might feel appropriate for the child. Likewise a “grey” scenario will be turned into a black/white scenario with the child in the role of white. This is superficially quite attractive to the child and hence keeps the child aligned, but of course it also keeps the child infantilised and not maturing and taking responsibility.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      I think that in/out mentality is core to the alienation experience because it is the splitting reaction made manifest. When life is about either this or that, right or wrong, good or bad, there are no places for children to learn that life is about shades rather than absolutes and the internalised experience is that of splitting into two opposing sides. Learning to live life in shades and to accept that good people do bad things and vice versa is a tough ask for children who have been alienated but that is the task ahead for them in terms of their recovery. What concerns me most of all is that the underlying psychology of alienation is absolutely not understood in the court process, which is why so many children are just condemned to this kind of thinking for many years.

      Like

  4. Woodman59 · March 6, 2016

    A most profound contribution for us all. Rather than having been the exception, I have to wonder if a degree of alienation has actually been common in many families where one or other family member has come to resent the closeness that may exist between some – I wonder how many of us have experienced that?

    Perhaps the extreme situation that has emerged from the increase in family breakdown will allow us to have a more general societal discussion about family dynamics too?

    Like

    • daddyhardup · March 6, 2016

      Thank you, Woodman (and thank you, Karen). Sparked off by Karen’s analysis of alienation transmitted across the generations, I have been reflecting on the parallels between my ex-wife’s attempts to alienate our daughter from me and the way in which, thirty years previously, my brother tried with some success to turn our younger sister against me. I must have ‘scapegoat’ written all over me. Our sister was about five at the time, the same age as my daughter was when her mother and half-sister allied to drive me out of the family. My sister and daughter have so much in common, too.

      Happily, I now have a good relationship with my sister, and I am re-establishing a good relationship with my daughter (who is now ten), despite very limited contact which is entirely at the whim of her mother.

      Like

      • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

        Hi DHU, I am writing a full length story called Scapegoat, that word sums up my life prior to recovery from alienation, I will publish parts of it on here. Scapegoating is a big part of alienation and understanding your role as scapegoat in your family will help you understand how your daughter’s mother managed to do what she did. It will also help you to understand how to reconnect with your daughter despite her mother. More soon x

        Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      Hi Woodman, it is lovely to be able to put your face to your name now!! I think that there is much in many families which will chime with my experience, the high functioning and yet dysfunctional family is a very common thing in my experience.

      Like

      • woodman1959 · March 8, 2016

        Hi Karen – am still working desperately hard on creating the “Community Sound” experience for later on this year where troubled families can be brought together in a profoundly creative way – and we will have a venue hopefully large enough for everyone (including those here) who would like to attend…and so allow more of us to start to meet in person.

        Like

  5. CG · March 6, 2016

    Thank you Karen. You are so lucky; to have survived, to have regained your relationship, and to have learnt enough that you can do what you do for other children and their parents.
    I lost my mother (to cancer) 27 years ago, when I was 25. My mother was not perfect; she was normal, and she was wonderful.
    My (still) alienated step-son said to us he had ‘a perfect mother and a perfect family’ and said to his father that there was ‘no place for you in it’. I pray he will grown , and heal, and come back. I wish his mother a happy mother’s day – I wish her healing for herself and her past (with its secrets and lies), and empathy and wisdom.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      Those secrets and lies are what lies beneath so much of alienation in my experience, whenever I encounter the parent who is adamantly gate keeping and preventing the other parent from seeing the children I wonder about those secrets and lies.

      Like

  6. Anonymous · March 6, 2016

    Happy Mothers Day Karen and Namaste.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      Thank you x

      Like

  7. Yvie · March 6, 2016

    Happy mother’s day Karen xx

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      Thank you Yvie xx

      Like

  8. polly · March 6, 2016

    A very happy mother’s day to all the ‘alienated’ Mothers out there, no matter what the cause. Here’s hope and best wishes to healing and knowing that life goes on and those of us who are struggling need to find strength to ensure we ride along with life and don’t allow ourselves to get swmaped by the sadness. Life’s for living as best we can. Let’s look after ourselves.

    Like

    • higbye · March 6, 2016

      Amen!

      Like

      • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

        Life IS for living Polly and it is so important to make sure that your life is about you and your needs and your expression of life as it flows through you not as it is controlled by someone else. Be alive and healthy and well when your children come looking for you, they need that more than anything else in the world. If you cannot be a parent in the way that you originally intended, give your child the gift of living your life well for yourself, it will teach them something about their own needs as they get older x

        Like

      • Everythinghappensforareason · March 8, 2016

        Here here, Karen – at times, that example of how to cope with (and react to) life, sometimes, being unfair was all I felt I had to cling on to……that I was parenting from afar and for the future

        Like

  9. HeartBroken but with Hope · March 6, 2016

    As always I appreciate your words. They have wisdom and experience. This week I saw my family situation being almost exactly the life you have lived. My children have been through much the same situation you describe and I am the mom that has been alienated. I write to my children every week, every Sunday, and today I copied your blog and sent it to them. I figured it can’t make things worse so why not. My children are ages 19, 21, 22 and 24. My girls are the oldest and my boys are the youngest. I wish so much for them to realize what has happened to them so that they can overcome it and live a happy and healthy life. I know that first they have to realize, and then they can work to overcome it. Who knows maybe by me sending them this week’s blog they will see themselves and their situation and it will initiate a change for them. I feel so badly for my children. I wish them to be happy, healthy and safe. I hope by sending them this blog it will help them to get there. Thank you.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      Who knows, perhaps hearing from someone who recovered might help, I hope so x

      Like

  10. Brenda Stephens · March 6, 2016

    Happy Mothers Day. Thank you for sharing. My mother has removed my son from my care and alienated me. My children have never met each other. Today is a strange day for me. The woman I’m supposed to love made me want to die by preventing me being a mother.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      Brenda, I understand how difficult and painful that must be. I know that you are a poet if you would like to share something of your work with us please let me know, I would be delighted to share it on here x

      Like

  11. Anonymous · March 6, 2016

    Thanks for posting this Karen. I can imagine what a tremendous journey this was for you and what it took for you to get to this place. Healing and wholeness is a wonderful thing and even though you can’t change the past, your own healing works up and down the family line, past, present and future.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      I have become the transitional character in my family line I hope, when I watch my daughter and my grandson I hope I have created a new road for them to travel and build upon.

      Like

  12. musingsimplicity · March 6, 2016

    Karen, previously I did not know that you had been an alienated child (like myself). So much of this post resonates me. I am very interested to know, how did you handle/approach/speak up to your father after you understood the alienation that was done to you? Did you forgive? Even if he did not take responsibility? Maintain a relationship w/ him (and the rest of your paternal family?) These are the issues I still struggle with, even as I reconnect w/ my mother after forty- five years. Also, how did your mother maintain her esteem/sanity/health through being alienated from her child? It broke my mother, so to speak. It is rare to find another adult ‘alienated child’. I appreciate whatever you are willing to answer/share. Thank you.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      Hi MS, well I don’t share very much of my own life on here, largely because this is about my work rather than my personal experience, however it seems important to me, as a therapist who works with these issues, that I am able to confront and be conscious of my personal experience as part of a congruent journey. That said, I am not going to go into real detail about my family life on here because that is not why I started this blog, suffice to say my mother was not broken by what happened though she came close at times and it was her strength and her belief in me which ultimately gave me the platform to properly heal. Together we put the pieces back together and made a vase which holds water and flowers, though there are cracks in it still it works for us.

      Like

  13. Harley's Hope · March 7, 2016

    My son did not call today
    Nor write or make contact of any kind.
    I suppose I was holding out hope that he would find a way. When your heart has been broken is it possible that it can still be broken some more and some more until it’s rhythm no longer resembles anything you can call your own . For children that have had the ultimate test of loyalty today, the unspoken requirement of absolute rejection today my heart is broken a thousand times over for what it has cost them emotionally and psychologically today and for the complex journey that ultimately lies ahead of them. For the Mothers estranged from their children today know that locked down deep in the hearts of our children there remains the memory of a love that can never be completely erased. The bond between Mother and child begins with our child knowing the sound of our heartbeat like no other person on the earth, our bodies given over to them completely unconditionally and here begins a lifetime of nurture and love. The bond between Mother and child may well be separated but it can never be erased.
    It is difficult at times to have hope in the midst of the ache of separation but hope today is a choice we must depend upon and choose daily. I am thankful for your ability to translate this journey Karen in a way that wraps words around the complexities of what we and our childrenare walking through . This blog continues to breathe clarity, hope, healing and insight into a journey one feels both isolated and alone in daily . Thank you for your transparency and vulnerability in sharing your heart.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      you are welcome I am so glad it helps. k

      Like

  14. Oakland Magpie · March 7, 2016

    Happy Mother’s Day Karen, I so appreciate you sharing parts of your story, it shows me yet again how much you understand and how personal this is for you. I wonder if I missed it or if you perhaps haven’t shared at what age you came around? My daughter turned 22 last month and it’s been four years. This upcoming American Mother’s Day in May will be my fifth left in silence unless a miracle occurs soon. Just looking for hope…

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      I was 38 when I finally and properly reconnected and that was triggered by the absence of my father which allowed it to happen. But my experience is not typical as I was alienated in an intact family situation in a cross generational pattern not a separated family pattern so its not really possible to use my experience as a template.

      Like

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  16. higbye · March 8, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your story, Karen. I’m always interested in hearing about alienated children who come around and seek a relationship with the once-rejected parent.

    Recently a judge, who was presented with extensive evidence of moderate-to-severe alienation in our family, yet who says she is leaning toward allowing my teen daughter to reside with her father and stepmom simply because my daughter is a teen, looked at me and said “If it’s any consolation, in my experience when teens get older and start figuring things out for themselves, they tend to come around.” I know her comment isn’t unusual; our family counselor said something similar when my son was 16. He was allowed to choose to stay with my ex-husband, who promised to “encourage our relationship” and promised to encourage my son to spend time with me. My son is now 18 and he hasn’t spent one night at my home in the past 2 years.

    It makes me terribly sad when professionals remain passive and take an “oh well, what’s done is done” approach, relying on the possibility that eventually the alienated children may come around. Targeted parents have little to no power to effect change in the relationship. But professionals (counselors, judges, attorneys, etc) do. They are who we, the voiceless, rely on for advocacy and intervention. We look to them to champion our cause, to save our children from the negative effects of alienation, and to intervene. Yet all too often they fail us.

    My heartbreak over all this isn’t only for myself and the indefinite loss of my children, but for my children themselves who, without intervention, are destined for troubled lives of self-doubt, guilt, anger, depression, relationship problems, etc. And those are the least sinister of the symptoms I’ve read about. From what I understand there are also high rates of addictions, self-harm, abuse, and suicide among formerly alienated children. It’s not pretty. And yet, professionals allow it to continue simply because they don’t know what to do and don’t take the time to find out how best to intervene. Their “they’ll come around” approach is the easy way out.

    What I’d like to tell the judge is that I’ve read many stories of formerly alienated children who are now adults who found their way back to the alienated parent. They are heart-wrenching. They may in fact “come around” eventually, but they almost always do as highly conflicted and pained individuals. The damage done when alienation is allowed to reign for years isn’t easily undone. Your story is proof again of that. I also have two adult friends who were alienated as children. Neither speaks to the parent with whom they were previously aligned, but their relationships with the alienated parents aren’t without issues either. There is a LOT to work through for all involved. And then there are those who simply don’t come back around. They may eventually understand what happened to them, but they are too embarrassed to come around, or feel guilty or angry about it, or they maintain resentment for the alienated parent even after realizing what happened because they blame the alienated parent for not having tried harder.

    If professionals took the time to understand that it’s not as simple as “they’ll come around eventually,” and certainly not as whole, healthy individuals, then maybe they would do more and fight harder to find a solution. Their failure to recognize the serious long term effects of alienation is a disservice to all the families out there who are plagued by this phenomenon.

    I am sorry for your experience. But am nonetheless heartened to hear that it had about as happy an outcome as can be expected. I haven’t heard my children say “I love you” in over 5 years, though we said it to each other multiple times a day before the alienation took hold. Your closing line really got me in the feels. Happy Mother’s Day to your and your mother. May the years ahead be kind to you both.

    Like

    • Everythinghappensforareason · March 8, 2016

      Excellent post! Having been an aligned child and now an alienated parent (of 15 years) I have to say that your all-round summary of the PA environment is the best I’ve ever read from a parent….certainly, despite feeling the same way, an account I was never articulate enough or emotionally calm enough to compose in the plethora of court statements and other communications produced over several years. There are very few professionals, like Karen, who seek to serve the real victims (the children) rather than themselves and the biggest tragedy is that most of them aren’t even aware they’re out of their depth and in the wrong jobs

      Like

    • woodman1959 · March 8, 2016

      A beautifully articulated response about what has to be one of the most exasperating experiences we have from even the most well-meaning people sympathetic to our plight.

      Hasn’t this come about because for generations now society in general has been kidding itself that separation when there are children is not particularly harmful to health?

      Now, finally – we are finding out differently…that the risk of severe emotional and physical damage to those concerned is exceptionally high.

      It’s been like abandoning the rules of the road in favour of personal freedom to do and go wherever we wish and encouraging people to have road traffic accidents in a mass delusion that all our cars have now become invulnerable tanks.

      That’s why everyone looks on so helplessly – we’re all still so drunk on this fantasy of personal autonomy at any cost that we have blinded ourselves to the casualties at every turning.

      Surely we have to take stock and accept now as a general principle that when we change or abandon partners it will very likely hurt our children extremely badly and that cruelty is no longer acceptable?

      We simply have to find more constructive, sophisticated and mature ways to develop personal freedom – which won’t produce this current carnage.

      Like

      • Everythinghappensforareason · March 8, 2016

        I think they call it “karma” or “cause and effect” resulting from (a) being ‘where we are’ through the personal choices made to date – both in our relationships and our choice of political leaders and (b) having to accept the consequences of those choices whether consciously made or not. In the end, we get the leaders we deserve…. because, as a society, we put them there in the first place. Having said all that, taking responsibility for our personal situations, accepting the ‘cards we’ve been dealt’ and doing the best we can with those ‘hands’ has to be the only way forward for everyone

        Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      it gave me such pleasure to write it HB, just as learning that my mother can tell jokes, so much to discover which was taken from me, 15 years or more on and I am still learning what I lost. what I know from my professional work is that the stronger the relationship pre alienation, the easier it will be for them to reconnect. Keep healthy and well and strong and hopeful. Keep being there, you will save them just like my mother gave me the grace to recover and thrive x

      Like

  17. Anonymous · March 8, 2016

    Happy mother’s day Karen.
    I am normally the silent party reading your posts and I have not contributed. Today I felt compelled to write. I come here every day like a child looking for candy. I look every day for new posts and to be nourished. I find I can hardly wait for your new posts. Aside from my faith, you have been my saving grace in my darkest hours. And even though I am stronger now, there are still dark and grim hours to go through. I have learned so much in my 12 year journey as an alienated parent. All these posts give hope and courage to go on. Thank you for the gift that you give of yourself freely. Happy Mother’s day to you and all mother’s.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · March 8, 2016

      You are very welcome here and I am glad that you have left a comment, I hope that as time goes on and we are able to launch Parental Alienation Direct (April 25) you will join our forums and find more support. I will still be writing this blog and will also be guiding and advising on the forums so we can have an ongoing dialogue. I know that people help people and our aim has always been to help people help each other in coping with alienation. Keep your faith and your belief in your children and the love you felt for them on the day they were born, hang onto it for all you are worth it will bring them home and it will heal them. I think so many alienated parents do not realise that they really, truly, are their children’s only hope of a healthy future. It is so easily lost in the missing and the pain but you are, you really are. Without my mother I would have been lost when I finally woke up to what had been done. It was as if I realised, reached out and she caught my hand and we hung onto each other as tight as we could through a tsunami of grief and realisation which would have drowned me had I not had her to hang on to and her willingness to try her very best to be a parent to me as much as she possibly could be through her own turmoil. Alienated children need the parent they have rejected to be there and to be as strong and well as possible when they attempt to reconnect. I thank my lucky stars my mother was there when it happened to me. She wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t a fairy tale ending, we had a journey and a half to go on to get to where we are now but we did it. She did it. And I love and thank her for it every day.

      Like

  18. mothererased · March 8, 2016

    I have been reconnecting with my mother after many, many years and some failed attempts (reasons having mostly to do w/ my fear and her unhealed pain.) It is an imperfect and slow reconnection (there are many miles between us, in addition to many lost years). I so relate to your post, Karen, and love hearing about another mother-daughter reunion. I would love for alienated moms to find ways to grow stronger, and not weaker, in the face of alienation. It truly is the best preparation for reunion.

    Like

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