Imprisoned by a parent’s mind: A child’s eye view of alienation

 

 
I write from sunny Croatia, Dubrovnik to be exact, a place where my maternal grandmother spent some happy times. I know this place from the stories she told me, it is familiar to me even though I have never been here before. The power of narrative in children’s lives is underlined for me by this experience, here is a place I have never been and yet it is a place I feel that I know. It is not exactly as I imagined it but it is near enough for me to be powerfully reminded of the days I sat in the garden with my grandmother as she told me that in Dubrovnik, where the lemon trees grow, the old women all wear black and talk about politics. In my young mind, Dubrovnik became a place of pilgrimage, a place where I would find the blessed land of my grandmother’s dreams.  A place where she was happy and a place where I would be too. Being confronted with Dubrovnik, the real place and not the construction of someone else’s dreams, is to be confronted again with the ways in which the mind of a child is vulnerable to capture and manipulation, vulnerable to the soundless, boundless sea of intra-psychic defencelessness. A child in relationship to adults is quite simply, vulnerable, to the good or the bad that is impressed upon them. 
 
Vulnerable and susceptible. Two fragile states of being for unformed minds.
 
My grandmother’s stories of her time in Yugoslavia as it was then, were coloured by her political beliefs. Brought up by communists, her delight in visiting Dubrovnik was heightened by her way of life which was rooted in the make do and mend of the post second world war era. My grandmother was an original recycler, her talent for sewing led each one of her grandchildren to wear the simple but beautifully made clothes she created more or less from rags. Dubrovnik held for her the promise of the simplicity of a life lived on the land in which having sufficient was more than enough. I loved to listen to her talk about the lemon trees and the freshly picked tomatoes she ate each day and the time she spent in the sun with the women, speaking not much of a shared language but enough to get by.  For me Dubrovnik became a mysterious place where people were kind to each other, the warmth of the sun and the pink light upon the buildings became diffused with the love that I felt for my grandmother and the safety and certainty she gave to my life. My confrontation with Dubrovnik in reality has revealed that whilst the foundation and framework of the place may be the same as my grandmother’s recollections, the rest was formed of the projection of her mind. At the age of fifty plus, therefore, I am confronted with the falling away of a childhood narrative which held me enthralled for decades. And in doing so, I am once again shown that the impressionable mind of a child is akin to a blank canvas. If the adults in the child’s world want to paint beautiful pictures of hope and humanity upon that canvas they can but if they want to paint pictures of fear and devastation they can do that too. In every respect a child is a prisoner of the minds of one or both parents and especially so after separation.
 
This for me is the absolute focus of where my work needs to be.  Whilst parents are important and necessary, the mind of the child is the place where the healing needs to take place and balance must be restored. Parents in this respect, are those valuable assets which aid the healing. This is not about parental rights, in fact it is not really even about parents as individuals at all. It is about the right of the child to be cared for and protected from those people who would use the child’s mind to play out their own unresolved issues. People who are mentally and psychologically unwell, who are largely high functioning and therefore who pass unnoticed in the intra-psychic world of the developing child, but who are heaping upon their children, intolerable burdens which are not theirs to carry. This is a tricky area to navigate because it bumps up against the issue of how to ensure that the healthy parent, (in pure alienation cases the one who is rejected), can have the kind of input into the child’s life which is protective. This is where the court intervention is necessary and for me this is where the issue of the child’s mind as the battleground between parents must be differentiated from the child’s mind as hostage to one unwell parent. The difference is like night and day in terms of how to intervene, the outcome for the child is the core issue for consideration.
 
 
The unresolved issues in the mind of a parent are powerful in terms of the narrative by which their lives are lived. Those issues, which may be intergenerational as well as learned on the horizontal (here and now) plane of existence are considered to be drivers by some therapists or schema by others. I call them stories and much of my time is spent with parents and children listening to those stories.  The external stories are the place where the tale begins, the once upon a time entries into the internalised world of the family which is configured around the alienated child.  It is fairly pointless however, asking the alienated child what their story is because it is largely the same wherever it is asked in the world. Just as my story of Dubrovnik starts with ‘once upon a time there was a little town where lemon trees grow and the old women sit and talk about politics’….an alienated child’s story reads … ‘once upon a time my dad was really horrible to me and so I don’t like him anymore,  he has had all of his chances and isn’t getting anymore.’  The only difference between my story and the alienated child’s is that mine is benign, it didn’t do me any harm and could be challenged by my confrontation with the real place which is Dubrovnik, whilst the alienated child’s is constructed, toxic and developed from the need to cope with an impossible situation.
 
And so, these stories take us into the world of the child although they do not take us into working with the child (there is a big difference). Those who purport to offer therapy to children to bring them out of alienation will fool only those who believe that the unresolved issues which cause alienation, reside in the mind of the child. They don’t. The unresolved issues which cause alienation in a child, lie in the mind of the unwell parent and perhaps the generation before them. Listening to the stories of the two tribes who came together to create the child, is about listening for the red flags and the sirens which herald alienation. In pure alienation cases these signals are loud and clear, in hybrid cases the signals are often masked by counter responses and so the narrative is muddied and unclear. The skill of the practitioner, is in being able to untangle the stories, unravel the disparate threads that lead back to the problem and then guide the court to bring about the conditions which will allow for the liberation of the child from the influence of the mind of the parent.
 
The mind of the child is impressionable, this is how children come to be abused and to trust their abusers implicitly, blaming themselves before they blame the person abusing them. Alienation is a terrible thing to create in a child because it is not simply alienation from a relationship with a parent or the whole of the side of the family but alienation from the self and the soul. Recovering from alienation from the self and the soul is an extremely difficult task because when all of the footholds of trust in adults are damaged and broken, it is virtually impossible to put one foot in front of the other without fearing that the next step will cause the floor to give way. Children who are liberated from alienation through the transfer of residence route ( which is in itself a blunt instrument to treat a gaping wound ), still have a struggle in front of them as they attempt to relearn how to relate to the once aligned parent.  If that parent cannot or will not accept that their behaviours are contributory to the behaviours of the child then the struggle intensifies as the child’s mind seesaws between attempting to reconcile their new found understanding of the once rejected/feared/hated parent with the beliefs which were inculcated previously.
 
This is why alienation is a child protection issue, because children need to be protected from parents who are harmful to their wellbeing either consciously or unconsciously. Where the child’s mind is imprisoned in the unresolved issues belonging to the parent who has control over the child, intervention is absolutely necessary and must be undertaken swiftly and with determination. Differentiating those cases from those hybrid situations where parents are cross projecting anger and blame towards each other is often difficult for inexperienced practitioners who may routinely advocate therapy for all cases of alienation. Unfortunately this fails the child and leaves them imprisoned in an unresolvable emotional and psychological place, something no practitioner should be willing to do if they are aware of the damage that is done by alienation, especially in its purest form.
 
Currently in the UK our options for treatment of alienation are a change of residence or therapeutic intervention, both of which are not ideal if they are not properly matched to the issues facing the child. Additionally, with a workforce which is largely unaware of how alienation presents itself in a child, the number of cases actually being properly diagnosed and treated are low (although thankfully now growing due to developing awareness and willingness to help children in these circumstances). As research and evaluation of successful interventions are gathered and published, the nuanced treatment routes which are clearly excavated by the likes of Friedlander and Walters will become more routinely available. Such work is based upon the understanding of alienation as a trans-generational issue which is impressed upon the child through the narrative of the parent with unresolved issues and differentiation between that and the cross conflicted impact of hybrid dynamic. All of this work requires the ability to enter into the world of the child and to walk with them to understand the lines of power and control and the storylines which manipulate that. None of it requires the child to undergo therapy because the child is a prisoner of the mind of the parent, not a dysfunctional patient.
 
I work with alienated children, I know them and I understand them. From the children who tell me they hate me as much as the parent they are rejecting, to the ones who hug me and thank me in the months after the necessary changes have been made to their lives, I know them well. I can predict their behaviours and reactions and because of that I can create a road for them to travel on, even when they are adamant they do not want to follow me. What I know about alienated children is that their minds are precious, they belong only to them and their right to grow to adulthood without having their mind be the battle ground for adult issues is paramount. It is the only thing that really matters in the end.  How we help children to put down the burdens they carry is about how we understand the stories of their lives, those stories which govern their beliefs about themselves and the world around them and the stories which prevent them from having the healthy, loving, supportive relationships which give them hope for the future. Being big enough and brave enough to challenge the adults who are harming their children is about being concerned with children’s needs first. It’s not about rights, it’s not about justice, it is about mental and psychological health and promoting that in the lives of children over everything and anything else.
 
With my grandmother’s stories about Dubrovnik fading and the real place emerging minute by minute, I will, later today, pass by the  orange and lemon trees on my way to eat the freshly picked tomatoes. As I do I will be thinking about the ways in which we can refine the interventions we are already making into alienated children’s lives to build the nuanced responses that help children to recover more swiftly and certainly from the experience of alienation.  It is clear to me from the successful outcomes we have achieved in the past year alone, that continued development of support services are necessary, if we are to bring healing to children affected by alienation. Children whose minds require the consistent responding from the adults around them over many years in order to begin again, the processing of trust which allows for healthy relationships in their own lives as adults and eventually as parents themselves.
 
Those precious minds of the next generation deserve to be protected and preserved as fresh and new as the lemons hanging from the trees on the terraces below me. This is the focus of our work now and in the future.
 
 
From September 5-7th we will be training Social Workers at the City Child Protection Centre in Zagreb, Croatia.  In doing so we will be helping to develop services to families in Croatia where children are alienated from a parent.
 
In 2017 we also aim to develop a European Association of Alienation Practitioners which will be focused entirely upon building up the available resources for work with families affected by alienation across Europe.  We know that parents have done a huge amount of work in raising awareness of alienation across the world, we believe it is time for practitioners to join this endeavour and to provide the interventions which we know are successful for children. We will be providing training, evidence based research, links to our successful work in the UK and more as part of this initiative. Please contact us after September 12th for more information about this. Please note this is a practitioner based initiative and whilst we welcome support from all parents affected by it, our major focus will be on training and research.
 
 
 
 

23 comments

  1. mothererased · September 1

    As am adult alienated child I can attest to the accuracy of your words, that alienation disconnecrs the child from her Self. Due to decades of unresolved alienation, it has taken me well into adulthood to reclaim my own self and soul. Thank you for your work.

    • karenwoodall · September 2

      The loss of trust and the alienation from ones own self is a horrifying thing for a child to face mothererased, I know it well and suffered it too. Sending my love and support K

  2. Everythinghappensforareason · September 1

    “How we help children to put down the burdens they carry is about how we understand the stories of their lives, those stories which govern their beliefs about themselves and the world around them and the stories which prevent them from having the healthy, loving, supportive relationships which give them HOPE for the future”

    For me, apart from getting to the “root” of the problem, this is also an indicator of the route to future hope for the traumatised/targeted parent who could one day play the crucial role of helping that child (or adult child) heal

    Thanks for another both inciteful and uplifting piece

    • karenwoodall · September 2

      I cannot stress enough EHFR that the rejected parent plays the most crucial role in the recovery of normality and hope for a healthy future, I see it again and again, the healthy parent who has been through hell stepping up and holding the children steady as they recover. Doesn’t matter how long it takes for the child to escape, if their healthy parent is there fore them they will recover. Hope lies in the hands of the healthy parent, we must never forget that. K

  3. Jane Jackson · September 1

    Good Morning Karen, thank you for your lovely memories of lemon trees and your grandmother. I think this is the paragraph we all need to keep reading “Those precious minds of the next generation deserve to be protected and preserved as fresh and new as the lemons hanging from the trees on the terraces below me. This is the focus of our work now and in the future.”
    Jane

    • karenwoodall · September 2

      Morning Jane, grandmothers live in our hearts and minds for all of our lives, as do grandfathers, much overlooked in terms of their importance in the psychological landscape of children’s lives but so very important. I miss my grandmother, she lived til she was 99 and on the day she died she told me she was going on a journey but I couldn’t come on this one with her as I had to stay behind for my own grandchildren (who weren’t born then). When my grandson was born one of the biggest surprises and delights of my life was that my grandmother was still alive in my own grandmothering, so much more so than when I was a mother for the first time because I had been so badly alienated from my own mother that I didn’t have an internalised template and had to make it up as I went along. But my grandmother template was alive and well and she has been with me each step of the way with my grandson so that I know how to be a grandmother as if I were born to it and as a result I have been able to relax and enjoy it unconsciously, knowing that what she gave me was incredibly healthy. All of which teaches me the importance of positive templates for children who learn how to be parents and grandparents from the care they receive, which is why it is so important to make sure that the care they do get is healthy.

  4. truthaholics · September 1

    Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “I work with alienated children, I know them and I understand them. From the children who tell me they hate me as much as the parent they are rejecting, to the ones who hug me and thank me in the months after the necessary changes have been made to their lives, I know them well. I can predict their behaviours and reactions and because of that I can create a road for them to travel on, even when they are adamant they do not want to follow me. What I know about alienated children is that their minds are precious, they belong only to them and their right to grow to adulthood without having their mind be the battle ground for adult issues is paramount. It is the only thing that really matters in the end. How we help children to put down the burdens they carry is about how we understand the stories of their lives, those stories which govern their beliefs about themselves and the world around them and the stories which prevent them from having the healthy, loving, supportive relationships which give them hope for the future. Being big enough and brave enough to challenge the adults who are harming their children is about being concerned with children’s needs first. It’s not about rights, it’s not about justice, it is about mental and psychological health and promoting that in the lives of children over everything and anything else.”

  5. Anonymous · September 1

    Thank you so much for the work you do. My mind and heart are captured by the way you express PA. I have become to love you and I don’t know you.

    “I am once again shown that the impressionable mind of a child is akin to a blank canvas. If the adults in the child’s world want to paint beautiful pictures of hope and humanity upon that canvas they can but if they want to paint pictures of fear and devastation they can do that too. In every respect a child is a prisoner of the minds of one or both parents and especially so after separation.”

    This analogy is perfect. After a horrifying picture of fear, hate devastation has been painted and the canvas is very dark for 12 years. it is extremely difficult to un-paint the canvas and give it correct coloring and true beauty. It only takes a master in the arts to fix. As the canvas is beautified the child is released and with that the target parent is released too from all the pain and suffering.
    I would also have to add to this that the targeted parent is also stuck in the horrifying pain watching the children suffer in that way. They too will need full recovery and that only happens until the child has recovered. Rejection of our children and not having them in our lives takes a huge toll on a targeted parent. The suffering in incredibly difficult to cope with; it is a daily “thing” to struggle and wrestle with. No one can relate. You wake up thinking of your children and you go to sleep thinking of your children no matter what age they are. The pain never goes away.

    You give me hope to go on. the fight is still on, because now it has become generational and we have to be proactive and steadfast and help with change for the sake of the children and grandchildren.

    Anonymous

    • karenwoodall · September 2

      I am glad it helps, to be witness to the painting of devastation in a child’s mind is a terrible thing and I send you my support, when I write that healthy parents are valuable assets in the battle against alienation I really mean it, you are your child’s best hope for a normal and healthy future and you must stay strong and resilient so that you can be there when they escape. Recently a mother wrote to me about her son who had rejected her for many years after she had left his father because of his violence. Her son is now safely with her after reaching an age when he was able to escape, from ‘hating’ her to finding her and confessing his need for safety after five years of alienation. The most difficult part is that his father has now rejected him completely and he is struggling to understand that. Children are hard wired to love both parents, to be made to reject them they have to be terrorised, made to feel afraid of losing the parent they are most dependent upon and persuaded that the other parent is damaging or dangerous to their wellbeing. Never give up hope, never stop knowing you are the healthy parent, never let a day go by without reminding yourself that you are your child’s best hope for a normal future. I am going to write a bit more about communicating with children who are alienated as I have been doing some interviews with children post reunification and it is very clear that despite the alienation, the love for the rejected parent never ever dies. I hope this will bring more hope to you and others and help you to survive what I know is a terrible suffering. Sending my support. K

      • Frankie · September 4

        How.true this is Karen, I have to try to fill my days and nights and keep my daughter “healthy” in a world where she has all but lost her big brother! Her daddy told him he could see me (his mother) but if he did that would be him and his father finished and he would never have anything more to do with him…. how is a child supposed to pick one parent over the other?? I guess the no boundaries won my son over but at what cost! He comes with his daddy once quite month to have contact with his sister, cigarette in his 16year old hand hand, sorry but wouldn’t be happening on my watch!,! My mother and I had issues when I was young but at nearly 90 she is now my rock!! Thank you for the dedication, hard work and obvious love you put into your calling!

        Frankie

  6. Pingback: Imprisoned by a parent’s mind: A child’s eye view of alienation — Karen Woodall | Madison Elizabeth Baylis
  7. daveyone1 · September 1
  8. David · September 2

    Very profound article, thank you.

    Something about this I want to clarify:

    ” . . . the issue of how to ensure that the healthy parent, (in pure alienation cases the one who is rejected), can have the kind of input into the child’s life which is protective . . .”

    Some seem to believe that if the target parent can maintain 50/50 custody in practice, the child will see that parent for who they are, and not be so easily induced into the allied parent’s delusion that this parent is somehow inferior and abusive. Bitter experience taught me that this is an illusion. When everything that you do or say is reported to the other parent and then masterfully spun and distorted, and the child’s other parent is a constant background presence during your custody due to smartphones, no amount of “input” into the child’s life will protect them because your input is benign while the character-disordered parent’s input is malign. In pure cases at least, input without protective separation is futile. But protective separation here in Sacramento seems just about impossible.

    • karenwoodall · September 2

      David, I want to reply to this because it goes to the very heart of what I have come to know is the absolute truth about alienation in its purest and most severe form – no amount of shared parenting legislation will make a single jot of difference because the issue is not the rights of the parents or the manner in which the child spends time with each, it is not about legal jurisdiction or justice or fairness it is about the unwell parent who is willing to use the child’s mind to win out in battle of their making which has its roots in the unresolved trauma which they are playing out from a position of decompensation. In this respect Dr Childress is absolutely and utterly correct and I have no problem at all with arguing loudly for the protective separation we know is what liberates children from this horrible situation. I cannot call these people pathogens as Dr Childress does because that dehumanises them, whatever their problem they are humans and we have to deal with them, we have to also find ways of helping children to deal with them because unless we do, we abandon children to the fate of having to cut out one parent in order to keep the other, either they cut out the healthy parent at the behest of the unhealthy one or we change residence and they cut out the unhealthy one completely – which serves no purpose other than to leave the child in limbo in relationship to that parent. What we have to do is help the child to understand that the unhealthy parent sees the world in different terms and that those different terms are problematic for them, we have to protect the child first and then build healthy awareness and resilience to the unhealthy parent’s machinations so that the child does not continue black and white thinking but recognises that their parent is unhealthy and therefore must be managed. I am doing this work in the UK right now, it is where my interest really lies I think and it is the place where I hope that we will find all work with such families is placed as time goes on. This is a relational problem which is rife in the world and one which we must bring to consciousness in order to help the children of tomorrow to avoid. You are absolutely right to say that no amount of input into the child’s life will help in pure and severe cases without separation from the disordered parent, it is what we argue for and support in such cases and it relieves the child immediately of the burden they carry.

      • Woodman59 · September 2

        As someone with three teenage children, this something I have been trying to explain to new FNF’ers with a young child or children – all hopeful of ‘winning’ in Court.

        My feeling is rather that we need to start at the earliest possible practical point of intervention…that is…before any of the children in a relationship are actually born.

        If a new social norm could be developed – that as soon as children were on the horizon, it would be the norm for couple-type counseling to be offered (and socially unacceptable to refuse to take seriously) then might we have a chance of ‘nipping Parental Alienation in the bud’?

        Surely this could be achieved on the basis that future separation can prove exceptionally harmful for the child if not managed exceptionally carefully – with the figures showing that the numbers of separations to be statistically high – however confident individuals may be at the start?

        Skilled counseling can easily pick up the early signs of healthy and unhealthy parenting – with unhealthy personalities wishing to avoid this, whereas Court procedures, by contrast – can often attract them.

    • Anonymous · September 2

      David I agree with you. I have the similar experience and I live in Maryland. My experience was very similar in that the alienating had complete control of the children and was coaching them every second when they were with me. He was a constant presence where ever they were. Smartphones and computers surely make it very easy for the alienating parent, and since the alienating parent is a computer engineer, he set up my computer to access it through VPN and had access to my notes and emails. The alienating parent coached them to do the most heinous things like call the police and report false abuse against me when they were with me several times. As you say, the alienating parent masterfully spun and distorted things I have said and done to GALs, court counselor, judge, therapists, etc. There is no way in hell of a positive outcome unless of a protective separation. In the united states, I am not sure they know what that is. My relationship with my children disintegrated within two weeks. It became very toxic and futile situation and out of control.

      Anonymous

  9. adrian hayton · September 2

    Dear Karen , keep up with your Beautiful Spirit.Love to hear more from you .xx – Adrian from a grandadsjourney.co.uk

    • karenwoodall · September 2

      Thank you Adrian, I will be writing more in the Autumn about children’s experiences K

  10. moishky1 · September 2

    Hi, I love reading all of your stuff and it is helping me through my own griefJust wondering what can be done to make Alienation Counselling /treatment more accessible to people like me but without a lot of spare cash ?Any advice greatly appreciatedMaurice07580585006

    Date: Thu, 1 Sep 2016 08:13:41 +0000 To: mauricevidowsky@hotmail.com

  11. ianpbuckingham · September 2

    Reblogged this on Daddy don't you walk so fast and commented:
    Another excellent post by Karen – alienation is child abuse and a child protection issue!

  12. Pingback: Imprisoned by a parent’s mind: A child’s eye view of alienation – Parental Alienation
  13. sadsam · 23 Days Ago

    Karen….throughout your post you make reference to a parent’s “unresolved issues” being the real cause behind PA developing……..what kind of things fall under these unspecified “unresolved issues”? I’m so full of self doubt about myself that i keep asking myself if there was really any truth in the allegations of PA made against me……did I do something inadvertently?….. because I know I did nothing consciously or intentionally? But then my history is to heap blame on myself/accept being blamed by others even when there is no truth in it. Maybe I’m doing this again……all i know is that I’m lost in all this I really am.

    • woodman1959 · 22 Days Ago

      What is your situation, Sadsam – are you a targeted father who has been accused of alienating the children from you, yourself?

      If so, this will be a standard tactic of an alienating parent and those supporting them.

      And in response to your previous point – my experience is that the child’s mind is captured by the alienating parent to such an extent that they may still be seeing – but are no longer registering peer influence in the way that would be expected – so under the spell of the alienating parent, they are.

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