The Transmogrification of Trauma in Parental Alienation

Far from being the kind of cosy kitchen table topic portrayed by the BBC in recent weeks, parental alienation is actually, often, a scene straight from a horror story.  In cases I have been involved in over the years, the transmission of intergenerational trauma has transmogrified the behaviours of children into a grotesque pantomime.  The issue is chilling in the most extreme form and it is nothing short of a descent into madness which encapsulates all who come near it.  In a recent report on from  the USA, this horror is illuminated by the vengeful rage of a mother who, determined that the other parent shall not have the child, murdered her daughter.  This is the Medea Complex which is seen in some cases of parental alienation. In recent cases I have worked in, themes of false allegations of sexual abuse in extreme circumstances have been prevalent. There is nothing normal or run of the mill about this topic, it is not about straightforward contact disputes and it is not about conflict.  To  portray it that way does all families affected by it   a gross disservice.

Parental Alienation is a serious mental health issue which is often triggered by family separation but which in reality is not about the rejected parent at all but about the hidden pattern of intergenerational trauma which erupts because of the decompensation of a high functioning parent who is confronted by the withdrawal of the relationship through which they defended themselves from the primary wounds inflicted upon them in early life.

Parental alienation  is properly located in the field of parental mental health in the context of post separation family relationships. It is also properly located in the field of children’s mental health and wellbeing, where it can be properly considered and responded to.  Putting it anywhere else fogs the issue as well as ensuring that it is dumbed down and claimed by anyone whose child struggles in post separation relationships, making working with this issue more difficult not less.  As I have written recently, there is a risk that in bringing the issues to light, the media attention will obscure the real story of parental alienation.  Prettifying it in order to make it palatable and interesting to the mainstream media risks eradicating the reality. The reality we work with at the Family Separation Clinic. The reality which leaves nothing to the imagination in which the nasty underbelly of trauma, passes through the generational line to transmogrify children into unrecognisable gargoyles in the lives of previously beloved parents.

Narcissistic people are chilling to work with.  Charming at first they can hide the lack of self in their first encounters with new people very well. They do this by being extremely kind, very focused and utterly delightful in their interactions. They exude warmth which strangely chills at times but when they notice that you feel cold, they will turn on the charm and turn up the heat so that you forget that cold spot and return to basking in the glory of their focused attention.  Eventually, as you spend time with this person you will notice that at times their mask slips. You will notice that their focused attention falters and when that happens you will observe and become aware of a chasm in your own felt sense of the relational depth you are experiencing. A sensation of sudden absence will begin to evolve in your relationship and gradually you will begin to realise that you are alone here, your value being something other than that which you were led to believe it was, at first, when the sun was shining. Narcissistic people are extremely common in the group of parents who alienate their children,alongside the unstable personality (borderlines) and the histrionics, the sociopaths and sometimes the psychopaths. And then we have people who experience the eruption of vengeful rage which captures the child in a tsunami of terror, those with factitious illness and those whose projective identity problem is out of control.  These issues are nothing to do with the child’s relationship with the parent they are rejecting and everything to do with the unwell parental behaviours that  the child is not capable of managing.

The transmogrification of trauma is nothing to do with parental rights, it is a mental health issue and placing it anywhere other than in the arena of mental health fogs the reality of just how serious an issue it is.  As legal commentators have recently shown, the location of the issue in the field of parental rights, has done it a great disservice, bringing it out of that place and into the field of mental health is a core focus for the Clinic in the coming months.

Fortunately the mental health field in the UK is alive to the reality of parental alienation and is listening and learning fast.  Countering the risks posed by the parental rights groups claiming the topic for their own, mental health practitioners are starting to recognise that this issue is one which affects children deeply, not just because of the lack of relationship with the rejected parent, but because of the harm being done by the parent with whom the child lives. This leads to the potential for opening up the issue within the field of children’s mental health and allows it to be considered and evaluated in terms of responses from children’s mental health services.  The Clinic is involved in developing conversations around parental alienation and children’s mental health and will be presenting case studies and discussion at  major conferences in this field this year.

As we continue our work with families, our research programme and our policy development, we are  shifting the issue of parental alienation out of the midst of the parental rights argument and  into the mental health arena where it belongs.

Because parental alienation, as Dr Childress so eloquently puts it, is not a parental rights issue it is a child protection issue.  And the sooner we update the UK understanding of that the better equipped we will be to offset the fogging and the dumbing down of this horrible problem affecting children, which is currently in fashion.

I will be presenting at the Centre for Child Mental Health Conference ‘Too Much Pain, Helping Children with Traumatic Life Transitions, Separations and Losses’ in London on July 8 2017

and with Nick Woodall at the Third International Conference on Missing Children and Adults in Scotland in June 2017 



  1. Caron · 16 Days Ago

    Thank you for all that you are doing!
    There are many of us who are wondering when you will be coming to Massachusetts, US

    • karenwoodall · 16 Days Ago

      We will be the US in October Caron, we are working out our travel and delivery schedule now and I will post details soon. K

  2. Ted Wrinch · 16 Days Ago

    Karen, alienation happens within marriages too. In my case, the mother developed NPD and began covert alienation to manage her fragile self esteem about 12 years before the end of the marriage, managing me down in the eyes of the children to make her seem and feel better. Because she knew I was too strong to give in to this she did everything in secret for the first decade, bribing the children not to tell me. The effects, however, could not be hidden and soon after she started our son began pulling away from me and he was alienated for 10 years from age 11. Our daughter has now been alienated for 5 years, 3 years post divorce. Our son, after a life trauma, began waking up and now understands what his mother is; our daughter is still deep into denial and black and white thinking. No professionals we were dragged before helped or understood and mostly I ended up being blamed, as my ex wife planned. I was taken to court for ‘harassment’ for telling the truth after the divorce after I had discovered NPD and written to our daughter. I explained everything to the court; they ignored that and convicted me. I see no hope of change until society and professionals are given effective education on NPD (not just the narcissism 101 of the DSM!).

    • The Devil's Advocate · 16 Days Ago

      Absolutely and as William Wilberforce was admonished by rising above the economy of the need for chattel slavery so you and others will be enshrined in our legacy for the necessary legislation change which will be affective as written below about the responsible position Latin American countries act to protect children. Hold your head high, and be as the line in poem, Invictus…”your head may be blooded but remains unbowed”.
      This sums up the health issue as KW mentioned and the whole issue of Family Alienation has to be addressed with an emergency commission on family health on separation as a role professionals in the NHS have to take the responsibility and transferred funding to precipitate the like…It can be actioned but do we care enough; A Long Walk to Freedom is not only the 27 years that Mandela walked but all those children who have suffered the psychological torture of alienation since 1989

      • Ted Wrinch · 16 Days Ago

        I looked at the behaviours parents inflicted on their children and the other parent in Warshak’s Divorce Poison. I haven’t and couldn’t imagine doing any of those things. Most of the behaviours struck me as narcissistic, from people who are emotionally ill. Warshak I thought understood very little about narcissism (he had a small, inadequate section on it). My view is that most, maybe all, alienation, is caused by degrees of narcissism in the alienating parent. This is why, in my view, narcissism education should be given across human services. Before I discovered it on the internet in May 2015 I had never even heard of the term personality disorder. No one in my then 53 years had even mentioned it to me, yet it is an epidemic…

    • Willow · 15 Days Ago

      Ted Wrinch, you wrote what I have been writing:
      Quote: “alienation happens within marriages too. In my case, the mother developed NPD and began covert alienation to manage her fragile self esteem about 12 years before the end of the marriage, managing me down in the eyes of the children to make her seem and feel better.”

      In my case it was my husband who began elevating my daughter above me because he had a crisis of ego after taking voluntary redundancy from his job and then saw me as a threat since I continued in my professional job, and therefore in his eyes, had more status than him. After that, he took every possible opportunity to put me in my place. In the end he didn’t care who it was in front of. We had been married for 46 years. He began his campaign against me when daughter was 15 and it finally ended when I walked out and left them both two years ago when my daughter was 33. He told me she was his blood (I wasn’t) and he was glad he didn’t have to share her with me any more. His black and white thinking (which became her black and white thinking) was beyond belief. There was no reasoning with him. And the saddest thing of all was that we could have had it all and really enjoyed our remaining years together.

      • Ted Wrinch · 15 Days Ago

        I’m sorry that your daughter has been caught up into this psycho-pathology, Willow. Our daughter is 22 and going through the same (I haven’t seen her for nearly 4 years). As Karen and others have found the patent child bond does not disappear under this abuse but is submerged into the sub-consciousness. If we heal from the abuse we have experienced and become our best selves our children may come back to us.

      • Ted Wrinch · 15 Days Ago

        I also think you also have to let go of the ideal if they don’t share it. As my ex was my soul mate when we married (bipolar empath and not NPD) I’ve had to go through this process too. They chose to become abusers and we live in a world of free choice, but choices must come with consequences.

  3. The Devil's Advocate · 16 Days Ago

    Well structured arguments. The real results of the effect of the interactive psychological torture imposed on the child or children is best obtained from the results of the psychological implications and is why Latin based nations who have made criminal, alienation. Making it a “tut tut”, slap on the wrist naughtiness activity amongst those who are causing psychological apocalypse for our 4 million children who have been treated so dreadfully since 1989, and admonished similarly by the Head of Cafcass as an “abuse” but nothing more…”oh dear” and likewise by the current media…(not to upset our rampant feminist Parliamentarians…shock horror to Jess Phillips and H. Harmon…quelle horrors).
    Well the shit is going to hit the fan. And we don’t have to look far as the judiciary protocol in the Italian legislature to know how to create the required criminal action and sentencing for those who suffer from such DSM5 and impart their disturbed psychosis on our most beloved children.
    The judiciary in this nation have colluded with those whose role it is to protect our children (our public servants in Local Authorities and Cafcass). They too should not escape incarceration; they knew and know what is and was and is going on and as was discussed many suffer from such DSM5 psychoses themselves as they protect themselves from this by corruptively colluding with the direct perpetrators to destroy children’s lives.
    Fortunately all is not lost; encapsulated love does give some measure of protection to children from the age of about eight years; it is those in the Piaget “pre-concrete” stages who need our love and support and for those who alienate our beloved children of this age should be provided with that enforced on such criminals as happens in Mexico; up to 15 years incarceration.
    Those who are alienators beware; you can run but you will be caught and justice will prevail.

    • Ted Wrinch · 16 Days Ago

      I think many in family law are narcissistic. This is because law is low empathy, provides unaccountable power, doesn’t care about lying and has a derisory 51% standard of evidence. This is attractive to abusers and they will naturally collude with abuser parents.

      • sadsam · 14 Days Ago

        TW has written “My view is that most, maybe all, alienation, is caused by degrees of narcissism in the alienating parent. This is why, in my view, narcissism education should be given across human services.”. Would you agree with this statement Karen?

      • karenwoodall · 14 Days Ago

        No I would not say that is entirely true. There is a group of alienators who do fit that category but alienation is caused by other things too, one of them being the system we work in (court) the other being the lack of knowledge in practitioners, the other being the absolute lack of support for parents and children through family separation, the other being the cross projection of blame by parental rights groups, the other being the lack of understanding of how mental health functioning in both parents is understood, the other being the resilience of the child, the other being the sensitivity of the child and so many more things. It is not possible to distil PA into one small thing.

      • sadsam · 14 Days Ago

        Karen wrote in her Post that “Narcissistic people are extremely common in the group of parents who alienate their children,alongside the unstable personality (borderlines) and the histrionics, the sociopaths and sometimes the psychopaths. And then we have people who experience the eruption of vengeful rage which captures the child in a tsunami of terror, those with fictitious illness and those whose projective identity problem is out of control.”. I guess this answers the question I put about TW’s comment on narcissism in PA. It seems to be a part but not the whole story. I’m particularly struck by the inclusion in her list of “people who experience the eruption of vengeful rage which captures the child in a tsunami of terror….”. When this ” eruption ” occurs between the child and parent with no witnesses present and the child is disbelieved by officials, who/how can this scenario be unmasked?

      • The Devil's Advocate · 9 Days Ago

        This is why we need legislation re parity parenting and anti-alienation as in Italy, Brazil and Mexico..where parenting matters.

      • karenwoodall · 9 Days Ago

        I am not at all sure that the magic wand of parenting parity is the answer DA. You know that this is a relational issue and PA still exists in those countries you list you know.

      • Ted Wrinch · 9 Days Ago

        Fictitious illness, Muchausen’s syndrome and MS by Proxy, are caused by narcissism. Psychopaths and sociopaths are have the same inner psycho-pathology as the NPD but are the next, final, step in the illness and no longer need an audience (narcissistic supply). Marshall Mather’s mother had MSbP and was an obvious narcissist:

  4. The courts have overseen the carnage of parental alienation for decades now, so too little, too late is the appropriate response.
    Additionally, I understand why Karen intends to move the debate towards child mental health and away from father’s rights – however, if father’s rights had been listened to decades ago, perhaps PA would have been taken seriously by the courts etc, back then. Which begs the question, why were father’s rights not taken into account appropriately?

    • karenwoodall · 15 Days Ago

      CMM, this issue is one we have long been working to raise awareness of, the problem has been that by locating the issue within family separation it has been dismissed as a he said/she said problem of conflict between parents. Father’s rights in the past five decades have been seen as unimportant because of the way in which feminism has ‘liberated’ women, this brought a raft of changes historically which enabled women to simply get rid of men if they wished to and the state aided this. Whilst we now have changes in this arena, the continued gender wars which are perpetuated by the parental rights movement on both sides, contributes to the issue of parental alienation being only seen as a contact dispute when it is not. The other thing it does is drag everyone whose kids have a bit of difficulty with post separation arrangements, into the sphere so that everyone claims parental alienation, even if they are still seeing their kids. The father’s rights groups may have done much but the issue of parental alienation does not belong in the father’s or mother’s rights field, it is a mental health issue. Father’s rights were not taken into account because in five decades of focus on women’s rights, father’s were seen as disposable. When you have the likes of Anna Coote and Harriet Harman writing policy documents which state that it cannot be taken as read that fathers are necessary in children’s lives, what else can we expect? fortunately fathers are seen as important again and the family is not the den of abuse and patriarchal harm we were told it was. Parental alienation still exists however and that is because there is absolutely nothing in the issue which about father’s rights. The issue is a mental health issue, it is complex and anyone working in this field should not be locating the problem in a contact dispute setting but in its rightful arena which is mental health. Doing otherwise is either attempting to persuade fathers that you are on their side to drum up business or being stupid.

      • Ted Wrinch · 15 Days Ago

        I agree, Karen, this is not a parental – gender rights issue. I’ve been invited by male friends experiencing PA to join father’s rights groups. I’ve declined. I’ve too have seen how the marginalisation of men by a misconceived feminist movement has damaged families and promoted illnesses like PA. I’m glad if that is beginning to change. I see little hope for progress while men and women fight each other instead of the common enemy of the pathogen, of narcissism and the abuse culture we are increasingly living in.

  5. daveyone1 · 16 Days Ago
  6. Pushing water up a hill · 15 Days Ago

    I had the experience of having my hearing seen in the High Court in London, on the assumption that the position would allow those legal professionals to be top tier and have a full understanding of Parental Alienation.

    In reality my experience was ”the system” although banding around pertinent labels and statements has little to no interest or understanding of the subject and more importantly putting in safeguarding mechanisms to protect children, when it is clear that harm has been caused to children by one side of their family, social services, the police or the schools. My belief is that this is a fight that can and has to be undertaken outside of the court arena, as too often, ‘the system’ doesnt want to be told, hence pushing water up a hill.

    You are doing a fantastic job pushing this agenda change Karen. Keep going.

    • The Devil's Advocate · 9 Days Ago

      Well said, but do please at least read the input which has been made by The Devil’s Advocate. Working with nations who have criminalised such psychological terrorism or psychophilia should enable us to make legislation change in England and Wales to begin with.

  7. karenwoodall · 15 Days Ago

    anonymous who always signs off Kind Regards, your comment isn’t getting through, when you can write in a way that is not aggressive I will be happy to post. I don’t do this work so that people like you can have a pop at people like me to satisfy your own agenda. You name parental alienation experts and then dismiss them – if you don’t like what we say or do, go somewhere else that fits your own agenda – or better still start your own blog instead of lecturing other people on here and turning nasty when people don’t agree with you.

  8. Linda Turner · 15 Days Ago

    Reblogged this on Parental Alienation.

  9. Cara · 15 Days Ago

    I think the appearance of closeness between the alienating parent and the child is what confuses everyone who doesn’t understand alienation, both therapists and in court. When you have a parent who appears very put together and loving (and as you say, narcissistic people are good at putting on appearances), and a child who says they feel so close to that parent, and so loved in their care; and that the other parent frightens them or has done unforgivable things to them, it’s very easy to fall into the trap if you are unaware. Add to that an angry/frightened target parent, who believe he/she is losing his/her relationship with the child and no one sees it, and you have what appears black/white (pun intended) to those who don’t get alienation. Once you understand it, it’s easier to see what’s behind the facade. In my area of the US, while they don’t get alienation very well, they do believe fathers should have equal time with their children, and the default custody arrangement is 50/50 unless the woman fights it (still a lot of female bias despite the belief that fathers are important). But if you have a determined alienating parent, with a child who insists, consistently, that he/she wants more time with the alienating parent, eventually that 50/50 gets worn down and slips away (this is what happened in my husband’s case), because people can’t see the man (or woman) behind the curtain.

    At any rate, fathers alienate their children, too, so making it about a female-biased court really makes no sense.

  10. Peter Walker · 15 Days Ago

    Excellent work Karen. I would be very pleased if I could trot out such eloquent and powerful commentary about PA as you do in most of your articles when I appear in the courtroom.

    Perfect descriptions of the reality of these terrible situations which are of course made infinitely worse by entrenched authorities, the government and the judiciary who remain quite intentionally blind to the issue.

    But persevere we all must……..

    2.5 years in now. In court tomorrow for a directions hearing. CAFCASS ‘Guardian’ might just have responded to the now overwhelming evidence that PA is taking place by requesting the appointment of a psychological expert. On the face of it encouraging since former partner has had a very difficult upbringing, as had her sister, mother and father. I believe this strongly influences her most subtle yet most potent and determined approach to alienation.
    So far so good, but the application (which arrived with me 2 days ago, and out of the blue) seeks only a expert psychological assessment of both parents. I see that as a positive step, but am nonplussed as to why there is no proposal to involve the children. From the outset 2.5 years ago, I have pleaded with the courts that someone who knows what they are doing speaks with the children. They were, and are even after all this time, the key to unlocking this complex matter, and giving the truth a voice.
    So tomorrow I will as LIP be trying to persuade the judge of the need to ensure the children are involved, not just to help understand what really happens, but to assess just how damaged they are, and decide whether any treatment is necessary.

    What I wondered was whether there are some good questions to have included in the psychologists brief as far as her assessment of the parents and children for PA are concerned? What qualifications and experience should one be looking for in an expert to be sure that they are alive and receptive to the issue of PA? Outside of your organisation, do such people even exist. With PA being treated with very little credence for so long, you wouldn’t expect there to be a great pool of expertise out there to draw upon.

    Many thanks

  11. sadsam · 15 Days Ago

    “Far from being the kind of cosy kitchen table topic portrayed by the BBC in recent weeks, parental alienation…”

    Can anyone tell me in what programmes on the Beeb this discussion on PA has taken place?

  12. sadsam · 14 Days Ago

    Karen, wondering if you would recommend that I read Warshak’s book ‘Divorce Poison’ ? It was mentioned above by TW.

    • karenwoodall · 14 Days Ago

      I think you would benefit more from a book called Children resisting contact by Professor Nick Bala and Dr Barbara Fidler Sadsam, they work with the nuances of the alienation reaction in the child and I think that fits what happened in your case. K

      • sadsam · 14 Days Ago

        Thanks Karen…I’ll act on your recommendation.

      • sadsam · 14 Days Ago

        Karen can I just double check I have the right book as it ranges in price from £48 – £60+ which is quite a financial commitment for me. Is this the book….”Children who resist post separation parental contact ” by Barbara Fidler, Nicholas Bala and Michael Saini? Thanks.

      • karenwoodall · 14 Days Ago

        yes it is SS but you shouldn’t pay that for it, send me your address and I will post a copy to you. I’ve done that for other people am happy to do it for you K

      • sadsam · 14 Days Ago

        Thank you. That is a great help.

  13. karenwoodall · 14 Days Ago

    Carl, where did your comment go? I was going to write a blog post in reply because as usual you have been able to tease it all apart and consider all the different dynamics which I think are worth examining at this stage in the proceedings. Do you want to revisit it? Or even write a blog post on the issues you raise because they are vital in the discussion. This is a critical point in the debate in this country about PA and how it happens and why and where it should be located, you have some sharp observations that others will find useful. K

    • Carl · 13 Days Ago

      I think it got lost on the Wibbly wobbly somewhere. I have a brief recollection of the effluent that issued forth this way like a turbulent river in the small hours … I wouldn’t want to pan it for the nuggets. 🙂 x

      Its a bit like passing mental kidney stones. lol

  14. padrestevie · 14 Days Ago

    Hi Karen
    ‘Transmogrify’ is a new word for me but it so accurately describes how i saw my daughter during the two years we were separated.
    I only saw her from a distance and then only briefly but it was a chilling experience. Whereas previously i would have been able to spot her a mile off now i was shocked to realise that it really was her. It was like seeing someone else. I recognised her by the people she was with not the other way round. It was the reverse of the usual situation when a relationship breaks up or bereavement: when anyone even remotely like the one you’ve lost seems to take on their form. This was jarring because in a very short time she had REALLY become unrecognisable.
    At first i thought this was down to the way i was feeling but other people that had seen her reported the same, how she had changed. One friend said she had transformed.
    The first time we met after the long break was strange because it was like being in the room with an imposter or a virtual stranger. Her face and expressions were colder, harder, chiselled.
    By the second time there’d been a metamorphosis. This time it was like an emergent butterfly. She was back.

  15. sadsam · 14 Days Ago

    “Alienation, whether it is created by one parent acting against the other to create an encapsulated delusional state, or whether it is created by two parents struggling in conflict over control of their child which goes on to cause the alignment and rejection pattern, causes children immense pain.”

    The above quote on is from Karen’s July 2016 Post titled “Supporting Children After Reunification”. I understand from personal experience the pain and anger when the ‘other’ repeatedly undermines you with your child (ren) , but I also remind myself that PA can be “created by two parents struggling in conflict over control of their child “. To identify just what one’s own role is in such conflict can require real soul searching and a willingness to be brutally honest with oneself. Not to mention the difficulties of finding the space and time to do such introspection in the middle of such heightened emotions. For me it highlights how badly we need a service, certainly in UK, that supports the emotional side of separated parenting alongside the existing Mediation service that helps sort out the practicalities.

  16. sadsam · 9 Days Ago

    “Parental alienation is properly located in the field of parental mental health in the context of post separation family relationships. It is also properly located in the field of children’s mental health and wellbeing, where it can be properly considered and responded to. ”

    In the UK mental health services in the NHS, remain in crisis after historically inadequate funding. They are also separated into children’s mental health and adult mental health yet as PA occurs in the toxic space between two parents(+/- other involved adults) it makes sense (to me!) for that space in which the children have to live to be observed directly by an appropriate specialist so they understand it first hand not from hearsay. I guess this falls into the area of ‘family therapy’ but where does this sit within the UK NHS divided system of adult and child? And in what circumstances are SSs prepared to step aside and let such family therapy take place? In the UK multidisciplinary approach my experience has been that SS take the lead role and can block such psychotherapy intervention believing themselves best suited to analyse and judge the situation and so other disciplines play second fiddle to the all powerful SSs. If PA is located in the realm of mental health how then can control be wrestled from SSs? I fear many hurdles lie ahead.

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