Parental Alienation as a False Allegation

I have worked in many cases where parental alienation is featured and some where it is alleged but on investigation it is not present. In these cases, in which children actually are withdrawn from a parent, there are distinct features which allow us to determine that it is not parental alienation.  Unfortunately, in the investigation, it becomes apparent that the allegation of parental alienation is being used to either further control behaviours in the parent making it, or that the parent has some problems which are contributing to the child’s withdrawal. The common denominator in all of these cases are the behaviour of the parent from whom the child has withdrawn, which is often fixed and rigid in presentation and which escalates in determination that the other parent is to blame when one attempts to intervene.

Learning how to tell the real case of parental alienation from the alleged one is a core early skill for a practitioner.  Naive practitioners will assume that all reports of a child’s withdrawal is being caused by the dynamics between parents or, conversely, will assume that all cases have an element of he said/she said about them.  In reality, the case of parental alienation is distinctly different from all other cases in that the child concerned will present with the eight signs of alienation, the more rigidly and clearly delineated in the child, the more severe the alienation reaction.

I have some parents who come to me and tell me that they are alienated from their children and when I ask them ‘when did you last see your child’ they tell me ‘last week.’ On further investigation, many will tell me that they are seeing their child regularly but they are still being alienated from them, meaning that the child does not respond in the way that the parent expects them to and is showing some signs of transitional difficulty.  This is not parental alienation.  It is possibly not even anything to do with the other parent.  The problem being that this parent is convinced that the child is behaving as they are because they are being alienated from them by the other parent.  And in some cases, there is nothing that I can do to convince them otherwise. These are tragic cases in my view because the parent who is alleging parental alienation is making a case out of their own fears, lack of understanding and parenting style which does not fit the child’s needs at the current time.  With a little open mindedness, these parents could be helped enormously. Sadly the rigidity of thinking means that they cannot be and they will often move on to find others who will uphold their world view, rather than receive the help that they need to change the dynamic which is impacting upon their child.

Not all children who are withdrawn from a parent are alienated. Some find it hard to make the crossing to and fro between parents, especially when they reach a certain age and their friends are more interesting to them than their parents. Others find it difficult to adjust to two very different parenting styles and then there are the natural phases of a child’s life, where they will become more attunded and aligned with one parent than the other.  All of these are normal phases of children’s lives in separated family situations and all can be addressed by parents who have the right information and skill to deal with it.  For the rigid and closed thinking parent however, the one who divides their beliefs into right and wrong and for the parent who believes that they need do nothing to change their behaviours because the problem is entirely caused by the other parent, the risks of children’s withdrawal are very very strong.

Children are not alienated when they can continue to see a parent. They are not alienated when they can skype a parent and they are not alienated when they can speak directly to a parent by any medium.  Some children who I have been told are alienated, are struggling to communicate with a parent who is convinced that they are alienated and who is spending a lot of time telling the child that this is the case.  In this situation the child is completely disadvanatged because the parent they are spending time with is attempting to convince them that the other parent is influencing them. If the child is simply reacting to the dynamics this parent is creating, the child is left bewildered because they experience that parent as trying to influence them whilst having to listen to the parent telling them that they are being influenced by the other parent. This creates such cognitive dissonance for children that I have known them withdraw from a parent on the basis of this alone. The space between two parents is so difficult for a child to navigate that no parent should be telling a child that they are being influenced by the other in my opinion. To do so is to absolve oneself of responsibility and force the child to carry the can for a situation the child did not ask for or create.

Children who are alienated can be clearly differentiated from those who are simply not able to cope with the dynamics around them caused by one or other or both of their parents.  Children who are alienated will withdraw COMPLETELY and will demonstrate all of the signs of alienation in a range of presentations from mild to severe.  On further investigation, a parent who is alienating a child will also display particular signs and the parent who is rejected will be a good enough parent who is not rigid in their thinking or fixed in beliefs.  This parent will respond to challenges to tweak, shift or change behaviours and will not spend their time projecting blame onto the other parent.

A child who is withdrawing from a parent because that parent is rigid and fixed and projecting blame towards the other parent will not show all the signs of alienation and will be able to describe, in ways which are conversant with your own observations, those behaviours which are causing the problem. As a practitioner, when this is observed, the next step is to gently but firmly work with that parent to explain what is happening and offer support for behavioural change.  It is at this stage when the reveal of the false allegation of parental alienation is most often apparent as the parent turns their blame projection onto you the practitioner.  When this occurs, the parent will seek to find others whom they can convince of their story in order to form a coalition against you the practitioner. Often parents in these circumstances will go to parental rights groups to complain and will seek to enlist other practitioners to support their belief that they are being alienated. This is the parent acting to shore up their defence against the reality that their own behaviours have contributed to the child’s responses.  Some parents in these circumstances, rather than find ways of changing their behaviours to help their child, will continue their blame projection in order to uphold the belief that they are perfect and the other parent is wholly and solely to blame.  As practitioners working in the field of parental alienation, we cannot avoid this dynamic but we absolutely must differentiate between real and false allegations of parental alienation if we are to properly help the child. To put a child who is not alienated but reacting to congruent dynamics caused by a parent, into a situation where they are not being listened to, is as abusive as not acting to help a child who IS being alienated. Knowing the difference between the two and having the courage to do the right thing for the child is a crucial skill for practitioners.

And this is why practitioners who work in this field should be working with a focus upon the child and not parents.  Whilst I have every sympathy for parents who are alienated and will go as many extra miles as is necessary to help them to reunite with a child, it is not the parent I am concerned with most but the child.  This is because the child who is alienated is in a difficult psychological space, not just in the here and now but for the rest of their lives. Changing the trajectory of the alienated child’s life is key for me which is why I view rejected parents as core resources to restore the child’s right to peace and unconscious enjoyment of the childhood left to them.  In false allegations of parental alienation however, I view the parent with whom the child lives as the core resource to enable the child to return to the unconscious enjoyment of childhood.  It is not that I am not interested in parental experience, I am. But I do not view this work as being about the rights of parents, it is about the rights of children to a childhood which is healthy, safe and most of all unconscious of the adult concerns around them.

Which means in the case of what turns out to be a belief in a parent that they are being alienated which is untrue, I will say so.  And in saying so I will not have any difficulty in ensuring that the parent who is alleging alienation, understands that it is not, why it is not and what it is that they have done which has caused the child’s withdrawal.  And in doing so I understand that I am drawing the negative transference and risking that parent turning their distorted beliefs towards me.  I will of course, always offer that parent the opportunity to work through the negative transference but at the same time I will ensure that the child is protected from any further pressure caused by the belief that the difficulties seen are parental alienation.  To fail to do that would be to fail to do what I do properly.  In the final reveal however, when we reach this point, such a parent will most often refuse to listen or engage any further.

Parental alienation is a powerful presentation and it causes untold harm to children. A false allegation of parental alienation is equally as powerful and damaging. Telling the difference, speaking the difference and protecting the child, is one of the most powerful things that a practitioner can do.

We must act and speak for the children who cannot do so whether they are alienated or not.  Because this is about the wellbeing of children first, the children who did not choose to live in a separated family situation.

If it is a false allegation I will say so because it is not the role of the child to carry the responsibility for the wellbeing of a parent, it is the other way around.

46 comments

  1. Stepmum · 30 Days Ago

    It concerns me that there is an idea that it is only “parental alienation” once contact has ceased.
    The damaging behaviours begin far before this point.
    What about a child who is experiencing alienating behaviours from a parent, and a target parent who is able to address their contribution to the difficulties, is able to make positive changes, is able to step aside the transference, is able to sponge up some of the difficulties, but every week the child is returned to the alienating parent to face the alienating behaviours again – the narcissism of the alienating parent meaning that contact is going ahead because they can’t possibly be seen as the one who stopped contact – instead adopting the clever position of appearing to support contact but actually using all kinds of psychological tricks under the surface.
    If this isn’t parental alienation – what is it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • karenwoodall · 30 Days Ago

      it is transitional difficulty SM. The parent may be using alienating behaviours but it is NOT parental alienation if a child is still seeing the parent, it is transitional difficulties with additional possible use of alienating strategies. I would ask in this case how one knows that the other parent is narcissistic, has there been a diagnosis of that for example? K

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    • The Devil's Advocate · 30 Days Ago

      Interesting -” when a child is returned to the alienating parent.”
      So is a child alienated if they are groomed into not wanting anything to do the with alienated parent and cohort family. Who suffers? Is the lack of contact with the alienated parent to be reasoned that the parent is a bad person to relate normally with their child when all their life the child has such a normal relationship seen by both professionals and others as happily engaged.
      Partial alienation is a weird and wonderful position to be in because it is difficult to define as Karen has made mention.
      Be grateful that your child has not been mind raped by a literal sadist whose DSM5 blighted traits has caused the alienated to exhibit protective traits of the non existence not only of the alienated parent but all in their family.
      What most do not understand that legislation to make parity engaged rights to parenting would reduce alienation in the main. This has been found in other European and Latin nations. Simple really but we are not mature and responsible a nation to know what is in the child’s best interests.

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  2. Yvie · 30 Days Ago

    I would like to see trained practitioners attached to every family court.. Courts should be able to insist both parents attend for mediation. Failing this, there should be a national help line to educate and help parents to be aware of the damaging and long term effects parental alienation has on their children.

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    • karenwoodall · 30 Days Ago

      Our book coming very soon now Yvie, packed with everything that every parent (and practitioner) needs to know to get the truth across. I have long campaigned for a national family breakdown service but sadly cannot see one coming anytime soon, which is why we left the voluntary sector and did it ourselves. K

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    • The Devil's Advocate · 30 Days Ago

      I am feeling many misunderstand the legislation. There are only assumed rights to be an engaged parent not a legal right as there is in Sweden, Belgium, Italy and two Latin American nations.
      No amount of responsible negotiation can make “one parent be responsible to with the other” (in the words of Munby, 04/15).
      Mediation is great but mythical if one parent wishes to make false allegations against another then mediation and its responsible outcome becomes a myth.

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  3. Stepmum · 30 Days Ago

    How can it be transitional difficulties when the child does not struggle to transition between homes as long as the alienating parent isn’t present?

    So, for example, the children are forbidden to use their full names because it includes the targets parents name. They are encouraged to call the target parent by their first name. They are told that the target parent is bad, dangerous, neglectful. They are told false information about the details of the separation that paints the target parent negatively.
    They are told details of court proceedings. They are involved in making malicious reports to police and children’s services. The negative messages extend to the target parents family, including the children’s half siblings. It’s a constant, sustained message that’s been going on for years, not a blip while emotions are expected to run high.

    How is that transitional difficulties? How is that not emotional abuse that requires support and protection?

    I mean narcissism as a pattern of narcissistic behaviours, not a diagnosis of NPD.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cara · 29 Days Ago

      Stepmum, from another stepmom, what you describe is how it started for us (and we knew it was happening from court papers, therapists, etc.). My stepson kept coming over for a while even while he was telling others that he hated his father and was terrified of him, and while he was coming over, he wasn’t alienated (he was fine at our house). Then, after a significant event, he stopped coming over, withdrew completely and we hear nothing from him now, other than the occasional hostile and insulting text in response to my husband’s attempts to contact him. NOW he is alienated.

      Liked by 1 person

      • karenwoodall · 29 Days Ago

        It is very important to know the signs and the risks to children Cara and to differentiate between true alienation which is dealt with differently to transitional difficulty in which you can do something still. The trigger event which you describe is what the child uses to relieve themselves of the impossible dilemma and it is very very common indeed. K

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  4. karenwoodall · 30 Days Ago

    It may well be that the children are demonstrating an alienation reaction SM and all those things can be happening (how do you know they are is the first question I would ask you, who tells you, what evidence do you have of all of this) you might have lots of evidence of it which is helpful or you may only know it because the children tell you it, I don’t know because I don’t know your case, but if the children are still coming to you and spending time with you they are not alienated, they may have alienation reactions but they are not alienated. In which case you do not focus on what the other parent is doing wrong but on what you can do to help the children stay resilient to the influence of the other parent.

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  5. Michael Derry · 30 Days Ago

    Our children had 10 years of joint custody. Every Friday afternoon they changed from mum’s to dad’s house then vise versa. They become engrained with it and to them it was part of life just as we are all used to breathing air. There was no scope for them to have the power to decide visitation or withdrawal of affection or preference of dad over mum or visa versa. While divorce is such a popular and easy option this is an excellent way around the problem. Their could be limitation on this system for older teenagers but definitely saves children into their early teens from been pressured to choose.

    Any system that awards unequal amounts of time of children to parents is bound to cause problems even though many of the cases of the complaining parents do not meet a certain brand of Parental Alienation diagnosis.

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    • karenwoodall · 30 Days Ago

      I always fascinates me that when I write about this topic, which I don’t do very often, there is a range of responses from people who think that diagnosis of parental aliention is somehow individual to practitioners, it is not. Any practitioner who is diagnosing and working with PA should be using recognised standards in doing so, these are well laid out for anyone and everyone to check and conform to Dr Childress’s and Dr Amy Baker and Dr Richard Warshak and others analysis. The idea that unequal amounts of time are the issue may be relevant in your case but it is not relevant in every case, hence the children who become alienated by the non resident parent which is an occurence I see regularly. There are too many myths about PA which conform to the psychological splitting which underpins it and I am not one for living in a world which is split into goodies and baddies, it helps no-one, least of all the children affected by it. Final thought. If PA were resolved by equally sharedf parenting or criminalisation then there would be absolutely no cases of PA where this is the case, which simply isn’t true in any way. K

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  6. Michael Derry · 30 Days Ago

    I can imagine that the non custodial parents can alienate for a range of reasons. The current system is perceived as awarding the custodial parent most of the rights. The non custodial parent often sees themselves as the ‘loser’. Everyone wants to win, it is human nature. The public perception is that whenever there is a custody dispute one parent comes out the ‘winner’ and one the ‘loser’. We need to eradicate this winner/loser mentality. As long as courts award one parent more time than the other tied with lots of extra rights that destructive winner/loser mentality will hang around.

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    • karenwoodall · 30 Days Ago

      I amnot convinced that this is the magic answer people think it is although I accept that it may help in some cases. The truth is that each case IS different and this is aproblem with a human face not one which can be resolved by prescriptive measures because one case will be pevented via shared care whilst another will be made worse by it. That is simply a fact.

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    • Cara · 29 Days Ago

      My husband started off with 50/50 and joint custody, but it slowly eroded after repeated trips to court where his ex-wife demanded more and more concessions, got more professionals to take her side, and my stepson repeatedly stated his desire to have more time with his mother. Eventually my husband gave in just to stop the endless battle, which was no good for anyone. His ex would just make all the decisions together with their child and then make him look like the bad one if he didn’t go along with them because they were what the child wanted. Eventually it ended up with 100/0, which is what we have now. 50/50 is not a protection against alienation, at least not in our experience. The police won’t enforce custody orders in our area, and the courts are easily swayed by the child repeating over and over that he wants more time with one parent over the other. A determined person can alienate even with 50/50.

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      • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

        They absolutely can Cara, a determined person could alienated a child with 5/95 and even 1/99 in extreme cases. A determined alienator is like a cult leader, powerful, determined to isolate, separate and inculcate. Give them one inch and they will do their worst.

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  7. Linda Turner · 29 Days Ago

    Reblogged this on Parental Alienation.

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  8. lostmyfamily · 29 Days Ago

    Thanks for this post. It makes clear to me that my children do not in fact suffer from parental alienation. Previous reading led to a different conclusion. In my case the mother has withheld contact for two months post separation and has (I assume, simply because the account has no basis in fact) implanted a false account in my eldest child which was presented to child protection and used to limit my access to paid supervised visits.
    But I do see my children weekly and they do tell me they love me. Our relationship remains strong. I’ve been assuming that the mother is trying to alienate them simply by virtue of the heinous and false allegations she has raised. I’ve come to the conclusion that her long history of deceptive behaviours (previously hidden from me) amounts to at least compulsive lying, and more strongly possibly sociopathic or narcissistic behaviour (I try to avoid reaching a judgement).
    There was no reason to withhold contact from me for two months, except to engineer the perception that there should be a reason (my ex is using false allegations to obtain assistance from a domestic violence refuge). If this behaviour is not Parental Alienation, is it something else? Might she be trying to Alienate but simply failing because my bond with my children is too strong?

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    • karenwoodall · 29 Days Ago

      YES LD, that is exactly it, you have got it. She is trying to alienate your children but they are resilient and able to withstand it. Parental alienation is the combination of the actions of one parent, the responses of the other and the vulnerability of the child. Sometimes the action of one parent is conscious and deliberate, other times it is not, the responses of the rejected parent can range from helpless to powerful and all in between. The child can be resilient and then reach an age (8-14) when they become very vulnerable to the alienation reaction. This is a moveable situation it is not static and it is important to think and act with awareness and clarity instead of becoming entrenched into the good/bad split and being wholly focused on the other parent’s evil doing. Being an alienation aware parent means focusing on helping your children be as resilient as possible. In your case a) keep in the back of your mind the fact that she stopped contact in the way that she did, that means she is risky and may try it again. b) know the signs of transitional difficulty and how children in separated family situations are affected by movement to and fro. c) make sure you keep your contact levels as strong as possible and if she attempts to reduce them resist it. d) as your children grow older learn how to make them resilient to the influence of others. They are not alienated but they are at risk of it, there is a difference and that is important to recognise as you have. K

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      • Carl · 28 Days Ago

        They may not be classified as alienated because they are resilient and haven’t succumb to tripwires and trigger reactions of splitting.

        But what is it then? If the threshold for trigger splitting is met in one child yet whilst in another child who is less resilient and more vulnerable the threshold isn’t breached….. and the alienating tactics and behaviour remain the same…. One child splits and classified as alienated, the other child doesn’t split but resists and therefore not classed as alienated…..

        Do we not deal with the alienating parent in the same manner regardless of resilience levels and whether or not triggered splitting occurs?

        Lock em up. Ring the bells. Let everyone know.

        Parental Alienation is child abuse and parent abuse, regardless of vulnerabilities, resistance levels and capabilities to cope.

        Take the rug from under them.
        There is only one way to protect all concerned.

        It seems It won’t be happening here for a while.

        I despair.

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      • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

        And I despair if I am frank with you. when I am talking about the parent’s experience you are content but when I talk about children, the intimation is how dare I. Who speaks for alienated children? Who? Not many. What many are talking about are their own adult experiences not the experience of the child. No we are not dealing with the alienating parent in the same way regardless of resilience levels of the child because I am not in the business of making kids choose to lose a parent to gain the other just because their brother or sister is more or less resilient. Children are not robots, they are living breathing creatures who each react to situations differently. AND, here’s the thing, alienating parents are not monsters they are people, you cannot slay them and you cannot make them behave as you want them to by calling them names and saying they should be locked up and the key thrown away – they are, regardless of the horrors they might inflict, your child’s other parent and they always will be and it would help many people to remember that before they start wading in with the kill em all attitude. Working with alienated children is what I do and I do it well, I reunite parents and children and I keep them, as far as possible, in relationship with both parents. I am not one for demonising or splitting or replicating the alienating parent’s internalised world as your post suggests I should. The world is not made of goodies and baddies.

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  9. daveyone1 · 29 Days Ago

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

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  10. Melanie Thurlow · 29 Days Ago

    Karen Woodall, I am disappointed in the above.
    I agree true/full alienation means splitting has taken place, and the child no longer has Any contact with the target parent.
    But being a target parent myself, I understand that, I still remain “useful” to the EX. He can have children free times, and boost his own ego, with “despite the target parent being mental, I still make sure son sees her”, so what a good boy am I.
    It would be helpful to target parents in my position (not fully alienated) to have some suggestions on how to help our children cope, with the alienating behaviours of the EX. So we can give them the support to be happy children.
    Instead I see my youngest son, working his way, into even more hiding behaviours, switching off from the world, as he is unable to cope with the alienation.
    When he visits I find it impossible to engage with him for more than 5 minutes at a time. His only wish is to bury himself in meaningless computer games, that allow him no time to think or interact with the world around him.
    I have spoken with Nick in the past, about my situation.
    My older adult children are distant, and always worried about interacting with me, as they are afraid of the EX, and what he will do, if he finds out.
    Please could you publish on your site, ways target parents who do have contact with their children, can help their children to cope?

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    • karenwoodall · 29 Days Ago

      I do not know why you are disappointed in the above Melanie, why would you be when I am writing about a reality in some cases and for some children? I am not writing about the issue of children still seeing a parent who are displaying alienation reactions as you describe although I would still say that those children are in transition difficulty in that they are seeing a parent but finding it hard to resist the alienating strategies of a parent, or they are losing their resilience because of their age or particular circumstance. But an alienated child is a strong and very particular picture and will not see you or spend a single second in your company and is agitated, angry and completely refusing to see a parent. An alienated child is phobic, rude to the point of denigration and offensive and without guilt and shame using false scenarios to prove how bad you are. A child who still comes to you is not alienated though the child may be struggling and sinking and may, one day, find a trigger event which allows him to withdraw completely. I have written a lot in the past about how to help children on the transition bridge and how to help children to be resilient and what and what not to do as an alienated parent. This post is about the reality in some cases and in writing it, I have no real idea why you would be disappointed in any way or angry, which I detect you are underneath. Saying a child who comes to you is not alienated is not saying they are not prey to alienating strategies but it is saying they are not in the place where they can be said to be fully alienated and it is vital to know the difference. If you look on this site you will see thousands of words written for parents just like you Melanie. This post is for parents who are not like you. K

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    • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

      Melanie, you may find it useful to go back through the archives because I have written a huge amount in the past on the topic of helping parents when children’s alienation reactions escalate. Here is one of a series I wrote about the subject. https://karenwoodall.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/emapthic-responding-with-alienated-children/

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    • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago
  11. lostdad · 29 Days Ago

    Reblogged this on LOST DAD.

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  12. Pingback: Beasts, Myths and Love: far too early in the morning on PAS – lostmyfamily.com
    • karenwoodall · 29 Days Ago

      thank you for your comments LMF, just one little thing, I am not a Dr, just plain old Karen Woodall x

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  13. Yvie · 28 Days Ago

    My son dropped my youngest grandson off at his mother’s house last weekend. No-one was at home to let him in other than my eldest grandson, who refused to open the door until my son had turned his car round and was moving away. This was the reaction from a boy who has always been loved and cared for by his dad, and now has become like a stranger. This is alienation as I understand it. It is a vile and cruel thing, and those who perpetrate it get pleasure from it, even when it involves their own children.

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    • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

      yes that is alienation when it is fully active Yvie.

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  14. Shane-Maree Clements · 28 Days Ago

    Hi Karen, thank you for what you have shared… i am an ERASED mum of my 3 children… i have not had any contact for 7 years since the father didnt return them from shared care weekend… he threw all of the worst allegations at me of sexually abusing my daughter and physically and mentally abusing my 2 sons … i was cleared of all false allegations but during that 3 months he kept them all away from school and brainwashed them into believing i was bad, dangerous, didnt love or want them… he breached every order of the Family Court for 2 years without penalty or consequences and this showed him exactly what he could get away with.. hence no contact for 7 years… court not interested in his ongoing breaches… children lost me, their poppy and their grown up sister in one day! I am sure this will act as an example of true ALIENATION.

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    • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

      yes that is alienation fully active Shane-Maree.

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  15. cultrecoveryuk · 28 Days Ago

    Karen, I can only imagine the heat you experience, being in this field of work. Well done for standing up for everything you believe in. That is all I can say for now.

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    • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

      I am well used to the heat and it won’t stop me talking about the subject in all its forms. For me the only lens I look at this through is the eyes of the child. The rest is about adult concerns. The child is the only person in the post separation landscape who is being asked to adapt to two relationships and life between those two. Adults only have to deal with one adaptation and there is plenty of help and advocacy for adults in the world. Children are vulnerable, they are walking a tightrope between their parents and they are pretty much alone whilst they do so. If I could educate people into understand the way in which children fall prey to alienation as a mandatory post separation education programme I would but I can’t and so writing honestly and challenging people to think harder about their children’s experience is how I do it. I have to write for children, I cannot fail them, because I am with them daily, I know the world they live in and I know how little attention is paid in the outside world to the difficulties they suffer. Someone said it feels like I am challenging parent’s painful experiences, perhaps I am doing so but in doing so I am asking parents to bear the pain so that their children do not have to. there are enough parental advocates, children need me to speak for them and I will keep on doing so.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Lynsay · 28 Days Ago

    I think the view expressed here is interesting and thought provoking as a parental survivor myself. however it seems to describe a black and white status of being alienated/non-alienated. In my experience, one of my children was alienated and through my relentless efforts is no longer so. But that child remains non resident with me and retains some negative and false constructs. Perhaps due to the difficulties in challenging the alienating parent. My child cut all contact and residence for a substantial amount of time with me although now visits once a week and has a positive relationship despite remaining controlled by the other parent. I’m not sure how using child alienation or not as a diagnostic feature is helpful in highly complex and mutable divided family dynamics? It feels a bit like you are challenging the reality of some parent’s devastatingly painful experiences which can be enmeshed with emotional abuse and control by the alienating parent. However, raising other factors like differing parental styles and natural changes in parental affinity are definitely worth bearing in mind.

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    • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

      I think that is the theme which is emerging Lynsay, that people assume that using the diagnostic approach of the alienated child somehow is attacking them, it is not. Whilst I absolutely understand the adult pain I am not working for adults I am working for children, which is why I use the concept of the alienated child. I absolutely accept that children can have alienation reactions and some can continue to struggle with those for years but a child with alienation reactions is in a very different place to an alienated child and as someone who does the work of helping alienated children across the spectrum I find that I am told a child is alienated when in fact they are not and that is problematic.

      However, the really interesting part about this response to this post is that some people assume that I am not supporting alienated parents, one parent has even accused me of supporting alienating parents on another forum this week by even daring to write about this topic. But I am writing about it precisely because the reality of our work as experts in this field shows us that there ARE false allegations of parental alienation or there are cases where children are being alienated because they are being told they are being alienated when in fact they are not. As experts we have to be able to work out where a child is in terms of their responses and where a parent is in terms of their belief system. I can help a child whose parents are responsive, I cannot help a child whose parents are not and if I have one parent who is utterly determined their child is being alienated when in fact they are not, should I continue to allow that parent to use me to further their agenda which is often down to a fixed belief system and a range of behaviours which are based on projection, then I would fail the child. My work is with alienated children, I am not a parental advocate and that I think is the difference because I write from the perspective of the child. If some parents find my writing this article is challenging their experience then that is something they are reading into it which is not there. What of the parents whose children have been removed from them because they have been accused of parental alienation when in fact it was not? Some mothers find themselves in that position (much more commonly than fathers in fact as part of a campaign of coercive control). I am not going to split the world into wholly good and wholly bad to suit one group of parents or the other, this is not useful in our thinking and debating. I am thinking and working from the perspective of the child who is the only one who has to adapt to two relationships in the post separation world, the adults only have to adapt to one. I make no apology for this because there are not enough people in the world walking in the shoes of these children in my view.

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  17. Anonymous · 28 Days Ago

    And more power to your elbow.

    After a lot of thought I am beginning to understand why your reasoning clashes with what I have been thinking.

    I too have the welfare of children at heart, but my main bone of contention has been that not enough is done to hold together the family as an Institution. If family remains strong children will survive and flourish. I don’t mean to falsely impose a family structure, I mean to mentally heal it in much the same way you create safe places for children to have a normal childhood.

    In an earlier article when you spoke about “standing in the middle” between warring parents I interpreted this as trying to help each parent. A better understanding gained of what works, by potential or real “alienator” and “target” parents would thereby create a healthier environment for children.

    We are never going to create the perfect parent. It is not about perfection, it’s about strong healthy connections, accommodation, empathy, sensitivity, love, support, encouragement, a strong sense of self but not too much and the making of repairs……………………etc.

    I do understand when you criticise parents who cite parental rights issues when they are frustrated at losing their child, but some of them have genuine cause for complaint. No, they are not perfect parents, but good enough. They may have a misunderstanding of transition, but these are also often good but disenfranchised parents. Had they still been with their partner, their relationship with their children would have continued.

    The fathers who swing from treetops making exhibitions of themselves are more often than not good parents who have become frustrated by a cultural system which has forced them away from their children.

    In some cases the parent with residence need do very little to prevent the child having a relationship with the other parent, the clumsiness and insecurities of the exiled parent being enough to create a feeling of abandonment within the child. Rest assured exiled parents did not become inadequate parents overnight. Yes, they may need help, they are often too proud to accept it, but the child still needs that parent and the parent needs their parental relationship restored…………………… just how it was all those years ago.

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    • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

      It never ceases to amaze me how, when I speak about the child’s experience, people start telling me I am criticising alienated parents. Show me where I have criticised an alienated parent. Everyone is happy to leap up and down in delight when I talk about parental experience but everyone becomes less vocal when I talk about the child’s experience. Show me where I have criticised an alienated parent. I don’t come at this work from a parental rights perspective, that is NOT criticising alienated parents.

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  18. Willow · 28 Days Ago

    Karen wrote:
    But an alienated child is a strong and very particular picture and will not see you or spend a single second in your company and is agitated, angry and completely refusing to see a parent. An alienated child is phobic, rude to the point of denigration and offensive and without guilt and shame using false scenarios to prove how bad you are. A child who still comes to you is not alienated though the child may be struggling and sinking and may, one day, find a trigger event which allows him to withdraw completely.

    My daughter reached that stage after nineteen years of my knowing I was losing her to my husband of 46 years, the husband I lived with. I wanted so much for him to see what he was doing and stop. Just to be included as I should have been since we were all (supposed to be) a family. He never did get it, or if he did it made no difference. I had no idea how to cope with the onslaught that ensued. From the moment he gave my daughter – OUR DAUGHTER – permission to speak to me however she wanted from the age of fifteen (She has every right to speak to you like that, she’s an adult now – at 15 – and anyway, I agree with her so why should we stay quiet) I had no idea what I could do. He made her his best friend, told her about every little fall out, looked to her for validation, elevated her above me and pushed me out. In between times when he wasn’t at home (not often) she’d be very different, we’d go shopping together for her clothes, I’d take her riding or watch her show jumping, but as soon as he entered the room it all began again. He never missed an opportunity to put me down in front of her. This stage lasted almost 19 years while my husband continued to ramp up his efforts to push me out of ‘their family’. (She’s my blood he’d say as if I was nobody) I stayed so long because I couldn’t bear to lose my daughter. I wish I’d known how to deal with it if dealing with it was even possible. And I wish he could have been a normal husband and father …. I’m sure such men do exist.

    That quote above describes exactly my daughter over the last 18 months before I gave up and left still having no idea what I could have done to kept the family intact. He told me “Good, I won’t have to share her with you anymore”. He completely disregarded the fact that I gave birth to her, I was her mother …………… and his WIFE. WE could have had it all but he couldn’t “share her” so there was no place for me. He made me feel like I was going crazy.

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  19. Willow · 28 Days Ago

    I didn’t point out in my earlier post that my daughter told me to get out of her life almost three years ago after going through all the stages described in the quote (my last post). Those stages lasted almost 19 years when I tried to hang on in there so I’d be part of her life. I was willing to pick up any crumbs I was offered. She has refused all contact since even when I wrote to tell her that her grandad is now in a hospice she didn’t reply or make contact. I will never know how my husband can be happy with what he did or how he could see me only as a surrogate mother to be discarded..

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    • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

      I think that there is no answer to that question how could he Willow, he can and he does and that is the burden your daughter has to bear which is unbearable to think of because as her mother you would do anything to protect her. From her perspective, she is likely to be under so much pressure/charm/threat/anxiety/distortion within her relationship with her father that she is unable to see anything any differently and that is the legacy her relationship with her father has handed to her. For now. Until one day the sense of cognitive dissonance she is currently able to bear, may fracture for one reason or another – his death perhaps, her contact with someone who challenges her, the coming to consciouness of the underlying dynamics he is burying with his controlling behaviours. In real terms, as she is an adult, there is little you can do other than to live well and healthily knowing it is not you, it is him and leaving all the possibilities for her return open without spending time by the door waiting for her. Your live must be lived and lived well. Her life has its own trajectory which will include, at some point, questions, anxieties, hauntings and other signs that she may follow one day. Alienated adult children who are convinced it is you can grow to become toxic and protection from the double whammy of father and daughter ganging up against you is an absolute must in situations like yours. Sending you love. K

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  20. Alison · 28 Days Ago

    one difficulty remains that to focus only on the children, whislt entirely appropriate, may not offer a clear resolution. Are we just diagnosing here or actually doing something about it? An alienated child has taken on board the alienator’s view of the other parent and even other professionals. They cannot find their voice without the co-production of the non-alienating parent.

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    • karenwoodall · 28 Days Ago

      If you are asking me do I do something about it then yes, I do. I have reunited twelve children with a parent this year including transfers of residence, last year I reunited 27. I use a range of interventions including separation from a parent for up to 90 days to ensure the alienation reaction lifts. So if you are asking me, then yes I do do something about it. Which is actually an awful lot more than anyone else in the UK does about it. Which is why I consider that I, above others, have the right to talk about this issue from the perspective of the child. I find it really intriguing that people get indignant when I ask them to consider the concept of the alienated child – it is as if I am somehow doing something wrong when I do so. It fascinates me that when I write from the perspective of the alienated parent there is a great deal of support but go to the place of the alienated child and there is silence, indignation, disappointment, determination that I am somehow doing it wrong. I know more than anyone that a child is trapped in the mind of the aliented parent and I am the one who has to do the work of intervening in that, which is actually really unpleasant at times for both me and the child. But I do it AND it gives an extremely clear resolution in most cases and where it does not it is because the alienating parent cannot be constrained properly OR, the rejected parent cannot give what is needed to the child. I find this whole attitude to the experience of the alienated child utterly fascinating, it is as if, on the other side, the child becomes enmeshed with the other parent in the mind of the rejected parent and there is a loss of perspective in the mind of the rejected parent too.

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  21. Willow · 28 Days Ago

    Karen thank you for your comments. It certainly was and is a double whammy. I used to think that if I could fix him I’d be able to fix my daughter. There was no way I could ever fix him.

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