Interpersonal Terrorism: The Use of Power in Parental Alienation

This week I have been working with children who are affected by intergenerational terrorism.  In writing about this I should be clear about what I mean by the word terrorism as in the current climate we are living in, the word conjurs up particular images.  There are however, so many similarities between what happens in parental alienation and what happens in the world at large in terms of how terror impacts upon the mind.  In the terrorism created by ISIS for example, the fear of suicide bombers and other random attacks, keeps us both vigilant and cowed as well as shocked and horrified by the possibility of such barbaric acts of violence.  In cases of parental alienation, the fear of the power of the alienating parent to escalate the situation, and remove the child completely, keeps the targeted parent both vigilant and cowed in terms of their parenting of the child and their horror of the possibility which they can see coming, ensures that their mind is controlled in the same way as the child.

In this respect parental alienation is the same as the current worldwide situation.  One is terrorism on a macro level, the other is terrorism on a micro level. Both are terrorism of the mind. Both cause immense fear and damage.

Interpersonal terrorism has been long discussed by the women’s rights groups as being all about men’s control of women. In this model, men are more privileged than women by virtue of possession of a penis and women are always disadvantaged because of this.  Whilst this model bears no scrutiny in real terms (try telling a homeless man that he is more advantaged because he has a penis than the woman who lives in a mansion block in Kensington for example), it remains a dominant belief system in our family services.  In reality, interpersonal terrorism is an act of coercive control in which the power held by one person is used to strip the other of their sense of control and ability to make choices about their lives.  The truth is that interpersonal terrorism is used by men against women, by women against men and by both men AND women against children.  The underlying dynamic is the use of personal power to manage and manipulate another person.  In parental alienation, the child becomes the conduit through which the power wielded by an interpersonal terrorist is deployed.

I never fail to be astonished at how little awareness many of those involved in family services actually have about interpersonal terrorism.  Whilst some ‘get it’ and are absolutely able to analyse and understand how power is held and used by parents, some are absolutely blind to the very dynamic being played out before them.  In the case of parental alienation this blinkered approach becomes so obvious that it is almost painful to watch the same assumptions being played out again and again in case management.  Let me try to explain.

In the feminist model of men being born advantaged, one is expected to analyse power in the shadow of the man holding it and the women being divested of it.  In the case of a mother being alienated by a father therefore, one would expect, would one not, that such a worker would be able to see that the children’s allegiance to the father is a manipulated process enacted to strip the mother of her right to a relationship with her children.  If only.   So many times when I have been asked to work with a family and the children have become alienated against their mother, the whole of the focus has been upon what the mother has done to cause her children to reject her, the assumption being that if she as a mother is being rejected then what she has done must have been very very bad.  Couple that with a charming father who turns his hands up and expresses that he is simply doing the children’s bidding because mother was never a very good mother in the first place, and what you have is the perfect terrorist trick of the mind. It can’t be me, I really want them to have a relationship with their mother, it has to be her because she is not good enough and never was.  It is as if, unless the father has a large knife and is holding his children by the throat, all of that feminist teaching goes out of the window. It would seem that a man is privileged by virtue of possession of a penis, unless he is in possession of children who say they don’t want to see their mother again, in which case he becomes a saint.

And the reverse. In which a child says they do not want to see their father again. In which case as men are bad by virtue of possession of a penis, mother, who can be harming the child right under the nose of the professional concerned, is also a saint.

Interpersonal terrorism is enacted by alienating parents. It is used to pursue a personal agenda which can be triggered by many different things but the outcome is always the same the child becomes hostage to the parental schema which is predominantly concerned with control.  When a child is speaking in absolutes, ‘I hate/she never/he always/I won’t/ you can’t make me’…and so on, they are giving away the truth of what is happening to them which is that they are being held against their will and are being convinced by the manipulation of their mind, to believe that they love their abuser.

Those first signals, which were curated as the eight signs of alienation by Gardner, are heard over and over again by people who work in family services all around the world. Many know instinctively that what they are hearing from children is somehow wrong, but they do not know how to interpret the signals and so they find themselves drawn into the interpersonal terrorism dynamic and triangulated by the Svengali behaviours of the alienator against the rejected parent.

One of the reasons why I will not reject Gardner’s work is that those signals are the child’s only way of telling the outside world what is happening and in learning to interpret those signals more people know how to recognise a child who is captured in the interpersonal terrorist activities of an alienating parent.  Those signals are the child’s only hope of attracting attention and asking for help and when we notice them we can respond to them by unpacking the family dynamics on both sides and building a forensic picture of what is happening to the child. When we have built the picture we can convey the meaning to those who hold the power to tackle the terrorism and in combination with that legal power we can unlock the door to the psychological prison the child is being held in.

Just as when we tackle terrorism in the outside wider world, tacking terrorism of the mind on a micro level is about understanding who holds power, how they wield it and how a child is being used to further the power over dynamic.  Recognising the signals, unpacking the story and building the response is about being able to understand, plan and respond in a way that changes the power balance as swiftly as possible. This is about an interpersonal game of chess which is played in 3D, in which to liberate the child one has to be able to manage all of the pieces as well as know who is going to move what, where, when and why.  At times in these games I feel as if I am playing chess with Dr Who in outer space, such are the unseen and unspoken forces at play. Add into the mix the adversarial system in which this game is played and you have the Daleks, the Zygons and the Cybermen playing along with or against you.  I jest, you get my meaning.

Interpersonal terrorism is something that everyone concerned with divorcing and separating families should be aware of. In this current climate, where coercive control is being increasingly discussed and the tactics of terror manipulate all of our minds on a daily basis, we should all be aware of the vulnerability of children to having their feelings for their parents managed by force.  It is a strange paradox that whilst we become entranced by the external dynamics of terror which dominate our screen lives with ever increasing regularity, the terrorism of children still goes largely unnoticed, even when children are shouting the truth at the people who should be able to help them.

Interpersonal terrorism of the mind means that the child cannot say it how it is and can only speak the language of the terrorised child. Learning that language is an urgent task for anyone who works with families, letting the child know, in the only language they can currently understand, that help is at hand and the voice of the captured child is heard, is a critical task.

When we know how to converse with the terrorised mind we will bring freedom. When we bring freedom we will bring peace to the world inhabited by the alienated child.

 

 

22 comments

  1. Helen Dudden · July 1

    How can we bring cost effective help to those who need it, I personally believe in less court action and more solving the conflict at an earlier stage.

    Like

    • Ally · July 1

      I agree this shouldn’t have to involve the family courts, but it’s the only way. We tried previously using the safeguarding route – total waste of time & we actually fear it made things worse for the children.

      Like

  2. Willow · July 1

    Karen this article has made me cry and I haven’t cried for over two years since I left my husband and 33 year old daughter and moved away because I’d given up and I was numb. I’ve been numb ever since but this article broke through my wall. Why? Why? Why do they do it?

    Quote: In cases of parental alienation, the fear of the power of the alienating parent to escalate the situation, and remove the child completely, keeps the targeted parent both vigilant and cowed in terms of their parenting of the child and their horror of the possibility which they can see coming, ensures that their mind is controlled in the same way as the child.

    I had such a horrible day yesterday. My sister (who is the only person I now have since I left everything behind) did something that hurt me and I told her I was hurt. I had no right to be hurt. But I was. I should have just smiled. But she turned on me. She stuck her finger in my face and yelled at me “Don’t you dare make me feel guilty” and stormed off. I have no idea how we will overcome our joint hurt and pain. I am right there back there with my husband yelling in my face. But more important than that, my sister did what she did because in that split second she was right back with our mother in our childhood. She has told me today that in that split second I WAS her mother who had made her feel guilty and not good enough all of her life. Yesterday she was doing what she could not do in life with my mother so she did it to me as a gut reaction.

    Our mother was not an alienator, neither was our father. Our mother was controlling, she liked to pick on her children though our brother fared better perhaps, she was like a terrorist in our lives and our father turned a blind eye. Both of us have deep issues from our childhood. My husband (though he would never recognise it or admit it) also had issues in his childhood (mother made several suicide attempts where he had to save her, father was silent, always rowing and more) and so did my sister’s husband (an aggressive father who was abusive to his wife) from whom she’s now split. Even 60 years on in our lives, our mother (who died five years ago) is there and if it doesn’t show in me – which I know it does in my difficulties trusting and letting people in – it certainly showed yesterday in my sister who didn’t see me when she shouted, but saw her mother.

    All I ever wanted was a loving husband and a family. I tried to make my daughter’s life better than mine. I wanted her to know that she was always loved. I had never known that feeling and I was determined my daughter would always know she was loved. In the end it wasn’t enough or, as my daughter said after I’d left, it was too much.

    Oh how our parents can screw us up. I still have no idea why people can’t just live and be happy or what on earth I did to deserve any of this.

    Like

    • Anonymous · July 1

      I’m going to respond to your comment willow I started to do so but my ipad is freezing but I am going to respond because you didn’t do anything to deserve this but be born into a terrorist family and you can escape and I will help you to do that. I am preparing now for the launch of PADirect where I am going to work on a private forum with parents who want to develop their understanding so I will practice with you if you are happy to do it in this way? K

      Like

      • Willow · July 1

        If you leave a link I’ll have a look.
        And you are right about the terrorist family and the legacy they leave. Still feeling raw. Nothing resolved with my sister yet. Wish me luck when we meet tomorrow. Not looking forward to it 😦

        Like

    • Sadsam · July 6

      Willow, how I hope you can stop beating yourself up, one day very soon. Constantly asking ‘why’ just keeps your pain going on and on. Sometimes in life we have to accept that something deeply unpalatable has happened to us and focus not on why/what etc but ‘how’ …..how do I live with this event/happening in my life? I truly wish for you that you can be kind and loving to yourself and find a peace whch enables you to find love and joy in your own valuable life. Remember that the Past does not need to dictate your future.

      Like

  3. Ally · July 1

    You manage to put into words exactly what is happening, when our situation previously seemed such a muddle, clearly very wrong, but so hard to explain to professionals – legal & childrens services.

    How I wish our newly appointed cafcass officer could read your blogs!

    Like

  4. Yvie · July 1

    Quite a few years ago when the boys were a bit younger, my son asked his ex. if he could have the boys an extra night in the middle of the week. His ex replied that the youngest would be coming but the eldest (alienated grandson) would not be coming as ‘he would rather spend the time with me’. On the evening in question our youngest grandson turned up as arranged. A little bit later there was a knock at the kitchen door. It was my eldest grandson. He had tears in his eyes and would not come in. He asked if it would be OK if granddad could give him a lift to his mums. Naturally he was given the lift, but he was still tearful.

    Looking back on this, it seems like it was a precursor to my grandson’s alienation, as I suspect his mother had somehow talked him into refusing to stay at his dads that night. I may be wrong about this, but perhaps she used the same technique to alienate my grandson fully when he was 15.

    Like

  5. I am reminded of film shown on television of dictators like Saddam Hussein and others where citizens come to see them and kiss their hand – clearly in absolute dread and fear for their lives but all the while professing undying loyalty & love.

    Like

  6. PapaMissingKids · July 1

    Phenomenally insightful and interesting as always Karen.

    Is the word “intergenerational” in the very first sentence of this article a typographical error and should have been “interpersonal” maybe?

    Like

  7. HowieDennison · July 1

    yes, a very good description of the power dymamic involved

    Like

  8. Cara · July 1

    Once the alienated child has cut off contact with the target parent, where does the alienating parent’s need for control go? It would seem they would have a vested interest in allowing some contact between the child and the parent so they can continue to “terrorize” – without contact, and without reaction from the target parent, it would appear they no longer have so much power and control. Does it then get directed at controlling the child?

    Like

    • Daddy Hardup · July 4

      The alienating parent may look for another adult to prey on, maybe through a sexual relationship, though not necessarily. They may, as you suggest, continue to play with the discarded target parent, using contact with the child(ren) as a lure.

      My ex has certainly tried the second of these. It’s very tricky for me. To see my daughter I have to play the game while trying to remain detached so that I don’t become a source of ‘narcissistic supply’ all over again. I’ve got quite good at it, and though contact with my daughter is occasional, brief and very controlled by mother, there has been enough to demonstrate that our daughter is not alienated from me at all and the bond between us remains strong, even though our daughter has to be very circumspect in expressing it. She, too, has learned how to play the game.

      Contact typically follows a cycle, in which mother contacts me because she needs money or other help, I get some limited contact with our daughter in return, and mother then closes contact off again, I am sure to prevent the father-daughter relationship from flourishing. Mother tries to play with my feelings sometimes, suggests I’ll never find someone as good as her, speaks mockingly about me to our daughter when I am present, but I refuse to fall for the bait, and our daughter refuses to take sides.

      It feels not so much like terrorism as like life under a totalitarian regime, like the last years of the communist states in Eastern Europe, when they had more or less given up trying to convince their people that they offered a better future but simply said, obey us and don’t make trouble and we’ll leave you in peace. I sent my daughter a picture book (‘The Wall’) by the the artist Peter Sis about his early life growing up in communist Czechoslovakia, how at first he was indoctrinated and later how he and his friends began to understand what was going on. I wonder what she made of it…

      Like

  9. Helen Dudden · July 1

    Yes to the question, I would say with the acquired knowledge. If it were a pet or property things would be different. Children when a non return has happened are a different matter. Who ever is saying no to doing what is legally and morally wrong, should be made to conform rather than the returning to court that takes further time and upsets to the child/children.
    If you feel I’m wrong with the way I view please say, its time to air opinions and find ways to improve.

    Like

  10. daveyone1 · July 1

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

    Like

  11. truthaholics · July 2

    Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “In reality, interpersonal terrorism is an act of coercive control in which the power held by one person is used to strip the other of their sense of control and ability to make choices about their lives. The truth is that interpersonal terrorism is used by men against women, by women against men and by both men AND women against children. The underlying dynamic is the use of personal power to manage and manipulate another person. In parental alienation, the child becomes the conduit through which the power wielded by an interpersonal terrorist is deployed.”

    Like

  12. Carl · July 2

    Birdland – Agghan Whigs – In Spades .

    I was a child an open letter
    To be read aloud to the throng
    Caught in a spell of stormy weather
    Mnemonic lines to the fore

    Whatever it is thats kept us together
    I look to the sky and its gone
    Save one for me and i’ll never forget you
    We’re coming alive in the cold

    Were coming alive in the cold

    So in a haze of feverish lights
    The satyr arrives to the throne
    We’ll come together when the feeling is right

    Were coming alive in the cold
    Were coming alive in the cold
    Coming alive in the cold!

    Xx

    Turns out this is the garnham family crest! Just looked up what a Satyr is. 🙂

    Like

  13. Carl · July 2

    Oh my word lol

    In Greek mythology, a satyr (UK: /ˈsætə/, US: /ˈseɪtər/;[1] Greek: σάτυρος satyros,[2] pronounced [sátyros]) is one of a troop of ithyphallic male companions of Dionysus with goat-like features and often permanent erection.

    Its not true i tell thee. lol

    Like

  14. Linda Turner · July 3

    Reblogged this on Parental Alienation.

    Like

  15. pigletsmum · July 3

    “So many times when I have been asked to work with a family and the children have become alienated against their mother, the whole of the focus has been upon what the mother has done to cause her children to reject her, the assumption being that if she as a mother is being rejected then what she has done must have been very very bad. Couple that with a charming father who turns his hands up and expresses that he is simply doing the children’s bidding because mother was never a very good mother in the first place, and what you have is the perfect terrorist trick of the mind. It can’t be me, I really want them to have a relationship with their mother, it has to be her because she is not good enough and never was. It is as if, unless the father has a large knife and is holding his children by the throat, all of that feminist teaching goes out of the window. It would seem that a man is privileged by virtue of possession of a penis, unless he is in possession of children who say they don’t want to see their mother again, in which case he becomes a saint.”

    This scenario is me, the mum. I become nauseous and tearful each time I am reminded that this is the behaviour I escaped, only for him to utilise the same tactics on his children. I have learned, battled, but will never overcome the feelings of inadequacy towards my children for not being able to protect them from this terrorist.

    This week my ex reached a milestone birthday and my daughter (completely alienated for over 2 years) put a gushing facebook status about how he is her best friend in the world. Yes, friend! Says it all really; the boundaries are surpassed, there is only a sense of how close they are and how she can’t survive without him. (HE’S NOT EVEN ON FACEBOOK!!!) What worries me is his narcissistic tendencies replaying through her life and her using manipulation to feel in control of situations. I know it will happen… He is a charming man!

    Thank you Karen and Nick for your work to improve understanding of PA. x

    Like

  16. Anonymous · July 3

    “I never fail to be astonished at how little awareness many of those involved in family services actually have about interpersonal terrorism. Whilst some ‘get it’ and are absolutely able to analyse and understand how power is held and used by parents, some are absolutely blind to the very dynamic being played out before them. In the case of parental alienation this blinkered approach becomes so obvious that it is almost painful to watch the same assumptions being played out again and again in case management. Let me try to explain…………………………….”

    I work in mental health. For what it is worth this is why many “don’t get it”.

    The industry is littered with laws ostensibly designed to protect the vulnerable. There are memos and “best practice” doctrines, monitoring, routines, schedules, behaviour recording/tracking charts…………. etc.

    Essentially these are all control mechanisms designed by people who like to control others to behave “perfectly”.
    ………………………………………..
    So, what kind of people does the industry attract?
    You got it! Control freaks.
    These are not “emotion coaches” nor empathic sensitive individuals with great big listening ears who are capable of empathy.
    These are people who like to control, believing what the people who they are trying to assist need is discipline and an education in how to behave.

    …………………………After yesterday’s shift at the home for those with educational disabilities George reckoned it was about one in five staff who understood what would help the individuals who made this place their home.
    He had witnessed the shift leader tell one of the clients off for standing in her way. Phil, who had limited ability to manoeuvre and always used his “walker” to get where he wanted had been loitering in the corridor simply minding his own business and watching the world go by. Phil’s eyesight was poor, very poor, but he could hear you and he had, like the rest of us the full gamut of emotions.

    Later that same day George witnessed another member of staff telling Phil he should pick up his own fork which Phil had dropped on the ground. Phil, as I said had limited movement so he became frustrated when bending down to find the fork he had dropped and of course he had to feel for it because his eyesight is almost non-existent.

    ………. you’re kidding, said Tony. Is that what really happens at the “Home”?

    Yes, it’s hard to swallow said George. Hardly surprising you get bad behaviours in that place, guys smashing up their rooms, self-harming, attacking staff. What do the staff do about it, said Tony?

    There are drugs for most eventualities these days, said George.

    Like

  17. Pingback: Karen Woodall: Interpersonal Terrorism: The Use of Power in Parental Alienation – LOST DAD

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