Last week I put a call out to adults alienated as children, inviting them to take part in my research which will form the basis of a new therapy for this group of people. Alongside the research, I will treat those adult children who are coming forward using a combination of therapeutic approaches which I consider fits the needs of this overlooked cohort of traumatised individuals.
My research group is growing fast, it seems that the problems I have been flagging in this blog have resonated with adults who were alienated as children. It also seems that the concepts I have been exploring on this blog recently have triggered change for some already.
There is little research evidence into the longer term impacts on children of untreated psychological splitting, which is in my experience, at the heart of what children are suffering in parental alienation. Which means that for those children who never managed to reconnect to a parent and for those who did but who still struggle with the impact of psychological splitting, the risk remains that they continue to blame the parent they rejected for what they suffer in the here and now.
For fifty years or more we have struggled in the western world to face the reality of what divorce and separation does to children. We have looked the other way and hoped that children who cannot speak about the harm they have suffered, will simply get over it.
But they haven’t got over it. As my work with adults alienated as children increases, I see that the lasting legacy they carry is the toxic effects of traumatic splitting which has gone unrecognised and thus unaddressed for far too long.
Working with dissociated parts of the self has fallen out of fashion in psychological quarters in recent years and yet in psychotherapy, where we work with relationships between people on the outside and relationships between parts of people on the inside, this is exactly where our focus needs to be in helping adults alienated as children.
When we work to reunite younger children with the parent they are rejecting we are seeking to integrate the splitting so that the authentic child can drop the omnipotent defence and emerge from the compromised position they have been forced to adopt.
Anyone who tells you that they are doing anything else but that either do not know what they are doing or are trying to mystify you into believing that they somehow have an answer that no-one else has.
Reunification work with younger children relies upon three things and three things only
1) Enough time and proximity to the parent who has been rejected so that the existing attachment relationship can overwhelm the defence.
2) control over the parent who has been influencing the child – which is usually held by the Court and invested in the reunification practitioner.
3) A practitioner with knowledge of how alienated children behave and the capacity to withstand the pressure of doing this work with a child in a challenging environment.
You will see from the above that without the Court’s investment in a reunification practitioner, which means giving the right order, the right protective separation and the right conditions to mediation the shift in power from one parent to the other.
When those things are in place, if one understands how alienated children behave and how others react around that and how to keep the focus on the proximity between rejected parent and child, the authentic child will almost always emerge.
But what can be done for those adult children who were never helped to be in close proximity to the parent they rejected? Those adults who are now left with the legacy of what was done to them and who have no idea that the splitting, the self loathing, the confusion, the lack of internal reality is related to the experience of alienation in childhood.
For those adult children, alienation from the self is the lasting unwanted ‘gift’ forced upon them and whilst the shifting sense of self and the fragile ground they stand upon leaves them feeling disorientated and uncertain, finding ways of integrating the fragmented selves are difficult.
And there is an added barrier to the healing of the adult child who was alienated from a parent and who is now experiencing alienation from self. For how can one heal from an alienation one believed was caused by the actions of a parent in the outside world. And how can one heal from an alienation of the self which one was a willing party to in childhood? In order to do that, one has to recognise that the psychological suffering in the here and now, matches that which happened in the past. And one has to understand that the lack of feeling and numbness in one area of life, is weighted by the over investment in perfection in another.
When adults alienated as children recognise that not only do they reject/feel numb about/distance themselves from a parent, they do the same to the parts of their own self which are identified with that parent, they take the first step to recovery.
And when they recognise that their idealisation of a parent equates with the over development of areas of their lives which they may not readily connect to a parent but which, on closer examination are linked to the identification with that parent, they take the next step.
Adults alienated a children behave in many ways but here are some of the signs of continued traumatic splitting which are experienced
Over developed caring for others skills
Over developed diplomacy
Inability to receive incoming care from others
Denial of one’s own vulnerability
Drive to fix everything
Sense of unreality
Feeling as if there are other parts of the self unknown
Inability to trust others
Inability to make decisions or keep to decisions
Capacity to start relationships, difficulty in maintaining them
Controlling of other people
Holding people at distance
Loss and longing which rises up and then disappears
Dreams about locked doors
Dreams about being chased by something
Sense of self as omnipotent which switches to worthlessness
Possible diagnosis of unstable personality disorder
Possible diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder
For those children who were put into an impossible position in their childhood and for whom the normal defence to this abnormal childhood event kept them alive and still here, the reality of traumatic splitting deserves our attention.
Right across the spectrum of what we call parental alienation we are working to address the component parts to find resolutions to the problem. Until we have the full treatment toolbox completed, we keep on keeping on.