Climbing the mountain gets easier → 2. Prevention

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Climbing Ben Nevis on a sunny day!

Recently the highest British mountain, Ben Nevis got bigger. In this blog too, our Climbing the mountain page also got bigger. Yet recent developments mean our mountain looks smaller. How can this be?!

One new key idea is that all kinds of coercive or ‘undue influence’ can be linked together. See Learning about a common enemy. That means we can see how comprehensive education and prevention could stop all these abusive patterns before they happen – cults, extremist terror, bullying, domestic and child abuse and Parental Alienation, to name a few.

Finding a foundation

An exciting extra surprise lay in store. We discovered that there was already a large international network about to launch the same idea with its new website, the Open Minds Foundation. What a great confidence booster that was! The OMF also reckon that the best general term for coercive and controlling patterns is the well-known legal term: undue influence.

To improve their website and how they run their ambitious plans, the Open Minds Foundation have immediately welcomed those of us who work more with undue influence in families – i.e. domestic or intimate-partner and child abuse, and Parental Alienation. We are helping to balance up the OMF website material. Let us know what you think … in a couple of months, when it will look even better!

This broad umbrella approach also means that we can calm down the misguided and heated gender-wars that have hindered us all for decades. We can all join forces instead. That joining forces across gendered groups (that are anyway ill-founded)  is a core theme in the Climbing the mountain page.

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The spectrum of constructive and destructive or undue influence (© OMF)

In England and Wales, the arrival of the new (gender-neutral) law against coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate relationships underlined these trends. Scotland is also developing its own version of that law. It remains to be seen how the laws work in practice, but they show how strong the idea is.

The government’s growing strategy and educate against hate website against extremist hate and terrorism highlights the great relevance at the other, non-family, end of the undue influence spectrum.

On this blog we have already cast the net wide in the blogposts on cults, on Stockholm syndrome, on estrangement, and on parental child abduction (abduction of your own child is just a faster way to complete Alienation).

Lastly in building higher hopes of easier routes up the mountain, there have been historic achievements in changing family law and professional roles and responsibilities suddenly make the Alienation mountain seem much smaller. In Romania, the law was comprehensively strengthened. While in the USA, after decades, the major professional body, the APA, is heading to review its position. And, more locally, in Scotland there are new much improved guidelines about Child Welfare Reports (used to be called Bar Reports).

Some of that good news means there is a new section No 2 in the Climbing the mountain page below. (If you’re bothered about it, this means the other paragraph numbers on that page change!)

Nick Child, Edinburgh

New section 2. in Climbing the mountain:

2. Prevention: Before Coercive Persuasion Happens

A simple idea is for the prevention of harmful psychological coercive persuasion of all sorts before it happens. This requires that the pattern can be defined whatever guises it appears in to divide people from their healthy relationships with family and friends.  Influences that typically happen outside of families include: cults and extremist terrorism. Influences that operate within established couples and families are: intimate partner or domestic and child abuse and Parental Alienation.

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See the Open Minds Foundation website – click on image

There is growing momentum for this idea of Learning about a common enemy e.g. in the new law on coercive control and in the new website and approach to prevent extremist hate. It is the raison d’être for the Open Minds Foundation.

The idea is simple enough for anyone to try using – e.g. parents within your own family,  teachers within your own school. It converts into a survey format that applies to any of the different kinds of undue influence.

Some interesting questions come out of this linking together all undue influence patterns under one umbrella. Non-family undue influence, such as cults, scams and extremism, involve more obvious recruitment of new victims. This is different to families … well, until it gets us to think of where recruitment happens in families. Recruitment to family undue influence happens when a couple fall in love – ‘madly’ in love, one might say.

People say in retrospect that they would have known to walk away from their future partner if they’d known more at the start of their relationship. So the prevention of undue influence in families means we need to look harder at that first recruitment stage.

Of course, children are not so lucky – they are born into families without much chance to choose at all. Constructively influencing children is a lot of children’s upbringing in families and schools anyway – it may be hard to spot the differences between healthy normal and unhealthy emotionally abusive relationships. When families separate, there is another phase of recruitment into your ‘side’ of others including your children (hence the coercing part of Parental Alienation).

The aim of this prevention before undue influence happens will be to give everyone the tools to think for themselves so we can all spot the pattern and walk away rather than be taken in. In his important book Intelligent Disobedience: doing right when what you’re told to do is wrong Ira Chaleff shows that cognitive learning is unlikely to be enough. We need to practice intelligent disobedience in the same way that guide dogs for the blind are trained to prevent their humans walking into disaster.

About Nick Child

Retired child and family shrink and family therapist living, working and playing in Edinburgh.

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