Alienation: A new clearer big picture

Alienation is the core pattern in a wide range of ‘relationships that take you in and cut you off’

“Bravo! Brilliant!”  This is to announce our new ‘Not sure about alienation?” page. It’s a version of Nick Child’s recent highly praised Sutherland Trust Lecture: Alienation in families, with some of the slides added in. You can listen to the lecture here.

People have praised this new clearer big picture:

Bravo!!  .. Brilliant .. Clarity of thought and clarity of expression combined … It’s – by far – the clearest and most effective explanation of alienation yet. Well done.

Through the years since we started in 2014, the alienation experience weblog here has seen us develop the thinking that led up to this new big picture that puts it all together in one go.

A very good word for it

Given the controversy about the term Parental Alienation, we tried to find other words for it. But that is what the world calls it, that’s what you need to Google if you’re serious. And we found that ‘alienation’ is a very good old word for it. More than that, Alienation describes the core pattern in a much wider range of ‘relationships that take you in and cut you off’. Some of these emotionally abusive patterns happen in family groups, some in different kinds of non-family groups. Either way, families are going to be affected.

So the new ‘Not sure about’ page begins broadly with the biggest of big systems activism – along with the (un?)surprising point that being really helpful can be harmful coercion. Then it focuses in on the sinkhole of Parental Alienation before broadening up again to discover the benefits and clarifications that a wider map provides. The last section contains the most important innovations that help beginner and expert to a new perspective of the whole field of harmful ‘Undue Influence’.

Most important of all, the new wider framework encourages us to transcend decades of unnecessary factional infighting that has not helped the world to get the message.  Now we can see how everyone who struggles against all the many types of harmful coercive relationships can team up and campaign together to win the whole world over.

Try this: Compare school refusal with parent refusal

Each innovation is worth exploring further. One has already been the topic of a blog here – a theatre critics view of Parental Alienation. Other blogs will come in future.

To whet your appetite, here’s a quick top tip: A familiar small idea taken further as a powerful way to bring new clarity to any aspect of when a parent is rejected by their child – whether for a good reason or not. Helping professionals can suddenly realise they know far more about what is needed than they think they do. Try it out for yourselves. Then feedback in the comments if this idea works for you in your neck of the world’s woods. Read the whole page to see it’s potential: Here it is in brief:

This top tip is to compare school refusal and parent refusal … whether that’s justified refusal or not. You’ll find the two kinds of refusal match remarkably closely. But the way helping agencies treat the two could hardly be more different. Take any issue, in general or with a particular case, and compare the parent refusal with what would be normal with school refusal. You replace the rejected parent with the rejected school or teacher.

One example: in Parental Alienation – that’s unjustified rejection of a parent – the favoured parent is likely to blank communicating with the other parent and their family and friends for months or years while their child loudly rejects that parent. Somehow permanently cutting all communication like that is not challenged by anyone nor by the courts. But when a child refuses to go to school, a parent who failed to contact and work with the school and helping agencies within a few days, to assess things and to sort out a proactive safe supported plan for the child to return to school, would be seriously failing in their responsibility to the child’s welfare. This applies even if the teacher or the pupils could be part of the cause of a child’s reluctance. Ordinary helping agencies work together with the child and family to assess and plan. Nothing like that even occurs to anyone to do when a child refuses a parent. Why not?!

Try this kind of comparison out on any aspect of any case of parent refusal. School refusal is so familiar to helping professionals that they immediately get what they could be thinking and doing. Read further down the new page to get more of this idea. And you’ll find a lot more new ideas too!

Nick Child, Edinburgh

About Nick Child

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

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