Resources

 

Here are some resources and links recommended by friends of the alienation experience blog.

SOME EXPLANATION:  An alienation experience is the result of ‘relationships that take you in and cut you off’. That experience and pattern are found in a wide range of harmful coercive relationships. See here and the Open Minds Foundation for more on that. Domestic partner abuse and child abuse entail alienation too. The resources below focus on just one kind of family alienation, commonly called: Parental Alienation – the only label that includes the alienation that all harmful coercive patterns have at their core. The resources are also limited to UK-based ones, but include links to international resources too. Constructive suggestions welcome.

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What children need from their parents – even when separation makes it very hard!

A more substantial website designed to help you find what you need for family separation is Sorting Out Separation. Remember that ordinary and successful separated parenting are hard work even before the going gets tougher. Here is a short blogpost that shows what a well-functioning separated parent does to support their children’s relationship with their other parent in contrast to the opposite.

Here’s a short Children Beyond Dispute video that makes the point about how difficult it is to be separated and ensure your child gets what they need. The video points you to further resources worth paying for.

It is worth remembering what your children need when separation goes well so that you understand how important it is to try to get things right for them when separation has become hellish high conflict with knobs on from everyone else involved too.

When separation doesn’t go well, family law is routinely a first port of call – though it is widely criticised.  It is therefore strongly advised that you work very hard to find your own solutions, or to find any other collaborative way to resolve things than family law. Based in England and Wales, the work of the Transparency Project applies elsewhere too. They open a window on why family law and everybody finds the task of helping separating families in dispute so complicated, why it gets so messy with so many ‘sides’ to integrate. The key issue is when domestic abuse and risk is alleged – the smoke that can happen without fire. So here is one of their transparent guides on that.

Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly – Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto is another way to describe what parenting looks like .,.. even when separation or Alienation makes that seem impossible.

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QUALIFICATION:  Being listed here as a resource is informal information. As yet there is no guarantee or generally established special qualification in the UK in this field. Everyone must take responsibility for deciding for themselves that the person they’re contacting fits for them and their requirements. Your situation is unique. Make sure the person you turn to takes time and can answer your questions and concerns openly and clearly. Here is an authoritative guide on what qualifications and knowledge you should find in an expert in Parental Alienation.

MORE ON WHAT TO CHECK:  Ordinary counselling and therapy may not be what you need because most helping professionals don’t know much about working with separated families in high conflict with legal processes going on. They may not believe that Parental Alienation happens. Here are some frequently asked questions that you should get answers for. Even more than usual when hoping to get help for a problem, a worker needs to explain carefully what they can and cannot do to help or promise as the outcome. These are challenging situations for everyone – they can defeat anyone’s best efforts. Desperate hope is not your best guide for choosing help. Your confidence in the worker will be helped by knowing about their relevant trainings and qualifications, their experience and range of approaches to helping, what it’s going to cost, and their membership of a known professional body. You should be able to look them up online to check their accreditation, professional code of conduct, ethical and other standards of practice, continuing professional development and supervision requirements, and their complaints system. Whatever your concern is, the person you see should be ready to engage in discussing your questions fully to your satisfaction. Oversimplifying, the usual international standards for Parental Alienation mean assessing cases on a scale between the more common, less severe Mixed or Hybrid cases and the rarer Severe or Pure Alienation pattern. A competent worker should be able to talk through with you the complications and specific local contexts (e.g. courts and professionals involved) and about the options of a more multi-modal approach or, where appropriate, of working with courts to transfer residence. No one is 100% successful so it’s worth asking about outcomes, what factors and chances there are, and ask about the worker’s failed cases too. In any field, but especially this one, if someone tells you they have a 100% success rate, you can be pretty sure they’re too good to be true!

Contact Us

The information and discussion on this blog is open to anyone in the world. But because we are based in the UK, we can only offer to try to respond to individual requests by clients and professionals within the UK – and the Republic of Ireland too.  Contact us with a brief description of what you are looking for and we will try to suggest specific local services and specific professional networks. As yet these are few in the UK and we can make no guarantee of availability, quality or satisfaction. 

 Contact us too if you have updates and corrections to the information on this page. Or if you are a professional or want to publicise your service link here. Or if you want us to keep your service on an unpublished list to be suggested for specific requests that we get. This is entirely informal, free, based on hear-say, and based on trust. No guarantees can be given. But feedback will help.

Best Summary Introductions to Parental / Child Alienation (PA)

Best Video Introductions

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Mike Cowan’s feature. Click on pic

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The discussion on PA – with an MP, lawyer and CAFCASS CEO. Click on pic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • This 6 min video has Prof Jenn McIntosh of Children Beyond Dispute clearly explaining the child-inclusive approach. This is very different from the dangerous but dominant idea that ‘the voice of the child’ is a good way to resolve disputes between parents about who gets the kids; often involving an allegation of risk, that requires proper investigation. This shows a constructive way to change entrenched hatred after separation. Learn the difference: click to watch the video.

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  • Below is an engaging short (30 mins) educational video: Memories of a Monster: A closer look at Parental Alienation, based on a semi-realistic Desperate Housewives storyline. It’s not usually the by-stander friend who initiates conscious dirty tactics. But lots of it is accurate and very well explained, underlining how small behaviour and big nuances make it happen. The final scene is definitely not true to life but the video brilliantly makes that contrast with how healthy non-coercive parents should deal with separation in the first place. However, as this Bowen Theory conversation shows, there can be cut-offs in real life family triangles that take some effort to resolve that would otherwise become even more fixed and damaging.

  • At the very outset before any of the horrible conflict gets going, listen and follow this excellent 2.5 mins child-spoken teaching that covers all the main principles for any separating couple with children. If everyone did what this child is asking us to, there would be no Parental Alienation at all. The FNFS report on Shared Parenting: Better for Scotland’s Children and Malin Bergstrom video summarising Sweden’s experience, complements this child’s voice well. See below for how the system terribly mis-uses the child’s voice as chief witness in high conflict separation contact disputes; this is the key factor in how Parental Alienation has taken off.

Services

Note: As “Parental Alienation” gets known about, people may find themselves tapping into resources with that heading as a first step. But you should note that many professionals and agencies are not well-disposed to help people who present “PA” as their leading concern. So you may find lots of other steps and resources are more useful as a first step. For example, people who’ve contacted us have had clear-cut child protection concerns that can be followed up, or false allegations brewing, or legal issues to learn about. So don’t forget to explore these as well as more PA-shaped things. Meanwhile – read on!

A substantial more general website designed to help find what you need for your own family separation is Sorting Out Separation.

Karen Woodall has been leading the setting up of Family Separation Clinics in various places now – London, Jersey and Edinburgh so far. They offer “specialist services to families experiencing divorce or separation and, in particular, those where parental alienation may be present.”   Here is their brochure: fsc-parental-alienation-brochure-2015-1.  You can email their office  for further advice. Professionals too can use the same email to ask for info about: court work, therapeutic intervention, other legal professionals (who can give reference for the FSC work), as well as coaching and other services and training.  The Woodalls’ book for families is now published. And the new online service specifically for Parental Alienation help.

Dr Sue Whitcombe, based in Wales, is a Counselling Psychologist with a special interest in Alienation. She offers a similar (to FSC’s) range of services, training and events through Family Psychology Solutions.

There are a number of psychologists who work under Psychology Associates who have knowledge and experience of working with parental alienation.  Two independent social workers with therapeutic skills where alienation features work under Child and Family Solutions.

Melanie Gill and Dr Chip Chimera set up Family Assessment Consultants in 2018 based on many years of expertise. They combine expert objective DMM Attachment-based assessment (eg for courts) and can also offer therapeutic work thereafter guided by that framework. Some would say this is the new gold-standard for this field.

Gillian Solomon uses her integrated approach and international experience of separating families, based in Somerset, to offer some services to families in managing co-parenting, couple therapy, parenting plans, and child-inclusive primary dispute resolution. She offers distance work with Skype. Contact Gillian by emailing her. Her website is nicely called: It Takes a Village.

Brian O’Sullivan is based in Laois, Eire. He is a therapist with a special interest in PA. He offers help to children and families affected. See his webpage for more and how to contact him.

Kenneth Lane founded Contact Matters. He has “pioneered an innovative service for separating parents caught up in an unhelpful legal system. Contact Matters is about rescuing children’s futures.  www.contactmatters.co.ukContact Matters utilises professional time-based guidelines that Cafcass, and its predecessor, failed to install – enabling parents to establish timely child-centred solutions at mediation or at the first Hearing. Contact Matters has a proven track record of success of achieving resolution, including in cases involving seemingly intransigent hostility. Contact Matters is about the child.”

Dr Shelagh Wright is a PA-aware Family and Systemic Psychotherapist and a Family Mediator trained in Direct Child Consultation.

Child and Family Solutions are Alison Bushell and Jo Masterton-Francis. They mention their knowledge of Parental Alienation and offer a range of services based in the South East of England – McKenzie Friends (Self Representing or Litigants in Person), Children’s Guardian, Mediation, Family Group Conference, Special Education Needs, and Social Work Services.

In England and Wales (but not Scotland) CAFCASS is the standard Child and Family Court Assessment and Support Services. Recently their CEO (see above) has explicitly taken on board Parental Alienation as a serious concern. The limited budget and training helps explain any limitations in the service. In their in-house resources have a look at their Impact of Parental Conflict Tool.

Increasingly, Legal Aid is limited (very limited in England and Wales). So self-litigation is increasing. There are guides about how to do this (eg see FNF websites local to you). And you can get the support and guidance of McKenzie Friends. This is now a more formal expert service. Here’s Familia for example – a mother and daughter team committed to supporting families to make the best arrangements for children after separation.

In Scotland, as well as Sue Whitcombe and Karen Woodall (see above) who visit to do court and other work, psychologist, Tommy Mackay (tommymackay.com) has been the only known reliable PA court expert.

Across Scotland, Pat Barclay, Child & Couple Separation Counsellor at Relationship Solutions has been developing effective services to children and families including reports and work for courts. … It’s worth saying more about her work to encourage others to emulate her:  As anyone needs to in this work, she starts and keeps very child-focused, using her knowledge of child-developmental stages as well as of high conflict separation patterns, as she works and assesses the particular case, including of course (separate) meetings with both parents and more as needed. Not only does she then provide focused useful reports to the courts, but the reports help courts see how their role is needed to continue to keep things on track afterwards. Pat has created a pragmatic comprehensive approach and service that is most effective at the earliest stages, but even entrenched cases may benefit. … If Pat can create this on her own initiative in Scotland, building her own training to support it, so can others! If you do this  too – please Contact us so we can list you here. Thanks.

GlobalARRK provide support and action on relocation and return of children who have been abducted to another country. Action Against Abduction campaigns and provides advice too.

Online support, resources and networks

The normal advice and guidance (that if followed would stop high conflict) are available everywhere. For example, What Children Say (and here: What-most-children-say). Scottish government guidelines also set out clearly what the best way to think and do things: Family Matters: Parenting Agreement for Scotland –  Guidelines  &  PlanLiving Together in Scotland; and Charter for Grandchildren.

The positive approach to Alienation is to make shared care as the default. This happens in Sweden (see below). Scotland is heading to learn how to make Both Parents Matter after separation. See this Shared Parenting website.

However, what is reasonable in guidelines does not mean that separating couples don’t operate their own more powerful unilateral reasons. Then power can be more important. ‘Possession is 9/10ths of the law’ means that the parent who has main care of the children can, if they want, ignore all else and decide what they want. If the other parent opposes this, the threat is expensive lawyers and family court procedures (maybe with added allegations) to determine just what is reasonable … but that only ends after awful protracted polarised adversarial conflict has made the whole thing worse still. Amicable separation may often mean backing down to avoid all that.

Alienation affects mothers and fathers, but the organisations are unfortunately divided by gender. Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter – and the FNF Both Parents Matter Scotland and FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru ‘sister’ organisations  – provide guidelines and support of various kinds. They don’t mind what gender of father contacts them. Here’s a FNFS webpage with useful resources  that are more generally useful than just for the extremes of PA. Here is FNFS guide for Child Welfare (was Bar) Reports – family lawyers doing this report being the nearest equivalent in Scotland to CAFCASS.  The FNFS report on Shared Parenting: Better for Scotland’s Children shows a positive way to implicitly reduce the negative pattern, PA.

Mothers Apart from Their CHildren (MATCH) may be helpful for mothers who have been alienated, though that is not the only predicament they cover. There are closed networks too that you can ask to join.

FNF and MATCH are most likely to know most about support groups and events happening for those affected by Alienation. Karen Woodall and Sue Whitcombe organise and present workshops and events for families and for professionals.

Several Facebook Groups offer peer group support 24/7. Have a look at or ask to join one or more of these UK family support groups:  Parental Alienation (UK) Support and Help   Parental Alienation Participation and Awareness UK  Parent Speak. International groups include:  People Against Parental Alienation   Parental Alienation World Wide Support Group

There are loads of blogs. Simply Parent is an attractive major new charity and website resource.  Try Peace not PAS or I was erased for some always deep thinking.

Gary Direnfeld’s approach is typical of many mediators and professionals who don’t like using the ‘Alienation’ word. But if everyone followed his advice about how “Keeping a child away from their other parent can backfire” then quite a lot of the less severe Alienation patterns would never get going like they do.

The best advice for what targeted parents say, how to cope, is in Amy Baker and Paul Fine’s (2008) paper: Beyond the high road. It is now a cheap e-book available on her website: Advice for targeted parents.

While Ryan Thomas, child of Alienation, is the liveliest educational approach to helping us all understand how Alienation works and how Alienated parents can take action to reconnect with their child. There is loads of quality material on his website – free (e.g. blog, videos, articles, live webinar), cheap (e-book “Sabotaged”), and not so cheap (e.g. courses). But the engaging detailed up-front style makes the online workshops worth trying. Here’s Ryan Thomas on Facebook – look, for example, for the videos of his live online course on “How to connect with your Alienated child”. More recently Ryan has been creating YouTube videos that look like mainstream TV shows! Well, if you can’t get mainstream to do it, why not! Here’s his typical upbeat kind of approach featuring how a mother skilfully negotiated her way back to contact and reunite with her daughter.

Some international online resources provide active help wherever you are. Of many many websites around the world on PA, perhaps Joani Kloth-Zanard’s PAS-Intervention has been among the most sustained and deep.

Ludwig Lowenstein died a few years ago. For decades longer than most in the UK, he had worked with Parental Alienation. He kept offering to help people suffering with PAS to the end. He is sadly missed. His extensive publications and his book (2007) are listed here.

Stand Alone is a charity offering support to adults estranged from their family or children. They say: “Our latest research from Ipsos MORI shows that 1 in 5 families in the UK will be affected by estrangement and over 5 million people have decided to cut contact with at least one family member.”  Contact them on their website. They have a ‘meeting people’ page and (as of August 2015) offer support services in London, Sheffield, Newcastle and Glasgow. Outside those areas, they have a comprehensive on-line support service.

Amy Baker developed a school based program “I Don’t Want to Choose” and an excellent booklet (now out of print). Some notes are here and here.

From and For Parents and Children

Kent Family Mediation has this good general advice for separating parents that goes on to difficult situations including Alienation.

Now named Action Against Abduction (was Parents and Children Together) produced an excellent 35 minute video Victims of Another Warwhere three adults describing their childhood experiences of alienation and the lifelong harm that resulted. This leading organisation (and the documentaries) come under the broader, more acceptable, “abduction” heading. But Abduction is equally about severe Alienation, which is a slower process with the same result.

Expofunction’s blog is an unusual compact website with a parent’s perspective clearly and creatively presented – it should be much better known.

Pamela Roche’s raw and gripping story Broken Lives Broken Minds of international alienation from her sons, highlighting how legal and professional ignorance and incompetence can multiply dangerous and expensive abuses on children and families, and a comparison of different countries’ use and abuse of labels and authority.

Luke Matthews and Julie Burkhardt’s book Can’t Explain: A Frightening Tale of Parental Alienation Syndrome (2014, The Choir Press) is available in Kindle form too.

Karen Woodall’s own story of being an alienated child helps explain her commitment and expertise.

Parents Healing from Estrangement has loads of stories and other resources.

Many people highly rate Amy Baker’s book: Getting Through My Parents Divorce: Helping your child through a difficult divorceL A workbook for dealing with Parental Alienation, loyalty conflicts, and other tough stuff.

Ryan Thomas’s amazing online resources result from his own experience as a ‘child of alienation’ and how he found his way through to reconnecting with his Dad. He has a great talent for teaching us about that, along with teaching and support services, and how to make things better (see above for more).

Mothers Apart from Their CHildren (MATCH) may be helpful given the particular experiences of mothers, not all of whom are in alienated situations.

Living Losses is a new sound iCloud network resource. Alison’s ten minute story of being an alienated mother is a really good way to hear about it … and to note that it happens to mothers as well as fathers.

Claire Brett-Moran’s ‘lonely parent’ blog is by and for alienated parents. It’s got lots of really good stories, resources, support, advice and references too. The long version of her story is interesting – “I was an adult alienated child”. She describes a phase of being Alienated by her husband before her own Alienation from her children. Most commonly that first phase would be called the coercive control of intimate partner domestic abuse.

Reena Sommers in the US has set out her list of things that don’t work and things that might help in PAS.

Here’s Ryan Thomas on Facebook. Look for the videos of his live online course on “How to connect with your Alienated child”

Unsure about ‘alienation’?

Read Nick Child’s Not sure about?  This counteracts the tendency to think way too simplistically. Each family is unique and has to be assessed in their own right. We are not dealing with two categories: everyone is either PA/S or not PA/S. There is a range of severity: here’s Douglas Darnall’s informal three categories. But even that is way too simplistic … especially when you extend the spectrum of patterns even wider. See Nick Child’s overview for more.

Long before the more personal alienation in families was described, social alienation has been much written about by theologists, sociologists, philosophers and psychologists. It can be interesting to learn and contrast the many more established meanings of alienation.

Alienation happens in lots of contexts, and in separating families it is no surprise. Alienation is part of a range of understandable patterns of close attachments and break-ups. See, for example: Pat Crittenden’s Raising Parents. Alienation is part of a range of many big and small varieties of coercive processes and undue influence, from cults, extremist terrorism, bulling to domestic abuse and parental alienation – see the Open Minds Foundation.

New Jersey Safe and Sound cover many aspects of the broad field of Undue Influence: summary of influence and Undue Influence, prevention, creating better legislation, etc.  But they make a common error: They assume that a family is always safe and sound. In some families the worst abuse and undue influence is perpetrated.  See comments below this blog for more and for how the error could easily be corrected.

Child and Parental Alienation

As laws, social beliefs (about gender and parenting), family courts, and socially supported ways to separate have changed in recent decades, problematic patterns have grown up.  In high conflict separation, the interests of the child are supposed to be focused on, but we have turned to a faulty use of ‘the child’s voice’ to resolve the adults’ high conflict. This may put huge pressure on the child and what they say when asked – and that in turn is a key factor in developing Parental Alienation. The original child-focused approach was in Australia and aimed to help parents recognise their child’s needs; it was nothing to do with using the child to resolve the adult and court decisions.

Karen Woodall: Understanding and working with the alienated child. is a really good detailed enough overview with a case study too.

The most powerful book of research based on interviews with PA children grown-up is 
Amy Baker’s (2007) Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome. But she has done and published much more – see her website.

Richard Warshak’s website and his famous book (new edition in 2010) are essential: Divorce Poison. And get the video too the Pluto page.

Nick Child’s “Children Resisting Contact” (the short version .. with loads more resources and links). Or the even shorter (20 pages) concise but comprehensive overview based on his London presentation.

Sue Whitcombe’s (2014): Powerless: the lived experience of alienated parents in the UK and article in The Psychologist (2014) Parental Alienation: time to notice, time to intervene. Sue provides a useful authoritative summary of Parental Alienation.

Karen Woodall and her blog (mixing experienced practical and polemical thinking) and The Family Separation Clinic are unique UK developments.

Stan Hayward’s 2002 www.parentalalienation.org.uk gives a comprehensive and updated covering of PA. He goes back to early 1990s with a systematic look at all agencies involved, and some interesting detailed guidance, advice, and correspondence (including from kids).

Counting numbers is hard for a pattern that is both familiar – one parent turns their child against the other for no good reason – yet its existence is denied when given the name Parental Alienation.

  • A Resolution survey in England and Wales showed almost a third (32%) of children said one parent tried to turn them against the other during divorce, while over a quarter (27%) said that “my parents tried to involve me in their dispute.”
  • Sue Whitcombe (personal comm) extrapolates from overseas studies that there are at least 5000 family proceedings in England and Wales each year featuring PA, affecting more than 10,000 children.
  • And Jennifer Harman and Zeynep Bringer in their properly conducted survey reported in Parents Acting Badly come up with a staggering 10% of parents ub the USA experiencing Parental Alienation – that’s millions of them!

Understanding Parental Alienation is not helped by the many counter-intuitive hurdles. Richard Warshak (2015) listed some of these in Ten parental alienation fallacies that compromise decisions in court and in therapyEdward Kruk (2015) unpacks those further.

Divorce is decreasing as cohabitation rather than marriage increases. Taking just England and Wales, half of all couples who divorce have children under 16 – about 57, 000 divorces affecting 100,000 children (ONS, 2013). But private family law cases include both married and cohabiting families who separate. Each year there are about 45,ooo new private family law cases involving about 120,ooo children under 16 – Cafcass is referred most of them (Cafcass).

Explore how cults work (in similar ways to Alienation). Like PA, those who have been through it are most motivated and knowledgeable. There’s Steven Hassan’s Freedom of Mind approach. And Dr Alexandra Stein’s very clear personal experience and work e.g. this summary (including Attachment explanation). She is keen on prevention proposing comprehensive teaching – as all German children got after the Nazis – about the warning signs of ‘totalist’ coercion.

All kinds of people who are separately concerned about all kinds of harmful coercive patterns would do well to team up to raise awareness and teach people to resist it before it happens. Slavery and all categories of abuse, as well as cults and PA, all feature coercive control … although coercively controlling parents have a head start with their own children being insiders from their birth. Learning about a common enemy gives a general description of all harmful coercive patterns. The Open Minds Foundation tackles the whole range of ‘undue influence’.

Les Linet is an adult, child and adolescent psychiatrist. He has created and collected a huge set of internet videos and blogs on Parental Alienation amongst many other mental health topics. Here’s his general blog.

For those looking for a much fuller professional reference list of reading and resources, Nick Child’s overview is most accessible and updated. Choose (there) one or more of four key modern textbooks on children who resist contact, all published in 2013.

Increasingly people see that Parental Alienation is best understood as a relationship pattern, and so Attachment-based approaches to all parties make most sense. But there are quite different ways to use Attachment-based thinking.  (Since 2013) Dr Craig Childress in the USA has been a powerful strategic voice for an Attachment-based approach, has published a book, and been the basis for a campaign against incompetent professionals who fail to accept or address the several relevant bits of the DSM even without the ‘A’ word. See below for more reflective and academically authoritative developments of Attachment-based approaches that go beyond the demonisation of those with e.g. personality disorders.

Understandably hurt and angry, on both sides, DSM personality disorder terms (like narcissistic, sociopathic) are often aggressively used as if they were weapons to damn, not tools to understand and help. Here’s a typical general summary of Narcissistic Personality / Disorder. The personality categories are not so black and white as people want to think. They aren’t as definite or as useful in practice with particular cases in helping or legal settings as people want to think.  Mostly the list of things that make someone fit the category of a Personality Disorder tell you that they are the sort of person who does some of the list of things. Theories about the causes are not as proven as we’d like. Nor do the categories specify what treatment works. Individuals may tick a few or even a lot of the boxes on the lists of features. But tick boxes are not how professional assessment of anyone is done. Susan Stiffelman’s short article is useful sympathetic and constructive about degrees of narcissism and how to live with it before or after separation. These caveats limit but don’t deny that there is some usefulness for these concepts. See below for more on narcissism.

The Wider Field of Family Abuse and Conflict

In California, Ron Berglas doggedly pursued and here makes a strong case for Alienation to be included in the teaching of helping professionals as part of their child abuse course. (His presentation takes 17 mins; then discussion.) Why isn’t a professional making the case? How does a complex topic get taught with no more course time added on? Who would teach it?

A more nuanced and rich version of an Attachment-based approach to family conflict of all kinds is Pat Crittenden’s Dynamic Maturational Model as described in Raising Parents. This covers the full range of good, bad and ugly including coercive and alienation relationships from all sides. Brilliant, clear, deep and comprehensive, it can be condensed to a diagram of the DMM. But naturally the book is an appropriately big commitment to work through – the kind of challenge that professionals need to take on to qualify as competent to assess the unique complexity of each case. Here is her website summary of DMM and a page with a series of video interview clips that cover key topics.

Lots of people use the very negative term: Narcissistic Personality / Disorder for the very negative and overwhelmingly powerful personality of coercive people. But it is important to understand that, the inner core is not the well-known outer superiority. It is a huge resistance to feelings of vulnerability to anyone at any time. Seth Meyers puts this well. And Susan Stiffelman’s short article is useful sympathetic and constructive too. 

Peter Fonagy focuses on how self reflective functioning or ‘mentalization’ in the parent – ‘thinking about what the child is thinking‘ – makes all the difference for the children. Bringing in neurobiological aspects of Attachment, this helps us understand the way early experience produces harm and disturbed Attachment patterns and new methods promise to help even the most disturbed people to change. Another example of this is Dan Brown and this clear summary report of Dan’s training. Here’s a Philosophy Bites interview with Hannah Pickard, therapist and philosopher, about Responsibility and personality disorder – a clear path through the messy arena of blame, justice, punishment and helping (15 mins). Find more links to Hannah Pickard’s writing here. Finally, Bill Hewlett is a mediator who rises more than many to the extreme challenge of engaging high conflict clients after separation. Bill is interviewed here (23 mins).

Those targeted by the most powerfully Alienating parent naturally want to attack back. Negative personality disorder labels may be the only ammunition they have. As Dan Brown shows, more understanding and help is available instead of execution at dawn! A view of what goes on inside a “narcissistic” personality is also important – it’s kinda the opposite of the outside appearance! This view doesn’t mean that helping them change is easy.

All of these approaches promote the idea that demonising your ex-partner only entrenches the relationship and harms the children further. That need to keep positive and ethical in these most hateful polarising relationships is echoed in the approaches used to help your loved one when they’re just as stuck in a mind-control cult. Read more of Steve Hassan’s cult expert thinking and approach and his two books. And all of this is in marked contrast to the very heated and blaming language and ideas that is found in so many social media pages about Parental Alienation.

Sweden is way ahead in so many ways. (But Parental Alienation still defeats their court systems with the typical mistaken assumption that a child’s views can be relied on,  that they are not open to adult or other influence.) In general, Sweden’s lead comes from a range of policies matched by cultural values that make it unnecessary to head into fighting with your ex-partner about money or children. Malin Bergstrom presents research that shows how the Shared Parenting (in Sweden that means 50 50) has become standard for separating couples, and how much better this is for children in every measured respect than imbalanced or purely single parenting. The Guardian covered this well. The debate has raged on if and how babies and toddlers benefit from shared care with overnights, but recently published research (Fabricius & Woon 2017) shows that shared care benefits the child’s relationships with both parents in the long-term too.

The highest standards for competence for legal assessments is Steve Miller’s challenging chapter Clinical reasoning and decision-making in cases of child alignment: diagnostic and therapeutic issuesin Baker and Sauber’s book (2013) Working with Alienated Children and Families: A Clinical Guidebook.

Most authorities now focus on Alienation as emotional / psychological abuse of the child. Joan Kelly & Janet Johnston led the way to this child focus in 2001 with their famous paper: The Alienated Child: a reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Although ‘Parental’ stays in the name because everyone knows that name, many would prefer other terms that put the child centre frame.

However, Jennifer Harman has proposed in detail that PA is Intimate Partner Violence against the ex-partner (as well as child abuse) e.g. in this video lecture in Iceland (2017). How many Alienating parents want to torture their ex- partners for as long as possible? How many want to eliminate them from their lives as quick as possible?

If you want a comprehensive summary of all the ways that our minds refuse to work rationally for us, the way we fall into cognitive biases that fool us into thinking we’re being reasonable, have a look at this Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet. This version shows the diagram more clearly, and links to really useful flash cards on web or app. The diagram summarises it:

cognitive-bias-codex

The English High Court Judge, Mr Justice (Paul) Coleridge (in 2010), challenged the way a child’s voice is used as if there is no chance of (undue) influence: Lets hear it for the child; Restoring the Authority of the Family Court, Blue skies and Sacred cows. Here’s the key excerpt. He references the key evidence of Dr Kirk Weir’s case review on Intractable contact disputes – the extreme unreliability of children’s ascertainable wishes and feelings.

Nick Child (2014) has argued that Keeping one eye on family abuse is not enough – the ‘one eye’ being the ideological feminist gender one. Others have argued this too …

Domestic and child abuse gets a more accurately multifactorial (not just gendered) approach in Elly Farmer (now Hanson) and Samantha Callan’s report (2012) for the Centre for Social Justice, called: Beyond Violence: Breaking cycles of domestic abuse – full report.

Karen Woodall has set up a more global motor-way to by-pass the gender spats. As blogger on a world stage, The Huffington Post, in a single You ain’t no Muslim bruv  blog, she joined together the world’s new top priority – the concern with young religious extremist terrorists – by giving them the same name: Alienation, and offering the skills from Parental Alienation as relevant.

A useful overarching and constructive framework is in the active promotion of shared parenting and custody as the norm. For example: the International Council on Shared Parenting among many other results from Googling. Here is a report on Shared Parenting and a video of Malin Bergstrom presenting (15 mins) a summary of Sweden’s positive experience for children (full research articles: here and here).

In an episode called ‘Blue for Bluebird’ of the BBC series Inspector George Gently, a happy family holiday camp in 1969 provides a nice setting at the start of changing-times for camps and for families. The subplot shows a familiar circular pattern happening: Separated father John Bacchus is hurt and angry at his ex-wife’s use of his behaviour as reason to keep his contact with his young daughter to a minimum. Gently gently engineers a happier ending for them.

 

Family Courts and The Law

Legal firms in England and Wales are now competing to be leading the way. Two strong webpages (with lots of case links too) are from: Francesca Wiley QC and Becket Chambers.

Useful video guidance and many more relevant English cases are available on  The Custody Minefield. England has CAFCASS – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service as the agency that has been now confirmed publicly (see above) to recognise Parental Alienation and to assess and help families.

There is no equivalent to CAFCASS in Scotland. It is mostly lawyers doing all the roles. FNF Scotland describes how the family courts work in the form of guidelines for self-litigants – i.e. without a solicitor. There is now (2016) new official Scottish Guidance on Child Welfare Reports for family courts. These recommend many improvements – not yet happening, but we can now demand they do happen! The improvements include that those who provide the family courts with the most basic reports on separated families in conflict (as yet mostly untrained lawyers) must know about various aspects. One of these aspects is: ‘cases where a parent has undue influence over a child (sometimes known as parental alienation)‘.  If even unqualified child welfare reporters have to know these things, one trusts that when Sheriffs and Judges in the family courts appoint a single joint expert assessor, they will ensure that the expert too knows their stuff. At present many expert witnesses do not. And sadly – despite decades of disciplined single joint investigation as normal for assessing other child physical and sexual abuse (see David La Rooy et al (2012) for their critical review of that)  – family courts still seem happy to allow multiple expert witnesses on both sides to put the child through their hellish mill multiple times instead of appointing a single expert witness capable of assessing the key issues.

A famous UK expert witness, Dr Kirk Weir, published his case experience (in Family Court Journal) to show in “Intractable contact disputes – the extreme unreliability of children’s ascertainable wishes and feelings.”  And a more internationally known version in the Family Court Review too.

In the Republic of Ireland, Roisin O’Shea had open access to research what actually happens in family courts. Here’s a summary report (2013) and here’s her whole PhD (2014)! Would that someone would do in every country the same research.

The key to extreme cases – cases where one or both parents cannot or will not engage in all the recommended collaborative approaches – is for the court to organise the assessment and authorising of skilled collaborative working, e.g. Parenting Coordinators in the US. Here’s a good description of Singapore trying this out. “The intention is for the court to appoint a Parenting Coordinator for suitable cases.”

The use of the legal term ‘undue influence‘ should be noted, not just in those Scottish guidelines but also in Ireland’s legislation too – in 31. 6. a. “in determining best interests of a child … views of a child …endeavour to ensure that any views so expressed by the child are not expressed as a result of undue influence”. ‘Undue influence’ is the term used for all harmful patterns of coercive persuasion, inside or outside families – read more about this on the Open Minds Foundation

You can see how the legal system is in a comfortable monopoly position everywhere in the world, why lawyers earn a lot, and why they may not be highly motivated to do better in a hurry! … After reading this sort of thing, the best advice might be: 1. Don’t get married. 2. If you do, don’t have children. 3. If you do, for God’s sake don’t separate or divorce!!  😉  But Karen Straughan provides a deeply serious case for why marriage is too risky for men (60 min podcast) and in this video (45 mins) response on MGTOW (men going their own way).

Family Law in Partnership is an established forward-looking law firm with a page of useful resources here. Even though Alienation is most unlikely to come to or benefit from ordinary collaborative approaches, it is still highly recommended for all – parents and all other professionals – to learn more from FLIP’s clear, concise but comprehensive enough guides about Family Mediation and on Collaborative Divorce  Or email for discounts on bulk purchase: lv@flip.co.uk

An example of the endlessly expensive and admitted failure of UK family courts to help alienation cases is in this (2013) Appeal Judgement of a case.

Mr Justice Munby’s (2004) long and honest thinking on the family courts’ failure in intractable family cases

In the UK, the Midlands Region (and Glasgow now) uses this short guideline to prepare parents (and lawyers) for what will be expected of them in courts.

This is an interesting portrayal of the problem of being sensible in family courts about PA – Ludwig Loewenstein sets out a typical conversation between himself, a psychologist, and a judge.

A big expensive (legal publisher!) detailed legal book on Parental Alienation is: Children Held Hostage: Identifying Brainwashed Children, Presenting a Case, and Crafting Solutions (1991 now 2014 2nd edition) by Stanley S Clawer and Brynne V Rivlin. Read the blurb and reviews on Amazon to see how anyone would benefit from this dedicated work despite its price. There’s a useful online (i.e. free) presentation based on the book.

Robert A Evans and J. Michael Bone founded the National Association of PA Specialists in the US. Their website offers help to find a qualified attorney (presumably one who has paid for and completed their – APA approved! – training course).  Plus free articlespodcasts, and their blog.

International

A more powerful version of guidelines that proactively set out from the very start the family court’s standing orders for separating families is found across Florida, USA. This effectively prevents children from being isolated from a parent.

For a comprehensive set of links to many international authors and websites, go down Nick Child’s forallthat.com pages on Children Resisting Contact.

The Australian Eeny Meeny Miney Mo Foundation is worth a visit.

If you want to see several of the leading authorities on PA sample their presentations at the Toronto, Montreal and New York conferences – except you don’t see the slides!

The international multidisciplinary Association of Family and Conciliation Courts is the leading professional body to belong to, delivering its high quality journal – read a sample here.  Here is a look at the PA themed issue (2010) and one on Attachment (2012).

With a core of experienced professionals who have published about PA – and parents too – the PA Study Group webpage tells you more and how to join.

Otowa and colleagues have shown that parental separation in general is, for nearly every long term harm, worse on children than death of a parent.

Jose Luis Sariego Morillo is a Family Lawyer with his established Spanish language blog on Parental Alienation. But an option at the top of the page invites you to read it in a Google translation to your own language! Magic. And he has a really good reference list there too (again, apply the magic translate button).

22 comments

  1. Nick very comprehensive and useful, thank you .

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  2. Alienated Parent

    Perhaps I have missed your mention of this, if you have indeed already pointed it out. If not, I will add to the useful resource list: “Children Held Hostage” by Stanley Clawar. Very accurate in its details.

    Also: The British False Memory Society at http://bfms.org.uk/ . Useful information for dealing with those alienators who have Narcissistic/Borderline Personality Disorder, and therefore seem addicted to making false allegations I think the MeToo Movement, as well, should take this population seriously into consideration, before they believe every allegation simply because it is politically expedient.

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    • It may not seem like it, but the idea of this Resources page is to provide select short or moderate sized key resources. In fact Children Held Hostage is already mentioned (just above the heading ‘International’). I agree too that false memory is an important issue sometimes, but I’ll leave your comment as the link.

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      • Alienated Parent

        I meant to add that female alienating parents (Attachment-based) with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in my experience, tend to make false allegations that the alienated parent has somehow assaulted them. Even a charge from them of harassment really means, “You have failed to be my doormat and yes-man to the extent I demanded.”

        Male alienating parents, again in my experience, tend to make false allegations that the target alienated parent is severely mentally ill and therefore needs a lock-up assessment (preferably permanently); this is, of course, their own projection. Certainly worked well enough for Victorian gentlemen who wanted to trade in the old model wife for a new one, when divorce was hard to come by. “Crazy wife in the attic” is still being done today by pathological Narcissists.

        And very many of these alienators are so naturally manipulative, and even charismatic, that they lie smooth-as-silk while looking people straight in the eye. They are great actors in this sense. Normal people cannot fathom that others would go to such lengths to hurt and humiliate an innocent spouse…..therefore they suppose it MUST be true. But it is not. As I said, alienators are tremendously skilled at heaping horror upon horror on the poor innocent spouse/other parent. And it all looks so believable. The ultimate con.

        Nick, if you wish to move this response to some other category, please do.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Alienated Parent

    Hello once again,

    When I set my mind on a particular track, it just keeps going. Here are two further resources.

    I read a book some years ago, and then again recently, which I suspect few people know of. It is “Quantum Change: When Epiphanies and Sudden Insights Transform Ordinary Lives (2001)” , by William Miller and Janet C’ de Baca. Not quite an academic publication, but not quite a general readership trade paperback either. I think the attempted blending left this book more awkward to read — by both camps — than intended. However, persevere and you will be rewarded.

    These epiphanies were ultimately well-described. I had heard of such transformative experiences previous to reading this work; I think of Marsha Linehan’s transformative experience of this nature before she understood and professionally developed DBT therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder (which Dr. Linehan suffered from herself). However, I came away from my reading asking the question that I imagine many readers of this book will ask — HOW does a person instigate such a transformative experience? Or are these epiphanies simply the luck of the draw — you either have one, or you don’t, much like a lottery win? If that is the case, then most would say, “dream on.”

    Some of the case studies/personal accounts by the authors had to do with the victims of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). You know, Nick, that I am not a fan of the “We do not label perspective.” Being able to point to the precise pattern, and to name it, has saved many lives in NPD situations. Non-labelling has nothing to back it up but left-wing cultural dictates appearing about twenty years ago. Another of those authoritarian social fads, with no reliable evidence. Seeing and naming patterns has been part of the life of our species for untold millenia; part of our cognitive development.

    So, where was I? Ah yes — victims of NPD. Another group that is definitely benefitting from socially recognized/named patterns.

    I kept these Quantum Change epiphanies in mind over the years, as life went on. I even wrote to the authors to ask my “How?” question. How, exactly, are such epiphanies instigated? It was not until recently, however, that I came across what struck me as potential methods for achieving such epiphanies. Not without challenging work, however. The triggering point, in fact, reminded me of Bill Wilson’s 12-Steps written for Alcoholics, back in the 1930s I believe. Hitting rockbottom and appealing to a higher power (call it God, or whatever you wish) seemed to figure in many cases.

    Author Juliet Butler described an epiphany in “The Less You Know the Sounder You Sleep”. Her story was so full of personality-spectrum symbolism, I had to keep reminding myself it was actually all true. Masha and Dasha of this story were the Soviet-era conjoined twins who lived through late middle-age attached at the pelvis, and had undergone barbaric medical experimentation as young children. One twin was later diagnosed as a Psychopath, the other as the polar opposite (Empath/Co-dependent); this actually echoed their own parents. I have to say it also echoed many marriages in which Parental Alienation is found; the alienator is perhaps not as extremely situated in the Cluster B Disorders as Psychopathy, but flagrant Narcissistic Personality Disorder is similarly damaging to those who are the targets. The empathetic twin in the Soviet story actually managed to move to the centre of the personality spectrum — an epiphany! — after years of fighting suicidal inclinations, as well as dealing with her brutal sister. The epiphany-equation is suggested here, rather than spelled out.

    However, it is actually spelled out, for victims of Narcissistic Abuse (and how perfectly this author describes the pattern of Narcissistic Abuse), in Melanie Tonia Evans’ book, “You Can Thrive After Narcissistic Abuse”. She also has a helpful website. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Sounds like yet another flavor-of-the-month from the self-help industry, but I would beg to differ. I suspect that Ms. Evans may just have put into understandable language HOW Narcissistic Personality Disorder targets/victims might reach a Quantum Change epiphany, as described in the Miller/de Baca book. Actually, the somatic “shifts” that Ms. Evans describes in her system were the basis of Focusing, a method developed many decades ago by American Philosopher/Psychologist Eugene Gendlin at the University of Chicago.

    Since Attachment-based Parental Alienation is the result of Personality Disorder in the alienating parent, this just might be a helpful route to consider if you and your children are the victims of such an individual. Ms. Evans devotes attention in her work to Parental Alienation, along with general fallout from NPD. I wish I could say that such methods will absolutely heal the NPD individual as well, but the problem is that the majority of them refuse to admit they have anything in need of healing. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. No personal motivation, no can do.

    I do remind myself that Bill Wilson’s original AA/12-Step document was said to have been “channeled” from a higher source than his own conscious cognition. Dr. Marsha Linehan, expert in Borderline Personality Disorder (as well as a sufferer of BPD in her personal life), hinted at the same source for her work; she had a vision in a Catholic chapel as a young woman, actually. Ms. Evans claims the same type of inspirational situation.

    I would not be the first to speculate that the Personality Disorders are as much a spiritual malaise as a mental disorder. Perhaps this is the HOW behind a fix-it attempt for the targets, including those unfortunate souls who are in Attachment-based Parental Alienation situations due to having NPD individuals as spouses/parents.

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    • Alienated Parent

      Adding an addendum here to my own posting. RE: “Quantum Change: When Epiphanies and Sudden Insights Transform Ordinary Lives (2001)” , by William Miller and Janet C’ de Baca. I have been forever mulling over the patterns of epiphanies described in this book, although the authors do not really come to any conclusion themselves regarding what these epiphanies were, in a broader sense, nor how to instigate them. A hit-or-miss phenomenon, according to Miller and C’ de Baca. I thought it must have been more than that. I do a great deal of Systems Thinking, and I know that patterns/commonalities in human life usually have a greater meaning than just chance.

      So what is going on in these epiphanies? And why should persons interested in Attachment-based Parental Alienation care? Is there a link?

      I think so. I have been absorbing Bowen Theory lately, as in the work of American Psychiatrist Murray Bowen, beginning after WWII. He began by noticing family patterns of his young adult patients with Schizophrenia. Very interesting body of work ensued. Look up the Bowen Center for Family Therapy, as I had hyper-linked elsewhere.

      Didn’t I say earlier that I could not help but note the greater-than-average incidence of young adult Schizophrenia in families of Attachment-based Parental Alienation? I am not saying, however, that this is an absolute outcome. No. Lest I be thought to be fear-mongering. There may be additional factors involved too. So far, it is correlation vs. cause.

      However……one of the major tenets of Bowen Theory is Self-Differentiation. Maslow called it Self-Actualization. Basically, in my own terms, it would mean being able to live within the middle of the Personality Spectrum, most of the time. Not too much Lack of Empathy for others at one end, and not too much Lack of Empathy for oneself at the polar opposite end. See where I am going with this? Narcissistic Personality Disorder is at one extreme end of the Personality Disorder, and being an Empath/Co-dependent is at the other extreme end. Polar opposites. Living most of the time at either end is emotionally unhealthy. This spectrum requires balance. May be the explanation as to why/how an extremely empathetic parent could produce a grown child with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the other parent aside.

      I will mention again the book, “The Less You Know the Sounder You Sleep” by Juliet Butler as an illustration of two family members at polar opposites on the Personality Spectrum. Actually, in this story the pattern is shown over two generations — a Psychopath father and an extreme Empath mother had conjoined twins, one of whom was later diagnosed as a Psychopath like their father and the other as an Empath like their mother. I think life was saying, “pay attention!”

      Anyway, Self-differentiation as per Bowen is a correcting of this imbalance. Correct one element of the Family System, and the other elements fall into line to the same degree. There is reciprocal change, in other words. I can recall asking several experts when Parental Alienation began in my family, “If I change towards personality balance myself (being too empathetic at the time), will there be equal change in my NPD spouse, seeing as we are in a dyad relationship, and therefore in a related system?” No one could tell me. Seems no one else was thinking this way.

      Does all of this hypothesis of mine mean that if an Alienated Parent self-differentiates, it will change their children in the same Family System to the same degree? Perhaps. If so, this is where the Alienated Parent still holds some power. Change themselves by moving towards the middle of the Personality Spectrum, and change their NPD-like children to the same degree? Maybe. That is one aspect of what I am meaning to write about in this reply.

      The other aspect is that perhaps Miller/C’ de Baca’s epiphanies were actually examples of what Bowen describes as Self-differentiation. I said initially that these epiphanies were important! In one way or another, these Quantum Changes made enormous differences in people’s everyday lives. Addictions changed. Relationships changed. Feelings of human connected-ness changed. Overall well-being changed for the better. Call it religious, call it spiritual, call it evolutionary, call it Family Systems. The main thing is that we understand the principle behind it.

      Yes, I do indeed suspect that these Quantum Change epiphanies were some form of Self-differentiation, as described by Bowen. Balancing oneself on the Personality Spectrum. Just what the doctor ordered for parentally-alienated families.

      And I continue to think that Melanie Tonia Evans and Eugene Gendlin and David Berceli may have hit on actual practical methods for encouraging this Self-differentiation. Not that it doesn’t take effort. It does, notwithstanding the fortunate few in Miller’s book who seemed to gain this prize out of the blue. Or maybe there was work going on under the surface, beforehand, of which the epiphanists were consciously unaware.

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  4. Thanks again, Alienated Parent, for your interest and your generous comments here. It’s much appreciated. I hope others find added value to this weblog.

    And admiration too for such a high dedication to reading so much in all directions in your search for understanding and answers. I value reading in all directions too but I suspect I haven’t done nearly as much as you. Or perhaps it’s just in different areas.

    My reading – though diverse – tends to be guided by the outcome I am aiming for. My motto in life is “Remember the Reason” (for whatever it is you’re spending hours and days preoccupied in doing).

    So I read and think a lot because I cannot stand any more direct involvement with the pain of the living nightmare that I’ve found myself involved in. Reading and thinking and networking is the best I can contribute to this important cause.

    So, my ‘reason’ for what I read and what I do such a lot of in this field is my judgement (a combination of gut feeling or personal interest and a sense of what is a direction that will find) that I can formulate enough of an understanding of the pattern and the system around it so that I can help formulate a persuasive preventive and intervention approach to comprehensively stop the nightmare happening for the most people possible. Once I’ve got a good enough understanding, I don’t feel more understanding is needed for the task of designing a changed system.

    I am open to insights, but if (after all your reading) you are still promoting epiphanies as the way to go, I’m only slightly interested in the reading you promote, I will add it to my list. But I’m not persuaded it will get close to the kinds of solution I’m on the track of. I may be wrong, but that’s how I focus my work.

    My suggestion to you is to put your vast reading and obviously deep thinking together in an integrated organised single oeuvre somewhere – maybe you’ve done that? Maybe I can add that as a link on this Resources page? Then everyone will get far more value from your knowledge and intelligence than scooting around your comments online!

    Also, if other readers follow your lead and links above, maybe they can come back and comment on the value they find in your links above. Thanks

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    • Alienated Parent

      Thank you, Nick. If spiritual-sounding words put you off, you might think of those epiphanies as a re-setting of the Attachment System, or an invigoration of the Mirror Neurons. After all, the basis of this PA problem to start with seems to be in disordered Attachment, as per Bowlby/Ainsworth. Disordered Attachment is Hell. I had always wondered, if your own dear mother can set Attachment so precisely for you in babyhood — or not — what happens to all those poor sods whose Attachment is not set properly at an early age? Are they forever doomed? See Gendlin’s “Focusing” for this; it is why I mentioned it on your blog. This may be one method of re-setting. Read the academic literature on Focusing, if you like. It is really quite legitimate. New-Agey nonsense never appealed to me.

      I suspect that both the alienator and the alienated parents have disordered Attachments — but very differently disordered — which attract one another. Science is also beginning to seriously consider the mode of epigenetically-inherited traumas here. The answer to PA very likely has to do with moving at least one of these disordered partners/parents out of the polar zones of the personality spectrum. Since those individuals with Attachment-based Narcissistic Personality Disorder are terribly loathe to recognize or work on changing their own deficits, there seems to be more hope for centre-wise movement with the alienated parents. Therefore, doing some major tweaking inside of ourselves may lead to positive change for both the alienated parent and for the affected children. Can a parent healed of disordered Attachment go on to influence their children’s Attachment in a better way, still? I am not saying any of it is easy, however. Quite the contrary.

      Aristotle’s Golden Mean (the Romans later called it the Via Media) is some sage advice to be considered here. That Greek Philosopher considered the polar extremes of life’s spectrums, and advised navigating a middle way between those extremes — keeping to all that space in the middle between the poles. I think that polar extremes of the Personality Spectrum lead to the relationship pairings of a pathological Narcissist (one extreme) with an Empath (the other extreme). These opposites attract. Eventually, the more dominant Pathological Narcissist controls/crushes the Empath; if the domination goes too far, and there are children involved to be used as potential weapons, you have Parental Alienation.

      Yes, yes, we certainly need vast improvements in our social/cultural/legal institutions for dealing with this, but we really and truly first need to understand precisely what is going on in the subconscious minds/Attachment Systems of the persons involved. Ignore that, or delegate it to a minor consideration, and you will never truly solve the PA problem. In allegorical terms, PA is a mind-virus at work. Everything else follows from that.

      Neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran’s work with Mirror Therapy (he had much success with Phantom Limb Pain) is in fact being experimented with as therapy for prolonged grief, for Borderline Personality Disorder, and for PTSD. And maybe more. Ramachandran and others see overlap between the “spiritual” and the cognitive aspects of humankind. Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory comes in here too. So I read and consider them all, forever noting the patterns. I am a systematizer at heart. Understanding the brain/mind system at work here is where your ultimate PA answers are going to come from, I believe.

      I read in all directions because I sense the same patterns in many different representations, and I want to know what the common denominators are. If you find these, you may be able to sort the underlying principles. Few problems are solved serendipitously. I think that Parental Alienation is but one manifestation of a much larger picture — as I think you do. So what are the common denominators in that bigger picture, and what can they lead us to?

      Eugene Gendlin’s “Focusing”, that I had mentioned, is meant to be somewhere for the poor beleaguered alienated parents to turn; your standard therapies do little good for this population. Their extreme sufferings are not even understood, in general. These parents are beaten to absolute pulp, Nick — in a manner that most people would not realize exists if they have not had the dubious pleasure of being the toy for a pathological Narcissist. Really, your whole world turns upside down; it is almost surreal. Quiet an astonishing situation.

      Melanie Tonia Evans’ program and Eugene Gendlin’s “Focusing” have tapped into the same therapeutic idea, though Gendlin did it decades ago as formal Psychological research through his position at the University of Chicago, and Ms. Evans’ is much more recent and non-academic.

      I suspect that an epiphany or two on the part of the alienated parents is going to be a large part of the PA solution, at the personal level. And the whole issue really does base itself at the personal level of those involved, so why not emphasize that as the starting point? Disordered Attachment is very personal, Nick. Not to leave out a thorough and particular re-working of our sadly deficient institutions, such as the family courts, but without going after the disordered Attachment problem, I am not sure a court re-vamping will be as affective as we would wish. The courts alone cannot solve all the myriad marital problems out there, for instance; some personal tweaking must first play into it. So we approach the problem in its entirety from different directions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alienated Parent

        Speaking of false allegations — a specialty of, but not limited to, those with personality disorders such as might be found in alienating parents — here is but one recent example out of Australia: https://www.smh.com.au/national/act/how-fake-allegations-landed-an-innocent-man-in-jail-20190117-p50s0c.html .

        Note that the perpetrator “learned police were a ‘gullible and willing accessory.'” I think that a great many alienated parents, male or female, are forced to learn this as well. Only, they are on the receiving end of what happens when authorities are, most unfortunately, gullible to the lies and manipulations of the personality disordered spouses. This heaps PA horror upon PA horror.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks AP for your thoughts and further reading recommendations!

    I won’t repeat our debate about the usefulness and limits of the usefulness of all the labels. However, for sure we need any handle we can get on the accurate description of the experience of PA etc … “beaten to absolute pulp … being the toy for a pathological Narcissist … your whole world turns upside down … surreal … an astonishing situation … horror on horror” and all the extra ‘gaming’ of the system that then seems necessary given the creaking system you’re dealing with.

    I have no doubt that a sufferer (more than a professional who has to do more than slap on some terminology) will find truth and comfort in these labels. And I would note that the professionals who write in more clinical and theoretical depth (like these below) are much more interested in going beyond the labels to understand what makes people be like that – in general, and individuals in specific situations – with a view to what can be done (other than stick labels on them).

    About the neuroscience of epiphanies:
    I think the most fitting Attachment Science for us is covered by
    1. Alex Stein in “Terror Love and Brainwashing” – more here. and
    2. Pat Crittenden: Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation.

    There are Attachment therapies that can repair early bad attachments. Eg
    3. Dan Hughes: Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.
    More links to Attachment approaches here.

    And I agree that we need to come at this in its entirety from different directions. Part of the unfortunate spats that bedevil those PA folks who should be on the same page is because we work in a wide variety of places and contexts with a wide variety of client groups. So we each have a hand on part of the elephant and we forget that we may all have important things to say about the whole animal.

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  6. Alienated Parent

    Thanks again, Nick. Disagreement seems to be bringing out the best bits here. We are both on the same side, you know…..that of finding some answers to PA.

    I have to say, however, you seem to be convinced that “giving a label” must necessarily preclude understanding the problem of PA and Attachment Disorders in a professional sense. I must note here that one aspect does not cancel out the other. I happen to understand it from both sides; I recognize more than a single body part of that proverbial elephant.

    As I have been at pains to point out, I read the academic literature years ago during my own graduate education, and then again with more vehemence (and with up-to-date resources) since experiencing PA myself. I have left not a stone unturned, in other words. I have indeed read Stein, Crittenden, and Hughes, quite some time ago. I might add Robert Karen’s “Becoming Attached” to the list. The luminaries of Family Therapy had a lot to say about this, as well: Minuchin and Bowen. Tronick too. Theodore Millon and even Karen Horney hit the nail on the head in many aspects concerning the Personality Disorders themselves. Even American Psychotherapist Pete Walker did an excellent job in describing Narcissistic Personality Disorder as the unremitting Fight Response of PTSD.

    I think that this whole labelling business depends from which side you approach PA. It has become fashionable in the world of Psychiatry, for instance, not to “label” either Narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder in a patient, because these conditions have such a poor reputation in terms of what victims of the Borderline/Narcissist are made to suffer, that people at large recoil as they do when they are introduced to Pedophiles. Why is every news story on child sexual abuse replete with the “Pedophile” label — and readers seem to consider it appropriate — but we are not to use any “label” for pathological Narcissism or Borderline disorders? I know that it is considered shaming to be called such things, but so is it to be called a Pedophile, and society in general does not shy away from that particular “label.” In fact, “social justice warriors” are wont to embroider a large red letter “P” across the chests of such persons.

    When you get right down to it, the ever-in-the-news MeToo Movement labels people 24/7……they do it with aplomb, and often without a scrap of court-submissible evidence. Nevermind seeking a correct diagnosis in those particular ever-mounting cases. Right? In fact, I wonder whether some of the MeToo criminal claims might be traced back to pathological Narcissists/Borderlines who have an unfortunate hobby of making false allegations. Yes they do…..read the literature. You see Nick, any situation to do with Narcissistic/Borderline Personality Disorder becomes a real tangle.

    Therefore, do the enlightened amongst us refute “labels,” or readily use them? I find little consistency; depends on how this is viewed at any given time by peers and by political perspectives, it seems.

    I could go even further by noting that all of these disorders are thought to be caused by childhood trauma in the individual who then grows up to become the vampire, biting another generation of victims. Hurt people hurt people, in other words. Big question though — where do we draw the line? When does the childhood victim turn into the victimizer, and what are we to think about that? They both need therapy, I think, but we live in a punitive society. There is also the issue of some kind of appropriate acknowledgement/atonement for the suffering of the current victim, no? Therefore, what is to be done? Are pathological Narcissists to lose sympathy for having once been the childhood victim themselves? Can we offer sympathy to both their present victim(s) as well as to the now-grown original childhood victim? Becomes complex, does it not? May need to re-think our entire set of social/cultural values, not that we haven’t been doing so since the mid-1960s (and we seem to have made a mess of it these past 50 years).

    So if you are looking to provide treatment for Borderline/Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it is fashionable not to use “labels.” Makes the therapist seem more compassionate, less shaming. However, if you are on the other side of the equation, as the victim of one of these individuals, it is counter-productive NOT to use “labels.” If compassion is the main virtue we are seeking, then to refrain from calling-a-spade-a-spade is non-compassionate indeed, for the victims. They need to be acknowledged, they need their suffering to be seen for what it is, and without naming the Hell they have been through, there is no accessing appropriate treatment.

    Bit of a conundrum. We’ve got an original childhood victim, now turned NPD victimizer against others. We need to name the situation, Nick, or we will not get far. The caveat is, we need to name it correctly. After all, Alcoholics generally get nowhere if we allow them to indulge in calling themselves “social drinkers.” Fudging the truth never does anyone any good. Can we say, “The thing is, you are definitely an Alcoholic (and then properly define this), but you are not bad because of it…..you simply need the right help and motivation.” I think we must encourage personal responsibility. Turning a blind eye to the truth does no one any favours.

    Or, what’s a PA blog for?

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  7. Alienated Parent

    As I am on the Resources page, let me add another one for dealing with Parental Alienation. I recommend the work of David Berceli, Ph.D., for trauma issues in general. It is trauma that alienated parents/children are going through, in the formal sense.

    Berceli wrote “Shake if Off Naturally” and more. See his TRE (Trauma Release Exercises) website. Do-it-yourself therapy. https://traumaprevention.com/

    Sounds rather wild and new-agey at first, but if you read his material and citations, you will change your mind. Much value here. Meshes with Stephen Porges’ theory of the Polyvagal System and the way it works, or does not.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks again Alienated Parent for your extensive deep thinking and resources. And the labels that help us find out more about them.

    I’m sorry about the apparent polarisation about labels. If you had been arguing against them, I would have been arguing for them. Labels have a wide range of very important uses as you’ve said for publishing and finding information and research, for opening doors to assessment and intervention, for naming patterns that need firmly nailed. See my TEDx talk for my own history of failing to be properly taught about, and of personally failing to recognise the importance of the label Parental Alienation.

    My interest in responding here has been to value your rare welcome generous comments as a (rare) chance to try to also indicate some of the limitations to what labels can achieve – or put it another way, how labels may sometimes achieve things when they give way to more detailed language and further ‘labels’ to describe what’s going on and what might be needed.

    Sometimes the one label is all you need eg “The Eiffel Tower”. Sometimes the label directs you towards your ultimate destination eg “USA” then “Illinois” then “Chicago”… and finally “Joe Smith’s flat in West Cullerton Street”.

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  9. Alienated Parent

    https://icahn.mssm.edu/profiles/rachel-yehuda

    I recommend the work in Traumatology of Dr. Rachel Yehuda, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine/Mount Sinai, in the U.S.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Alienated Parent

    More here. Though I am unsure whether there are any actual readers out there. I feel as if I am writing to myself at times. Does anyone out there actually care and invest effort in working out the vagaries of Parental Alienation, apart from Nick Child and myself?

    Attachment-based Parental Alienation derives from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in the Alienating Parent. NPD is believed to be caused by Unresolved Trauma, often from early childhood, or even epigenetically-inherited (see Rachel Yehuda’s work). Some experts call NPD a form of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in the form of an unremitting Fight response. According to work by Traumatologists such as Rachel Yehuda and Bessel van der Kolk and Neurologist Robert Scaer and David Berceli, Unresolved Trauma resides first and foremost in the cellular processes of the body, before it can be said to work its way into the conscious brain. That is where you must hit it. Eugene Gendlin’s “Focusing,” anyone?

    So read their work. Robert Scaer wrote the fine book, “The Body Bears the Burden.” Bessel van der Kolk wrote “The Body Keeps the Score.” Rachel Yehuda’s many papers can be found through http://www.PubMed.gov. David Berceli has a website for his Trauma release Exercises (TRE Program), and he has also written several books, “Shake if Off Naturally” among them.

    There….I have done all of the work for you.

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  11. Alienated Parent

    Perhaps I should stop playing a rescuer here: https://powerofted.com/the-need-to-please-trap/

    Subscribe to TED Works and read The Eager-to-Please Syndrome. I suspect that Alienated Parents may be the type of persons to have fallen into this crushing trap, through lack of Self-Love, as Ross Rosenberg (“Human Magnet Syndrome”) puts it.

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  12. Alienated Parent

    Empathy is an important aspect of the PA issue — the empathy that Alienating Parents are entirely bereft of, and the empathy that Alienated Parents seem to have in spades but perhaps apply in the wrong direction, or in a sense that carries with it an obstacle.

    Alienated Parents are, in effect, the proxy-enemies for the Alienating Parents, standing-in for the original early childhood traumatizer in their lives. For instance, I have been made the proxy-enemy for my mother-in-law in her life of many decades ago, during my former spouse’s early childhood. He is re-enacting that trauma, and I play one of the central roles, like an actor on the stage. I was never asked, however, whether I agree with playing this role or not; it was simply assigned to me. Refer to the Karpman Drama Triangle here (a good explanation of it is in David Emerald’s “The Power of TED”). Think of those PTSD-addled former military personnel who return from battle in the war zones of the world, only to become triggered by the slightest thing and suddenly believe that their innocent family members are the enemy back on the battlefield….and they act according to this delusion. Tragedy may ensue.

    What am I talking about? Alienating Parents are acting out of the “Fight” response of the Fight/Flight/Freeze/Fawn trauma response to fear or danger. Even if a person is only imagining such danger. See Pete Walker’s “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.” See Judith Herman’s “Trauma and Recovery.” See Stephen Porges’ “Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory.” See Peter Levine’s “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.”

    Why are particular people seemingly chosen for this proxy-enemy role again and again in their lives? Perhaps because they, through their own childhood traumas of various sorts (including lack of validation by parents but not necessarily overt abuse), have navigated to the polar opposite end of the Personality Spectrum from pathological Narcissists, and therefore become natural magnetic targets for such Narcs. Ross Rosenberg explains this concept in plain language in “Human Magnet Syndrome.”

    It seems that we need to re-balance the empathy quotient. Do not count on the pathological Narcissist doing this work…..it is only in rare instances that they will ever admit they are at fault in any sense whatsoever. As so many wise people have noted, you can really change only yourself, and then let the chips fall where they may.

    Individuals at the opposite end of the Personality Spectrum from pathological Narcissists (I call them Empaths) seem to have a deficit of Self-love which needs to be corrected. They must learn that Self-love is not synonymous with selfishness. They need to move towards the middle of the spectrum in that they have to develop a healthier sense of Self, just as pathological Narcissists also need to move towards the middle of the spectrum (from the other end) by developing a healthier sense of others. Only then could there be a healthy relationship between these two types of people. The empathy must be balanced on both sides between empathy for self, and empathy for others. However, as mentioned, the re-balancing is much more likely to be undertaken by an Empath than by a pathological Narcissist.

    And all that super-empathy which Empaths have for others, such as their children…..why does it appear to bounce off and nosedive? In my experience, it seemed to backfire more times than not. See David Emerald’s “Power of TED” again here. When sending out empathy-for-others from a source that has a huge deficit of self-empathy to start with, it is almost as if projection takes over unwittingly, and the psyche says, “You must seek to fill your deficit in self-empathy first, whether that is your plan or not.” The tab which is still on the books for your self-empathy is going to be filled first — like the list of formal creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding — and your own psyche will not allow you to give effectively to others until your debt to yourself is paid. Shades of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Self Actualization.

    Therefore, maybe the plan of action should involve building the Self-love initially, and then learning how to deliver empathy out to your children in a manner that overcomes the previous obstacles, so they can genuinely feel and absorb it. There is an unpretentious little book that might help with the latter: “I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better” by Gary and Joy Lundberg. Notable academic Peter Fonagy (already mentioned above by Nick) developed a similar theory of Mentalizing; I found a good explanation of how to apply this in Valerie Porr’s “Overcoming Borderline Personality Disorder.” There is also Karyn Hall/Melissa Cook’s “The Power of Validation.”

    For the Self-love, I recommend Melanie Tonia Evans’ website and her book, “You Can Thrive After Narcissistic Abuse.” Or there is Ross Rosenberg’s “Human Magnet Syndrome” and his website/YouTube advice. If you crave the academic explanation, read Eugene Gendlin’s “Focusing.” Incorporate David Berceli’s Trauma Release Exercises (TRE Program) into your life. Read Pete Walker (even his website is helpful). Peter Levine has developed “Somatic Experiencing” as a trauma-relief/Self-love method, though I have not tried that personally.

    Successful empathy seems to have to do with fulfilling your empathy-debt to yourself first, and then directing your empathy outwards to others such as your children, in a way that is effective; in a way in which they can absorb it rather than deflecting it back to the giver as the result of a projection. I have a niggling feeling that possibly the reason Empath parents (mothers in particular) might have children who themselves grow into pathological Narcissists as adults is twofold: having a second parent with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and having an Empath parent whose empathy (strong as it seems to be) bounces off rather than absorbs into the children, for reasons just given.

    And do not forget that childhood trauma, according to eminent Traumatologist Dr. Rachel Yehuda, may be epigenetically-encoded into us at conception, courtesy of ancestral trauma that went unresolved.

    Read Karen Kaplan’s “Descendants of Rajgrod” to appreciate these concepts. Or even “Railway Man” by Eric Lomax, who suffered horribly as a POW in WWII in the Japanese slave labour camps used to build the Burma Railroad, but then appeared to bring his unresolved trauma home to re-enact it in NPD-form upon his own family in the ensuing years. I also think of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author (herself left motherless as a baby) of the classic Canadian “Anne of Green Gables” books, who despite obviously knowing that love and honesty and good cheer and empathy are the virtues to aim for in life, had a husband and a son who disappointed her so much in this respect that she is rumoured to have ended her own life with suicide.

    Trauma is a strange and slippery concept. It is counter-intuitive, just as its handmaiden Parental Alienation is. I think they walk hand-in-hand.

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  13. Thanks again for your wide ranging research and thinking. There’s certainly little sign in many cases – especially when legal processes whip things up further – of empathy or even a chance to look at things with objectivity and understanding. And that makes what is indeed a terrible injustice and attachment trauma so serious. Trauma and traumatic stress is severe. So PTSD is a pretty good name for what follows – and that outcome can take the form of Personality Disorders of various kinds too.

    Accepting that frame of reference helps professionals and others to realise that their client is not in a fit state to be reasonable and reflective and to think straight at all; they are in survival mode. You are at the front line of war. You need to know how to support emergency situations and take direct action that genuine empathy and understanding require. Offering standard head-nodding sympathy is way off the mark.

    I’m not sure how any individual in such a terrible state can manage to find ideas or calmness or empathy on their own. I think that, by definition, someone else, a skilled caring helper or professional, one who has the relevant competence and resources, is needed to help a sufferer with something this serious.

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  14. Alienated Parent

    “Bowen’s Theory’s Secrets: Revealing the Hidden Life of Families” b y Michael E. Kerr. I have ordered a copy myself, but it is an expensive book. If anyone wishes to get some initial value out of these concepts without necessarily purchasing the volume, then I recommend that you click on the preview of the Amazon site. Excellent material! The Kindle edition is much less expensive, and quite a good price for what you are receiving.

    I think it has much relevance for families/parents dealing with Parental Alienation, especially the fact that Bowen thought you could stop the “infectious” spread of anxiety within the Family System by changing yourself only, and not by changing anyone else. Real and advantageous change of one family member towards Self-differentiation causes a ripple effect in other members of the same system, in other words. This is heartening news, surely!

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  15. Alienated Parent

    Perhaps get a basic grasp of Bowen Theory first, and then consider these blog posts about Emotional Cut-off and the use of Triangles for bridging that cut-off. The concept of Emotional Cut-off in Bowen Theory includes Parental Alienation. Interesting approach.

    https://www.programsinbowentheory.org/blog Part One

    https://www.programsinbowentheory.org/blog/emotional-cutoff-and-bridging-it-a-conversation-part-2 Part Two

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  16. Alienated Parent

    ‘An American Holly’ in “Friedman’s Fables by Edwin H. Friedman. A resource for alienated parents. When there is too much distance, mysteriously, does that mean there was initially too much togetherness/fusion? Can the latter be disadvantageous, peculiar as the concept seems? Is there such a situation as life forcing a balancing? Could we balance the situation voluntarily without our hands being forced by Parental Alienation? Can we still back-track and do that?

    No firm answers here, simply trying out every perspective.

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