So it is the ‘festive season’ for alienated parents and their alienated children. ‘Joy to the world’ indeed.
“Do I send a card to my children?” “Should I try and visit them (again)?” “Should I call them?” “Why don’t I hear from them?”
The absence of alienated children at this time is keenly felt. The same questions come around again.
What if every message you ever sent to your children to let them know that they are part of your lives and that you are part of theirs is either intercepted by the Alienating Parent or simply met with stony unrelenting silence?
What if your child who has rejected you lives literally an hour away? What if you pay them a visit during this season and you are met with an accusation that you are being abusive, threatened with the police, an intervention order, ordered to leave the premises or simply met with an empty house; no one told you what their plans were, you are no longer part of their lives?
And yet, in an ultimate exercise in futile, unconditional love, some Alienated Parents continue to reach out to their alienated children who have chosen to reject them, who believe that their rejection is entirely their choice rather than the imposition of a delusional reality that it really represents.
This raises a question, a question whether continual attempts in the spirit of this season to keeping contact with alienated children actually reinforces their delusions and false realities about us?
What if you used this festive season to stop your pain and do something different for yourself and your children. What if you became the ‘irritant factor’? Let us see what this means.
One way to consider this question is through the lens of attachment theory and its application to parental alienation. The process of alienation disrupts and damages the normal processes of attachment. According to the attachment formulation of parental alienation – see Dr. Craig Childress (pdf) – parental alienation has three major effects upon a child’s attachment system:
Firstly, alienation suppresses the child’s normal attachment orientation toward their rejected parent and over-emphasises the bond with the favoured parent to the extent that the child expresses this as, what Dr. Childress calls, a “hyper-bond”.
Secondly, the child manifests this with elements of fusion and narcissistic-borderline envelopment with their favoured parent. Such childfren can present in an astonishingly similar manner to their favoured parent to the extent that they may appear to be indistinguishable.
Finally, the child develops and enacts a rigid, fixed view of the deficiencies of their targeted parent and an over-idealised and unrealistic view of the relative perfections of the favoured parent. The major characteristic of this distorted view is its unchanging nature and its persistence even in the face of evidence that overwhelmingly contradicts it.
To put it simply, pouring all of your love into your child may simply enhance their rigid views of you rather than dispel them.
Why may this be the case? How would sending your alienated child a letter, or other communication about how much you want to be together drive you further apart?
One view is that children deal with alienation by a dissociative process, essentially ‘walling off’ or dissociating their memories of you and the loving experiences that these memories evoke. This is a maladaptive response to a trauma and creates a conflict split inside the child between the part of them whose agency and sense of self is subsumed by their favoured parent and the other part which about their love for you.
The harsh, hostile, unreasonable and often silent rejection is the outward manifestation of that dissociative process. The rigidity and inflexibility of the rejection is a marker of just how vulnerable and fragile your child is and how solid that wall must be to protect themselves from the emotional pain of rejecting you. This dissociation would not be possible without the ‘attachment injury’ discussed above.
So, when your child receives your loving and well-meant letter they read into it an implicit emotional demand that evokes their vulnerability about you. They cannot possibly resolve the irreconcilable internal conflict that this creates, certainly not while their sense of self is controlled by their favoured parent so they reject you even more to protect themselves.
So, the more you show how much you care and want to be with them the more they push you away and the more you try and the harder they push you away. Remember that the alienating or favoured parent is always watching over them, preoccupied by their need to protect their consuming envelopment of your children.
I advise my clients that unless we get their children into a mandated setting, removed from the alienating or favoured parent we cannot challenge their delusional world from the outside. However, outside of a court-ordered setting where there is no contact with the alienating parent, I suggest to alienated parents that where they can, they should never leave their alienated children alone. They should randomly and unpredictably contact their children using any and all media with simple messages that acknowledge that their children are in their minds and hearts and may refer to previous memories of a different and more loving time. No more and no less.
Some of my clients have reconciled with their children on this approach alone.
There is a purpose to this, a kind of softening up the territory where as best we can we want to prevent the concrete of attachment injury, dissociation and trauma to set.
It is impossible for your child or anyone to delete memories. Yes, it is possible to forget; it is just a question of breaking the association between memories and trigger events. Every time your child receives a simple message from you, a memory of you is triggered and for a brief moment your child experiences their internal conflict about you.
As any therapist knows, the key to resolving internal conflict is to increase ones capacity to experience it. One has to be at the right emotional working distance from this internal trauma to change it.
You are training your children, developing in them the capacity for a time when they will inevitably face that internal conflict. Whether the trigger is their own relationship failures, their own children, or the death of a loved one it is your unpredictable evocation of the part of them that is unchangeably you that is the key to their salvation.
Without this capacity no change is possible.
As for the alienating or favoured parent, yes, they may interfere. However, this approach keeps them preoccupied with their intense anxiety of losing their ‘avatar’, like a guard dog that keeps barking at real and imagined threats. Their intense anxiety and extreme personalities entrap them into possibly making a fatal mistake-becoming too extreme in their control. This could lead to rebellion by your child or at least evoke the internal conflict.
So this represents a major shift for rejected and alienated parents. Instead of targeting their communications toward reunification, alienated parents target their communication to disrupt the metastable and anxiety-driven attachment between favoured or alienating parent and alienated child.
This is what I call the ‘irritant factor’ approach.
Now that is a different alienated child’s seasons greeting.