Parental Alienation Happens to Children and Affects Everyone

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Below is an excerpt from Karen Woodall’s November 8, 2019 blogpost calling for a change in the way parental alienation is viewed (and addressed) by society.

I want my girls to know that when I raised parental alienation during and after the separation and the divorce, I wasn’t simply raising it as a parental rights issue.  My biggest concerns were my children and how the loss of our relationship — a choice neither of us consciously made — was affecting (and would affect) each of them.

Someday, I hope my girls are able to read Karen Woodall’s blogpost and understand that parental alienation was not something that I simply claimed happened to me, affecting my parental rights, during the separation as well as after the divorce.  Rather, it was something that happened to them, which they, as children, did not choose.  I also want them to know their dad could not prevent nor address it no matter how hard or what I tried.

[…] Fathers, who were routinely blasted by the media and government for being absent and deadbeat were nothing of the sort.  What they were, were parents who had been forced into part time roles, placed at distance and demonised. They were valued only for the financial provision they could give to their children and otherwise derided and dismissed.

When I worked with fathers I understood the manner in which they had been beaten into silence and submission by decades of being portrayed as violent brutes who withheld financial support.  The reality was different, very different indeed. I met fathers who were broken, heartbroken in fact as well as broken in spirit. And I met families who had been utterly devastated by the separation in which one side had taken charge of the children, the finance and the future and the other side which had been thrown under the bus in every respect.

How did this happen?  Feminist social policy was designed to create the illusion that fathers are feckless and reckless. Based upon the stereotype of man as uncontrollable beast who must be tamed, social policy divided parents into carer and provider and created a policy called ‘from the wallet to the purse‘ to support this.  The idea being that if money from the state went into the ‘wallet’, men would spend it in the pub but if it went into the ‘purse’ women would spend it on children.  From there all that is required to ensure this division into good parent/bad parent is complete is to ensure that fathers are held at distance from their children for long enough to ensure that they lose their relationship.  A great way of doing this was to reframe the relationship a dad has with children as being ‘access’ which eventually gave way to the cold and clinical concept of ‘contact.’ […]

Parental alienation is the forcing upon children of a defence mechanism of splitting in which their terror of being abandoned by an emotionally and psychologically aggressive parent causes them to reject a perfectly healthy and good enough parent.  Whether this is a conscious or unconscious  act or one which arises in the chaotic post separation landscape, the tragedy for the child is that they have to live with the outcome of something they had no choice in. […]

via Paradigm Shift: Uncoupling Parental Alienation from Ideology — Karen Woodall

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The complete version of Karen Woodall’s blogpost is set forth below (emphasis added):

Paradigm Shift: Uncoupling Parental Alienation from Ideology
By Karen Woodall
November 8, 2019

From Wikipedia

A paradigm shift, a concept identified by the American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn, is a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimentalpractices of a scientific discipline. Kuhn presented his notion of a paradigm shift in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).

ideology
/ˌʌɪdɪˈɒlədʒi/
noun
  1. a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.
    “the ideology of republicanism”

Around the world the concept of parental alienation is one which is constantly mired in controversy.  On the side of those who know that parental alienation exists and is a serious and life changing problem for children, there is a great deal of work going on to understand it and to build treatment routes to resolve it.  On the side of those who oppose it as a concept, there is a great deal of resistance and effort to discredit the theory behind it.  A recent description of parental alienation by Dr Michael Flood an Australian Sociologist exemplifies PA resistance perfectly –

Parental alienation syndrome’: Popular among MRAs & fathers’ rights groups, and a common weapon of abusers in family law. But rejected by the medical community, criticised by scholars as junk science, and never validated by empirical research

Professor Michael Flood on Twitter

As we prepare to enter a new decade, it seems to me that the most urgent matter for those of us who know that a child who suffers induced psychological splitting is a child whose life chances are changed forever unless it is treated, is to wrestle with the reality that parental alienation as a concept, has been wrongly placed in the field of parental rights and custody battles, ever since it was first noticed by Gardner in the early eighties.

In my experience, whilst the child’s experience is first noticed in the post separation landscape and the issues which cause the behaviours lie in the psychological dynamics around the child, the reality of parental alienation is not about parental rights and it is not about who has custody.  Parental alienation is not a weapon of abusers (at least not the abusers that Michael Flood is trying to point the finger at).  In my experience it is a mental health issue which has its roots in the psychological profile of the family around the child who is manifesting the symptoms.

In that respect the issue is absolutely not one which belongs in the field of family law and arguments about custody and it is not one which can be categorised as some would have it, as a weapon of choice of abusive men.  The analysis of parental alienation within the framework of feminist ideology, has skewed our understanding of what is happening within families affected by a child’s rejection for a very long time.  It is time this stopped because the problem is not one which can be reduced to a fight between parents and it is not one which can be treated by arguing about whether it exists or not.

Parental alienation is  not a parental rights issue and it properly belongs in the field of mental health, where it is seen it must be treated because abandoning the child to the impact of it is to cause life long damage.

‘Parental alienation is a spectrum problem of induced defensive splitting in a child that, typically, occurs within the context of a divorce or family separation and which causes the child to pathologically align with one of their parents, rendering them vulnerable to that parent’s intra-psychic conflicts and defences.’

(Woodall & Woodall, 2019)

That is not to say that parental alienation is NOT used as a weapon by abusive parents in an effort to maintain control, it is.  Just as allegations of domestic abuse are made by some parents in order to maintain control in the post separation landscape, so are allegations of parental alienation used falsely.  That is about the behaviours of how some parents behave through divorce and separation, it is not however how all parents behave.

Avoiding the splitting of the issue of parental alienation into true/false, exists/doesn’t exist and for/against, means relocating the issue away from the bad men/good women split of feminist ideology. This for me is where the paradigm shift really needs to happen if we are to be able to tackle the problem seriously and avoid in the next decade, the wasted time and energies of arguing about the issue from the perspective of whether it exists or not.

In order to do that we have to move the issue away from the first split which causes the controversy which is the way in which feminist services automatically analyse the problem through the lens of patriarchy, a concept which always means that men are advantaged and always means that women are not.

patriarchy
/ˈpeɪtrɪɑːki/
noun
  1. a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line.
    “the thematic relationships of the ballad are worked out according to the conventional archetypes of the patriarchy”
    • a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
      “the dominant ideology of patriarchy”
    • a society or community organized on patriarchal lines.
      plural noun: patriarchies
      “we live in a patriarchy”

In the western world, there is a dominant belief that patriarchy causes women to be disadvantaged in every element of their lives. In this ideological view of the world, women who are mothers are disadvantaged by marriage which is considered to be an unequal institution.  In my work with Oxfam UK in the nineties, I studied this institution and the impact upon it of feminist designed social policy during separation. The outcome of this gender analysis was published by Oxfam in 2004 and was shocking. What it revealed was that the social policy around the family had been designed to drive the outcomes which had been seen to be prevalent in family separation for the previous two decades.

Outcomes such as 40% of fathers lost contact with their children within two years of separation which was the basis of fiscal social policy around single mothers and what were routinely called ‘absent fathers’ or ‘deadbeat dads’.

Outcomes which when analysed were seen to be caused by a social policy which was designed to drive fathers out of their children’s lives and then used to blame them for being absent.

This work began the process of my liberation from the confines of feminist ideology, something I have never regretted because  it has allowed me to expand my understanding  and experience of humanity and through that become a wiser person.

When I first understood how feminism had skewed the reality of what had happened to fathers and fathering in the decades after the divorce laws changed in the UK and USA in the early seventies, I was stunned into silence.  For a long time I could not believe that this was a deliberate act and yet the more I looked at it, the more I understood how it had been done.  Fathers, who were routinely blasted by the media and government for being absent and deadbeat were nothing of the sort.  What they were, were parents who had been forced into part time roles, placed at distance and demonised. They were valued only for the financial provision they could give to their children and otherwise derided and dismissed.

When I worked with fathers I understood the manner in which they had been beaten into silence and submission by decades of being portrayed as violent brutes who withheld financial support.  The reality was different, very different indeed. I met fathers who were broken, heartbroken in fact as well as broken in spirit. And I met families who had been utterly devastated by the separation in which one side had taken charge of the children, the finance and the future and the other side which had been thrown under the bus in every respect.

How did this happen?  Feminist social policy was designed to create the illusion that fathers are feckless and reckless. Based upon the stereotype of man as uncontrollable beast who must be tamed, social policy divided parents into carer and provider and created a policy called ‘from the wallet to the purse‘ to support this.  The idea being that if money from the state went into the ‘wallet’, men would spend it in the pub but if it went into the ‘purse’ women would spend it on children.  From there all that is required to ensure this division into good parent/bad parent is complete is to ensure that fathers are held at distance from their children for long enough to ensure that they lose their relationship.  A great way of doing this was to reframe the relationship a dad has with children as being ‘access’ which eventually gave way to the cold and clinical concept of ‘contact.’

Are some men feckless and reckless? Of course they are.  Are some men brutes? yes of course.    Are some women innocent victims of brutality by men who up sticks and leave, indeed they are.  But some women are also vindictive liars who deliberately keep men out of their children’s lives and others are psychologically unwell and cause their children harm. And some men are innocent victims of that behaviour who lose contact with their children.

Building social policy on stereotypes has caused decades of harm to the family and even greater harm to the children who were born into this chaos which has been supported by the state.

It is almost 2020 now and we are more aware now of the harm that is done to children when their parents separate. We are wiser and kinder now (aren’t we?) and less reliant on stereotypes.  It is time now to leave the ideology behind and base our work with families on reality.

Just as domestic abuse has been recognised as an intergenerational, bi-directional behavioural problem within in the family, it is time to properly relocate parental alienation as a trans-generational transmission of unresolved trauma which belongs in the field of mental health.

Dismissals such as those by Michael Flood above, demonstrate  an attitude which is out of step with reality and which smacks of arrogance. This is an approach long taken by dogmatic feminist ideologues who show no recognition of children’s experiences.  Like the comment I read on twitter this week about an embryo being described as parasitic, feminism in all of its self centred ugliness has no place in the care of vulnerable children.

Parental alienation is the forcing upon children of a defence mechanism of splitting in which their terror of being abandoned by an emotionally and psychologically aggressive parent causes them to reject a perfectly healthy and good enough parent.  Whether this is a conscious or unconscious  act or one which arises in the chaotic post separation landscape, the tragedy for the child is that they have to live with the outcome of something they had no choice in.

A child suffering from induced psychological splitting needs our help and to create the capacity to help all of these children we urgently need a paradigm shift away from parental rights and fiscal policy arguments to mental health and the traumatic impact of divorce and separation on children.

Uncoupling the issue from ideology is how we will achieve that. Let 2020 be the year we manifest that perfect vision.

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