I want to continue exploring this topic because I believe Woodall has much to contribute to understanding and hopefully healing this damaging and highly destructive pathology with children who are innocent victims of their parents acrimonious divorces.
Another reason for my desire to present Woodall’s teachings and perspectives is my desire to be educated, informed, and well read on the varying theories and clinical practices associated with alienation in children of divorced and divorcing parents. This issue, in some camps, is fraught with controversy and can be as contentious as the shattered relationships found between a separating husband and wife and their children in high conflict divorces.
British mental health experts can differ in their opinions on the subject of Parental Alienation (PA) than their American counterparts, which is true with Woodall. For me, exploring and learning about these differences only contribute to a better understanding of this difficult topic because it brings out perspectives which the American camp might not otherwise feel is important or necessary, and vice versa.
This desire and willingness to hear both side of this important issue is also keeping in line with my passionate desire to be a critical thinker, as I have often emphasized in many places throughout my blog. A mind which is open to learning from all truthful sources is one in which wisdom has the best chance of taking root with the hope of ultimately bearing fruits contributing to a life marked with eudaimonia.
Woodall writes in the above linked article: “It is the treatment of this psychological and emotional harm of children which I have been involved with over many years, it is this which I continue to work with in court and it is this which is our focus at the Family Separation Clinic. Over the years of doing this work, I have come to recognise that the emotional and psychological harm that we are working with, is caused by the defence of psychological splitting in children which is induced by their fear and anxiety of a parent who is pressuring them in some way to align with them. This is the fundamental problem which underpins the child’s behaviours of alignment and rejection and the recognition of that does not require a label of parental aliention at all. What it does require when the pattern of behaviours which tell us that psychological splitting is in play…”
Let’s focus on the sentence: “Over the years of doing this work, I have come to recognise that the emotional and psychological harm that we are working with, is caused by the defence of psychological splitting in children which is induced by their fear and anxiety of a parent who is pressuring them in some way to align with them.“
Woodall writes of the negative influence of a parent, who by their fear and anxiety, is transferring this fear and anxiety onto their child or children, pressuring them, inducing them, to align with them against the other parent. This emotionally and psychologically unhealthy parent is the driving force behind the children joining him or her in a concerted effort to drive the other parent—the alienated or rejected one—out of their lives.
The innocent children, though, who love both their parents, do not want to join this unhealthy parent in his or her campaign of denigration against this other loved parent. But if they resist, things do not go well with them in their household with this damaged parent. The only way to have any semblance of peace in their home is for the children to “split” their feelings for this once beloved parent and join in the delusional world of the alienating parent. These children then become like the alienating parent as they are increasingly drawn into the black hole of one of their parents psychosis.
This process of aligning with the unhealthy parent is what drives the pathology created in the children. They do not want to hate and reject their other parent, but are forced to: forced to shut off their normal feelings of love and attachment to this other parent, forced to lie against him or her, forced to hate and malign them, forced to have emotions and feelings against him or her which is contrary to their true feelings.
Over the years of this kind of tension and—being children—their minds cannot cope with this tension. To protect themselves from having a complete mental breakdown, they “split,” which helps them to survive the emotional and psychological war zone in which they live in. Split children show a false self to the other alienated parent and not their authentic self which has been buried deep within the induced psychological splitting forced upon them by the alienating parent.
No healthy or normal parent would put their children through this. Something must be deeply skewed and broken in the mind of an alienating parent who would subject their own child to descend into such hatred and vilification for their other parent.
I’m reminded of that movie, “Life is Beautiful (La vita e bella),” by Roberto Benigni that came out in 1997. The story revolves around a Jewish father who tries to protect his son from the harsh realities of their situation in a concentration camp during World War II by creating an imaginative and hopeful world around them.
I didn’t particularly like the movie because I don’t like movies or television shows employing unrealistic humor or events of the Holocaust. This noted, it has value in the telling of a story of the lengths a loving father will go through to protect his child from the living hell the son is being forced to endure.
The father in this movie knows the terrible and horrific psychological toll his son will be forced to go through in this concentration camp, so he spins this elaborate game in order to shield his son from the terrible effects of their situation.
In contrast to this father in the movie, who went to any lengths to shield his son from the Nazi’s, the psychologically twisted mind of the alienating parent puts themselves in the forefront of their divorce holocaust and fails to protect the children from the damaging effects of this family estrangement. Ironically, it is often this same parent who initiated the divorce in the first place which introduces yet another dark, immature, and schizoid element of this parent’s thinking and actions.
In a perverted inversion of priorities, this parent uses the children for their own benefit instead of shielding the children from harm. It is such a bizarre and evil turn about of normality and how humanity has come to view the role of a parent in the proper raising of innocent children.
To make matters worse, these damaged and deceived children actually view this damaged parent as the healthy, normal, and loving one and the alienated parent as the evil Nazi. Again, a complete turn around and upside down perversion of what is real.
Imagine the psychological harm these children must go through to be forced to stuff their normal and healthy feelings toward the alienated parent and “switch off” their loving emotions for them, to then adopt the pathological thinking of this alienating parent. It becomes understandable when so many alienated children seek out mental health professionals when they enter into adulthood as they try and figure out why they are so unhappy, stressed out, emotionally unbalanced, have feelings of worthlessness and guilt, find it difficult to trust others, have a high failure rate in relationships, etc.
Interestingly, my study of PA has given me insight into my own personal mental health struggles, lifelong trust issues, and a long list of failures in both romantic partnerships and regular friendships. My dysfunctional upbringing and being raised by a narcissistic mother and abusive father and step-father no doubt was the foundation of so many of my life failures, regrets, and a lifetime of unwise decisions and failed relationships.
In fact, my realization of the depth of my own wounding as a child is why I have not dated in about 15 years. I realize, looking back and taking inventory on a lifetime of past failed relationships with women, that I lack certain fundamentals necessary for healthy and longterm successes in female companionship.
This is one reason I have never completely blamed my ex-wife for the failure of our two marriages. Yes, it is true she instigated both of them and was the driving force of breaking up our family. As mentioned elsewhere in my blog, I knew divorce would be the very worst possible scenario for our children and I wanted to avoid it at all costs.
And though I was not a perfect husband and was always willing to admit my failures and was intent on being the best husband and provider I could be, stepping back and looking back on my lifetime of other failed relationships, I have to ask myself, “Roy, what was it about you that might be a common denominator of all these failures?”
The answer, of course, is my own psychological makeup, my own mental health issues, my own deep woundings as a child which I never understood prevented me from being a “normal” life partner. And, to be honest, perhaps these woundings have contributed in some tangible aspects to the current mental health struggles of my alienated children.
Children experiencing the dissolution of their families due to divorce encounter a range of psychological challenges. These difficulties can be intensified by any mental health issues their parents bring into the marriage. It is crucial to pinpoint and understand the origins of these challenges for the affected children. This understanding is essential for their eventual healing and for them to move beyond the pain of the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves entangled.