Induced Psychological Splitting (Part One)

I previously mentioned the work of British psychotherapist Karen Woodall and briefly mentioned “splitting.” In this post, I wish to return to Woodall’s perspective on Parental Alienation (PA) and her perspective on the pathology known as “Induced Psychological Splitting.”

I will be referring to her article titled, “What is Induced Psychological Splitting and Why Does it Matter?” It has been one of the most helpful and eye-opening articles I have read in the past 20 years since first learning about PA and it’s horrific effects on children—including my own.

I believe this is one of those articles which are a “must read.” What Woodall discusses in this post has helped to answer some of the myriad of vexing issues I have been forced to deal with since losing all three of my children from the adverse effects of PA.

She writes in the first sentence of her first paragraph: “Induced psychological splitting is the core problem seen when a child hyper aligns with one parent and rejects the other outright after divorce and separation, expecially (sic) when the child shows contempt and lack of empathy for the parent who is being rejected.”

Note she states the “core problem” when a child “hyper aligns with one parent and rejects the other outright after divorce and separation” is “induced psychological splitting.”

Woodall is an experienced psychotherapist who has spent decades dealing with families torn asunder by PA. For an expert with her credentials to forcefully state the “core problem” of a certain pathology is one particular diagnosis (induced psychological splitting), parents—or alienated children—searching for certain answers should sit up and take particular notice of what she is saying.

She then writes: “In my clinical experience, the level of contempt which is demonstrated for the rejected parent in this situation, is accompanied by an equal measure of idealisation of the aligned parent. The stronger the idealisation, the stronger the contemptuous rejection, this is because what we are looking at is not the child’s own expression of feeling, it is a projection onto the parents of the split off positive/negative material which is caused by the defence of psychological spliting. The damage which is done to a child who is induced into this state of mind is long lasting and deeply harmful as it removes from the child, the capacity to feel their own feelings, have healthy relationships with important adults and prevents the development of the capacity to hold ambivalent feelings, which is an important part of being able to manage conflict in life.”

As I read this article, it was uncanny how accurately it was precisely describing what I have been dealing with in my 20 year dilemma with my estranged children, especially with my youngest, Aimie (not her real name). The hatred and vilification she has expressed towards me in the handful of brief communications (all through emails) we have had in the past 20 years has been nothing short of shocking.

Aimie sees me as the embodiment of evil, lacking any trace of human decency or value, while she views her mother as “Mother Mary” —a semi-angelic figure incapable of wrongdoing, the very essence of human perfection and goodness.

I have struggled with these two false caricatures for decades, failing to understand how this could exist in the minds of my own daughters, and especially in the mind of Aimie. How could they view me in such a horrifically and totally negative light while simultaneously viewing their mother as a paragon of perfection and saintliness?

Woodall provides the answer: induced psychological splitting. This knowledge provided me with one of the many missing puzzle pieces preventing me from completing a coherent picture of why my own flesh and blood hates me with such a virulent, pure strain of malice.

Worse, far worse, is the further knowledge which reveals the deep psychological damage and wounding occurring in the hearts and minds of my daughters who, out of necessity, have been forced into this damaging, psychological state of splitting.

This is a heartbreaking revelation if indeed this is what has happened with my children. I am not a mental health expert and have received no special training in psychotherapy, but I am a father who has grieved over, and has been desperately seeking answers, for 20 years concerning how and why I lost all three of my daughters.

She continues: “As psychotherapists, our interest is in how to help children to heal from the split state of mind in divorce and separation and in particular in situations where they have been induced (forced) into the defence of splitting via the influence of a psychologically unwell parent…”

Note she uses the two words “induced (forced)” in describing what has happened to these children. A state of induced psychological splitting is one which has been forced into them “via the influence of a psychologically unwell parent…”

In the case of my children, the question arises, “Who is the psychologically unwell parent?” Is it me, the person they have had almost and literally zero contact for the last 20 years? I have not seen or even spoken over the phone with Aimie for going on 20 years. The last time I saw her was when she was eight years old, and she is now almost 29.

The same is substantially true for my other daughters, with only slight variations.

Based on information and belief, Aimie continues to reside with her mother. It remains uncertain whether she has ever experienced an extended period living apart from her mother, although my limited interaction with her, confined to a few emails, prevents me from confirming this detail.

For twenty years following my second divorce, Aimie seems to have resided consistently under her mother’s roof and influence, not mine as her father. Consequently, who has exerted the most significant developmental influence on her? Under whose roof have they primarily spent the majority of their time? Certainly not mine.

In a nutshell, can it be reasonably argued I’m the psychologically unwell parent who has been responsible for inducing my children into this psychological, unhealthy splitting state?

I have never claimed to be a perfect parent and realize I have my struggles, faults, and deficiencies—even my own mental health issues and possible disorders— but I loved my daughters and tried to be the best father and provider I could be. I’m aware of the deep seated trauma I experienced as a child and how that dysfunctional upbringing no doubt contributed to my own faults in childrearing. But I also know, and no one can convince me otherwise, that nothing I did—or didn’t do—warranted my ex in her disastrous decision to completely excise me out of their lives.

The fact is, my kids have not had me in their lives in any significant capacity for going on 20 years. And I must emphasize again I have not laid eyes on my youngest, Aimie, for twenty years. If I had not seen her in pictures on social media, if she had walked right past me in the street, I would have never recognized her as being my daughter.

I therefore submit it is not me who qualifies as the psychologically unwell parent . I am not responsible for the induced psychological splitting dynamics inflicted upon them, if indeed a prognosis of this pathology is a correct one.

As conclusive evidence, I want to emphasize I never intended to prevent my daughters from maintaining a relationship with their mother or to influence them negatively against her. Even in an unlikely scenario where all three of my daughters reunited with me, recognizing their mother’s role in turning them against me, and despite their resentment towards her leading them to sever ties, I would not support or encourage their understandable choice.

Why? Simply put, she is their mother, and her relationship to our children is a sacred one, and vice-versa. Though I believe she is an unfit mother and has done incalculable harm to them, still, she is their mother who warrants their love. They don’t have to agree with everything she thinks and does, and one day, when they “wake up,” they will abhor how she has manipulated and used them against their own father. Despite understanding the severity of her malevolence, I would never advise or encourage them to permanently cut ties with her.

The most I could, in all conscience, recommend to each of them is a temporary and necessary separation from her for a certain amount of time so they can be set free from the poisonous and pathological grip she has over each one of them. This would allow them to heal and re-establish their relationship with me.

But this separation would only, in my opinion, be temporary and I would hope and encourage them to reconcile with her. Again, there exists that sacred bond between each of them, and their happiness and success in life depends at least in some major part on their continued relationship together as a family.

Unfortunately, my ex denied this same sacred relationship each of them had at one time with me as their father. She set out to destroy it, for whatever pathological set of reasons she felt she was entitled to. And in this act of destruction, she destroyed a part of her own daughters, that part that is forever linked with me and was taken from them and myself.