British psychotherapist Karen Woodall writes another relevant article titled, “Underlying Harms: Child Protection and Alienation,” on the challenges facing children who have been alienated against their other parent.
She writes: “What we are working with in parental alienation is a denial and projection dynamic where the child is both victim of the abusive parent, who then becomes helplessly bound into the perpetration of harm in conjunction with the abuser. The reality of what is happening is a mirror image of what we see, it is a projection (which is why children will claim that rejected parents are doing something that it is later evident was actually being done, by the parent to whom the child is aligned. Children become hyper aligned to a parent because of something that parent is doing to them, because they are being abused. Children who witness the abuse of a parent, are seen to align with the abuser and not the abused.”
Though this entire paragraph is eye-opening, I wish to concentrate for now on this specific line: “…The reality of what is happening is a mirror image of what we see, it is a projection (which is why children will claim that rejected parents are doing something that it is later evident was actually being done, by the parent to whom the child is aligned...”
In my multi-decade study of Parental Alienation (PA), I’ve encountered this astonishing claim before. As per the paragraph above, it suggests the actions the alienating parent accuses the alienated or rejected parent of doing are, in reality, what the alienating parent is actually doing to the children.
I first read something like this years ago in my studies on PA and I wondered then, “Is it possible my ex, who falsely accused me of molesting our first born daughter (and possibly our third daughter), be guilty of this heinous crime herself?”
I want to be careful here because I know only too well the damage and personal anguish which such an accusation can bring into the life of an innocent parent who has this claim falsely leveled against them. I am not saying or alleging my ex is guilty of such a crime. But due to her persistent false allegations from the past, and the fact at least one of my other daughters made the same false allegation, I’m left wondering if perhaps my ex is guilty of the very crime she accused me of.
Upon initially encountering this possibility in the Parental Alienation literature I was reading, I promptly dismissed it, believing it didn’t apply to my ex. Having lived with her for what I considered a significant period, especially when our kids were young (with the exception of our firstborn, Angie, not her real name), I held the perception that she was an excellent mother. At that time, seriously contemplating the idea that she could be guilty of sexually molesting our daughters seemed inconceivable.
Even now, decades later, I still don’t think she would ever do something like this, but…why did she falsely accuse me one after the other on several occasions? What twisted mental perversions had she inflicted upon our daughters so that they thought the same thing?
One thing I did consider, though, was the possibility my ex had been sexually molested or abused in some fashion when she was growing up, as a child herself. Again, I have no evidence of this, but according to the experts who specialize in PA and other mental health experts who deal with childhood trauma, this is a possibility. If so, it would help answer many questions why my ex turned into the monster of mental and psychological abuse with her own daughters which she morphed into.
Woodall continues with a quote from Salvador Ferenzi: “…abused children, robbed of their senses by trauma, enter a dissociative trance and become transfixed by the desires and behaviors of the aggressor. Rather than purposefully identifying with the aggressor, their personalities fragment, and they automatically mimic their abuser. This process includes a ‘confusion of tongues’ between the abused child and the abusive adult.”
Again, this is yet another astonishing quote, eye opening in its insights into why alienated children can react so hatefully and bitterly against the rejected parent they once loved and admired. They “enter a dissociative trance and become transfixed by the desires and behaviors of the aggressor...and they automatically mimic their abuser.“
In essence, when hostile, hateful, and disrespectful children treat a parent poorly, it’s essentially a mirror reflection of how the alienating parent views this rejected parent. Through the words and attitudes of their children, these rejected parents are witnessing what their former spouse now feels about them.
If I understand Woodall’s perspective correctly, children engage in this behavior as a means of protecting themselves from experiencing a complete mental breakdown. This is a result of the overwhelming stresses and emotions that arise when they are caught in the middle of two parents they both love. Now, they find themselves compelled to choose a side, a task neither desired nor effectively manageable. As a result, they resort to the twin survival tactics of splitting and entering a dissociative state.
These findings exemplify why Parental Alienation (PA) is accurately recognized as a form of extreme child abuse. It necessitates the assistance of mental health professionals who are seasoned experts in this pathology to aid children and adults in comprehending and navigating through this challenging phase of their lives. Without such intervention, these innocent individuals may endure a lifetime of wounds, remaining unaware of the numerous challenges they consistently encounter in their daily lives and relationships.