Childhood Relational Trauma: When Children Align and Reject After Divorce or Separation

Date: 28 Jan 2023

Author: karenwoodall /Forwarded by Lena Hellblom Sjögren 28 Jan 2023/


When I write about the issue of children’s alignment and rejection after divorce and separation rather than parental alienation, it is because as a psychotherapist working with children who display this behavioural pattern, I am working with the underlying psychological dynamics which are present in the family affected. As a psychotherapist, I need to understand those dynamics in their entirety, because in order to treat them, I have to be able to understand how they appear in the family system. I also have to understand how treatment must be delivered in the correct manner at the correct time. If I do not understand this, then what I am doing is experimenting and experimenting with this problem, is never a good thing to do.

This problem is, in my clinical experience, a childhood relational trauma which is caused by the primitive defences of denial, splitting and projection, in children who are vulnerable because they are triangulated into the dissolution of the parental relationship. Whilst the presenting problem appears to be the rejection of a parent, the actual clinical problem is the child’s alignment with a parent which is pathological. The pathological nature of the alignment is rooted in the attachment maladaptations that the child has been forced to make due to the parental demands in the inter-psychic relationship. This is reinforced by the parental power and control over a child which enables the fusion of the relationship to take hold. Enmeshment and abandonment threat are the two key dynamics which are seen when working with alienated children and it is this which makes this a childhood relational trauma.

Childhood Relational Trauma

Relational trauma is a term used to describe the aftermath of abuse, neglect, maltreatment, or abandonment within a relationship. Experiencing childhood relational trauma, can affect how a person sees themselves and the type of relationship they believe they “deserve. Whilst the word ‘trauma’ is often used to describe the type of abuse we are familiar with, physical or sexual abuse being the most commonly recognised forms of childhood harm, emotional and psychological abuse is also a childhood relational trauma. In fact emotional and psychological abuse, especially that which feels to the child as if it is a loving bond, is a particularly insidious form of abuse, prescisely because to the child it feels so good. Being an adult’s ‘special child’ because the adult needs the child to regulate their feelings, places an impossible burden upon a child which creates a sense of omnipotency AND deep discomfort. The child at once likes the feeling of being the special child, whilst struggling against the inverted bond which they are aware of. An inverted bond in this regard meaning that the child is aware that the parent is looking to them to have their needs met. Childhood relational trauma leaves a lasting legacy, this video explains more about why.

What Lies Beneath Alignment in Divorce and Separation?

When we examine the alignment between the child and parent we can see varying levels of interpersonal threat which cause the child to respond in ways which reassure the parent that they are in control. This is a feedback loop which begins with parental signals to the child that it is not acceptable to love the other parent, discomfort which is leaked to the child when it is time for the child to spend time away, projection onto the other parent of the split off anxiety in a parent, which is shared with the child either verbally or unconsciously and which ends with the child conforming to the will of the parent by aligning strongly with them.

Parentification is one of the biggest problems that I see in my work with adult children of divorce and separation and this goes for those who were not alienated from one parent as well as those who were. Parentification is a boundary violation, in which children are used to meet the needs of a parent. In divorce and separation, many children are pulled into this position for a time but as the family rights itself and parents move on in life, they return to being the parent. This next video explains that transitional period very well.

For other children, the role of parenting a parent continues long after the divorce and separation and the child can be bound into an alignment with a parent which becomes a hostile coalition against the other parent. In the psychological literature, this is articulated especially well by structural family therapist such as Salvador Minuchin.

There are particular features of families affected by hostile coalitions between children and parents, I wrote about this in a blog some years ago. Working with these families requires a particular approach, a skill set which includes a deep knowledge of how such families present and how that is different to the internal world experienced by its members. In such families, the hierarchy of relationships is inverted, with children often seen as having more power than the adults, parenting is not an actual process in these families, which operate more like a cult, where loyalty to the system comes before experiencing of one’s own emotional and psychological needs. In such circumstances, children cannot develop a sense of self but instead coexist in the inter-psychic world of the family within diffuse boundaries which lack the definition between self and other.

There is much more to say about Childhood Relational Trauma in divorce and separation and over the coming months we will be exploring all those things which lie beneath, as part of our project to curate a body of knowledge which is rooted in the psychological literature, for parents and practitioners to use in healing and treating families affected by a child’s alignment and rejection behaviour.

Boka in 5 mars 2023 för att lyssna på Dr.William Bernet

Update Regarding Parental Alienation Relational Problem and DSM-5-TR”

When: Mar 5, 2023 08:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Topic: ”Update Regarding Parental Alienation Relational Problem and DSM-5-TR” Dr. William Bernet

Register in advance for this webinar:

Most of the participants in Family Access programs want to find ways to educate mental health and legal professionals as well as the general public regarding parental alienation. There are many approaches to that goal – one method, for example, is for parental alienation to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR). Our speaker for the March 5 webinar, William Bernet, M.D., is one of the major proponents for including parental alienation in DSM-5-TR. He was one of the authors of the proposal that was submitted to the DSM-5-TR Steering Committee in November 2022. At the March 5 webinar, we will learn the current status of the proposal.

The initial Sunday night webinar is of no charge to you.

Dr. Bernet, a graduate of Holy Cross College, summa cum laude, and Harvard Medical School, is a professor emeritus at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.  He is board certified in general psychiatry, child psychiatry, and forensic psychiatry.  As an expert in forensic psychiatry, Dr. Bernet has testified about 300 times in 24 states in the U.S.  Dr. Bernet has written professional articles and book chapters on a variety of subjects, including: group and individ­ual therapy with children and adolescents; humor in psychother­apy; forensic child psychiatry; child maltreatment; true and false allegations of abuse; satanic ritual abuse; reincarnation; child custody and visitation; parental alienation; testimony regarding behavioral genomics; and risk management.  In 2007, Dr. Bernet and Judge Don R. Ash published Children of Divorce: A Practical Guide for Parents, Therapists, Attorneys, and Judges. Dr. Bernet edited Parental Alienation, DSM-5, and ICD-11, which was published in 2010.  Dr. Bernet and his colleagues edited Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals, which was published in 2013. He and Dr. Demosthenes Lorandos edited Parental Alienation – Science and Law, which was published in 2020.  Dr. Bernet was the founder and first president of the Parental Alienation Study Group.

When: Mar 5, 2023 08:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Topic: ”Update Regarding Parental Alienation Relational Problem and DSM-5-TR” Dr. William Bernet

Register in advance for this webinar:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


Föreläsning på nätet om familjens betydelse av pensionerade domaren Philip Marcus från Israel 5 februari 2023

The Threats to the Family From All Sides”

The value and importance of family are being denigrated by groups and movements of many kinds.
The presentation will describe the importance of family, to its members,  the nation and to society as a whole. The threats emanate from postmodernist ideas and critical theory, from media coverage of families and their dissolution, and from unwillingness  to recognize the responsibilities that go with couple and child-parent relationships.

There will also be some recommendations as to how to strengthen the idea of family.

The initial Sunday night webinar is of no charge to you.

Deadline to register for this event is Sunday, February 5, 2023 by 6 PM EST

When: Feb 5, 2023 08:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada) 
Topic: ”The Threats to the Family From All Sides” Retired Israeli Judge Philip Marcus

Register in advance for this webinar:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Philip Marcus was born and educated in England. After obtaining his LL.B. (Bachelor of Laws) degree at University College London, and qualifying as a Solicitor, he moved to Jerusalem in 1978. He was admitted as an Advocate at the Israel Bar in 1979.
He was appointed a Judge of the Jerusalem Magistrates Court in 1995,  and served as a Judge of the Family Court from its opening in 1997 until his retirement in 2012.
Philip Marcus obtained a Master’s degree in Law (LL.M.) from Haifa University in 2008.

Philip Marcus was appointed a Judge of the Jerusalem Magistrates Court in 1995 and served as a Judge of the Family Court from its opening in 1997.  For five years he served as Chief Judge of the Jerusalem Family Court. He retired from the Bench in 2012.
He is consulted by governments and organizations around the world about family law and family court system reform, therapeutic jurisprudence, and prevention and handling of child psychological maltreatment, including parental alienation.
He also directs courses and seminars for the training of professionals and students with a view to multidisciplinary prevention programs, early identification of possible problems and immediate remedial intervention, and speedy and effective court action when needed.
+972 544455703

Consultant, Author & Lecturer

Philip Marcus is a consultant to governments and organizations around the world about family court system reform, interdisciplinary collaboration, and prevention of parental alienation, including, where necessary, proposals for changes in the law, and to committees of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) on all proposed legislation concerning children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. . He has lectured on five continents on these topics.
He is a member of national and international organizations which focus on children who are affected by parental separation and divorce and child-parent contact problems and therapeutic jurisprudence. For example, he is the Chair of Advisory Boards, Two Wishes and a Member of the Professional Advisory Board,  In-Between

Among his published articles:

The Israel Family Court – Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Jurisprudential Therapy from the Start, (International Journal of Law and Psychiatry).
Parental Responsibilities: Reformulating the Paradigm for Parent-Child Relationships (Journal of Child Custody).

Innovative Programs in Israel for Prevention and Responding to Parental Alienation: Education, Early Identification and Timely and Effective Intervention (Family Court Review)
​The Role of the Social Worker in Preventing Child-Parent Contact Failure, (Contemporary Family) 
The Role of the Lawyer in Preventing and Handling Child-Parent Contact Problems, in Contemporary Family Magazine, Fall 2021, 28-30
November 2021


Anfallskrig eller konflikt?

Ett land anfalls

Försvarar sig

Vill återfå sina landområden

En förälder anfalls

Försvarar sig

Vill att barnen åter ska få vara med sina båda föräldrar

Vill önska Ett Gott Nytt År trots allt…

Varma och innerliga hälsningar till alla de barn och deras mammor, pappor, far- och morföräldrar, och andra nära och kära till barnen som grundlöst uteslutits från varandras kärlek

Socialtjänsten – i barnens tjänst?

2022-11-12, Lena Hellblom Sjögren

Tänk dig att du söker sjukvården för att du har ont t.ex. i hjärtat.

Du tas emot – men det är bara en av fyra som blir hjälpta!

Resten blir inte hjälpta – utan de blir kanske allt sjukare.

Du vet inte om du blir den av de fyra som får hjälp – eller om du kommer att bli sjukare.

Skulle du i ett sådant läge söka sjukvården?

Skulle du i ett sådant läge rekommendera en närstående eller en god vän att söka sjukvården?

Ovanstående reflektioner har föranletts av rapporten i Dagens Eko härom dagen om att av 100 interventioner för barn som socialtjänsten gjort, vilka hade granskats av en forskare, var det 25 som hade en evidensbaserad grund. För övriga interventioner var utgången oviss – kanske hade det blivit sämre?

ingen utvärdering görs inom denna stora välfärdssektor som socialtjänsten utgör. Där arbetar i bästa fall examinerade socionomer med 3.5 års generalistutbildning. Det betyder att de under sin utbildning har fått lära sig lite om mycket, utan att fördjupa sig eller specialisera sig.

Jag tycker synd om alla dessa, ofta unga handläggare, som inte har fått Socialstyrelsens hjälp att få tillgång till tillförlitliga utredningsverktyg vilka skulle underlätta deras ansvarsfulla arbetsuppgifter. De har inte heller några nationella riktlinjer att följa, dvs. de har inga väl utprövade checklistor så som t.ex. finns i dag inom sjukvården vid hjärtsmärta. De har inga krav på autentisk dokumentation av sina samtal med barn, eller av att utvärdera sina beslutade insatser/interventioner. De har inget tjänstemannaansvar ty det är avskaffat – och de har ingen legitimation att försvara.

Domstolarna förordnar sedan mitten av 1990-talet endast socialtjänstemän för att göra utredningar i mål som rör vårdnad, boende och umgänge. När dessa utredningar som en formsak har passerat lokalpolitikerna i socialnämnden levereras de till domstolarna, som i uppskattningsvis 98 fall av 100 bygger sina beslut om barnens framtid på dessa utredningar.

Detta svenska system, som utifrån de systemfel som finns inbyggda, måste konstateras vara rättsosäkert – framför allt för barnen. Och det är vad jag vet unikt bland världens länder.

I de flesta jämförbara länder är det multiprofessionella team med legitimationer att försvara som involveras för att göra sakliga och opartiska utredningar – och ge domstolarna ett så sakligt baserat underlag som möjligt till vad som kan anses vara i barnens bästa intresse.

I vårdnadstvister, både mellan föräldrar och mellan en eller två föräldrar och socialtjänsten är en vanlig intervention – utan därför tillförlitligen utredd saklig grund – att avskilja barnet/barnen från den ena föräldern eller från dem båda.

Detta görs mot bättre vetande eftersom det finns ett solitt vetenskapligt underlag för slutsatsen att barn mår bäst om de får dela vardagsliv med båda sina föräldrar – förutsatt att dessa är goda nog.

”Hur hjärntvätt påverkar ett barns hjärna” – föreläsning 4 december 2022

5 November 2022, Förmedling av uppgifter om föreläsning från FAMILY ACCESS – Fighting for Children´s Rights

Lena Hellblom Sjögren, who also took the photo

View in Browser
”How Brainwashing Works on Child’s Brain”

A child’s developing brain learns primarily through experience and is shaped in many ways by their parent’s behavior throughout childhood. This program will talk about parts of a child’s brain that are easily influenced including the long-term development of the two hemispheres, the amygdala, and the corpus callosum.  The issue of pruning neurons in early adolescence will be addressed which may partially erase a child’s positive memories of a previously loved parent. We will look at how the child adopts a purely negative vision of one parent (the rejected parent) based on repetition of highly emotional statements while in isolation with the other parent (the favored parent), and why allowing the isolation of a child with a high-conflict parent is to be strongly avoided.

When: Dec 4, 2022 08:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada) 
Topic: ”How Brainwashing Works on a Child’s Brain” Bill Eddy

The deadline to register is Sunday, December 4, 2022 by 6 PM EST.

Register in advance for this webinar:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Bill Eddy is co-founder and chief innovation officer of High Conflict Institute. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is the world’s leading expert on methods for managing disputes involving people with high conflict personalities.
Bill has worked as the senior family mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center, a certified family law specialist representing clients in family court, and a licensed clinical social worker therapist. In 2021, he received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Academy of Professional Mediators.

He serves on the faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law in California and is a conjoint associate professor with the University of Newcastle Law School in Australia. He has delivered talks and trainings in more than 30 U.S. states and thirteen countries and is the author or co-author of 20 books. His popular blog on the Psychology Today website has more than 5 million views. He trains lawyers, judges, and mediators, and regularly consults on issues of alienation, family violence, and false allegations in family court cases.


Lena Hellblom Sjögren 27 oktober 2022

Vilka är drivkrafterna när en förälder farliggörs?

Ledstjärnorna för oss människor

  • vilka är de?

Sanning och rättvisa?

  • eller fiktion och krig?

Vad driver en pappa

  • eller en mamma?

Varför vill den ena den andra illa?

Varför ska barnet offras

  • i den enas anfallskrig mot den andra?

Varför ser inte omvärlden

  • att anfallaren gör om världen och
  • använder barnet mot den andra
  • så att barnet måste dela sig för att stå ut
  • och tro på fiktionen
  • förlora sanningen
  • inte förstå vad rättvisa är

När omvärlden gjorts svart eller vit

  • och barnet inte kan tänka egna tankar
  • eller ha en egen vilja
  • då lyssnar omvärlden på barnet

Och vänder sig mot den förälder som anfallits

Och skyddar barnet

  • det är så de säger

när de hjälper anfallaren

Vilka är drivkrafterna?

  • för att göra allt flera barn halva
  • ta ifrån dem deras identitet
  • och kränka deras rätt till familjeliv?

Är det högmod, avund, vrede

  • eller lättja?

Eller blir det bara

  • som det blir
  • av likgiltighet för lidandet
  • som de inte ser?

Hur ska de dömande kunna förstå?

  • de lyssnar ju till dem som tror de skyddar barnet
  • de som lyssnat på barnet
  • när anfallaren har gjort sitt
  • när barnets vilja blivit anfallarens
  • och omvärlden blivit skev
  • när den ena föräldern ses som dum och farlig
  • och den andra som god och snäll

Fiktion och krig har vunnit

Över sanning och rättvisa

Ändå lever ett hopp om att det inte måste vara så för evigt

Att några barn ska räddas

Och inte söka efter att bli någon

  • kanske bland dem som skjuter
  • eller bland dem som tror på enkla lösningar

Vad ska den anfallna mamman

  • eller pappan – göra?

När barnet hålls isolerat

  • och bevakas av anfallarens allierade

i tron att de hjälper till att skydda barnet

  • mot en för barnet farlig mamma
  • eller pappa?

Det finns olämpliga och farliga föräldrar som skadar sina barn.

Här handlar det om goda nog föräldrar

en mamma eller pappa som barnet älskat och haft en nära relation till,

föräldrar som älskar sina barn,

föräldrar som får ett hårdare straff än lagen känner

tidsobestämd förlust av sitt älskade barn

kanske för livet

till ännu större skada för barnet

som fått sin livshistoria omgjord

och sina tankar reformerade

och uppfattas som mycket trovärdig

i sitt hat mot sin farliggjorda förälder

Var landar sorgen?

Funderingar i kvällningen och i gryningen från Lena Hellblom Sjögren den 15 oktober 2022

var landar sorgen

efter barnet som lever

och inte får finnas i ditt liv ?

och var hamnar sorgen hos barnet?

efter en mamma eller pappa som lever

och inte får finnas i barnets liv?

hos papppan som skjuter sig i pannan

hos sonen som hoppar från bron

hos dottern som vill hoppa från balkongen

eller får panikattacker?

hos alla de barn som blir halva

som tappar halva sig själva

och söker en identitet någonstans

där de ofta skadar sig själva

eller andra?

hos morfadern som dör av sorg och saknad

hos farmodern som tappar all livslust

och tynar bort?

De som säger att de vet

de vet att det är den förälderns fel

som är utesluten

de förstår inte…

de rekommenderar fortsatt uteslutning

för att – som de säger – skydda barnet

Parental Alienation Relational Problem och DSM-5

Publicering 2022-10-12 av meddelande från professor emeritus William Bernet, ordförande för PASG, Parental Alienation Study Group, där jag, Lena Hellblom Sjögren, sedan flera år är styrelsemedlem (men avgår efter PASG 2024 konferensen i Oslo 6-7 september)

Most PASG members already know about the proposal that parental alienation be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR).  We announced this project in the July 2022 issue of PAI.  Since then, we have received more than 2,000 endorsements from individuals and organizations.

We now have a dedicated website for this project, which is  The proposal itself and several appendices are available on the website, as well as links for individuals and organizations who want to endorse the proposal.

We also have a booth at the Exhibit Hall of the big conference for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, in Toronto, Canada, during October 18-22, 2022.  The attached document is the large poster that will be displayed in the Exhibit Hall.

Z62.898 Parental Alienation Relational Problem

This category may be used when a child—usually one whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict separation or divorce—allies strongly with one parent and rejects a relationship with the other parent without a good reason.

The diagnosis of parental alienation relational problem usually requires five criteria:

• child avoids, resists, or refuses a relationship with a parent
• presence of a prior positive relationship between the child and the now rejected parent
• absence of abuse, neglect, or seriously deficient parenting by the now rejected parent
• use of multiple alienating behaviors by the favored parent
• manifestations of behavioral signs of alienation by the child

If you have questions about the content of the proposal or if you have suggestions or corrections, send them to me at …

William Bernet, M.D.

Den ena förälderns farliggörande av en förälder och att vända barnet mot denna förälder – bör det bli klassificerat som en relationsstörning i den internationella diagnosmanualen DSM-5?


Do you agree with the proposal that parental alienation relational problem be included in DSM-5-TR?  More than 1,000 individuals and organizations have endorsed the proposal.

If you agree with the proposal, we hope you will endorse it in the following manner …

If you agree with the proposal and wish to endorse it, contact Dr. Mandy Matthewson if you are an …

  • Individual Researcher
  • Individual Practitioner
  • Individual Child Advocate – such as an alienated parent or grandparent
  • Former Child of Parental Alienation

When you contact Dr. Matthewson, provide your name, professional degree (if any), academic affiliation (if any), and location. Contact Dr. Matthewson at ENDORSEMENTS

However, contact Dr. Jennifer Harman if you represent a …

  • Research Group
  • Practitioner Group
  • Advocacy Group
  • Professional Organization

Send Dr. Harman the name of the group or organization, its location, and its website. Also, include a very brief description of the group, such as its size and its mission. Contact Dr. Harman at

© 2022 PARP & DSM. All Rights Reserved.