The term “transition bridge” was coined by therapists Karen and Nick Woodall. It refers to the psychological space between divorcing parents that children must bridge when their family splits into two parts. Sometimes the space created is not very wide, in which case the transition bridge is less difficult to cross. In other cases, the span can be so vast it is difficult or impossible for children to successfully negotiate. The breakup of a family causes a serious disruption of relationships for the children involved if they cannot find their way to successfully bridge the transition.
When a safe, intact family system is altered through divorce, the children suddenly must obtain their security and sense of self from two separate sources that are no longer in the same family relationship. The ability of children to adapt to the change in their family is influenced by such variables as the age of the children, their birth order, their existing level of self-esteem, and the kind of relationship the separating parents can establish.
When children must separate from one parent and go to the other, they need to cross the “transition bridge.” If the parents can maintain a civil attitude and they both support the children’s relationship with the other parent through these transitions, the children can adjust successfully. On the other hand, if children are too stressed by a hostile relationship between their parents, this pressure can force them to choose one parent over the other to reduce the intolerable stress. The degree to which children reject one parent when this happens determines the level of parental alienation that occurs. It is important to recognize that the point of pathology is in the relationship, not the children.
Alienation is caused by the conscious or unconscious undermining of the target parent by the alienating parent. Children are the victims because this abusive manipulation forces them to align with the alienating parent for psychological survival. The importance of this statement cannot be overemphasized. It explains why parental alienation has such overwhelming power.
This concept of the transition bridge helped me understand the incredible stress put on my son when he was forced to choose his father over me. It provides a framework from which I can understand and forgive my son’s rejection and bad behavior toward me because I see clearly that it is not his behavior that is bad. He is merely mimicking his father’s mindset as he follows his own basic instinct for psychological survival.
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