Is Gingrich right? A Country Divided Is an Unhealthy Country?

October 16, 2013

coverdropshadowA “temporary” budget deal may be reached today. Newt Gingrich, on CNN, remarked that each side identifies the other as bullies; that each side vilifies the other; and, that a country with this big a divide is an unhealthy country. Agreed.

Commentators use terms like dysfunction, bullying, grandstanding, losers, pointing fingers, divide, taking side, etc. Ring a bell? Sounds like a high-conflict divorce.

The missing term, only because they don’t know it yet, is splitting. Authors Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., President of High Conflict Institute and Don Saposnek, PhD, clinical psychologist, mediator and adjunct professor at University of California at Santa Cruz, describe high-conflict politics and “splitting” in their book, Splitting America: How Today’s Politicians, Super PACs, and the News Media Mirror High Conflict Divorce,  Read on from Chapter 1 and note the similarity in everything we’re hearing on the news and experiencing today in the U.S.:

Something nasty is happening in America. Have you noticed the trend? There’s more bullying, more incivility, more disrespect and even more relationship violence between us at home, at work, in our communities and in the news. And, it seems to be increasing rather than decreasing.

We have noticed a pattern to this behavior that is all too familiar. It generally includes:

• Personal Attacks (calling the other person crazy, stupid, immoral or evil)

• Crisis Emotions (which trigger fear and hatred of each other)

• All-or-Nothing Solutions (which call for the elimination or exclusion of the “other”)

• Narcissistic Behavior (acting superior and not caring about anyone else)

• Negative Advocates (constantly recruiting others to join in this hostility)

We are well-acquainted with this pattern in high-conflict divorces, and it’s not good. This behavior is called “high-conflict” because it increases the conflict, rather than reducing or resolving it. Worst of all, it’s contagious – it spreads when people are exposed to it, like a virus.

This behavior results in a state of mind called “splitting” – the psychological term for truly believing that certain people are absolutely all-bad and others are absolutely all-good, with no gray areas in between (Millon, 1996). This might not seem like a serious problem, except for the fact that the spread of splitting leads people to stop speaking to each other, to hate each other, and sometimes, to be violent with each other. It also distracts us from solving real problems. We are now concerned that this behavior is spreading into politics at all levels.

Today’s Leaders

Recently, political leaders in both parties appear to be adopting and escalating high-conflict behavior, and perhaps, even leading it. Millionaires and billionaires are funding expensive ads as key elements in high-conflict election campaigns. And, the news promotes high-conflict behavior in every broadcast – to children as well as to adults – by relentlessly showing, and thereby teaching, the most dramatic bad behavior of the day.

We believe that the politicians, donors to Super PACs and the news media don’t seem to realize how destructive and self-destructive this escalation of high-conflict behavior can be. We would like to warn them and the rest of the nation about the dead-end nature of this unrestrained behavior that knows no limits.

We have seen splitting destroy too many families, and we don’t want to see it destroy the American family. We want to avoid a Democrat-Republican high-conflict divorce. In approaching these problems, it’s not about pointing fingers and deciding who is more at fault. It’s about everyone taking responsibility for his or her own behavior, and managing collaborative relationships, even when we disagree.

Who Are We, and Why Did We Write This Book?

We are a psychologist and a family law attorney, each who has worked with divorcing families for over 30 years. And, we both are family mediators – we meet with divorcing couples and help them calm down and work together for the sake of their children and their own futures. We are not politicians or political scientists, but we have learned ways of calming high-conflict families and helping them work together peacefully, for the sake of the children and their parents’ future lives.

At a recent conference on high-conflict divorce, we discussed how much the dynamics of the current elections mirror high-conflict divorce. The closer we looked, the more similar these dynamics appeared. In fact, to both of us, the parallels are striking, and the solutions may be too.

We thought it would be worth a try to analyze this and come up with some suggestions for how to change the destructive direction in which we seem to be headed. This book is our small effort to calm this conflict.

You can get more information about Splitting America here.

Unhooked Books is the one place for people to find the best and most current information and resources available on personality disorders, high-conflict personalities, divorce, parenting, co-parenting, living healthy, eating healthy, and managing your life. Founder & CEO, Megan Hunter, established one place for people in any type of relationship to find tools to enhance relationships, prevent relationship disaster and handle relationship transition. Her firm belief is that with just a little education, most people can resolve most relationship issues.

Bill Eddy, L.C.S.W., J.D. is a family law attorney, therapist and mediator, with over thirty years’ experience working with children and families. He is the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is also the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers, trainers and consultants on the subject of managing high-conflict people in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare and education. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law and he teaches Psychology of Conflict at the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law. He is the author of several books, including:

Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder

BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns

It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything

Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D. is a clinical-child psychologist, child custody mediator and family therapist in private practice for over 40 years, and is a national and international trainer of mediation and child development. For the past 35 years, he has been teaching on the psychology faculty at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and is Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. He is the author of the classic book, Mediating Child Custody Disputes and has published extensively in the professional literature on child custody and child psychology. He serves on the editorial boards of the Family Court Review and Conflict Resolution Quarterly journals and is the editor of the international Academy of Professional Family Mediators’ The Professional Family Mediator. As director of Family Mediation Service of Santa Cruz, he managed the family court services for 17 years and has mediated nearly 5,000 child custody disputes in both the public and private sectors since 1977. For more information about Don Saposnek, please visit:


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