Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone whose relationships are forever changed by the shootings in Santa Barbara.

Blame abounds. Who or what is responsible? Video games, lax gun laws, a seriously flawed mental health system, garbage movies and video games, the parents, a kid suffering from Affluenza and narcissism?

Apparently, the shooter was a lost, lonely kid who we believe was mentally ill, but do we know his diagnosis? Schizophrenia? Antisocial Personality Disorder? Who knows? But his self-admitted ‘pining for his mother’ speaks volumes about the ugly seed growing in him. This guy experienced a lot of loss in his formative years.

Loss 1 – Parents moved him from Europe to the U.S. at age 5 = Loss of culture, home and possibly extended family

Loss 2 – Parents divorced at age of 6 = Loss of family, safety, and stability

Loss 3 – Dad quickly brought new woman into his life = Loss of hope of family reunification, loss of time with Dad

Loss 4 – Mom moved back to Europe = Loss of primary relationship…and hope.

Most kids, depending on their temperament, could handle this.

Instead of pointing all fingers at the shooter, we could take a look at a narcissistic society that lacks emphasis on commitment to marriage and family. I’m not blaming the parents for doing what most have done. Sometimes dissolution is unavoidable but in many or maybe even most cases we could make it work. Maybe we ought not to rely on the common thinking that we shouldn’t stay together for the kids. Maybe we should.

Here are a few suggestions for help in dealing with building a strong marriage, or helping kids cope when divorce is the only answer.

An evidence-based online program for kids whose parents are going through divorce. Children of Divorce – Coping with Divorce. Kids who take this course during their parent’s divorce, or maybe even after, have a far better chance at sustaining good mental health both now and into their adult lives. Highly Recommended

A helpful book on building a strong marriage: Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart

Great gift for anyone having a baby:

Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love

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New-Orleans-blog-4-30-142It’s the busy travel season! Over the past month, I was in five cities (in four time zones) giving seminars on managing high-conflict personalities. First, I was in New Orleans, to present to their new AFCC Chapter there (see photo with organizers). I saw old friends and met many new ones, as we discussed key issues in managing high conflict parents (and an occasional high-conflict professional) in separation and divorce cases. I emphasized recognizing patterns of high-conflict personalities, so that professionals will use different methods to help them – not to diagnose them.

I encouraged having a “private working theory” which includes not trying to force insights on high-conflict people (HCPs) – just forgedaboudit! – because this just creates an unnecessary tug of war that frustrates the client and the professional. Instead, I gave four key skills to use, which focus on future behavior and decision-making: Connecting with Empathy, Attention and Respect; Analyzing Alternatives (making proposals, etc.); Responding to Misinformation or hostile emails (BIFF Responses); and Setting Limits. Of course, I got in some New Orleans jazz, gumbo and scenery – and I look forward to the AFCC International conference there in 2015!

Next, I spoke at a children’s hospital and gave them similar tools. The staff especially liked the BIFF Response method for dealing with angry emails and letters. We practiced responding to parents in conflict over their child’s treatment. Most people don’t realize that working with children in any setting these days involves dealing with separated and divorced parents, some of whom remain extremely angry at each other and carry out their conflicts into the children’s healthcare treatment, education, recreation and other activities. I was very pleased to work with such dedicated professionals who are willing to work with ill children – and their high-conflict parents.

Then, on to Calgary in Alberta, Canada. There I spoke to the Alberta Family Mediation Society and their new AFCC Chapter, for a combined day and a half of presentations on (you guessed it) high-conflict personalities in separation and divorce. I gave them the same tips and tools I gave the New Orleans AFCC chapter, as well as more specific mediation techniques for managing high-conflict people. I emphasized teaching mediation clients simple skills to use and reinforcing those throughout the process: asking the mediator questions, making their own agenda, making proposals, asking questions about proposals and making decisions – a method I am now teaching as “New Ways for Mediation.” I especially enjoyed seeing many friends in Alberta, including those running the New Ways for Families programs in Calgary and nearby Medicine Hat. These programs are thriving at teaching parents new skills to help them make their own decisions out of court. We hope to have research results published next year from three years of experience, as well as expanding into other cities in Alberta.

Next Blog: On to Pennsylvania and Ohio

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Bill Eddy is a lawyer, mediator, therapist and the President of the High Conflict Institute based in San Diego. He is the developer of the New Ways for Families method and the New Ways for Mediation method, as well as the author of several books including The Future of Family Court and It’s All Your Fault: 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything. This year he is working on materials for the New Ways for Work method of coaching potentially high-conflict employees – or anyone – to use the same “new ways” skills for greater success in the workplace. For books, video training and free articles, visit us at www.HighConflictInstitute.com.

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Parental Alienation is any behavior by an adult whom a child trusts, that could create alienation between the child and a parent. Parental Alienation is damaging to children’s mental and emotional well-being. Today, Friday 25 April 2014, is Parental Alienation Awareness Day.
Parental Alienation, also called hostile aggressive parenting, whether verbal or non-verbal, can cause a child to be mentally manipulated into believing a loving parent is the cause of all his/her problems, or worse – is an enemy, to be feared, hated, disrespected and avoided. Parental Alienation often happens in high conflict marriages, separations or divorces, as explained in Bill Eddy’s book: “Don’t Alienate the Kids!
PDAN is committed to increasing public awareness of the harmful effects of parental alienation. Parental alienation carry increased risk factors of future personality disorders. Parental Alienation sometimes takes place with parents suffering fromNarcissistic Personality Disorder.

Forthcoming changes to the family law in England and Wales amount to a “revolution”, the President of the Family Division has claimed.

In the recently published 11th View from the President’s Chamber, Sir James Munby said:

“Central to this revolution has been – has had to be – a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts. This is truly a cultural revolution.”

The family courts stand “on the cusp of history” and the changes due on April 22nd mark “the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes.”

Tuesday sees the introduction of the ‘Single Family Court’ and the retirement of the current Family Proceedings Court. The newly unified court will deal with all but a few family proceedings which will be reserved for the High Court. Family cases will no longer be heard in either magistrates or county courts, although the family courts will sometimes sit in county and magistrates court buildings.

Amongst other changes, April 22 will also see the introduction of compulsory attendance at a MIAM – mediation information and assessment meeting – for anyone planning to take a family dispute to court. People attending such meetings will be provided with information on mediation as an alternative way to resolve their differences.

In addition, child arrangements orders will be introduced, replacing the residence and contact orders currently used to settle the circumstances of children following divorce or separation.

Child arrangement orders are defined by the Children and Families Act 2014 as:

“…an order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following—

(a) with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and

(b) when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.”

Family systems theory has been around for decades, but there is little discussion of it today. Yet understanding how family systems work can help professionals and parents going through separation and divorce. In this article, I explain some of the basics, some of what happens to family systems in divorce and how to truly help families in divorce. I also point out why the adversarial process of family courts successfully managed family conflicts in the past, but is guaranteed to fail today’s high-conflict family systems (regardless of procedural changes within the adversarial structure) – whereas skillful family mediation and other non-adversarial processes can succeed.

Family Systems Theory

Family systems theory describes families as operating like the solar system: each member of the family has a “pull” on every other member of the family – like gravity pulls planets towards each other and other forces push them away, so that they stay in balance spinning around each other in a predictable orbit. Family systems have many common characteristics, including the following:

They are powerful: Family systems are a powerful source of support. You can take them for granted. Family members will consistently act in predictable ways, so you don’t have to guess each day. You can focus on what your tasks are and respond fairly automatically to each other. In this regard, a family system is like a personality – very predictable, so that you know what you can get from whom, when and where without putting a lot of energy into thinking about it. Family systems have built houses, companies (family businesses are everywhere) and nations (dynasties). For example, most successful Olympic athletes, musicians and actors had strong family support – from a very young age. The family system organized itself around their success.

They seek stability: A family system develops standard ways of doing things. The whole family participates in enforcing its code of conduct, values and roles people play in it. Even young children tell each other, their parents and their toys how they should or shouldn’t behave, which helps them learn the rules of the family system and follow them. Family secrets are kept, so that the family system is not thrown off balance. The more dysfunctional the family, the more rigid the roles to help keep it stable, the more extreme behavior and the more secrets to keep it as stable as possible. Everyone is part of the family system – no member is an “island.”

They create roles: In every family system, everyone develops a role. One member talks a lot and another may be quiet. One person is highly competent at one skill and another is good at something else. In traditional family systems, especially in rural societies, the roles have been very clear-cut. In modern times, roles are more flexible and may overlap, as family members interact with the larger society. This can cause instability, so that the family may spend more time arguing over roles or members may simply leave the family system and have little or no contact.

They are part of larger social systems: Family systems, like “nuclear families” (two parents and their child or children), are part of larger extended families, which are part of communities, which are part of regional cultures, which are part of nations and world social systems. The values, rules and behaviors of these larger social systems strongly influence smaller family social systems. As one changes, so do the others – but not necessarily happily so.

They are resistant to change: In times of threat from outside of a family system, the family can be very powerful, because everyone automatically knows how to behave and what their roles are. Regardless of internal squabbles, family systems can be strong in jointly warding off danger – especially threats to the family system. This includes resistance to positive changes. They maintain the status quo at all costs. They don’t let people change their behavior very much. They are always aiming for stability, like a ship at sea trying to balance itself in a storm.

Today’s Social Changes Regarding Marriage

Since about 1970, there have been dramatic changes in our larger social systems and within families around the world. We are shifting from fairly rigid family structures to quite flexible family structures. Freedom to divorce, gay marriage, multi-racial households, children born to unmarried parents, people living alone and a multitude of other changes are having unpredictable affects on the future of family systems and larger social systems.

In terms of the separation and divorce process (we now speak of “separation and divorce” because so many couples no longer get married), the relationship of Family Court to family systems has changed dramatically in the past few decades.

Individual over the family: Divorce laws gave social permission for people to get divorced at will, simply due to “irreconcilable differences.” If one person wants a divorce, they will have it. This creates an ease of disruption that impacts the whole family system. Rather than having skills to cope with these significant changes, many families instinctively put all their energy into resisting these changes in order to stabilize the family system – either by engaging in abusive behavior or publically blaming each other in an effort to get the public to force them to behave.

Lack of continuity: Families don’t last to raise the children in one household. The average age of children when their parents divorce is around 6 or 7 today. This means that they will be raised in two households longer than they were raised in one household all together.

Equal roles: In the past, one family member was the “breadwinner” and the other raised the children. In divorce 20-30 years ago, one family member often left the family system and the remaining parent raised the children. Now, both parents are expected to work and both want to raise the children. Both need new skills for cooperating in ways they never did before.

The Changing Role of Family Court

From approximately the 1970s to the 1990’s, family courts have been setting divorce policies that define these changes. Parenting is supposed to include “significant time” with both parents. Both parents are supposed to earn an income and child support and spousal support are supposed to adjust for differences in earning ability. Former spouses are free to engage in sexual activity of their own choosing. “Get over it” is a common expression heard in family courts, when one party resists the changes of the other. The individual is primary now. During this time period, the divorce rate rose to about fifty percent of marriages. Courts made decisions, the parties’ followed the court’s authority and new family routines were established.

Starting around the 1990’s, surprising changes occurred. Methods such as mediation and attorney negotiation took over the role of courts in family decision-making. Lawyers and mediators simply educated the parties about the laws that had been established over the prior 20 years and the parties started avoiding court all together.

But at the same time, the remaining cases in family courts started to focus on family violence, restraining orders, child alienation and supervised visitation. These were the families who were unable to make the shift to the “new world family order.” Much of the family violence was perpetrated by men who saw themselves in the traditional role of being “head of the family.” Their violence (often reactive and unplanned) was aimed at keeping their wives in the family and under their control. Much of the alienation and false allegations were perpetrated by women who saw themselves in the traditional role of “in charge of the children.” Their efforts (often unconscious) seemed to be to resist the changes to equal roles in shared parenting.

Why the Adversarial Process Fails Today

Today, the family court process of litigation has been abandoned by most families, who can make their decisions out of court – with or without professional assistance. They have the skills to cooperate at a level that can manage the transitions that go with their new family structures. The families who are going to court today are those who do not have the negotiation skills nor the emotional healing skills to manage on their own. Yet putting them through the traditional litigation process simple exaggerates their resistance to everything – changing roles, loss of partners and shared parenting. Many of these families have one or two parents with personality disorders – which are increasing during this time of rapid change in our society. The adversarial process makes them behave worse and does little to truly understand their underlying problems.

Non-adversarial methods are needed for today’s family court cases. That is why methods such as mediation, collaborative divorce, attorneys assisting in negotiations and judicial dispute resolution are the way of the future – especially for these family systems in pain and resistant to the changes of the larger society. This is why skills training is needed for the whole family to help the whole family system go through these changes and into new forms.

Family systems – especially dysfunctional family systems – will resist family courts until we learn these lessons. This is not to say that there is not a role for family courts – it’s a different role which needs new knowledge and skills for understanding and managing dysfunctional family systems and their common mental health issues today.

Part 2 of this article will focus on managing mental health issues in family court and out of court with non-adversarial methods, including mediation and collaborative divorce.

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Bill Eddy is a lawyer, mediator and clinical social worker, and the President of the High Conflict Institute. He is the author of several books including The Future of Family Court: Structure, Skills and Less Stress and Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He is also the developer of the New Ways for Families method of teaching skills to family systems (both parents and the children) and New Ways for Mediation for managing potentially high-conflict families. His website is http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com.

© 2014 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD, CFLS
Family systems theory has been around for decades, but there is little discussion of it today. Yet understanding how family systems work can help professionals and parents going through separation and divorce. In this article, I explain some of the basics, some of what happens to family systems in divorce and how to truly help families in divorce. I also point out why the adversarial process of family courts successfully managed family conflicts in the past, but is guaranteed to fail today’s high-conflict family systems (regardless of procedural changes within the adversarial structure) – whereas skillful family mediation and other non-adversarial processes can succeed.
Family Systems Theory

Family systems theory describes families as operating like the solar system: each member of the family has a “pull” on every other member of the family – like gravity pulls planets towards each other and other forces push them away, so that they stay in balance spinning around each other in a predictable orbit. Family systems have many common characteristics, including the following:

They are powerful: Family systems are a powerful source of support. You can take them for granted. Family members will consistently act in predictable ways, so you don’t have to guess each day. You can focus on what your tasks are and respond fairly automatically to each other. In this regard, a family system is like a personality – very predictable, so that you know what you can get from whom, when and where without putting a lot of energy into thinking about it. Family systems have built houses, companies (family businesses are everywhere) and nations (dynasties). For example, most successful Olympic athletes, musicians and actors had strong family support – from a very young age. The family system organized itself around their success.

They seek stability: A family system develops standard ways of doing things. The whole family participates in enforcing its code of conduct, values and roles people play in it. Even young children tell each other, their parents and their toys how they should or shouldn’t behave, which helps them learn the rules of the family system and follow them. Family secrets are kept, so that the family system is not thrown off balance. The more dysfunctional the family, the more rigid the roles to help keep it stable, the more extreme behavior and the more secrets to keep it as stable as possible. Everyone is part of the family system – no member is an “island.”

They create roles: In every family system, everyone develops a role. One member talks a lot and another may be quiet. One person is highly competent at one skill and another is good at something else. In traditional family systems, especially in rural societies, the roles have been very clear-cut. In modern times, roles are more flexible and may overlap, as family members interact with the larger society. This can cause instability, so that the family may spend more time arguing over roles or members may simply leave the family system and have little or no contact.

They are part of larger social systems: Family systems, like “nuclear families” (two parents and their child or children), are part of larger extended families, which are part of communities, which are part of regional cultures read full article here

 

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, mediator and clinical social worker, and the President of the High Conflict Institute. He is the author of several books including The Future of Family Court: Structure, Skills and Less Stress and Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He is also the developer of the New Ways for Families method of teaching skills to family systems (both parents and the children) and New Ways for Mediation for managing potentially high-conflict families. His website is www.HighConflictInstitute.com.

billeddyby Bill Eddy

Movie review Part 1

[I am writing this movie review “Part 1” before I have seen the movie Divorce Corp which will be released on Jan. 10, 2014. I have just seen some trailers and received some inside tips.]

I was pleased – but also concerned – when I learned that a movie about Family Court reform was coming out. Why pleased? Because I’m a family lawyer and family counselor who practices Divorce Mediation. I want everyone to know that Divorce Mediation is a better way to make divorce decisions – for most people. Not because Family Court is evil, but because it has an adversarial structure which is designed around one party “losing” and the other party “winning.” This may be good for deciding criminal guilt, business disputes and some public policies, but not good for working out parenting relationships and household finances after a breakup. I had hopes that this movie would help point this out.

I represented clients in Family Court for 15 years and I also give seminars to family law judges for the National Judicial College. I know that most judges and family lawyers try to overcome the adversarial structure to truly help families make good decisions out of court, or good decisions in court – especially to help the children of parents in conflict. I also know that about 80% of people getting divorced never go to court and settle their divorces or parenting disputes with out-of-court agreements – such as in Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Divorce – based on family laws and guidelines that have been well-established over the past 40 years.

For this reason – the inability to resolve issues based on established standards – and because of my mental health training, I know that one or both parties in many (most?) Family Court cases today have a mental health issue that is unrecognized – such as a personality disorder, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, depression – disorders which are often characterized by denial and blaming others. This reflects the growth of these problems in the larger society today. These are not problems unique to Family Court, but Family Courts need to recognize them.

Sadly, Family Courts provide a forum for people with such problems today (in contrast to when I began practicing law), especially because family lawyers, judges and other professionals are not trained in identifying mental health issues, get stuck arguing about them out of ignorance and there are few mental health resources for treating them even if they were properly identified. Family courts were never designed to diagnose and treat mental health issues, and the adversarial process is guaranteed to fail at it. Reforms need to involve more mental health training for professionals and more conflict resolution skills for clients to help them make decisions out of court in non-adversarial settings.

Why am I concerned about the movie? Because I have been informed that Divorce Corp does not focus on the structure of court, but focuses on a more shrill “all-or-none” view of family court, family lawyers and other professionals. By seeming to claim that Family Court judges think they are God (a few, but not most), that family lawyers are all greedy (some, but not most) and that most allegations of abuse are false (many are but many aren’t – but the adversarial process makes it harder to figure these out), this movie is likely to create a lot of noise and anger, but very little useful dialog and reform. By making it personal and using “all-or-none” thinking – rather than talking about the mental health issues which dominate today’s family court hearings – it misses a great opportunity to promote useful reforms.

[I’ll talk about the reforms that I believe are needed, after I see the movie – in Movie Review Part 2 next week.]

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Bill Eddy is a lawyer (Certified Family Law Specialist), a child and family therapist (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center. He is the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides training worldwide in managing “high-conflict people” in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare disputes and educational disputes. He is the author of several books, including The Future of Family Court: Structure, Skills and Less Stress. www.HighConflictInstitute.com.

About Unhooked Books
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.