Difficult Cases, Harmful Co-Parenting
(High conflict cases)
Some of the most challenging cases are those where one or more parents has challenges to their personality structure which makes it difficult for them to amicably and/or functionally resolve issues. Cases are even more complex when one parent is engaging in a parenting style impairs or causes harm to their children’s psychological and emotional development. These cases need both structure from court orders, and also self-help because the court system can only go so far to solve the problem.
Challenging personalities can be framed up and understood in terms of “personality disorder”, or “disordered-like” behavior, but more effectively in terms of adult attachment patterns. Very broadly speaking, challenging personalities can be sorted into two basic adult attachment patterns. (These patterns can be defined more and more specifically.) The patterns become very clear in the context of danger. Divorce and custody litigation always involve danger, such as the risk of losing relationships, children, property, financial security, and exposure to shame and humiliation.
The first pattern is organized around the person’s feelings and their own perspectives. This pattern involves an affective orientation to the world and to danger in particular. There is a tendency: to oscillate between expressing anger and expressing charming/disarming behavior (or sometimes “rescue me, I can’t do it” behavior); to be constantly locked in some sort of struggle which is hard to resolve and even if it is resolved another struggle quickly takes place; to use coercive behavior to achieve what they want; to have difficulty considering other people’s needs and perspectives; to feel that rules don’t apply to them; to have a hard time seeing how their own behaviors can be the cause problems; and, to blaming others for all of the problems and rarely taking responsibility. Humiliation may be a very triggering emotion, and relatively little problems can be blown out of proportion quickly (snowball).
The second pattern is organized around sequential thinking, that a particular fact or event should always lead to another known fact, and the perspectives of other people or some set of rules. This pattern involves a cognitive orientation to the world and to danger in particular. There is a tendency: to put other peoples needs ahead of their own; to focus on positive things and ignore or avoid negative things; to avoid conflict even at the cost of emotional harm to themselves or their children; to be very concerned with following rules and doing the right thing and/or not doing the wrong thing (possibly even over-achieving); to be overly self-reliant; to have a hard time seeing that their behaviors might not actually be the cause of problems; to take too much responsibility; and, to blame themselves for too many things and not properly assign blame to other people or the situation. Shame may be a very triggering emotion, and relatively big problems can be reduced to nothing and thereby avoided (yarnball).
In either case, the issue is recognizing the behaviors and challenges to thinking, particularly omitted information, that are leading to difficulty resolving conflict and motivating behaviors that end up (even if unintentional) harming children and promoting more conflict. When one parent is engaging in harmful co-parenting, the ultimate harm is the children’s emotional and psychological development. Counter-acting that harm involves optimizing a parent’s ability to meet their child’s attachment (safety) needs to inoculate the harm as best as possible.
“Studies show that most of the population fits, in either small or significant ways, into one of the two attachment patterns. Even if a person is functioning with significant cognitive or affective orientations, it doesn’t mean that people are bad, or disordered, or evil. It just means that they need help. They may need help controlling their impulses, fighting their desire to avoid addressing something unpleasant, filling in the missing pieces of logic in their thinking processes, and to be able to consider broader contexts and other people’s needs.” Mark Baumann
Mark and his staff use a variety of techniques to address the personality challenges in family law cases. These are described more at Mark’s Integrative Client Counseling Institute web site. The goal is to help clients gain a more clear picture of the challenges they face so they can make more effective decisions about how to move their lives forward and best protect themselves and their children.