Dr. J. Michael Bone describes Parental Alienation from a child’s point of view. Systematically manipulating children to reject their other parent is unequivocally a form of child abuse!
Well worth a few minutes of your time!
Divorce is difficult even under the best of circumstances. If you are in a situation where the divorce process seems especially brutal because of an overly uncooperative ex, you may be experiencing the characteristics of a “high conflict” divorce. Why are the challenges in your divorce so extensive and formidable? More than likely, one person involved has characteristics that are consistent with a high conflict personality. Some of these characteristics will be familiar to you, as you may have dealt with them throughout the time you were together.
This characteristic may be familiar, because your partner would have had difficulty accepting responsibility or fault for any problems in your relationship when you were together. Your divorce may seem to be exaggerating this difficult quality. If, according to your ex, you are to blame for everything, communication, co-parenting, or anything else that requires the smallest level of cooperation, is extremely difficult. The focus is turned on you, and none of it is positive. The difficult partner is hyper-focused on detailing every misstep you have made in the relationship, as a parent, and even as a person. This is about condemnation and not about resolving issues that will actually end the marriage.
Because you are to blame, the partner may call you names and bad-mouth you to others, even your children. Acting out in revenge is not out of the question either. The high conflict person intent on revenge will personally, emotionally, and financially damage the other spouse as much as possible.
The high conflict person is a black and white thinker. There is no in-between. You are awful; they are great. You are unfair; they are just. You are mean; they are kind. You are wrong; they are right. You are a bad parent; they are a great parent. You get the picture. This type of thinking is impossible when compromise is necessary. The individual sees the divorce as a win-lose situation and they are not going to lose. In a high conflict divorce, the partner is not willing to agree to anything, even the simplest, most reasonable items. Compromising requires give and take, and the high conflict partner will not give.
Trying to work out difficult problems with someone who is volatile can be impossible. In every conversation, you may find yourself trying not to “poke the bear”. Anger and other negative emotions will still emerge, because this kind of person seeks out reasons to argue and will relentlessly perpetuate the conflict by any means. This elevates the divorce process to a combat zone, making it impossible to move forward safely on any issues or decisions.
High conflict personalities do things that you can’t imagine, have triggers that are unpredictable, and display behaviors seem totally irrational. They break the rules, lie, and are hostile. They will spin a dense web of deception and fabricate stories that depict you in the worst possible light. They may want to get out of the marriage, but if revenge is a factor, they want to do as much damage to the other person as possible first. Nothing is off the table and the extent of their capabilities is totally unpredictable.
There are some things you can do that will help to prevent an escalation in your partner’s behaviour. None of them are easy, but having a strategy will help you feel like you have some control.
This process does not have to be this difficult. We are here to help. Get in touch with Connie or Wendy to find out what your options are.
A is for Agenda Setting – This is the 2nd post in the Dr. Burns Podcast series. This Podcast focuses on addressing resistance. If you are not sure what therapeutic resistance is, read about it here.
If you want to listen to the entire podcast, take a listen here:
When individuals don’t rapidly overcome problems – in one or two sessions – resistance to change has not been addressed.
Even though we yearn for change, we cling to the familiar.
Resistance is difficult to understand, even for the resistant person. Depression is the worst form of suffering. Why would someone want to cling to depression? Or addiction? Or anxiety?
How do we melt resistance?
Step 1 – Invitation – Once the situation has been explained and the story told, simply ask if there is something in the situation they want help with.
Step 2 – Specificity – We can only work on one thing at a time, so the person must prioritize – Which problem would you like to work on first?
Step 3 – Time and Place – Think of a moment when this problem occurred.
Where were you? What was going on? What were you feeling?
For example, a client wanted help with low self-esteem (specific problem) and said that he got a very poor performance review at work that affected his self-esteem (When? Where? What was going on? Feeling?).
Step 4 – Conceptualization – What problem is the above person dealing with? The 4 potential categories are depression, anxiety, relational, or a non-problem.
What is a non-problem? A non-problem is when we feel something that is completely normal and healthy. For example, there are 2 kinds of grief. Although both are very hard to experience, uncomplicated grief is healthy and normal and therefore, a non-problem.
On the other hand, complicated grief is characterized by distorted thoughts like self blame or guilt. These distorted thoughts and feelings make grieving a difficult process to go through and so people end up “stuck”.
Back to our previous example. Once the moment is revealed, determine what the problem is. In the example above, is it a self-esteem problem? Conceptualize – is it depression, anxiety, and relationship problems. It probably is all of them.
Even though we have cognitive behavioral therapy tools that can help, we have to address resistance first. Ironically, therapist compassion and need to help can be the death of successful treatment.
Step 5 – Deal with resistance (process and outcome – not sure what these are? Read about these two types of resistance here)
It is great when someone wants help. However, offering the tools is not enough. Dr. Burns frames his resistance busting technique by saying to the client, “I can show you how to overcome your self-esteem problems, but you will have to do all the work. This process will be very hard. It seems unfair when you have to do the work (process resistance – you are the one that needs to commit to changing) when it is everyone else that has the problem (outcome resistance – be able to deal with other people more effectively).
At that point, the person dealing with the problem will decide if they willing to move forward and convince the clinician that they actually want help (resistance overcome).
If this podcast summary has peaked your interest and you want to hear more, I highly recommend Dr. Burns’ Feeling Good website. His podcasts are located here.
Introducing Dr. David Burns
If you have ever been in to see me, you will have heard me talk highly of Dr. David Burns and his work in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I have recommended his podcast to many people, as listening to how he has helped others is truly inspiring!
Don’t want to take a listen, but still interested?
If podcasts just are not your cup of tea, (kind of akin to the Too Long; Didn’t Read variety, but with your ears), I thought I would break it down for you.
If you want to listen, here it is.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was popularized by Dr. Aaron Beck in the early 70’s.
At the time, David Burns found that pharmacology (prescribed drugs) was not helping his patients. As a result, Burns got interested in finding different methods to use and Dr. Beck’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was suggested.
Burns attended Aaron Beck’s weekly seminars and he found that his patients showed improvement when he tried the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques.
However, some (about 1/3) clients stubbornly clung to “Yes, but…” and were not being helped.
They were stuck because of Therapeutic Resistance. They cling to the familiar.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or any treatment, for that matter) will not be helpful without addressing resistance.
Once resistance is melted away, the strategy is very effective.
Resistance broken down into 8 most common categories.
There are 4 targets – Addictions, Relationship Problems, Anxiety and Depression.
For each target, there are 2 types of resistance – Outcome and Process resistance.
Outcome resistance – this is when a positive outcome isn’t really wanted.
For example, if an alcoholic is offered an instant cure, the addict may truly believe that alcohol (or any other addiction) is the only source of escape, pleasure, relief, etc. in their life. Therefore, they don’t really want to become sober – outcome resistance.
Process Resistance – This is when you don’t want to do the required work to accomplish desired outcome. For example, someone might want to lose weight, but is not willing to change behavior (exercise or diet) to accomplish weight goals – process resistance.
Couples therapy – often doesn’t take resistance into account.
Outcome resistance – The truth might be that one partner doesn’t want a close relationship with the other person anymore. If the relationship has eroded to a terrible point, the partner may feel hurt or resentful and not want the other person in their life – outcome resistance.
Process resistance – Sometimes, we blame our partner for the difficulties in the relationship and feel we are not responsible at all. We are not willing to stop blaming, nor are we motivated to take any responsibility. Because of our position, we not willing to make any changes that might improve the relationship – process resistance.
Outcome resistance – magical thinking – if the anxiety disappears, something horrible will happen.
For example, let’s say you are a chronic worrier and worry about everything. If I suggest to you that you can push a magic button and your anxiety will disappear. Sometimes the worrier has a deeply rooted belief that if the button is pushed and the worrying goes away, something horrible will happen.
To explain further, it is discovered that a person with Obsessive/Compulsive tendencies fears deeply that if they don’t wash their hands, they will contaminate their children with a terrible disease. Therefore, the person does not want to stop the behavior – outcome resistance.
Process resistance – Often when dealing with anxiety, we must face the things we are anxious about. This is called Exposure and it can be terrifying – process resistance.
Outcome Resistance – The main resistance has to do with non-acceptance. There is something about ourselves that we don’t want to accept leading to self doubt. We must accept who we are and lower standards. By doing this, we might think that we are settling for the second best version of self- let go of the ego. The impression of self is more powerful than the “real” self – outcome resistance.
For example, a violent local drug dealer was suicidal. He had low self-esteem and considered himself a a hopeless case. Through prompting, he looked at positives and negatives of continuing with his lifestyle.
He thought the biggest cost was that he would be dead in 2 years. However, staying the same easy and familiar (benefit), he could get stoned all the time (benefit), he had a strong public identity and prestige (benefit), he was powerful (benefit), he got unlimited sex (benefit), he didn’t have to follow rules (benefit), and he was never disappointed in himself (benefit).
It was clear that being a “hopeless case” had many benefits. Why would he want to give it up? The man realized that living was more important than all of the benefits his lifestyle afforded him.
Process Resistance – homework – the effect of doing homework is huge. Improvement is directly related to doing, or not doing, homework. Homework always involves working on some sort of change and many of us don’t like change. It isn’t easy – process resistance.
There is Podcast #1 in a nutshell. Please feel free to check out Dr. Burns’ website. His work is truly inspiring and can be a game changer for you!