Many clients that come to my office have issues with a spouse with traits of a personality disorder. These traits create many challenges for the relationship, and the family, and in the context of divorce, the case can end up being what is called a “high conflict case.” For many years, I have focused my practice, in part, on these cases involving psychological issues as well as high conflict cases. Rarely do I find a good, understandable explanation in the public domain of what a narcissistic personality is, how they present, and the impacts that these traits and disorders have on family members. This podcast that I found today is excellent.
” Today we have the pleasure of speaking with a true expert on many of the topics we’ve exploring during our series on “Who Am I?”, including borderline personality disorder, sociopathy, and narcissism: Dr. Ramani Durvasula.
Dr. Ramani is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.
A quick note to discuss the art and science of managing complex divorce and post-decree cases for my clients.
For me, it is a privilege to represent men and women facing some of the most challenging life changes and decisions, whether they are facing a new divorce filing, or dealing with the aftermath of a divorce (often when the predecree case was handled by another attorney) and problems or issues arise that weren’t managed well in the predecree phase.
Doing this work well for my valued Clients requires experience, insight into the best outcomes and solutions, as well as a passion for the craft of managing family law cases. I feel that it is critical that to be successful in this work, a lawyer must approach this profession with a strong measure of empathy and passion; the ability to truly diagnose the problems that the case presents, and to provide creative, insightful and positive outcomes for the Client and their children.
With my work as a lawyer on complex child custody cases, I have seen in many of these cases the phenomenon of “projection.” My work as a member of APA and a frequent researcher and contributor on issues concerning personality disorders in child custody and with Parental Alienation cases, brings my clients often into situations where they are being accused of behaviors that are actually resident in the disordered parent.
Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which the human psychology defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. These traits can be seen with some people with personality disorders, such as NPD or BPD. For example, a person who is habitually angry may constantly accuse other people, often their intimate partners or spouses, of being angry. In some cases, the abusive spouse will actually seek out domestic violence support, falsely claiming that they have been abused.
Dr. Michael Bone, a clinician and consultant on PA cases comments this way:
Working with high conflict personalities, I have always been open to approaches that can manage difficult issues with HCPs (High Conflict Personalities), without necessarily involving the courts every time there is a dispute, or transgression by a HCP. One way of dealing with difficult personalities in divorce is to have a Parenting Coordinator involved in the case. What is a Parenting Coordinator (PC) ? Essentially, a PC acts as a middleman, referee, and dispute resolver. The PC can make recommendations to a solution for a disputed issue. In other words, the PC can act almost as a magistrate for the judge, and help the Court manage these difficult issues without court involvement. Because the PC acts almost like a magistrate judge, some judges in the Family Courts do not like to appoint PCs, believing that they are essentially usurping the function of the judge. However, for certain cases, it is my opinion that a Parenting Coordinator can be a valuable tool and resource in managing issues that arise with a HCP.
Parenting Coordination began gaining recognition in the 1990s as a result of presentations and trainings first offered at conferences such as the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and by experienced Parenting Coordinators. Initially there were variations in role, source and degree of authority, and practice in different jurisdictions, and different titles were used to describe this innovative intervention model, including Special Masters, Co-Parenting Facilitators, or Mediator/Arbitrators. In 2003, AFCC appointed an interdisciplinary task force to develop Guidelines for Parenting Coordination to guide mental health professionals, mediators, and lawyers with respect to training, practice, and ethics (AFCC, 2006).
Reading up today on divorce planning, the reminder was made that the summer is often the time that many people postpone thoughts of divorce. The reasons for this are many. Business during the summer with activities takes the attention away from difficult subjects like divorce. For many parents, it’s just enough making sure that the kids are having a good summer, and that summer trips or vacations are being taken before the kids go back to school.
Even if you are already decided that you wish to file for divorce, there are a number of things that you can do to make the eventual decision easier. None of these steps are disruptive, and the you and the children will enjoy the summer without thoughts of disruption or change. Here are a few themes to focus on during the summer:
My divorce and post decree clients that have people with traits of toxic narcissism often struggle with trying to explain or discuss what it can be like living with someone with such toxic traits, especially when the person is able to maintain a facade of normalcy on their work or neighborhood relationships. Sometimes, I have to coach clients to understand that it can be difficult persuading others as to how emotionally damaging these relationships are, especially when the narcissist is “high functioning,” or otherwise able to disguise their abusive behaviors from the rest of the world. Living with someone with a toxic narcissistic personality disorder can be brutal, especially when the narcissist uses the relationship to emotionally abuse their partner, and tries to turn children, neighbors, and even family members against the otherwise healthy partner.
Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. People with the disorder can:
- Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance