Articles Posted in Clinical Issues in Divorce

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From time to time, interesting questions are posted on some forums that discuss divorce, and especially divorce when dealing with soon-to-be ex spouses, and ex-spouses, that are poor parents, or a persons with pathologies like narcissism. Here is one recent question posed by a parent, with some suggestions:

 3am my 4 year old woke up and had terrible croup. Couldn’t breathe and was hysterical. Of course STB ex sleeps until I started talking loudly enough…we ended up at the ER. He is fine but I can’t conceptualize ever leaving my son overnight in my STB ex’s care overnight. He is clueless and a total sociopath narcissist. How do you wrap your brain around the notion of leaving your little ones when the other parent is not competent?

When a healthy spouse is in a marriage with a narcissist, for example, or even just an incompetent or selfish parent, the healthy parent ends up doing 99.9 percent of the caregiving, including monitoring and medicating the children when they are ill. However, once the separation of the spouses is complete, the caregiver spouse is no longer present to be the caregiver and decision maker, the buffer for conflict, and the guarantor that the kids are well cared for when they are ill.

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Spouses with NPD can be toxic to live with. One aspect of life with a narcissist is the emotional abuse that accompanies being in a relationship with NPD. In the following article, Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D discusses a scenario with a partner with NPD, and the emotional damage that these interactions cause.

” Have you ever noticed how some people will throw a deaf ear at your plea for change and your cry for help…just because. And then, the more you speak, the less you are heard. It’s as though they want you to believe that no matter how you ask what you seek, it will not be forth coming…just because.

Take Andy and Rebecca, for example. Andy has a habit of engaging restaurant servers into conversations about matters unrelated to the meal at hand. On this one evening, he was chatting with Rebecca in a back and forth banter over a recent physical assault/encounter of theirs.

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I have been a member of the APA for many years, and benefit tremendously from the APA’s publications, research papers, and educational materials, such as the podcast below. Children involved in a divorce do tend to experience worry, anxiety, and some depression, and these symptoms and illnesses are often situational, and not long lasting. Other children can be affected by anxiety disorders that are more chronic, more severe, and require proactive treatment.

Podcast: Anxiety Disorders in Children

Fear and anxiety are part of most normal children’s lives. But how do we know when anxiety is a problem in need of professional help? In this episode, Golda Ginsburg, PhD, talks about how to recognize the signs of an anxiety disorder in your child and what are the most effective, evidence-based treatments.

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In my law practice, a divorce with a narcissist involves unique issues and challenges. Many toxic narcissists, in divorce, use emotional abuse to denigrate and control their partners, and are notoriously difficult in the case to achieve settlement with, even on minor issues. In my view, boundaries need to be set with narcissists in the case, and I have years of experience understanding these traits of NPD in divorce and custody cases, as well as managing NPD personalities in the litigation. Again, boundaries are critical, as well as establishing control over the NPD in the case. In other words, I try to disempower the NPD, and then empower my clients, many of whom no longer feel they have any power or voice in the relationship.

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Relationships require give and take. They are built on mutual respect, love, trust, and compassion. When you are in a relationship with a narcissist, those components often cease to exist after a short period of time. Narcissistic people are not empathetic. They aren’t willing to hold another up the ladder of success. They need complete attention and expect their partner to put them up on a pedestal.

In a case study by Susan Heitler, Phd called Narcissism: A Redefinition and Case Study of Treatment, she points out the conflict-focus in couples therapy and how narcissistic personality disorder affects relationships. In her findings she lists,

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PsychCentral has an interesting summary for one of the more pervasive forms of personality disorder that some people face in a marriage or divorce, and yet this form of Personality Disorder is not well understood. There is a significant comorbidity ( co-existence) with other personality disorders. This personality disorder/trait exists in about 2.5 percent of the population, and like NPD and BPD, and the toxic behaviors can be aggravated by a marriage that is failing, or with a divorce. My firm has been dedicated for many years to a) understanding these traits and toxic behaviors, and b) managing them within the context of divorce and custody litigation.

” People with paranoid personality disorder are generally characterized by having a long-standing pattern of pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others.  A person with paranoid personality disorder will nearly always believe that other people’s motives are suspect or even malevolent.

Individuals with this disorder assume that other people will exploit, harm, or deceive them, even if no evidence exists to support this expectation. While it is fairly normal for everyone to have some degree of paranoia about certain situations in their lives (such as worry about an impending set of layoffs at work), people with paranoid personality disorder take this to an extreme — it pervades virtually every professional and  personal relationship they have.

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I have always been comfortable meeting with people in broken marriages at any time of stage of the marriage breakdown. Many people know they are ready to end a marriage once they make that first step to talk to an experienced divorce lawyer for advice and strategy. However, some people with a ‘dependent personality’ arguably stay in bad marriages far too long, and can sometimes become victimized by a marriage partner that is controlling or abusive. Many people with these dependent traits are very good and kind people, who simply do not have a good sense of healthy boundaries. One of my goals is to help coach good people in difficult or abusive situations, and engineer a better life for them and their children.

Here is a fine article on what 9 things people with these traits tend to do:

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There is a temptation in relationship dependency to focus on the relationship itself. But the key to knowing how susceptible you are to relationship dependency is to focus on your part of the equation. You need to ask yourself, “Do I have a dependent personality, or do I tend to display dependent personality traits?” If you do, then it is likely those traits will show up in your relationships.

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Being in a marriage with a narcissist can be extremely challenging, and a number of my clients have exhibited symptoms of a post-traumatic stress disorder after years of living with a partner with narcissistic traits. My firm’s practice has a focus on divorce and custody issues for clients separating and divorcing a person with toxic narcissism. Dr. Johnson’s article, below, highlights some aspects of this pathology.

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Psychologist Stephen Johnson writes that the narcissist is someone who has “buried his true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.” This alternate persona to the real self often comes across as grandiose, “above others,” self-absorbed, and highly conceited. In our highly individualistic and externally driven society, mild to severe forms of narcissism are not only pervasive but often encouraged.

Narcissism is often interpreted in popular culture as a person who’s in love with him or herself. It is more accurate to characterize the pathological narcissist as someone who’s in love with an idealized self-image, which they project in order to avoid feeling (and being seen as) the real, disenfranchised, wounded self. Deep down, most pathological narcissists feel like the “ugly duckling,” even if they painfully don’t want to admit it.

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As part of my law practice I am fairly heavily invested in the study of psychological issues in divorce, including issues such as personality disorders and the pathology of parental alienation. Included in my approach to the psychology of divorce is the study of how to make life changes less stressful and how to manage a divorce and custody case with tools to lessen the severe stresses that a contested divorce involves.

Reading an article from a prominent psychologist neuroscientist and author, the following observation was made:

“The stress of divorce is … equivalent to the stress of experiencing a car crash every day over six months.” Lyubomirsky, 2013, p. 15 of “What You May Not Know – Soundbytes from The Myths of Happiness,” Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D.

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My practice is devoted, in part, to complex custody litigation. I have always believed that to practice in this area at a high level, a focus, if not a passion, for clinical issues was required in order to best serve my clients and their children’s best interests. For over a decade I have been a member of the American Psychological Association, and other professional associations focused on psychology and legal issues.

I was particularly pleased this year to be admitted by invitation and application to Forensic Forum. Forensic Forum is a select group of clinicians, judges and lawyers that meet via seminars, meetings and dinners to discuss developments in law and psychology affecting child custody and other related issues in the family court. Forensic Forum describes its mission this way:

” The purpose of this organization is to provide education, study, consultation and services to the legal and behavioral sciences professions and to the community; to establish dialogue among professionals involved with law and behavioral sciences; to explore ethical and legal issues at the interface of law and the mental health professions; and to enhance ethical practice at this interface. It is the mission of the Forensic Forum to offer informational services to the public and to the respective professions regarding optimal practice in the areas of behavioral sciences and the law.”

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In my work in Divorce and Custody Law, I have been involved, as well, with a number of Abuse and Neglect cases in Juvenile Court. Some of these cases arise out of an initial divorce filing, and a finding is made that there is active abuse or neglect occurring within a family environment. My law school alma mater, the University of San Diego, conducted a study that examined the efficacy of law intended to protect abused and neglected children.

From the study:

” Laws intended to protect children from abuse and neglect are not being properly enforced, and the federal government is to blame. That’s according to a study by the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which says children are suffering as a result.