Image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As someone who experienced the harsh world that is High Conflict Divorce, first hand, I have been helping others navigate the process for as far back as 2000. I was never prepared for the sheer lunacy of the family court system and, like most, was waist deep in it before I got a clue as to how unhelpful it was. I often had no recourse and even if there was some action that could be taken, I often did not have enough money to pay for an attorney, at the exact time I needed an attorney.
I have seen the shock on faces of those who have not experienced the system. When you tell your story to the lay person, they often stare in disbelief. They cannot fathom that your children are being treated the way they are and no one will step in to protect them.
I am in an interesting position because I have some connections in the legal field. Plus, I work with high conflict parents. The stories are similar, and I know that these parents tell the truth. Truth is a matter of perception and it can be misinterpreted or exaggerated, but the pain that high conflict parents experience is real. My belief is that if we can support those parents, no matter what anyone in the system perceives truth to be, we would then be able to help these families, but the problem is that very few in the system actually understand it.
I have had to work very hard to share what I see and what I believe. I work very hard because I am not an attorney, and I am not a licensed psychologist. I do not have the credentials to make those in authority listen to me, except for a rare few. The thing I have is personal experience, and a way of explaining things so that people can understand. They may never be able to understand completely, but they can get some of it, and that is what is important. Every little bit helps.
The most important thing though, is to help you get deeper into you, who you are, and why you have found yourself in this hellish place of the family court nightmare. So I want to share with you a commonality that High Conflict Parents have. This has been a common theme with almost every parent I have worked with. You have all had to live through having a parent who was an alcoholic, or a parent who was abusive, and there are some other common threads out there, but for the most part, you are an Adult Child of Dysfunction. You grew up in that relationship and when you grew up that is the relationship you knew. That is what seemed familiar to you, and the result was that you picked a mate who would repeat for you the relationship you had with one, or both of your parents.
When I learned this about myself, it was life altering. Wow! I was excited! You mean, I don’t have to be this way? I don’t have to feel lousy all the time because of people who suck the life out of me and give me nothing, but pain in return? I did not give into this very easily until the light bulb went off in my head and I was ready to look within.
A couple of years before my light bulb moment, a therapist had told me that people choose a relationship just like their parents had. I was perplexed and confused by what she said. My husband was an alcoholic, but my father was not. In my mind, I equated the similarity in my husband and my relationship with that of my parents’ relationship, but was not seeing the role reversal. It played out in my head numerous times. I did not choose the same because my dad is not an alcoholic, I told myself. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that therapist must have been crazy to suggest such a thing because my dad rarely touched a drop of liquor. But, finally, one day, it hit me! OMG, I did choose the same relationship, only I was my dad, my ex was my mom. That is when the healing began.
I don’t want to go into a long drawn out story about my mother’s drinking, and the affect it had on me, but I will tell you that I had no clue about what was not normal in a family who keeps secrets, speaks to each other through filters, or manipulates people into doing things for them or against another family member. I was surrounded by people like these. It was in my family. It was the same with friends. It was a learned behavior, a behavior learned from birth, no less. Birth! If this is what I was surrounded with, and what I learned by example, and I never got to experience a healthy relationship, then how could I know any different? How could I not have that experience repeat itself, especially in a system that is ripe for a higher level of that secrecy, lying and manipulation? This system wants to give you a court order saying that you will co-parent, but they give you no direction on what exactly that means. Court authorities lay this in your lap and basically say, “Now go co-parent for the good of your children”. Then, when you cannot accomplish this feat, the torture begins. You can never win at this game because they are asking you to do something you have never done, seen, or heard of in your life and you simply don’t know how to do it.
You try as hard as you can to do as they say and then get criticized. You are not even sure why, most of the time. You just know this is how it has always been. One person tries to hurt the other, the other person walks on eggshells trying not to “make them mad” and you still end up having everyone angry at you anyway. So how do we rectify this situation? I suspect that we cannot rectify it in the court setting because they will never be able to walk in your shoes and you will never be able to walk in their shoes. You cannot know what you cannot know! What is worse, we have no idea if the professionals on the case have their own Adult Children of Dysfunction issues or not. If they do, they will probably never go after the bully because they, too, learned to walk on eggshells and not make waves. You cannot know what you cannot know.
If no one ever teaches you what a healthy relationship is, you will never find one. As soon as you try, it would feel as foreign to you as if you were in a foreign land without a translator. You may find a table full of wonderfully kind people and sit down with them, hoping to fit in, but feel lost. And if you saw a table of people who speak your language, even if they were very mean and uncaring people, you would feel more at ease with them. At least in that instance, you understand them, and it is comfortable to you. You don’t have to try hard to fit in because you have always been surrounded by those types of people.
Undoing this damage from the dysfunctional environment you grew up in is not easy. First, you have to be made aware of how unhealthy the people around you are. You have to let that sink in and realize it is true. You have to learn this new way of doing things and then you have to practice at it. It will not happen overnight. It takes a lot of practice to break free and you also have to step over the fear of the unknown because again, you cannot know, what you cannot know.
If you are involved in a high conflict divorce, and just cannot understand why you cannot get out of it, I’d like you to consider the possibility that you are an Adult Child of an Alcoholic/Dysfunction. It may not apply to you, but it may lead you to other areas of understanding. Check out these resources:
There are many more. Do your own research.
Here are a few boo
ks that I highly recommend: