Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why I Wrote Splitting

I started writing Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderlineor Narcissistic Personality Disorder after several years as a family law attorney. Randi Kreger had asked me to write the book to help many of the family members who contacted her website with questions about dealing with divorce when a spouse had a borderline personality disorder  (BPD). With my background as a therapist before I became a lawyer, I knew about BPD and other personality disorders.

For twelve years I was a therapist (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), working in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics with children, couples, and families. Most of my work focused on substance abuse and depression. But many of my clients were involved in legal cases, frequently divorces.

Throughout my career as a therapist, I was also involved part-time in mediation – a method of resolving disputes out of court. I decided to go to law school to set up a comprehensive divorce mediation sevice and graduated in 1992. I opened a law and mediation office in San Diego, spending half of my time as a divorce mediator and the other half as an attorney in family court.

When I first began representing clients in court cases, I was quite surprised and naïve. Perhaps because of my background as a therapist, I did not realize that family court was still such a highly adversarial process. I had assumed it was an information gathering process, with a benevolent, all-knowing judge somehow figuring out the family and deciding what should be done -- much as a therapist diagnoses and treats a problem.

It turned out I was projecting my own expectations onto the court system -- a big mistake. Instead, I found that family court cases are now dominated by high conflict divorces with high conflict personalities -- and that these personalities are primarily unrecognized and untreated Borderlines and Narcissists.

After a dozen years as a therapist (Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California) and 18 years now as a family law attorney (a Certified Family Law Specialist in California), I have seen some clear patterns to these cases and recognize some common principles for handling them.  Yet most court-related professionals seem unaware of these problems -- and their possible solutions. This made my life in family court much more difficult. So I tried to explain this problem to others.

Ironically, when I first started trying to tell legal professionals about personality disorders in the 1990’s, they were highly skeptical and largely disinterested. I told my lawyer colleagues about these disorders and they said it sounded pretty strange. I told judges and they said that this issue was irrelevant. I told my mental health professional friends that many of the high-conflict cases in family courts were driven by one or two personality disorders and they encouraged me not to talk about it for fear that such people would be stigmatized and decisions made solely on the existence of a personality disorder.

However, I kept talking about it and eventually I was asked to speak at legal conferences, judicial training seminars and programs for mental health professionals. By 2002, when I met Randi Kreger, I was finishing a book for professionals about this (High Conflict People in Legal Disputes).

My approach in Splitting and in my seminars is to educate people about these disorders, without judging people and without making assumptions about their specific abilities. These disorders have patterns of behavior, but they vary widely in terms of parenting skills, etc. In some cases, one person has such a disorder – or traits, without the full disorder. In other cases, both people have these problems, although to different degrees. I have even had cases in which a parent with borderline personality disorder has been the better parent, so that none of this is clear cut. In Splitting, we try to explain this so that people focus on patterns of behavior, rather than using these personality labels.

So my goal was and is to educate everyone: professionals, people going through a divorce, and their family members about general patterns to understand and deal with. With this knowledge, people can make better decisions, manage their divorces and post-divorce lives, and grow stronger themselves. Based on the feedback Randi and I have been receiving, it seems that we are helping many people who previously felt alone in facing these problems. We are always interested in your feedback. 

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of "It's All Your Fault!", "Splitting", "BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns" and "Don't Alienate the Kids!". He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit:

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