Managing Personality-Disordered Parents

© 2011 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

I just finished a two-day seminar on Managing Personality-Disordered Parents, sponsored by the AFCC (Association for Family and Conciliation Courts) and the University of Baltimore School of Law. This was an intensive program and there were over 30 highly experienced therapists, lawyers, judicial officers and staff, parenting coordinators, Guardians ad Litem, mediators and others participating. They had great interest in this subject, as personality disorders appear to be increasing in society and especially in high conflict divorce cases. They also had many challenging questions and contributed a lot of their own experience to the discussion.

The main point of the two days was that we need to really shift our thinking away from focusing on making decisions for personality disordered parents and instead focusing on shifting more responsibility back to these parents by providing them with Structure and Skills for participating more in making decisions – while still protecting their children and providing the children with skills as well. The skills are flexible thinking, managed emotions and moderate behaviors. More specifically, these skills include writing reasonable emails, making reasonable proposals, and managing their own stress (which is one of the most important parenting skills these days). These are all difficult skills for personality-disordered parents, yet they are essential skills for raising children. If the parents lack these skills and get stuck in family court battles, the children are more likely to develop similar problems themselves – as they learn to mirror their parents’ dysfunctional behavior.

I was very encouraged to have two full days to help these professionals work on the cognitive shift from making decisions for these parents, to helping them learn small skills in small steps to participate more appropriately in making decisions themselves – to their maximum ability. This approach takes quite a while to learn fully, so we included some practice exercises as well. One of the main benefits I hope I communicated was that by engaging personality-disordered parents in learning positive skills, it also reduces the stress on professionals – as they ASSIST the parents in learning theses skills and INSIST on them using their skills making as many decisions as possible. Of course, professionals may still have to make some of the decisions, but as parents work to the maximum of their ability they may apply these skills in helping their children grow up more successful in their own lives.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

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