© 2011 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
I started writing Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder after several years as a family law attorney. Randi Kreger had asked me to write the book to help many of thefamily members who contacted her website with questions about dealing withdivorce when a spouse had a borderline personality disorder (BPD). With my background as a therapistbefore 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 onsubstance abuse and depression. But many of my clients were involved in legalcases, 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 mediationsevice 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 anattorney in family court.
When I first began representing clients in courtcases, I was quite surprised and naïve. Perhaps because of my background as atherapist, I did not realize that family court was still such a highlyadversarial process. I had assumed it was an information gathering process,with a benevolent, all-knowing judge somehow figuring out the family anddeciding what should be done — much as a therapist diagnoses and treats aproblem.
It turned out I was projecting my ownexpectations onto the court system — a big mistake. Instead, I found thatfamily court cases are now dominated by high conflict divorces with highconflict personalities — and that these personalities are primarilyunrecognized 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 seemunaware of these problems — and their possible solutions. This made my life infamily court much more difficult. So I tried to explain this problem to others.
Ironically, when I first started trying to telllegal professionals about personality disorders in the 1990’s, they were highlyskeptical and largely disinterested. I told my lawyer colleagues about thesedisorders and they said it sounded pretty strange. I told judges and they saidthat this issue was irrelevant. I told my mental health professional friendsthat many of the high-conflict cases in family courts were driven by one or twopersonality disorders and they encouraged me not to talk about it for fear thatsuch people would be stigmatized and decisions made solely on the existence ofa personality disorder.
However, I kept talking about it and eventuallyI was asked to speak at legal conferences, judicial training seminars andprograms for mental health professionals. By 2002, when I met Randi Kreger, Iwas 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 thesedisorders, without judging people and without making assumptions about theirspecific abilities. These disorders have patterns of behavior, but they varywidely in terms of parenting skills, etc. In some cases, one person has such adisorder – or traits, without the full disorder. In other cases, both peoplehave these problems, although to different degrees. I have even had cases inwhich 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 patternsto understand and deal with. With this knowledge, people can make betterdecisions, manage their divorces and post-divorce lives, and grow strongerthemselves. Based on the feedback Randi and I have been receiving, it seemsthat we are helping many people who previously felt alone in facing theseproblems. We are always interested in your feedback.
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.