High Conflict in the Schools: Tips for Teachers and Parents

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  High Conflict in the Schools: Tips for Teachers and Parents ©2022 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. In the world of high conflict there’s always something new—almost! Now teachers have become the new targets of blame for everything from which books teachers are using to when teachers take their breaks. With the school year about to begin anew, we would like to extend a lot of empathy and respect for the hard work that teachers do and suggest a few tips for teachers and parents. (I might add that my own teaching experience was as a Kindergarten teacher for four years, where I first learned about high conflict behavior in the 1970’s, and continues now as a law school adjunct professor, where I teach how to deal with high conflict behavior in legal disputes.) Jackhammer Parents A recent article in the Washington Post described “jackhammer parents” as a successor to “helicopter parents” and “lawnmower parents” who hover over their children and mow down any difficulty that may face them. (Rise of the Jackhammer Parent) The article was written by a teacher who was on the receiving end of endless emails and complaints about how she was teaching, taking breaks, and that her curriculum was too hard one day in one parent’s opinion and too easy in another’s—about the same day! The author made up the term “jackhammer parent” because they were unlike worried parents in the past in that they were relentless, loud, destructive, and powered by fear. Fortunately, most parents are not like this. This teacher had to come in two hours early before class each day just to deal with their angry emails. While in the past this teacher had always been able to forge a positive working relationship with upset parents, there was no calming down for these jackhammer parents. This may be one of the reasons that there are reports that half a million teachers have left the profession nationwide since 2020, partly due to the pandemic but partly due to anti-school rhetoric that has arisen during this period. (Why Thousands of Teachers are Leaving the Classroom) Many teachers feel that they are now being treated as the enemy. A Case of Blamespeak? In my book, BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns, I use the first chapter to describe Blamespeak: a term I use to describe the world’s increasingly negative and adversarial language, especially as it appears in emails, texts, and social media posts. It seems to have seven key characteristics: it is emotionally intense, very personal (your intelligence, sanity, morals), all your fault, out of context (ignores all the good you’ve done), often shared with others, causes intensely negative gut feelings in the recipient, and it often triggers more Blamespeak in response by the recipient (resisting this urge is where BIFF comes in). This appears to be what today’s teachers are dealing with on an ever-larger scale. I also explained that the people who primarily use Blamespeak may have high conflict personalities (estimated to be 5-10% of adults), which means that they are preoccupied with blaming others, all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, and extreme behavior. What we have learned about high conflict people (HCPs) is that they see all relationships as adversarial, lack self-awareness, rarely change, and have been increasing in society over the past twenty to thirty years. This means that the goal in dealing with them needs to shift from getting emotional, trying to give them insight into themselves, and trying to resolve the past (forget about it), and instead focusing on calming language, the choices they have for the present and, when necessary, setting limits on future behavior. BIFF Communications These realizations led to the development of the BIFF communication method. While originally developed as the BIFF Response®, this can be used in initiating a correspondence as well. This can be used by teachers, parents, and anyone in a conflict, especially in writing such as emails, texts, and social media posts. BIFF stands for: Brief: usually a paragraph is sufficient, even in response to a much longer email or letter. Informative: just straight information on the topic, without arguments, opinions, defenses (because its not really about you), emotions, or judgments. Friendly: a friendly greeting (“thanks for letting me know your concerns,” “thanks for responding”) or closing (“have a good weekend”), or brief comment showing empathy or respect (“I hear your frustration and am looking into it”). Firm: this doesn’t mean harsh, just avoid or end a hostile conversation so there are no hooks to keep it going (don’t end with “What do you think of that, buddy!”). For example: A parent writes a teacher: “You had your baby in June. If you’d started maternity leave right after your baby was born, you could have been back in September instead of October. I want to know how you’re planning to address the gaps in learning you created.” A BIFF response might be: “Thank you for letting me know your concerns. I planned to stay home three months and my daughter was born on June 25th, which means I return in October. Since the teacher in September is covering my curriculum, I don’t anticipate any gaps. If you find a learning gap or have any other concerns, let’s set up a meeting to discuss. I look forward to meeting you and your son. Best wishes.” This response was Brief (one paragraph), Informative (simply explaining her schedule), Friendly (Thank you; I look forward to meeting you), Firm (it ended the hostile conversation with an open-ended invitation to meet sometime). By keeping it simple and brief, the teacher did not have to spend much time on this email and could get through several fairly quickly. Suppose this parent had used the BIFF method to start the conversation instead. It might have gone like this:  “I appreciate your teaching experience and look forward to meeting you. I have a concern that there may be gaps in what my son

Putin Attacking Ukraine: Is this Malignant Narcissism? If so, Can We Predict His Future Actions?

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©2022 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. High Conflict Institute is committed to understanding high conflict personalities and training people for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. What kind of personality would promote such heartless, destructive action against a people who have done him no harm? There is a special kind of personality that this suggests, which is the most dangerous and untreatable condition, according to the highly regarded Otto Kernberg, a psychoanalyst who studied this condition for most of his life and helped define it: malignant narcissism. Malignant Narcissism This personality may look unhinged at times, but someone with this personality grows more and more dangerous with time and must be understood in order to stop him. While I should not diagnose someone I have never met, I feel that we must now operate on the likelihood that Putin has this personality and is revealing who he always was and who he is becoming. If he has this disorder, he is entirely predictable. Put simply, he cannot stop himself from this malignancy. It grows like a cancer. Malignant narcissism is considered a combination of: narcissistic personality disorder; antisocial personality traits; paranoia, and sadism. Erich Fromm may have been the first to write about this as a psychologist in his 1960s book The Heart of Man: It’s Genius for Good and Evil as applying to the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Roman Caesars, Hitler, Stalin, and others. Unlike most personalities, which stay stable over a lifetime (including most personality disorders), he said malignant narcissism grows over the years. He becomes more isolated and considers everyone a danger, so he takes more and more extreme action to increase his power and ruthlessness and narcissism. Fromm contrasts malignant narcissism with benign narcissism which may drive the person to believe their actions are extremely special and superior—and some great inventors, artists, and others have had this personality—but they limit themselves in order to get along with the world around them and to have success. On the other hand, malignant narcissists believe they are extremely special and superior individuals because of inherent qualities of who they are as a person, so that anything they do is superior and justified simply because they thought of it. Therefore, malignant narcissism grows and is not self-limiting. History tells us that it only takes one person with an extreme personality to start a war and cause the deaths of millions. Many historians say that no one wanted World War II except for Adolf Hitler. Likewise, Josef Stalin was the sole instigator of the drive to collectivize the farms of Ukraine and Russia in the 1930s, which caused the deaths by starvation of approximately five million people. As we have learned in our work with high conflict personalities in all areas of life, when there is no issue driving extreme behavior, the personality is the issue. Here are the four parts of this personality to consider: Narcissistic personality disorder: The traits listed in the diagnostic manual for mental health professionals (DSM-5) for narcissism include (among others): “grandiose sense of self-importance,” “fantasies of unlimited power,” “requires excessive admiration,” “lacks empathy,” and other traits. Watch the news and consider whether he displays any of these. It appears that he is consumed by his fantasies of unlimited power, which is how he has ruled Russia over the past twenty years. Within his first year in office in 2000, he took control of the largest and most influential television companies, the key to manipulating the news in his favor. By 2002, he gave the federal government (his government) the right to fire elected governors and reversed judicial reforms. He manipulated elections to run for repeated terms as President and prevented any serious competitors from running against him. We are not seeing a new personality in his attacks on Ukraine. He’s been working on unlimited power for many years. Antisocial Personality Traits: According to the DSM-5, this personality disorder includes traits of: “failure to conform to social norms,” “deceitfulness,” “aggressiveness,” “reckless disregard for safety of others,” and “lack of remorse.” Many news reports point out Putin’s deceitfulness before invading Ukraine to the world and to the Russian people. He claimed that the Ukrainian government was a danger to Russia and Russian-speaking people in the border regions of Ukraine, and that historically Ukraine belonged to Russia. His subsequent actions showed his clear failure to conform to international standards, such as the United Nations’ rules about respecting each other’s boundaries. His description of history to justify this attack was very inaccurate according to historians, who noted that over 90% of Ukrainians voted for independence in 1991, including a majority of those who spoke Russian. And there was no obvious indication that this invasion would benefit the people of Russia or Ukraine. There was no reported groundswell of interest in Russia for invading Ukraine. His actions showed blatant deceitfulness, aggressiveness, disregard for the safety of others, and lack of remorse. Paranoia: This aspect of malignant narcissism seems to have been showing more recently for Putin. Reports from those who have met Putin over the years, such as French President Macron, suggest that he has severely isolated himself and fundamentally changed during the pandemic, which has caused him to be more paranoid, more aggrieved, and more reckless than just two years ago. But his actions over the twenty years of his rule show that he has always had this trait to some extent. Sadism: This characteristic of malignant narcissism may be the most disturbing because it means that the person may actually enjoy other’s pain, rather than simply being impervious to it. The next few weeks will show how he reacts to the thousands of dead Russian soldiers and Ukrainians caused by his invasion. Does Putin have malignant narcissism? The reader will have to reach his or her own conclusion. But if he does, this means that he will not be self-limiting and that we are therefore witnessing an historic return to personality-based wars that will benefit no one. We should not

Emotions are Contagious: From Child Alienation to Workplace Bullying to World Anxiety

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  Emotions are Contagious: From Child Alienation to Workplace Bullying to World Anxiety ©2022 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. In many ways, the world runs on emotions. We share happiness, sadness, anger and fear all day long. Emotions are the social glue that hold us together as human beings. But this gets problematic when we “catch” emotions that aren’t helpful to us. When there is too much anger or fear, it shuts down our ability to think clearly and solve problems. Instead, we go into fight, flight, or freeze mode, which doesn’t work well in our modern, complex world. This article addresses how contagious emotions can create problems for families, organizations, and sometimes our highly interconnected world, and some ways we can manage these emotions better.   Child Alienation When a child resists or refuses contact with one of his or her parents during and after a separation or divorce, it can be devastating to that parent and often the grandparents and other relatives on that parent’s side of the family. This causes a lot of confusion and often anger between the parents and other family members. But when one looks deeply into what has occurred, such alienation seems to be primarily caused by an excess of emotions during the separation or divorce that have been shared with the child. “I can’t believe that your mother is taking me back to court!!” “Once again, your father is late with the child support!!” “How was your weekend with your father, Johnny? Did you feel safe? If you’re worried, you know you can always call me and I’ll come get you. I can’t believe how he doesn’t really care about you. He only cares about himself!” “No, Mr. Eddy! I would NEVER share my upset emotions with the children! NEVER! Do you understand!” These are all examples of parents who lack normal emotional boundaries, so that their children are over-exposed to their feelings and thoughts about separation or divorce. Children can’t handle more than a certain level of emotional intensity before they shut down or act out in an effort to cope. This is how Allan Schore, a psychiatrist working with young children and parents describes it: Unpredictable and intrusive [parenting] often leads to what is called ambivalent-anxious attachment. [They] can only cope with a certain intensity of emotional arousal before they move beyond their window of tolerance into a state of stressful emotional dysregulation…. Such children…express emotions in an excessive way and suffer intense negative moods. They are overly dependent on their attachment figure (presumably to make her feel more secure)…. (Schore, 2019, 231-32) Hostility, in particular, can have a serious impact on a child. This is commonly seen in cases of child alienation, in which one parent is unable to shield the child from their hostility toward the other parent. One study of over 900 children in Norway (not specific to divorce, although separation was included) found that the emotions expressed by parents with just traits of a personality disorder could have a very negative influence: The PDs that appear to be the most strongly associated with hostile behavior and that may affect children are Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). These disorders are characterized by features such as difficulty controlling anger (BPD, ASPD, NPD), impulsive and aggressive outbursts (BPD, ASPD), rage when being criticized (NPD), irritability (BPD), aggressiveness and physical assault (ASPD), being tough-minded, exploitive, and non-empathic (ASPD, NPD), lack of reciprocal interest and sensitivity to the wants and needs of others (ASPD, NPD), extreme sarcasm (BPD), being indifferent to having hurt another (ASPD), sudden and dramatic shifts in their view of others (BPD), emotional coldness (NPD, ASPD) and disdainful, arrogant behavior (NPD). (Berg-Nielsen and Wichstrom, 2012, 2) When a parent doesn’t realize that their emotions can be contagious, they are more likely to expose their child to too much intensity. It’s not unusual for a child to try to calm their upset parent by becoming overly dependent on them and seeming to reject the other parent. Yet only about 10-15% of children in separation and divorce cases show concerning signs of resistance or refusal to spend time with the other parent. This means that most parents recognize the importance of protecting their children from their most upset emotions as they go through this difficult process. Yet the problem of alienation appears to continue to grow. It’s not just parents who need to manage their emotions around their children. Alienation cases tend to arouse professionals too, who may become very heated in their communications with each other as they argue over who is to blame for the child’s resistance. When judges, evaluators, or mediators get angry at parents in separation and divorce cases, their emotions often spill over from the parents onto their children, which increases their resistance rather than reducing it. When lawyers and counselors become emotionally involved with their client in these cases, they can reinforce a parent’s hostility toward the other parent rather than reducing it. All parents and professionals involved in these cases need to manage their own emotions with more awareness of how contagious they are.   Workplace Bullying Recently, there have been many cases in the news of sexual harassment by top officials in business and in government. Former Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned his office after several female staffers finally came forward about how he physically and verbally harassed them. Yet they remained silent out of fear for years in some cases. Travis Kalanick was the driving force behind Uber, the ride-sharing business, which aggressively replaced many taxi services starting in 2009. Yet he was eventually driven out of the company as CEO and a Board member, in order to change the emotional culture of the company. The company has been exposed this year [2017] as having a workplace culture that included sexual harassment and discrimination, and it has pushed the envelope in dealing with law enforcement and even partners. That tone was set by Mr.