Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder in Family Law Cases

Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder in Family Law Cases ©2018 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. The diagnostic manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) tells us that up to 5.9% of adults in the United States has borderline personality disorder (BPD).[1] When someone with this disorder is involved in a family law case, especially involving decisions about child custody and access, there is often a great deal of emotion, frequent professional conflict and numerous decision-making procedures that each barely resolve the conflicts (negotiation, mediation, court hearings, evaluations, counseling, etc.). It helps to understand BPD, in order to manage these cases better. What Is BPD? Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder with many of these types of symptoms: Fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, unstable self-image, impulsiveness, self-harming, wide mood swings, feeling empty, sudden and intense anger, and paranoid thoughts. However, personality disorders (there are ten in the manual) are typically not obvious at first until someone is in a close relationship or involved in a conflict. Often, in romantic relationships with someone with BPD, there is an intense and exciting romance, followed by making fast commitments, then a turn for the worse as conflicts and chaos take over both people’s lives. There is lots of blame, yelling, sometimes hitting and other forms of domestic abuse. All of this is often interspersed with periods of friendly and caring (and sexual) behavior. It can feel like a roller coaster and can be very confusing for both people. In many cases, only one person has this disorder and the other person doesn’t have this disorder (or another disorder), and is caught by surprise at the suddenly extreme behavior. In reality, the BPD sufferer has a “dual persona.” It’s all part of the same personality, but there is the public persona, which seems really great, and the private persona that may be involved in abusive verbal and/or physical behavior. Sometimes it takes up to a year to realize that a partner has this problem, because they can be very charming, exciting and loving at first. Therefore, people are encouraged to wait at least a year before making major commitments, such as getting married, having children or buying property together. Why Do People Have BPD? No one chooses to have BPD. There are three basic potential causes: Heredity: People are born with a temperament and genetic tendencies. This may be the biggest factor. They may have ancestors who were intensely adversarial in order to survive during wartimes and other adversities. Fearing abandonment may have been a very good motivator for survival, such that holding tightly onto mates and children would have been good for the family’s survival. Fierce jealousy, clinging behavior, anger at a partner’s and child’s independence may have been helpful to keep the family together through thick and thin. (In her new book, The BIG Book of Borderline Personality Disorder, Shehrina Rooney says she believes she was born with BPD, so she may have this genetic history somewhere in her background.) Early childhood trauma: The first five years of life are when personality development mostly occurs. Insecure attachments between parent and child can often be identified in the development of borderline personality disorder. A secure attachment is necessary to learn emotional self-control (self-regulation); gain a sense of confidence in oneself and trust in others; recognize differences between people and what others are feeling; learn to tolerate stress; learn give and take in relationships; and to learn how one affects other people in order to adapt and change one’s own behavior for greater social success. With an insecure or abusive parent, these essential lessons are often not learned, and unsuccessful or abusive behaviors are learned instead. Cultural influences: Our modern entertainment cultural relies heavily on images of dysfunctional relationships in movies, in TV shows, on the news, on social media, etc. These include lots of relationship manipulation, violence, impulsive acting out, yelling, throwing things, storming out of rooms, etc. It’s as if our culture is intentionally teaching borderline personality disorder behaviors. But it grabs our attention and gets us to watch, so it sells advertising and it won’t be changing anytime soon. For someone with genetic tendencies to have BPD traits, or who grew up in a very inconsistent household, these behaviors may be seen as the way to have normal relationships. (She shows her love and commitment to me by keeping track of my every move. He shows his love and protection for me by slapping me when he thinks I’m getting out of line. Isn’t this what everyone does?) Is There Treatment for BPD? Yes! Over the past thirty years, treatment methods have been developed that teach daily living and self-management skills and have been having a lot of success with people who are willing to commit to a few years of therapy. The most well-known and wide-spread method is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). There are therapists in most big cities and some smaller communities who have been trained in this skills-building approach. Whatever method is used, it’s important to have a therapist who is personally secure and can be emotionally stable in the face of the chaos and anger that those with BPD bring to therapy. Therapists trained in more standard psychodynamic therapy can be good with BPD if they are also good at staying calm and teaching some type of self-help skills. Just supportive therapy can actually make things worse, if they reinforce blaming comments, say their behavior is normal or justified, and join in focusing on the behavior of other people in their lives. Unfortunately, many therapists inexperienced at treating BPD often believe their clients and reinforce their problematic behavior, rather than helping improve it. Handling a Family Law Case involving BPD Given the dynamics of borderline personality disorder explained above, there are many mistakes that family law professionals commonly make. Here is a list of 10 Do’s and Don’ts: 1.  Don’t try to give someone with BPD insight into themselves and their dysfunctional behavior. This just reinforces their defensiveness, triggers their

What is New Ways for Families®? Excerpted from The Future of Family Court

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. NEW WAYS FOR FAMILIEs® is a new method developed by High Conflict Institute, which integrates many of the principles described in this book (The Future of Family Court). It is an interdisciplinary method that teaches and reinforces relationship conflict resolution skills for potentially high‑conflict parents. New Ways for Families emphasizes short-term counseling to reduce the impact of conflict on the children in potentially high-conflict cases. It can be used whenever a parent or the court believes one parent needs restricted parenting (supervised, no contact, limited time), at the start of a case or any time a parent requests restricted parenting – including post-judgment litigation. This method emphasizes strengthening skills for positive future behavior (new ways), rather than focusing on past negative behavior – while still acknowledging it. It is designed to save courts time, to save parents money, and to protect children as their families re-organize in new ways after a separation or divorce, for married or never-married parents. This method can be used in family court, mediation, collaborative divorce, or even post-divorce with the assistance of a Parenting Coordinator. Goals of New Ways for Families® To immunize families against becoming high-conflict families during the separation and the divorce process. To help parents teach their children resilience in this time of huge and rapid change in the foundation of their family life To strengthen both parent’s abilities to make parenting decisions, while relying less on experts and the courts to make their decisions for them. To assist professionals and the courts in assessing both parent’s potential to learn new, positive ways of problem-solving and organizing their family after a separation or divorce. To give parents a chance to change poor parenting behaviors (including abuse and alienation) before long-term decisions are made. This method emphasizes learning new skills for positive future behavior. In reality, it’s easy to start ordering cases to use the New Ways for Families method. All you need are three therapists trained in the method (a 2-day training): one for the mother; one for the father; and one as the Parent-Child Counselor. Then they use the New Ways for Families workbooks to structure the counseling. If the court plays the role of follow-up, by quizzing the parents on what they have learned and on a new hypothetical parenting situation, then the parents may apply these skills to new problem situations. At the least, this method appears to slow down parents who are preoccupied with blaming their former partners, and many of them stop returning to court. 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.

Excerpted from Bill’s New Book: The Future of Family Court

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Disorders in the Court THIS BOOK IS DESIGNED FOR family court judicial officers, although I realize it may be read by other professionals and individuals involved in family court themselves. It’s written from my perspective as a family lawyer and mental health professional, and as a trainer of judges in managing high-conflict people in court. I am not a judge and I do not presume to know how to do the difficult work judges do day in and day out. Yet I have represented clients in family courts for 15 years and I have heard many of the concerns of judges in my seminars and private conversations. The emphasis of this book is to apply lessons learned from the field of mental health to the family court system, especially in regard to working with parents with personality disorders or traits. Prior to my legal career, I was a therapist working with children and their parents in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics. This background has given me a different perspective on today’s families in family court. Yet my emphasis here is on what individual judges can do, rather than recommending sweeping changes in the court system or creating new players in the decision-making process. 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.