What Does Splitting Have to Do With Politics?

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. [Excerpted from Splitting America by Bill Eddy and Don Saposnek] We have come to realize that splitting in politics is driven by the same high-conflict behaviors as in family court. And, the result is also the same! “If you are willing to engage in splitting, you can get very far – until enough people understand this dynamic and set limits on it.” The Five Drivers of Political Splitting 1. Personal attacks (it’s about their morals, intelligence, sanity, etc., not the issue) 2. Crisis emotions (such as fear and anger, which trigger fear and hatred) 3. All-or-nothing solutions (such as eliminating a person or group) 4. Narcissistic behavior (saying you are a hero, while not really showing empathy for anyone else) 5. Negative advocates (recruiting others, such as Super PACs and attack ad consultants) And, there is a lot of repetition, which strengthens the splitting and gives it the appearance of appropriate behavior and widespread acceptance. 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.

Book Excerpt: Why Politicians are Divorcing Themselves from Their Professional Partners

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. As a result of this continued polarization, some of the reasonable politicians – the people who could work together – are no longer trying to stay in office, but are divorcing themselves from their professional partners. Olympia Snowe, Maine’s retiring US senator, announced Friday that her reelection campaign committee has transferred $1.2 million of its remaining funds to an effort to encourage young women to participate in public service. Snowe, who cited partisan polarization in her decision earlier this year not to seek reelection, said the money will go to the Maine Community Foundation to support the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute. Snowe, a Republican, will establish that institute after she completes her third term in the Senate. Of the remaining balance, about $800,000 is being used for outstanding campaign obligations and to establish a multicandidate committee whose goals are to diminish what Snowe sees as polarization in today’s political environment. (AP) Boston Globe, July 14, 2012 (bold added) With reasonable people dropping out of politics, will high-conflict politicians be all that remain? 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.

Splitting America

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. and Don Saposnek, Ph.D [The following is an excerpt from the new book “SPLITTING AMERICA: How Today’s Politicians, Super PACs and the News Media Mirror High Conflict Divorce” by Bill Eddy and Don Saposnek (HCI Press, 2012). Something nasty is happening in America. Have you noticed the trend? There’s more bullying, more incivility, more disrespect and even more relationship violence between us at home, at work, in our communities and in the news. And, it seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. We have noticed a pattern to this behavior that is all too familiar. It generally includes: Personal Attacks (calling the other person crazy, stupid, immoral or evil) Crisis Emotions (which trigger fear and hatred of each other) All-or-Nothing Solutions (which call for the elimination or exclusion of the “other”) Narcissistic Behavior (acting superior and not caring about anyone else) Negative Advocates (constantly recruiting others to join in this hostility) We are well-acquainted with this pattern in high-conflict divorces, and it’s not good. This behavior is called “high-conflict” because it increases the conflict, rather than reducing or resolving it. Worst of all, it’s contagious – it spreads when people are exposed to it, like a virus. This behavior results in a state of mind called “splitting” – the psychological term for truly believing that certain people are absolutely all-bad and others are absolutely all-good, with no gray areas in between (Millon, 1996). This might not seem like a serious problem, except for the fact that the spread of splitting leads people to stop speaking to each other, to hate each other and, sometimes, to be violent with each other. It also distracts us from solving real problems. We are now concerned that this behavior is spreading into politics at all levels. Today’s Leaders Recently, political leaders in both parties appear to be adopting and escalating high-conflict behavior, and perhaps, even leading it. Millionaires and billionaires are funding expensive ads as key elements in high-conflict election campaigns. And, the news promotes high-conflict behavior in every broadcast – to children as well as to adults – by relentlessly showing, and thereby teaching, the most dramatic bad behavior of the day. We believe that the politicians, donors to Super PACs and the news media don’t seem to realize how destructive and self-destructive this escalation of high-conflict behavior can be. We would like to warn them and the rest of the nation about the dead-end nature of this unrestrained behavior that knows no limits. We have seen splitting destroy too many families, and we don’t want to see it destroy the American family. We want to avoid a Democrat-Republican high-conflict divorce. In approaching these problems, it’s not about pointing fingers and deciding who is more at fault. It’s about everyone taking responsibility for his or her own behavior, and managing collaborative relationships, even when we disagree. Who Are We, and Why Did We Write This Book? We are a psychologist and a family law attorney, each who has worked with divorcing families for over 30 years. And, we both are family mediators – we meet with divorcing couples and help them calm down and work together for the sake of their children and their own futures. We are not politicians or political scientists, but we have learned ways of calming high-conflict families and helping them work together peacefully, for the sake of the children and their parents’ future lives. At a recent conference on high-conflict divorce, we discussed how much the dynamics of the current elections mirror high-conflict divorce. The closer we looked, the more similar these dynamics appeared. In fact, to both of us, the parallels are striking, and the solutions may be too. We thought it would be worth a try to analyze this and come up with some suggestions for how to change the destructive direction in which we seem to be headed. This book is our small effort to calm this conflict. How Similar Are High-Conflict Divorce and High-Conflict Politics? Reports from The Wall Street Journal (Thernstrom, 2003) and from family court judges (Brownstone, 2009) indicate that high-conflict divorce is on the rise. But, some of the most powerful reports come from children who grew up in high-conflict divorce situations and who are now adults. Constance Ahrons (2004) interviewed over one hundred children during the divorce, and 20 years later. The following are typical comments reported: Travis, fourteen and the middle child of three, lived with his mother weekdays and spent several weekends a month with his father. It’s the old thing – they were playing the kids against each other. You would hear a story from one and then get another story from the other, and you would never know for sure who is closer to the truth than the other. Now, as an adult I have learned to take everything with a grain of salt, and see where it is planted here and there. His younger sister also felt caught in the cross fire: It made me really mad. I would have to try to keep my mouth shut to not upset the other. I had to really watch what I said when I was with either one of them, because—for example, if I would mention my father while I was with my mother, that would really set her off. Unfortunately this resulted in her distancing herself from both parents. “I don’t remember ever having this feeling like, oh, I can’t wait to see my dad or mom now. I really miss them! Instead, it was always a relief to get away from the other (p. 80). Notice how the children were turned off to both parents, because of their high-conflict behavior. But of course, politicians wouldn’t act this way, would they? More recently it seems that they are acting in very similar ways. On the first floor of the Capitol, there is a private dining room for senators, the “inner sanctum,” where Republicans and Democrats used to have