Approximately 80% or more of high-conflict divorced families have at least one parent with a personality disorder. One of the hallmarks of a personality disorder is the pattern of distorted or problematic thought process. Another is their impaired interpersonal relationships. These thoughts understandably create havoc on their relationships. Some adults may use a problematic thought style without a personality disorder. It is understandable why so many high-conflict cases involve problematic thought patterns such as the ones listed below:
This is the person that overacts to triggers and immediately assumes the worst possible outcome. An example of this thinking for a teenager may involve over-reacting to a failed science grade. They fear that this one grade could result in failing the whole semester resulting in having to go to summer school. From here their thoughts might follow that now they will not be able to get a summer job which means they will not be able to get a car and their friends will dump them. Some high-conflict parents who use catastrophic thinking will over-react when things happen and not be able to see the reality of what is actually happening because their fear leads them into worst case scenarios. They will not be able to “pick their battles” with the other parent because everything is rated a 10 on a scale of 1-10.
This adult has an exaggerated sense of self-importance. For a child this might mean may over rating their sports skills or think they know more than the adults in their life. Adults with this type of thinking tend to be highly judgmental and have unreasonable expectations. Some will act entitled and do not see when they are expecting a different standard for their co-parent than themselves. These double standards are common place but not recognized.
LEAPS IN LOGIC
This type of thinking is often referred to as “jumping to conclusions.” This person may make a logic-based statement but with skip over obvious steps. Often a logical leap is when they assume they know what someone else is thinking. In high-conflict divorce this party will believe they can read their co-parents mind and their motives. Typically they will assume that their co-parent is doing something “on purpose.” These negative assumptions then impact on their own reaction and the conflict becomes worse. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt is very important when it comes to effective co-parenting but many parents will refuse to do so. They would rather think the worst and be “right” rather than cooperative.
ALL OR NOTHING THINKING
This type of thinking is also referred to as “splitting.” Although this is normal in young children it is not normal for adults. The world is made up of more gray area than not but this individual does not have the capacity to see anything other than black or white. They will either idealize or condemn others. They will see themselves as a success or a complete failure. They will view their co-parent as all bad and are at risk of viewing their child as all good or all bad. In the high-conflict divorce case this is extremely problematic for the other parent and eventually for the child.
These people are often seen as naive or overly positive. They are on the opposite side of the continuum of the person who catastrophizes. They may refuse to see the good or bad side of others or situations. In high-conflict divorce this parent may minimize the importance of their child’s need for exercise, their allergies or even physical risks. This will obviously create anxiety in their co-parent when they view the parenting issue so differently.
This is when the person assumes they are the center of the universe and that their behaviours caused things to happen. For example, the adult may believe that their co-parent moved just because they had started dating. It is as if everything is tied to them or is about them. They also turn even random comments into comments about themselves and react accordingly. These adults tend to over identify with even minor comments and think everything is a personal statement about them. “I just know she said that so I would overhear. She doesn’t like me!”
Projection is less of a thought style as it is a coping mechanism that is used with emotionally impaired individuals. Projection is often used to protect a very fragile sense of self. The individual must project the truth about themselves onto the other person. They blame so frequently that some will even convince themselves that what they are doing is being done to them instead. This wreaks havoc on relationships of all kinds
A person who is thinking in a paranoid manner may seem to just be using catastrophic thinking. However, paranoia is far worse because they believe others are out to get them. In its extreme form, paranoia can turn into delusions. Delusions are irrational thoughts that are not based in reality. Many bipolar people experience less severe forms of paranoia because of personalizing events, catastrophic thinking or by jumping to conclusions. An individual with mild paranoid thoughts might feel that their co-parent is stalking them because the co-parent has driven by their home.
Most of these thought styles are mildly delusional. Children may pass through developmental stages that include some of these styles. Children typically outgrow them. Adults with seriously delusional thinking are functioning in a “reality” that is even further from reality, and can include holding persistently strange beliefs. For example, a co-parent may insist there was a physical altercation with their co-parent at the last transfer that never occurred. When it is delusional the individual believes it actually occurred. On the other hand, there are some high-conflict parents that will fabricate stories to substantiate their allegations. Unlike delusions, these are motivated by revenue.
It is important to recognize that the adult who uses these thought styles do not do so intentionally. Their thinking is impaired and they do not deliberately choose to have these thoughts. They are often anxiety based and/or coping mechanisms for personality disorders. Although compassion is the best approach, these individuals create tremendous pain, misunderstanding, allegations and legal expense for their co-parent. Worse yet, when there is a child involved, a parent with one of these thinking styles it creates significant confusion and pain for their child.
Widely known for her expertise in the area of divorce and the family, she provides training to educators, family law and mental health professionals, as well as “High-conflict divorce” and “Parenting Coordination”.She has trained parenting coordinators since 1997, and as a result, co-authored the first and only comprehensive model of parenting coordination. Respected in their field, Susan has conducted numerous seminars on the international, national, state and local levels on topics such as parental alienation and visitation refusal, interviewing children, therapeutic and supervised visitation and developmentally appropriate time-sharing plans.
She has been awarded clinical membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and is a member of multiple organizations including the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.Mrs. Boyan maintains a private practice in Georgia.
Latest posts by Susan Boyan (see all)
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- Part II. Different Paths to Seek a Divorce - May 21, 2015