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National Family Law Smyth

Lndon conference July 2016

Bruce Smyth

on 27 November 2016

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Transcript of National Family Law Smyth

'Haters gonna hate'
Why hatred matters in parenting disputes
Knowledge gap:

Shared-time: select group – cooperative, high functioning

But ~40% high-conflict / fear or parallel parenting

How make shared-time 'work' – practically, emotionally, financially?
Central argument

'High-conflict' oversimplifies nature of destructive family dynamics

'Hatred' reflect key relationship dynamic for some (reactive vs pathological)

Conflict and hatred differ: hate needs to be recognized & responded to

'Pathological hate'
core features

Core driver: might something deeper and more fundamental occurring for some?

Demby: "concept of 'parental conflict' ... rarely conveys the motivational complexity of chronic parental acrimony.... concept of pathological hatred better describes and explains entrenched parenting disputes".

'Hate' - ugly word; understudied
#6. all-consuming: "you took so much time plotting revenge you lost sight of everything that matters"
'HAte-work': 'black hole of injury and vengeance'
hatred: response to being hurt or ignored & stuck
project internal conflict outwards
'loving hate' - seek to destroy but desperately need
substitute for love - 'hostile dependency'
reunion behaviour = connection & proximity

What's 'high-conflict'?

No consensus! But agreement small service-intensive grp (10%=90%)

Lack of definitional clarity = confusion: early identification? case mgmt?

Birnbaum & Bala: need "more refined, explicit analytical concepts for the identification and differentiation of various types of high conflict cases"
– need to distinguish different degrees and types of high conflict
Common features of high-conflict (prev 10-25%)

Continuous legal fights = fat file (can't agree on anything!)

‘Verbal and physical aggression, overt hostility, and distrust’

Inability to communicate

Children drawn in and used in the conflict
#4. willing to incur personal costs in the harming of the other
#2. Global negative evaluation
#5. long-term attitude not healed by time
#9. In its attempts to terrorize, humiliate & destroy, hatred can be serious and dangerous
#1. a thing of the heart:
A Passion
#8. double-edged!
rational: self-serving
irrational: self-destructive
('hate punishes itself')
High conflict ‘couple’? 1 person driving conflict?

'High conflict personality'?
Rigid cognitive style – b&w, can't process new info
Egocentricity – lack empathy; can't see oth perspectv
Defensiveness – chronically blame
Inability to self-regulate emotions
Breathtaking inability to self-observe (and change)
#3. thought disorder – of perception: misattribution of motive
#7. can be passed on through a 'Culture of hatred'
Identifying & responding to hatred?
No single or simple intervention
Not going to be prescriptive – How disturb orbit? tricks?
Educ - neg conseq of conflict for children
Child-incl: child voice reflected back - ART = read emotional intensity
May need formally articulated therapeutic element
engage with less Rational & darker side?
hate: Epi ARGUMENT - new leads & courses of action
Need to differentiate high-conflict
To look away from hate-driven conflict risks missing critical dynamic
"Sometimes when you win, you really lose.

Sometimes when you lose, you really win.

Sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie.

Sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose."

– from the movie, White Men Can’t Jump

"Hate is a force of attraction.
Hate is just love with its back turned."
– H. L. Mencken

"Hating people is like burning down your house to get rid of a rat."
– Harry Emerson Fosdick

"Let go or be dragged"
– Zen Proverb

Child wellbeing: Critical factors
Parent wellbeing
Parent–parent relationships*
Parent–child relationships

Children's views?
Positive experience for children when:
Parents cooperative
Parents live near each other
Arrangements are predictable, flexible, responsive
Children have the opportunity to have a say
Children less concerned about time split
Relationship with their parents
Parents’ responsive to children's needs
Sternberg's Triangular theory of Hate:
negation of intimacy in hate (seeking distance)
Passion in hate (Intense Anger or Fear in response to a threat)
commitment in hate (negative evaluation through contempt)

Passionate hate Scale:
A1/ I don’t want X anywhere near me.
A2/ The world would be a better place if X had never existed.
A3/ Any time spent with X is a waste of time.
A4/ I would like to interact with X.

B1/ I cannot control my hatred for X.
B2/ I would like to do something to hurt X.
B3/ I have violent thoughts about X.
B4/ I have kind thoughts for X.

C1/ X is scum.
C2/ X is a low class type of person.
C3/ X does not deserve any consideration or compassion.
C4/ X is a very nice person.

"She’s like the evil mastermind of a horror film"
"My ex- actually sold my dog. That’s how evil this woman is."
"My mummy says that you stole her house and all her money, and she’s going to take you to court"
[Our son] would start off by being angry. He would throw things around. He’d try to rip his uniform. He’d try to hurt himself. He’d be scratching his arms so they bled, and punching the walls. Then he’d sit down and cry big fat tears in the middle of the doorway and say ‘But I don't know why I’m so sad’. Then he’d finally realise he had to go to school, and he’d wail all the way in the car, and then refuse to get out of the car when we got there. … I’ve turned myself inside out trying to figure out how to get through that.
"I’m really seeing some problems with my son in regard to anxiety and problems. I think he feels that he’s in the middle of it. I suppose he is.

He finds it really, really hard to act normal. I get these random ‘Dad can I have a cuddle?’ I’m like ‘Dude just give me one’. I’ve said that so much – ‘Dude just give me a cuddle mate. You want to give Dad a cuddle? Give me a cuddle’.

That may seem pretty trivial but it's just a lot of stuff that my current partner now has picked up. [She works with children, and says:]
‘This is pretty odd behavior. This is not right. Something’s going on here in his mind. He has conflict within himself.'

He’s really beating himself up … over the situation. I feel that he wants to tell me stuff but then doesn’t because: ‘Oh you're going to have a go at Mum about it.’ "

Some case studies...

D - long distance 50/50 (2 yr old)
B - surprise!
P - the new boyfriend
Z - shared misery
Well known take home message...

1. Children fare badly when parents engaged in ongoing conflict - worse if they're drawn in.

2. Longer + more intense = greater chance of long-term damage
But research evidence a little more complicated!

1. Children of all ages can cope with
2. Negative emotionality and meaning matters - not conflict
3. Caught-in-middle fare worse as group, still individ diffs
4. Close p-c r/ship buffer (warm, validating, respectful etc)
5. Co-occuring life stressors (adol; COPMI) amplify impacts
6. Child adjustment problems can be long-lasting
Full transcript