The Game of What If

Recently while sitting with a client and listing to her tell her story I was hearing victim statement after victim statement. I stopped her and asked her if she was hearing her own word. She replied, what do you mean, and I told her she kept using statements of victimhood and that she needed to listen to how she was addressing the situation. This mind you is a woman that had been through the HCDP and worked with me quit extensively.

As we began to explore the statements she was making it became clear to her that she was continuing to blame everyone around her and not taking responsibility for the things she had created both good and bad and was continuing to sabotage her escape from the on going high conflict custody battle she found herself mired in. She kept telling me how the other parent was keeping her from being to move forward in her live, how the other parent wouldn’t show up on time for pick up and drop of or that the other parent would leave town and just drop the child of at daycare and call from out of town and tell her to pick up the child even though it wasn’t her visitation time. They also had differing opinions of the medical needs for the child (this child has some very special needs) and she felt the child was at constant risk with the other parent. This type of behavior was keeping her stuck in the chaos and my client continued to blame the other parent for not allowing her a normal life.

After agreeing that there was very little if anything that she could do to make the other parent do anything different, we explored how by always doing what the other parent expected of her she continued to maintain the conflict cycle. What we did next was play a game of What If. I asked her: What if you started to make plans to be out of town during the time when the other parent had the child? If you turned off your phone or left a message on the phone that you would be out of town during that time. What if you didn’t pick up the child and didn’t respond to the daycares calls? What if someone else had to be found by the other parent or that the other parent had to come back to handle the situation? What if she simply started to do some of the things for the child she knew were important for the medical needs of the child? What did she believe would happen? Each time we went deeper into the inquire we discovered that the child some way would be ok and that as far as the medical needs the worst that would likely happen is she might have to change and go back to something else but what might happen is that someone would see that this was actually the right thing to do. She struggled with the idea of actually letting go to this extent however she agreed that she would do it. Well what happened next was amazing to her. Just by her making this commitment to herself the energetics of the conflict change and the other parent stopped much of the behavior he had been displaying and the conflict began to dissipate even though my client had said nothing to the other parent about her new mindset. What happened is my client went to the next stage of disconnecting and stopped living her life the way she thought other people expected her to and focused on her life in the future with her daughter. She very shortly after this meeting engaged in her job for the first time in a long time, went back to school to get a degree and stopped using the other parent as an excuse to stay stuck.

Some of the decisions parents have to make in these situation can be vary hard and they feel that to make them will have a negative impact on the children and so they may, however I point out at this time that to not make some of those choices will ultimately have a bigger long time effect on the children.

The game of What If is meant to get the person thinking out of the box, to empower there Being to break the chains that are keeping them in the conflict and allow them to look to the future in a way they may never have thought.

What I tell my clients is to parent as though the other parent doesn’t exist. Lead their life and focus on the future, do the right thing always and never compromise for the expediency of the moment. Hold good healthy boundaries and model for the children the kind of person they want the child to grow up to be.

Self-reflection and awareness are perhaps the most important components of helping our clients out of the trap of the high conflict cycle. Being able to hear their own sabotaging statements and the statements that continually trigger the other parent can set the stage for the most significant changes to take place. When our clients discover that they are totally in charge of making the changes in the situation that will free them from the battle and point them and their children toward the future they begin to relax and put their focus on their children and the future rather than in the past and on the fight.

These statements often lie at the core of the persons belief systems and are the same beliefs that got them in the situation in the first place. If as family court professionals we can identify these statements and reflect them back to our clients in a way they can hear them we can begin to change the perspective from one of helplessness to empowerment. If however we align with them or collude with them as a negative advocate we are going to drive the beliefs deeper and instantly make the problem worse. I have seen this happen with both therapists and attorneys alike.

Many if not all of these people are looking for someone to pick up their banner and to fight the fight for them, never understanding the unrealistic expectations they are putting on their attorneys are going to lead them to ruin perhaps the chance for their children to lead a stable life.

Many of the statements from the parents that I work with come in statements about of the needs of the children being met. I find it most when it comes to their rights regarding visitation and contact. One of the most visible is regarding phone contact. The truth of the matter is that most children when given a stable environment are ok with going days with out contact with a parent and in fact the insistence of a parent to be able to have contact with the child only angers the other parent and incites them to do exactly the opposite.

It is important when working with high conflict people to keep their focus on the positive progress they are making in changing the conflict and on the importance of keeping the focus on their own parenting skills and how to gain an edge for the children through that focus. To disengage from all unnecessary forms of contact with the other parent (no matter what) and to identify what is exactly necessary. Only through this kind of disengagement and focus will they be able to find their way out of the cycle.

It is important for all of us, as Family Court Professionals to have our client explore these ideas so they can work from an empowered standpoint, not one of being a victim. That we help them to understand if they make the choice to engage with the courts, the pitfalls they face and the cost to the children in the long run. It is our duty to ask them what they want and to tell them when it is unrealistic and to help them understand the cost both emotionally and financially for their choices. Children are always the big losers in protracted cases and if we can minimize the declarations and the defending of the declarations that only add to the great fear these parent are in, we will go a long way in changing the lives of the over 1,000,000 children that suffer the impact of divorce every year.

We need to all agree to educate the parents by sending them to counselors, coaches and classes that know the system and that can direct them in ways to steer clear of the traps in the court system, that keep them embroiled in the conflict and perhaps cost their children a stable and normal life.

© Brook Olsen 2010

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