Bill Eddy’s responses to comments on BPD co-parenting question (Post July 4, 2013):
I really appreciate the sincere comments from everyone over the past 2 weeks. As most of you pointed out, BPD (borderline personality disorder) and even NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) are very mis-understood issues and most people haven’t even heard of them – until it’s suddenly grabbed their attention in an explosive close relationship. Education by those with personal experiences as well as professional experiences is valuable for others. There is a need for empathy for all when dealing with this subject, especially since lack of empathy is such strong part of BPD. I too have not met many people like the person whose comment I posted, who has BPD but is working on it. I am glad such people exist and that’s part of the education I hope to accomplish. There needs to be role models of success, so that society learns more and people that might get help will get help. However, the vast majority of those with BPD I have dealt with have lacked any such insight and have been preoccupied with blaming others. Those are the ones I mostly write about.
The comments and question about 50/50 co-parenting with a Borderline are very important (and thanks for liking my book “Splitting.”) In most cases, I would want the healthiest parent to have the majority of the parenting time. However, I have learned from two decades in legal disputes that most courts, lawyers, psychologists, mediators, social workers do not really understand this disorder and continue to make the obvious mistakes that lead to Borderlines getting the majority of parenting time in many cases (through false allegations, alienated children, identifying with their abuser, etc.).
Therefore, when I say I support 50/50 co-parenting in some cases with a BPD co-parent, it is not my preference but sometimes better than continuing the fight for more than a year or two. The fight over custody teaches the very lessons we are trying to avoid: extreme emotions, all-or-nothing thinking, extreme behavior and a preoccupation with the other parent’s behavior – which children learn for their own adult relationships. A shaky 50-50 is better than an endless battle to be primary parent – even if that would be the better decision. Some of the comments described some success by taking that approach.
Ideally, family courts would handle personality disorders like an emergency room, with lots of specialists to quickly give tests to determine where and what the problems are. Make it a diagnostic process, not an adversarial process, since it is a mental health problem with a diagnosis and standards (admittedly limited) for treatment. Minimize the statements of the parents and other family members against each other, so that the focus is on a scientific analysis of a mental disorder. This is the focus of our HCI PatternViewer program. I wish a judge somewhere would try assigning 3 specialists to quickly gather information and organize and present the patterns of the family. I say three, because one specialist alone, whether a psychologist, social worker or someone else can get emotionally hooked. If we treated it like a health issue, rather than simply to resolve a civil dispute (which is what family courts were created to do), families and the world would be much better off.
The other approach, of course, is to teach both parents skills for making decisions and try to get them to improve their behavior. This is how New Ways for Families is designed – which now has four models for teaching skills. Perhaps if whole court systems were to require learning flexible thinking, managed emotions, moderate behaviors and checking yourself – for both parents and professionals – we would have fewer children growing up to learn from parents who right now are encouraged to fight for total control, gain dominance of children and refuse to look at themselves. That’s my hope! For more on this, see my books.
Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of The Future of Family Court: Structure, Skills and Less Stress and other books on managing high conflict personalities in any setting. High Conflict Institute provides trainers and speakers to professional groups around the world dealing with legal, healthcare, educational and workplace disputes involving high conflict personalities.