Video & Excerpt from Splitting America
By Bill Eddy and Don Saposnek
It has been well noted by journalists and sociologists that large numbers of today’s voters feel alienated by our current high-conflict political process. However, as an individual voter, you actually might respond to this situation in any of several different ways. We see strong parallels between the major ways that children cope with high-conflict divorces and the way voters cope with high-conflict politics, and it is just these very dynamics that seem to be pulling us as a nation into very serious dysfunction. Let us explore these parallels, first with the child from divorce, followed by the voter from a split nation, for each scenario.When you are a child with parents in a high-conflict divorce, and your parents relentlessly attack each other, show no inkling of cooperation with one another, and regularly put you and your siblings in the middle of their disputes, you are faced with several available options:
- You can repeatedly try to stop your parents from fighting (typically a futile action);
- You can join with and take on the side of one of your parents in the battle;
- You can “leave the field”, detach from both parents, and not allow yourself to get caught up in the battle.
(Note: Because of a wide range of individual differences, temperaments, tolerances, and sensitivities among the different children in a given family, each child may wind up selecting a different option than those selected by his or her sibling).
In the first high-conflict divorce scenario, you wind up feeling frustrated, powerless, and hopeless. You feel that, as your parents continue their endless fighting, they are not there for you and, if a critical situation were to arise in which you really need them, they would just continue to focus on their fight with each other and not at all on you. They are so preoccupied with themselves that they have no left over energy or capacity to focus on you and your needs, and as such, they are unable to raise you properly.
You feel abandoned, you feel very sad, and you feel very angry. You begin to figure out ways to take care of your own emotional needs. You scold and yell at your parents to stop fighting. You try to get other people to jolt your parent out of their madness. You may even resort to creating a very big problem (e.g. getting in fights at school; flunking out of school; becoming suicidal; shooting someone; setting the house on fire), hoping your parents will join together to solve your problem, perhaps in therapy sessions with a sane adult present!
The American voters have been increasingly subjected to a high-conflict, polarized political dynamic that has caused a large portion of the population to become alienated and powerless. We have high intensity, 24/7 news that continuously reports on high intensity events that are debated by high intensity political candidates, pundits, negative advocates, and the likes. In spite of all that talk, they never seem to actualize solutions, but merely continue to magnify the problems within a high-conflict climate. It is no wonder that Andrew Weil gave such sensible advice to turn off the news to reduce stress. However, for most voters who listen to the high- conflict politics, the options for effective responses appear to be seriously limited – the exact feeling experienced by children from high-conflict divorce!
About Bill Eddy William A. (“Bill”) Eddy, L.C.S.W., J.D. is a family law attorney, therapist and mediator, with over thirty years’ experience working with children and families. He is the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is also the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers, trainers and consultants on the subject of managing high-conflict people in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare and education. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law and he teaches Psychology of Conflict at the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law. He is the author of several books, including:
For more information about Bill Eddy, please visit: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.
About Don Saposnek Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D. is a clinical-child psychologist, child custody mediator and family therapist in private practice for over 40 years, and is a national and international trainer of mediation and child development. For the past 35 years, he has been teaching on the psychology faculty at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and is Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. He is the author of the classic book, Mediating Child Custody Disputes and has published extensively in the professional literature on child custody and child psychology. He serves on the editorial boards of the Family Court Review and Conflict Resolution Quarterly journals and is the editor of the international Academy of Professional Family Mediators’ The Professional Family Mediator. As director of Family Mediation Service of Santa Cruz, he managed the family court services for 17 years and has mediated nearly 5,000 child custody disputes in both the public and private sectors since 1977. For more information about Don Saposnek, please visit: www.mediate.com/dsaposnek