Divorce and Defeating Anxiety

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Divorce and Defeating Anxiety

I just returned from LA where, with my training team, I presented a three-day training in Collaborative Divorce. One initial observation I made from this training: many divorce lawyers who practice non-collaboratively are highly anxious and strung out about their work. Throughout the training, time and again, I saw and heard professionals express levels of high anxiety and borrowed worry about their clients:

  • “What about getting my client’s needs met?”
  • “I would feel ashamed of myself if I didn’t get in there and pitch for my client”.
  • “I am supposed to fight for my client. I just can’t sit around and keep quiet!”

Now that we understand, through many years of Collaborative work, that divorcing clients are at some level of trauma/crisis when they seek out a lawyer; we also realize that, as their divorce professionals, we are ever-at-risk to go into the trauma with them and begin reacting with impulsive, limbic aggression “on behalf of the client”. We mistakenly think that this is what is expected of us: to take on the trauma of the client.

In Collaborative Divorce, we notice the trauma of the client, but we do NOT take it on. Instead, we meet the client in the trauma-fog of his/her divorce and we help lead them out to various financial, emotional and legal safety zones which alleviate their anxiety and empower them to be rationally and responsibly present for a recuperative and constructive divorce resolution. This is a much more creative and satisfying way to work.

If you are a divorce professional, do yourself a vocational favor and get trained in Collaborative Divorce. You will be much less anxious and more pleased in the positive meaning of your work.

Upcoming trainings:

  • New York-September 26-27
  • Phoenix-January 16-18

www.collaborativedivorceinstitute.com

I hope to see you there!


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The Gender Revolution

We are in the midst of a powerful sociocultural shift: a Gender Revolution. No longer can we ascribe the same old traits for purposes of defining gender. Historically, our sex was the first thing noted about us and then our early personalities were expected to conform in some predetermined framework to our gender. If we were girls, we were socialized to be “feminine”. If we were boys, we were socialized to be “masculine”.

Many of us suffered in our development simply because, and for a myriad of reasons, we did not fall into any one assumed gender-category. Guess what? We are now encased in a Gender Revolution which demands a redefinition and recognition of what makes a person male or female. And guess what? One is no longer easily distinguishable from the other!

A stay-at-home dad? Households where Mom and Dad ebb and flow between parenting and working roles? Male nurses? A high-powered female CEO who doesn’t want to marry or have children? Society has taken huge leaps since the June Cleaver days. It’s a good time to take a look at and redefine shifting views of men and women’s place in the world.

Attitudes towards gender roles are more varied than ever. Nearly every school of thought, whether it’s business, theology, sociology, marketing, psychology, or family studies, has its view of where men and women “belong” and naturally, these views are not without controversy. The Web is rich with sites that bring to mind an ongoing tug-of-war of “he said, she said”. However, one observation is clear: in today’s world there is way more to gender roles than trite, stereotypical archetypes.

While most of us can agree that change takes time, we have seen gender roles evolve in leaps and bounds. Many people are positively transforming with the idea of being taken care of by a male nurse; they are seeing the value in having their sons play with dolls and they are championing their daughters to become firefighters or serve in the military. There continues to be an ever-strengthening movement where the boundaries between the masculine and feminine are becoming more fluid and easily transmuted.

As far as gender is concerned, it is no longer a case of the tail wagging the dog. We are increasingly less pressured to have to engage in self-limiting activities to prove our gender. I, for one, am relieved and excited about the possibilities for women and men alike.


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Compliant Children of Divorce: Unwanted Lessons Learned

It is nothing new to remind the reader that children of divorce are learning some very important lessons through the role modeling of their separating parents. Children of divorce probably watch their parents lead by example more closely than the general population of children. Why? Because they simply do not know what to do, what to say, or how to feel. They may have heard the word “divorce”, but may have very limited internal resources with which they can make sense of the concept. They are in the midst of a family breakdown over which they have no control and no idea of how bad the breakdown might ultimately become.

As a mental health professional, I worry¬† less about the children who “act-out” during their parents’ divorce. These kids get the attention, albeit negatively, and parents are more likely to recognize the cry for help. I worry much more about children who “act-in” and, as a result, the parents mistakenly think are fine.

Here are some very subtle and unwanted lessons compliant children of divorce are at risk to learn:

“I should contain my upset. My mother/father is really upset and I am afraid that my being mad, sad or scared will be the last straw. If I seem to be fine, my parents won’t be more upset and so I won’t be left.” Children who learn the unwanted lesson of holding in their own feelings are at risk for future depression, anxiety and difficulty in making healthy attachments.

“I should act like nothing is wrong and I am okay. If my parents think it is okay to break up our family and divorce each other, I will just divorce myself.” Some children of divorce go beyond repressing their own legitimate anger and sadness and actually “break away” from or deny their own unique family experience. This sets them up to live in a distorted reality that they can perpetuate into adulthood.

“When they ask me if I am okay, I will just say ‘yes’. When they ask me if anything is wrong, I will just say ‘no’. They hardly pay any attention to how I’m truly feeling anyway. I may not be very important to them.” This unwanted lesson teaches the child that he/she is not very lovable. A wounded self-concept can carry forward into the child’s own adult relationships where they are either neglected or treated poorly.

When children of divorce become tentative and resistant to discuss the pain they feel about the shift in their family, they may be struggling with feeling ashamed that their parents are breaking up. The feeling of shame is an overwhelming emotional burden for a young child to face and resolve. As a result, these kids develop a style of communication that is guarded and limited. This wall of defense temporarily protects the compliant child. The challenge is that deferred feelings are just that. They don’t go away just because the child is denying them. Sooner or later these unpleasant feelings will arise and more than likely, come out “sideways” through other problems: drug and alcohol abuse, insomnia; poor academic performance, running with the wrong crowd, bad love relationships, suicidal thinking, criminal behavior…just to name a few.

Please consider seeking the support of a Collaborative Child Specialist who can offer uncoupling parents valuable insight into the compliant child’s experience. Pay attention to the child of divorce who appears to be and acts like he/she is just fine. They may be learning some unwanted lessons which will not serve them well on their journey through life.