According to various studies, it is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of the American population suffer from at least one serious personality disorder. Divorce and custody litigation can provide the perfect environment for personality disorders to thrive, due to the chaos, antagonism and turbulence often created by the process. Recognizing and identifying personality disorders is thus critical in addressing them appropriately during the course of a divorce.
That may be hard to do, however. Personality disorders can be incredibly complex, often arising as a coping mechanism in dealing with some form of mental or emotional trauma. People suffering from personality disorders may appear to function normally in various settings, and only the introduction of some problem or crisis causes the disorder to surface. There may be few outward signals until the conflict created and fostered by the divorce or custody litigation process starts to become acute.
Common personality disorders at play
While many personality disorders exist, common disorders appearing in dissolutions and custody litigations can include:
- Borderline Personality Disorder: Marked by impulsivity, mood swings, anger and depression, and instances of idealization followed by devaluation, recent studies have indicated Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is equally common among men and women.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Individuals suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) often exhibit preoccupation with themselves. This may come in the form of vulnerable narcissism, similar to BPD, where excessive attention and admiration is sought and victimization is common. It may also come in the form of invulnerable narcissism, wherein there is a grandiose sense of self and self-importance.
- Antisocial Personality Disorder: Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), also known as Dissocial Personality Disorder, traditionally exhibits itself in the form of disregard for the rights and needs of others. Those with HPD often have little to no regard for right and wrong, and seek to antagonize or manipulate others. Similar to NPD, APD has shown to be more common among men.
- Histrionic Personality Disorder: Those with Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) share with BPD and vulnerable NPD the excessive need for attention, including the use of inappropriate behavior to obtain such attention. Histrionic people can often be dramatic and animated, and may lack regard for rules or processes. Unlike NPD and APD, HPD appears more prevalent in women.
Finding attorneys that can help
In the short-term, attorneys representing a client they suspect to have a personality disorder should give thought to advising the client to begin counseling. They should be focused away from blame, and work to educate their client about the process and potential outcomes, while focusing on resolutions. Parties with personality disorders should be challenged regarding their role in the case, their view of their spouse or other parent, their belief as to the facts of the case, and their expectations.
If you have a personality disorder
If you find yourself in the middle of a divorce or custody battle, consider participating in counseling if you are not already. Build up a proper support system for yourself and make some time for yourself to do the things you want. If you are representing yourself, consider obtaining the services of an attorney experienced in high conflict family litigation.
If your spouse has a personality disorder
Conversely, when you suspect the opposing party may suffer from a personality disorder, your course of action will depend on the nature of their disorder.
For instance, when addressing an opposing party with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) who focuses on their own needs and wants, your attorney should frame both arguments and negotiations in a manner that will show the Narcissist his or her benefit. Also, consider limiting communication to written forms to prevent the potential for future manipulation or exploitation.
Written communication may also help prevent manipulation by those with Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Additionally, focusing on facts, rather the perception of the same, may help to mitigate the impulsivity of those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or the drama created by those with Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD).
Finally, be assertive with respect to your needs, while taking care not to create conflict simply for the sake of doing so. This could result in a drastic reduction in the opposing party taking you for granted and continuing to perpetuate abusive or non-productive behaviors.