Monday, 21 September 2020

Bend, Not Break: 9 Powerful Traits of Resilient People

The noun resilience stems from the Latin resiliens “to rebound, recoil.” As a character trait, resilience is a person’s mental ability to recover quickly from misfortune, illness or depression.

For most, life eventually throws us a major curve ball. Like millions, I have had my share of adversity. Growing up in Bangladesh, I have seen war, famine, and inhumane poverty. As an entrepreneur, technologist, and author, I have faced many professional and personal failures and rejections. I had to learn the art of resiliency to survive and then thrive.

Resilient people develop a mental capacity that allows them to adapt with ease during adversity, bending like bamboo instead of breaking. They possess a set of powerful traits. I’ve shared some of these traits separately in my previous posts; in this article, I wanted to bring them all together.

They Protect Their Soul

Dusting ourselves off every time we fall requires disciplining our inner energy and drive to protect our soul.

1. They Control Their Destiny.

It is difficult to understand how you can control your destiny when the very nature of adversity takes away your control. Destiny results from “intention” — our spiritual will, something that drives us to do what seems impossible.

Laurence Gonzales, author of SURVIVING SURVIVAL: The Art and Science of Resilience, in an article writes:

Julian Rotter, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, developed the concept of what he calls “locus of control.” Some people, he says, view themselves as essentially in control of the good and bad things they experience — i.e., they have an internal locus of control.

This internal locus allows us to create options and scenarios based on instinct, the situation, and foresight. It allows us to create alternative plans in anticipation or in the midst of adversity.

2. They Accept Their Battle.

As humans, our instincts are to fight bitterly against adversity. The most resilient among us will often find a way to fight it by embracing it.

On my desk is a copy of “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. Very few have talked about embracing adversity like him. A professor at Carnegie Mellon and a husband and father of three, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a few months to live. He gave his Last Lecture on Sept. 18, 2007. His story, and particularly this final lecture, are a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit.

It’s not about how to achieve your dreams, it’s about how to lead your life ... If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you. — Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Randy decided to accept his situation and live out the days he had remaining by making a difference. He died on July 25, 2008, and now he lives on not only through his family but also through the millions he inspired. I am certainly one of them.

If you haven’t seen the “Last Lecture“ or read the book, then you must.

Once we accept our situation and let go of the outcome, it allows us to adapt and even thrive in the face of adversity.

3. They Use Adversity As Their Compass.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable. — Helen Keller
Sometimes, if we pay close attention, we see that adversity can come into our life to guide us to our true destiny. It certainly did for Helen Keller.

Helen Keller fell ill, lost her sight, her hearing and fell mute while she was a child. Today, her name is known around the world as a symbol of courage, strength and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. Through the tutelage of her teacher, Ms. Annie Sullivan, and other great supporters, she used her adversity to find her vision, her voice, and a calling for herself that led to great benefits to others.

They Learn to Suffer Well

Adversity inherently invokes pain, suffering, and disappointments. Accepting and growing through our pain is part of our personal growth. This is hardly easy. Like any other skill, learning to suffer well requires conscious practice and learning.

4. They Practice Patience. 

The realization of the power of patience was most obvious to me during my visit to the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan. There, I stood in front of a famous Japanese calligraphy, a quote by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.

It says: “The strong manly ones in life are those who understand the meaning of the word patience. I am not as strong as I might be, but I have long known and practiced patience. And if my descendants wish to be as I am, they must study patience.”

Over time, I have found that the practice of patience begins with:

Compassion — The Dalai Lama says, “a truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you.” It is perhaps one of the hardest things to practice, yet there’s no substitute for compassion.

Gratitude — When life turns upside down, staying in an attitude of genuine thankfulness helps us realize what we have.

5. They Let Go. 

Fear is a protective emotion signaling danger and helps us to prepare for and cope with it. Fear perhaps is the key fundamental emotion that holds us back — fear of failure, losing people, success, the unknown, and fear of moving forward or making a change. Emotional pain is another key factor that often holds us back. Although others can cause pain for us, our pain can also be caused by our own actions, including our inability to achieve a desired aspiration.

The physical reaction to fear and pain is called the “fight or flight” response. Letting go is the inner action that stops resisting fear and pain, allowing us to restore our ability to see clearly. Letting go comes from having a “nonjudgmental” outlook toward life and people. It allows us to forgive others and ourselves equally for mistakes and incompatibility. We must be willing to let go of fear, pain, anger, and people. It is the ability to let go that drives a constant process of change — it is what makes us flexible and adaptable. This is hardly easy, takes a conscious effort, and is something I know I struggle with every day.

6. They Live in the Moment. 

Being truly in the moment allows us to escape from adversity and conserve our inner energy. Living in the moment doesn’t mean we don’t care about the past or future. It means that when we make a choice to do something, we focus on solely doing it, rather than letting our mind wander into the future (or the past).

It’s been said that the only two jobs of a Zen monk are sitting zazen (meditation) and sweeping. Cleaning is one of the most important daily rituals of a Zen monk. They sweep or rake, and they try to do nothing else in that moment. The next time you’re doing housework, try concentrating on the housework — on the dust, the motion, the sensation. Cooking and cleaning are often seen as boring chores, but actually they are both great ways to practice mindfulness — something I ritualistically try to do at least once or twice a week. Sounds simple — but it’s actually pretty hard.

They Lead From Within

Despite our darkest moments, it is our duty to stay connected to our core intention. Resilient people reach their highest potential by taking risks that are consistent with their ethos and purpose. They lead themselves by constantly standing on an uncomfortable ledge.

7. They Develop Flexibility.

Lao Tzu said, “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: What is soft is strong.”

Our ability to effectively survive, thrive and lead comes from flexibly riding out our ups and downs. An authentic journey does not always come from blasting through rocks and impediments, rather from having the faith, resilience and adaptability to cope with harsh realities of life.

8. They Find the Right Traveling Partners. 

The people we surround ourselves with make the difference between failure and success. It’s not only whom we surround ourselves with that matters, but also how we interact with them that make the difference. It is important to avoid people who bring us down, waste our time, take us backward, and have no interest in our suffering. While we cannot always avoid them, at a minimum we can choose to not allow them to weaken us. And sometimes the right companion shows up through chance encounters.

In life’s journey there are many encounters. Some are planned; some are by accident; and some by divine intervention. I have had many amazing “Chance Encounters,” where it seems the universe rallied to come to my aid when I needed the help most. They have occurred when least expected — and many of the people I’ve encountered have become friends and family. And whenever those encounters initially left me with a “negative” experience, they turned out to be much-needed lessons for me.

9. They Take the Next Step Forward. 

The ability to visualize our dreams creates a mindset that makes our ambitions possible. Understanding exactly what we want is the foundation for our success. But executing that success requires taking the next step, every day, no matter how hard it may be.
Author Joseph Marshall III shares Native American wisdom on taking the step in his book Keep Going.

It means letting the tears flow through the grief; it means to keep looking for the answer though the darkness of despair is all around. Each step takes you closer to the top of the hill, closer to the light of the next sunrise, and the promise of a new day.


Friday, 18 September 2020

When Parents Divorce

"Mommy and daddy are getting a divorce."

To children, those fateful words can mean a range of things, depending on their age. A baby or toddler won't understand them at all but may pick up on your somber tone and be confused or frightened by it; an older child may worry that she'll wind up like a friend at school who sees her dad only rarely, or that she'll have to move to a smaller house and share a bedroom with her little sister.

While it's just about impossible to put a positive spin on such a negative event, there's a lot parents can do to ease the difficult transition from intact family to divided one. Target your initial broaching of the topic to your child's age (if you have kids of widely differing ages, you might consider talking to each of them separately). And then be prepared to have your child come back with more questions as the years pass and she comes to understand the situation more fully. Some guidelines for talking to kids of various ages when a marriage splits apart.


While you may think that infants are too young to be affected by divorce, they're surprisingly intuitive. Even a 6-week-old can sense that his routine has been altered —he no longer sees both parents daily, he's suddenly eating at a different time or sleeping in a new room. Schedule changes can be particularly anxiety-provoking for babies. "They need structure and continuity to feel safe and to trust that all is right with the world," says M. Gary Neuman, author of Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way.

It's least disruptive to keep an infant at home and have the noncustodial parent visit frequently for short periods—an hour a day, for example, or two hours three times a week. "For the first three months of my son's life, I had his dad come to my house whenever he wanted to see the baby," says a mom in Chagrin Falls, OH, who split from her child's father before giving birth. If the baby must move back and forth between households, try to maintain the same naptime, feeding schedule and bedtime rituals in each place. While you needn't re-create the nursery down to the Pooh Bear nightlight, purchasing two sets of identical sheets or bumpers can make an infant feel more at ease. Always make sure any favorite blankie or stuffed animal travels from house to house.

An infant can sense if you're depressed or angry and may also interpret hostility, sadness or withdrawal as a reflection of your feelings for him. This can erode his sense of security and confidence, so it's crucial to deal with your own personal demons. "See a counselor, a rabbi, a minister; join a divorce support group; lean on your friends," advises Neuman. Be extra demonstrative with your baby, both physically and emotionally—you can't hug him too many times a day.

Then be prepared for some fallout: Babies whose parents are going through a divorce may cry more often and sleep less soundly than those living in intact households. This is a natural reaction to stress and should subside within a couple of months, after they've adjusted to the new routine. They may also experience more severe separation anxiety (which typically crops up at 8 or 9 months). "When something is taken away from you, in this case a parent, it's natural to want to hold on tight to what you have left," says Arnold Stolberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond. Until his anxiety eases, every time you leave your child with his other parent, be sure to reassure him that you're coming back. While he may not understand the words, he'll pick up on your soothing tone. The good news about splitting up while your child is a baby is that, all other things being equal, he may ultimately suffer fewer adverse effects from a divorce than an older child, since he won't remember his parents ever having been together.


A toddler isn't old enough to understand abstract concepts like "marriage" and "divorce," so you'll need to keep things concrete when broaching the subject. A simple statement, such as "Mommy and Daddy make each other sad and are going to live in different places, but you make us very happy" will do. At this age, a child's main concern is how the breakup will affect her routine, so explain the situation as specifically as possible. "Mommy will live here in this house, and Daddy will live at Grandpa's house" is easier for a toddler to grasp than "Daddy is moving to Arizona." And don't forget to reassure your child that no matter where everyone lives, you and your former spouse will still be her mommy and daddy and will love her as much as always. "When my husband and I divorced, he moved to Oregon for a year. I wanted him to have a close relationship with our daughter, who was eighteen months at the time, so I made sure to talk about him frequently and to tell her how much he loves her," says one Chicago mom.

Just because toddlers can't always verbalize their emotions doesn't mean they aren't feeling them. They may become sad and withdrawn or act out their anxiety by hitting or biting. If you sense your child's upset, try to give voice to her feelings: "You look sad. I wonder if it's been tough for you not to see Daddy all the time" or "How do you feel about moving to a new house? That can be difficult."

If aggression becomes a problem, explain that it's okay to be upset that Mommy or Daddy has moved out but that it's not okay to hit. Then try to redirect the anger by encouraging your child to say "I'm mad" or to scribble an "angry" picture or pound a play hammer.
As with infants, it's wise to allow your child to have frequent visits with the noncustodial parent. Every day for an hour and a half is ideal, but two or three visits a week may be more practical. Again, young kids may have a difficult time warming up to the noncustodial parent if they're out of touch for more than a few days. If your toddler balks at going to your former spouse's house, talk about the fun she'll have there.


Between the ages of 3 and 5, kids are magical thinkers. Their feelings and actions are so powerful, they may fear that Mommy or Daddy left because of something they said or did. "One four-year-old girl I counseled was certain that her parents wouldn't have divorced if she and her brothers hadn't argued so much," says Neuman. This kind of guilt not only prompts kids to feel bad about themselves, but it may also make them anxious about the future, he says. "If they can cause their family to break up, what other horrible things might they do?" Reassure your child that the divorce wasn't his fault, that it happened simply because Mommy and Daddy are too sad together.

Preschoolers often worry that the custodial parent will move away too, leaving them to fend for themselves. They may try to act like superkids—eating all their vegetables, putting their toys away, going to bed cheerfully—figuring that you'll be more likely to stick around if they don't make waves. When Susan Rapaport and her husband split up four years ago, her son, Joseph, who was 5 at the time, would get excessively upset whenever anyone reprimanded him. "So anytime I had to call him on something, I made sure to add, 'I want you with me always, and I'm never going to leave you,'" says the Chevy Chase, MD, mother of three.
Similarly, preschoolers may become overly fearful when you go to work or even run a quick errand, assuming that you're gone for good. Before leaving, be as specific as possible about when you're coming back: "I'll be home in time to feed you dinner" is more reassuring than "I'll see you later."

Kids this age may also react to a divorce by regressing. Because their coping skills aren't well developed, they may use baby talk, demand a pacifier or need to cuddle a beloved blankie in order to comfort themselves during stressful times. If this occurs, help your child put words to the situation and be sure to shower him with extra love and attention. Let him know that his feelings matter and that he can depend on you to be there for him, says Neuman. Once things settle down and he adjusts to the divorce, his babyish behavior should disappear within two or three months.


Older kids are going to have many of the same concerns as younger ones. While you can use more sophisticated language with them, your general message about the breakup should be simple and straightforward: "Mom and Dad weren't happy together, but we love you all the same and always will."

Like younger kids, school-age children may blame themselves for the split (although they may not admit it), but for a different reason. "It's less threatening for them to think that they somehow caused the divorce than to think that they have no control over bad things that happen," says Stolberg. So be sure to reiterate—as often as necessary—that Mom or Dad didn't leave because of anything they said or did.

Because older children have mastered the concept of time, it's easier to explain to them how the divorce will affect their routine. One approach: Buy a calendar and draw a blue star on the days they'll be with Dad and a yellow one on the days they'll stay with Mom. "If children know in advance where they will be sleeping, they feel more in control," says Stolberg.
Older kids hate to stand out from the crowd, so they may worry that the divorce makes them different. To help them feel less isolated, point out other people—from rock stars to neighbors—who are divorced or whose parents have split. Then ask if there are specific issues that are bothering them—and do your best to remedy the situation.

Instead of expressing their anxiety at home, some grade-schoolers act out at school—fighting with friends, disrupting the classroom. Or they internalize their distress and suddenly develop chronic headaches or stomachaches. Let your child's teachers, babysitters and coaches know what's going on in her life, and keep in close contact with them to monitor how she's coping.

If you notice that your child is having a tough time, try to get her to open up. Ann Croll of Rye, NY, whose daughter was 6 when she and her husband separated, broaches touchy topics when she and her daughter are on short rides in the car. "She knows, say, that after the next turn we have only half a block to go before we get to school, and she can stop thinking about it."

No matter how old your children are, it's crucial to avoid trashing your ex in front of them. A child sees herself as an extension of her parents. So if you criticize a child's dad, in her eyes you're criticizing her too, says Stolberg. Denigrating your former spouse also makes it impossible for your child to love him without feeling as if she's betraying you. It's emotionally vital for kids to have a good relationship with both of their parents—whether or not they live under the same roof.

Children of Divorce: Do they grow up happy?

Divorce can deeply trouble kids, triggering a range of reactions from anger and depression to behavioral problems at school. But what's the long-range prognosis? Are they doomed to carry lifelong emotional baggage? Not necessarily, according to the recent book For Better or for Worse: Divorce Reconsidered,by E. Mavis Hetherington, Ph.D., and John Kelly. Hetherington looked at more than 1,400 families, some for as long as 24 years (roughly half of whom were divorced). Within six years, 75 to 80 percent of kids whose parents had split were as happy and well adjusted as those from intact families. "The other twenty percent developed some kind of psychological, emotional or academic problem, compared to ten percent of the nondivorced group," she says.

divorce's downside

A less optimistic picture was presented by Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D., in The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. In interviews with 59 divorced families over 25 years, she found that almost all grew up with fears about being able to sustain a happy relationship. Eventually—often with therapy or the help of a supportive spouse—most were able to compensate. "But growing into adulthood was definitely much harder for them," she says.

Many experts consider Hetherington's work to be more scientifically valid because she included a control group from the start (Wallerstein added hers later), had a larger sample size and conducted objective personality assessments. "Dr. Wallerstein's study is very insightful and useful in learning what happens after difficult divorces," says Andrew Cherlin, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University. "But the families she interviewed were more dysfunctional than the average divorcing family." On the other hand, says Norval Glenn, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of Texas in Austin, Wallerstein's in-depth interviews may have uncovered pain and anguish that Hetherington's standardized tests wouldn't have detected.

the bottom line

There's no doubt that children from broken homes are twice as likely to grow up and have marriages that end in divorce. But most experts agree that divorce itself isn't necessarily a negative sentence for children. Parents who remain loving (but firm) and consistent throughout their divorce will dramatically increase their odds of raising happy, well-adjusted kids.


Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Can I Divorce a Spouse Who Has a Mental Illness?

The quick answer is that legally you can, of course, end a marriage when a spouse is mentally ill. But the real question is if you can give yourself permission ethically and morally to do so.

This question raises several issues. The most important one may be the definition of mental illness. It is very normal for divorce to elicit strong feelings, often negative ones—and for these feelings to change from sadness to anger, guilt, or shame. It is often typical for divorcing partners to label each other as “bi-polar” as they observe these mercurial feelings. And while rapidly shifting feelings may be one of the symptoms of bi-polar disorder, an accurate diagnosis includes several other important symptoms and can only be made by a mental health professional.

The same is true for the broad category of personality disorders—it is tempting to label a spouse as a “narcissist” if, as is typical during a divorce, they engage in self-centered thinking or behaving. Similarly with borderline personality disorder, characterized by unstable and intense interpersonal relationships, which is also common during the divorce process. But a true personality disorder involves an enduring pattern of behavior, not provoked by a traumatic event such as divorce. So be careful with mental illness labels and try to leave the diagnosis to the professionals.

But what about situations where there is a real diagnosis of mental illness, whether it be depression, psychoses, or even schizophrenia? These are usually very serious conditions, which greatly affect a person’s ability to function in a relationship or in their job. Living with such a spouse can be very difficult, demanding, and unsatisfying.

Seeking Treatment

One of the most important factors is the spouse’s commitment to start and follow through with appropriate treatment, which often involves medication. Sometimes patients resist this—particularly with bi-polar disorder. They may balk at medication, which moderates their “highs” (manic states which may be pleasurable) as well as the “lows” (depressive states). Without medication, the bi-polar condition will probably not improve and may get worse over time, and the same may be true for depression. Psychotropic drugs can greatly improve these conditions, and even very serious disorders such as schizophrenia may improve dramatically with appropriate medication (which can also have negative side effects such as weight gain).

Another promising treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, where negative thinking is addressed and modified and can lead to significant positive behavioral changes. So, if your spouse is willing to help him or herself with appropriate treatment, they and your relationship may improve to the point that you want to stay in the marriage


Learning to Cope

Another option is to consider joint therapy, where both of you participate in learning about and how to handle issues that mental illness presents in the marriage and how to improve the relationship for both of you. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a nationwide group offering education and support for individuals and families dealing with mental illness, and can be a great benefit as well.

So, of course, the decision is yours whether or not to continue in a relationship with a partner who has mental illness. But I think if you are supportive of your partner as they seek treatment, and educate yourself about their prognosis, you will make a decision that you can accept without suffering needless guilt or personal recrimination.


Monday, 14 September 2020

When Hardship Hits: Ask Not, ‘Why Me ?!’ Ask, ‘Why Not Me?!’

“The sooner you say ‘Yes, it happened, and there’s nothing I can do about it,’ the sooner you can get on with your own life.”
— E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

We all accept, in principal, that life is hard and that “sh*t happens.” We just don’t want it to happen to us. When it does, we protest indignantly, “Why me?!” We harbor an unexamined presumption that misfortune should somehow bypass us. We should be encased in our own individualized iron domes to deflect incoming life assaults.

But why the heck not us? We all agree, in the abstract, that a life devoid of struggle is a life devoid of growth. An old Arabian proverb states: “All sunshine makes the desert.” Think of the people you respect and admire the most in your life: Haven’t they had tough times and life blows to overcome?

The question is not how to avoid life assaults but how to receive them when they hit. The answer lies in how we choose to think about these hardships, because how we think about life events determines how we feel about them, which, in turn, determines how adaptively we cope with them. Only in this way can we control the impact of life’s uncontrollable assaults. Can we accept life’s upheavals and soldier through them (which is not to say to masochisti
cally welcome them!), or must we expend precious energies protesting them as unfair?

One of my dear friends, a source of constant inspiration to me, suffered three profound losses in a single year: her son who was in a grisly factory accident, her beloved dog who was hit by a car, and her husband who dropped dead of a heart attack. She was remarkably courageous in the way she accepted these losses. She was, of course, beset by shocked grief at first, but then proceeded to mourn and honor their lost lives without bitter protest. With gratitude, she spoke of the happiness they each brought into her life; with tender amusement, she recalled their idiosyncrasies. And with robust open-heartedness, she goes on growing and living her life.

In contrast, a patient whom I’ll call “Ellen,” was pathologically locked for two years in mourning the death of her husband. Daily, she railed against God for robbing her of his companionship. She grew embittered and calcified, refusing to grow into the hole he left behind by doing for herself what her husband had always done, e.g., arranging their social life, paying bills, servicing the car. She had seized up like a rusted hinge, immovable in her refusal to accept and adapt to her life’s upheaval. What emerged was that even more powerful than her grief in losing her husband was her fear of having to learn self-reliance after decades of living life as a “we” instead of a “me.” Her pathological mourning and helplessness kept other family members fulfilling the role vacated by her husband — but at the cost of her own growth and her family’s equanimity.

Paradoxically, there is strength and wisdom in submitting to harsh realities. The fact is, we are more productive when we direct all our energies to embracing rather than resisting “what is.” Why? Because when we protest, we squander precious energy needed for coping, like driving with one foot on the brake. When we relax, release and open fully to the realities confronting us, we can be far more creatively resourceful than when we recoil from “what is” with clenched fearfulness. 

We can choose to think flexibly and adaptively, rather than rigidly and maladaptively, by redefining painful life blows as opportunities to evolve. Suffering is what grows the soul. Suffering is the “rock-tumbler” of life, within which the nuggets of our battered selves get polished into our highest and best selves.

“A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.
The gem cannot be polished without friction.”
— Danish proverb


Friday, 11 September 2020

Staying Focussed and Dealing with Overwhelm

In this video I share my thoughts on how to deal with overwhelm and how to maintain focus when working through divorce (and in life!)

Thanks and I welcome your feedback and comments here or in YouTube!

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

4 Action Steps to Take When Times Are Tough

Under the best of circumstances, being a parent can sometimes be tough. The expectations, responsibilities and realities of day-to-day life often interfere with the image of what we thought parenting would be like.

When a family faces challenging times — illness, loss of a job, the end of the marriage, financial stress or a myriad of other problems life sometimes throws our way — parenting can be even more difficult, especially when there is just not enough time, energy or resources.

As a country, we have just experienced one of the most difficult financial downturns in decades. Millions of families were directly or indirectly affected by it. or many, times are still tough and yet, their dreams and hopes for their families haven’t wavered.
How do you successfully parent when so many resources that many of us take for granted aren’t available to you? What if you don’t have the ability to send your children to the best schools, pay for extracurricular activities that could bring great benefit or give them the things that every other child seems to have?

What’s a family to do?

1. Develop and maintain clarity about what’s really important. That’s often easier said than done, especially when we’re experiencing stress. But if we are clear about the kind of character we want our children to have, we can teach and model the values and attributes that are most important to us. It doesn’t cost money to be honest, kind, hard-working and principled. Many successful adults have come from families without great means. And many children who have been raised with vast financial privileges have failed to go on to create a life of value and purpose.

2. Focus on quality time together. When we’re experiencing stressful times, it’s natural to spend every waking minute worrying or feeling fearful about the future. But worry and fear don’t solve problems. Giving whatever precious free time and energy we have to unproductive emotions simply drains us more. If we can develop the discipline to do everything we can to solve the problems at hand, then for a few hours a day let go of what might happen in the future so we can more fully be with our family, everyone will benefit. 
Have a game night. Read a book out loud to each other. Be in nature. Explore whatever your child is interested in together. Sit down individually and as a family and make a list of what enjoyable activities you can do that involve little or no costs. Then, set aside as much time as you can each week to do some of those things.

3. Find support. Maybe your family of origin isn’t available to help. Or maybe their worldview isn’t one that matches with yours. But if we have just one person we can turn to when we’re down, who can help us remember what’s important, we are reminded that we aren’t alone in our efforts. And if you can’t find anyone to fill that role, think about finding articles, videos, or books about on parenting or other people’s lives and how they persevered and overcame obstacles to keep you going.

4. Give yourself credit. Maybe you can’t do or give everything you’d like to your children. But stop and think about what you are providing and the lessons you are teaching them. What children need most is to be loved, valued, and supported for who they are.

No matter what your circumstances, or whether you’re experiencing tough times or not, paying attention to what’s really important, focusing on spending quality time with your family, finding ways to support yourself and making sure you’re giving yourself credit for all that you are providing your children helps you to feel better about the parenting process. And, it enriches your children in ways that all the materials items in the world cannot do.


Monday, 7 September 2020

Do You Have an Impossible Ex?

Has your ex turned your divorce into a minefield?

Recently, I wrote an article about the Malignant Divorce. These are cases that spin out of control in dark and often dangerous ways. Over the next few months I'll continue this conversation, because even when a divorce is not particularly toxic, there are still moments in most divorces when you still have to protect yourself. And if you are in the midst of a Malignant Divorce, forewarned is forearmed. This post offers a direct follow up to the first tip that was referenced in the article. In simple words: if you're trapped in a malignant situation, you must come to terms with the kind of person your ex spouse has become. And if you don't, you're in trouble.

The Intelligent Divorce book series promotes a rational approach to dissolving a family even though feelings are charged. We are not looking for perfect behavior here. Parents under the stress of money worries, legal concerns, stories of betrayal, and uncertainty about the future are going to make mistakes—even big mistakes. But there is so much at stake for their children, that it is worth stepping back and trying to divorce in as intelligent a way as possible. I am not arguing for the easy divorce, just a more intelligent one.

For the record (and, if it's not obvious), intelligent does not mean stupid. There are cases in which the intelligent thing to do is to hang tough, not be particularly friendly and set good limits. There are cases in which the intelligent thing to do is to recognize that you are dealing with a spouse who is out to hurt you or your children. And, there are cases when all your communication must be done through attorneys because a moment on the phone or in person is just too loaded. A Malignant Divorce is instigated when one party simply wants to win at all costs. In these cases, intelligence is using all of your wits just to survive.

Here is the first point (of seven) that I made in the original overview of The Malignant Divorce.

You are dealing with an ex-spouse who just wants to win. If you are the healthier spouse, then you are trapped in a surreal life, largely not of your own making. It may not be fair, but it's time that you deal with it. Laying back and hoping it will all go away is probably a poor strategy.

When getting a divorce you must be aware of whom you are dealing with. This may not be as easy as it appears; after all you were living with him for a number of years and may perceive his behavior as normal—or at least tolerable, when it is anything but.

More fundamentally, your ex-husband or ex-wife may not be quite the same person he or she was during the marriage. It is called regression, and it is not a good thing.

The stress of divorce, which includes the instinct of self preservation, can make your ex (or you, for that matter) function at a more primitive and therefore, less healthy manner.The Intelligent Divorce; Taking Care of Yourself outlines ten common Character Traps that people fall into when regressed. For those professionals reading this piece, I use the concept of a Character Trap, instead of the more diagnostic term, Personality Disorder, because these primitive, and sometimes, dangerous regressions are often time limited to the years surrounding the divorce. Unlike Personality Disorders which have a strong degree of permanence, Character Traps describes a phenomena of stress induced dysfunction that is often less obvious beforehand or years later.

Character Traps are a construct that can provide something to hang your hat on, because they make sense. People who have dropped into a Character Trap are potentially dangerous because they (like Personality Disorders) are not vulnerable, as a rule, to ambivalence. This can be disastrous to the healthier spouse in a divorce. If an unambivalent person is in a conflict with a person who is more open minded, it can be very bad for the healthier person.

If you are the healthier spouse, then you are trapped in a surreal life, largely not of your own making.

You will give him the benefit of the doubt (which in normal cases builds trust) and he exploits it. She says something bad about you to the kids, and you let it pass (which in normal cases may just be an isolated incident) and she sees herself as vindicated by your silence. That is why it is so important to wake up and realize with whom you may be dealing. 

Regressed people often "know" that they are right, and therefore have a powerful moral authority to do as they please. This is a dangerous recipe for abuse that can range from financial manipulation, to parental alienation (from mild to severe), to kidnapping or even, rarely—murder.

Today, we'll go over the Character Traps (your ex can have more than one) that can set off a Malignant Divorce:

The Victim: This Character Trap is dominated by the certainty and injustice of being wronged. She believes that she lost precious years with you or that you are unfit to have anything to do with the children, because of what you've done (This Character Trap only applies when it is a distortion of the truth—note that it can be adaptive if an ex-spouse is truly dangerous). Victims are paradoxically ruthless in victimizing anyone who they believe hurt them. They have a powerful sense of justice and self righteousness. They also work from a kernel of truth, which makes their claims that much more powerful; this can be conscious and manipulative or more deeply unconscious and even, psychotic. I have seen terrible things done in the name of victimhood. If you are dealing with any Character 
Trap therapy is a must, so you have a chance to objectively decide how to stay safe and have a shot at having a relationship with your children. Many perpetrators of parent alienation have these features. Victims, paradoxically, can have a lot of power. They are often supported by family, attorneys, and even therapists, who fail to see that there is another side to the story.

The Control Freak: He was probably always controlling during your marriage, and because of regression, he has become far worse. In these cases, the control freak is really very anxious, but manages it by planning everything so that he cannot lose. He may set you up and then document your "incompetence", bringing copious notes to court to prove how capable he is and how irresponsible you are (for an example, turn to Alfred Hitchcock's Gaslight). The control freak can easily hide your mutual monies, because many are good businessmen who have control of the accounts. The control freak is unambivelent in his wish to win, and the more capable they are, the more work you will have in protecting yourself. Since you were married to him for a number of years, you may also be intimidated by the power of his relentless assault to your very legitimacy. Once again, therapy is mandatory.

The Narcissist: This Character Trap carries the same name as the personality disorder. The narcissist is completely self-centered and self-serving. In this case, your husband probably had some narcissistic tendencies before the divorce. Some warning signs include: a need for admiration, a need to be right, a need to be seen by the community as a great guy, and a need to criticize you privately for not meeting his standards. In addition, he's probably a charismatic and successful guy (maybe that's why you fell for him in the first place) who casually uses his charisma to get what he wants—often at the expense of other people. Now, your ex has regressed into a more severe form of narcissism. With the divorce, he completely dismisses any of your needs, or all the years of devotion and mutual companionship that you had built together. Normal people remember the good from the past. It informs a sense of balance and fairness during a divorce (even through a betrayal). 
You may be getting a divorce, but that doesn't mean that you don't have valuable memories and a life story together. For the narcissist, it is all gone; like it never happened. You will have to understand this if you are to deal effectively with him. The narcissist can undermine you with your friends, with your children and steal your money, all while looking sincere and generating good will among the community. And, need I say it? An excellent therapist can help.

The Avenger: This character trap is very dangerous and can be a natural extension of the victim, the control freak or the narcissist—if taken to an extreme. The avenger doesn't just want to win, she wants you to lose. She will not be satisfied until you are hurting. Many roads lead to Rome and many paths lead to the avenger. Melanie Klein, the great British psychoanalyst wrote about this psychology when she talked about envy, which she defined as "the pleasure one gets in destroying the good that another person has." There is a sense of urgency with an avenger. In a divorce, most people have a moment when they may consider some kind of revenge. It is normal to want to hurt a person that hurt you. But the vast majority of people see that there are two sides to most stories, and furthermore they just want to move on with their lives, if for no other reason than to give their children a brighter future. The avenger sees revenge as an end in itself. In my experience, when the avenger is combined with the victim Character Trap, such people can lose touch with reality. She will stop at nothing to make sure that you cannot be happy. At its worse, the kids literally become pawns in an evil game. In recent years, the politically charged label of parental alienation has been buttressed by research supporting that this insidious dynamic is probably a real phenomenon. Parental alienation is an attempt to deprive you of your children through a form of brainwashing. And what about kidnapping or murder? The avenger may really think, "If I can't have them, he sure won't." Or, "If I don't keep them from him, no one will." If you think that you are dealing with an ex-spouse who has these tendencies, then you will need a good attorney, a great therapist, and a familiarly with how to constructively use the police and the legal system.

Forewarned is forearmed; and that is the intelligent approach to a Malignant Divorce. Years from now, your ex may be surprisingly easy to deal with. Time sometimes heals, as long as not too much damage has been done along the way.