(Note: This article was published together with Personality Disordered Abusers in Psychological Evaluations . That article focuses on problems encountered when psychological evaluations are used in an attempt to deal with a personality disordered abuser in a family law dispute.)
William Eddy is an attorney and licensed clinical social worker who has written many excellent books on personality disorders and how they manifest in family law battles. In his recent books, he has taken to calling people with personality disorders who engage in extensive and unreasonable litigation as High Conflict Personalities (HCP). He’s stated that a large part, possibly as much as 40%, of the litigation in family courts involves HCPs.
Yet despite the prevalence of these psychological problems in family law courts, judges often fail to understand the problems and are prone to reward the abusers for their conduct. This is likely to intensify the abuses because they have been positively reinforced with rewards such as sole physical and/or legal custody, financial awards, or simply emotional satisfaction of seeing the hated target being berated by a judge the abuser manipulated.
While HCP is a great term in many ways, it does not convey how abusively many of these people act particularly towards others in their families or former families. I’ve taken to using the term Personality Disordered Abuser, PDA for short, to refer to these people. Like many personality disorder victims, they are generally victims of child abuse. More importantly, they are abusers themselves. They often abuse children, spouses, ex-spouses, and other current or former family members.
Please keep in mind that not all Axis II personality disorder victims are PDAs. For instance, there is a large subset of people with Borderline Personality Disorder who engage in “acting in” behaviors which primarily hurt themselves. These people are the ones who cut and mutilate themselves, abuse drugs, engage in reckless and dangerous behaviors that primarily risk their own well-being, and often attempt suicide. While this may cause a substantial amount of emotional harm to the people around them, they are often not intending or plotting to harm others.
This is significantly different from the PDAs who generally have goals to cause harm to others. They use manipulation and abuse to control people and situations to get what they want. PDAs as a group engage in systematic “acting out” behaviors targeted against others.
Note that it is entirely possible for a person to engage in both acting in and acting out behaviors. However, usually if you look at the whole scope and pattern of behaviors you will see they primarily engage in one or the other. A person who primarily engages in unprotected sex, abuses alcohol and drugs, and has repeatedly attempted suicide but is known to infrequently hit another person while intoxicated is probably not a PDA. PDAs are much more intensively focused on causing harm to others than this example.
PDAs Hurt Targets for Own Benefits
A Borderline who “acts in” may succeed at killing herself or himself by many means, including accidental drug overdoses, car accidents due to reckless driving, or intentional suicide. PDAs “acting out”, on the other hand, are far less likely to hurt themselves this way as they avoid self-harm and are instead intent on severely damaging a select group of people around them. Those people often include their children, siblings, and current or former spouses, significant others, or close friends.
PDAs often benefit from their abusive behaviors. This is particularly the case if they are highly intelligent and skilled at manipulation.
PDAs are often able to “push the buttons” of their abuse targets, provoking them by using repeated threats, crimes, and other attacks. When the abuse targets finally respond to the continuing and possibly escalating attacks, they often do so out of desperation to make them stop. They are often in fear for their own safety or well-being or that of their children and loved ones. Then the PDAs are often able to deceive others into thinking that they are merely victims of some hostile crazy abusive person when in fact they are the abusers. They thereby further intensify their control and escalate the damage they are able to inflict upon their targets.
Personality Disordered Abuser Behavior Patterns
Many of us who have endured the ravages of a marriage and family law battle with a PDA can recite example after example of their abusive and bizarre behaviors going back many years, even decades. Sometimes we are even aware of their similar conduct with their birth families, but may have learned of it far too late to prevent major damage to our children and ourselves.
We have experienced their rages, screaming, and berating for no apparent reason, only to see them change their mood moments later acting as if they had done nothing hostile. Then they act as if we are the problems when we are not friendly towards them after being repeatedly attacked.
We have endured their constant threats, provocations, and refusal to cooperate with reason, fairness, common sense, and court orders that typify the unrelenting efforts of the PDA to control everybody and everything around them. At times we may be in fear for our lives from these people, but because they are very good at controlling their own behaviors to appear reasonable around most people, few can understand how truly dangerous they are.
We have suffered their vilification and distortion campaigns that spread into our children’s schools, doctor’s offices, workplaces, and to friends and family. Often only years after it started, we find that we have been described as vile, hateful, dangerous people to hundreds or thousands of people around us who have never even met us but believe all these lies because they have heard them unchallenged for so long. We have been overwhelmed by how dozens or even hundreds of people hate and malign us because they are too uneducated in psychology and easily duped and controlled by the PDA.
Gathering Minions for Attacking the Target
One of the methods PDAs use is to build a support system they can use to attack their targets. This is easiest to do with ex-spouses or former boyfriends or girlfriends, but sometimes can be used to attack children, siblings, parents, and others.
PDAs learn to identify weak-minded people as potential recruits for their distortion campaigns. These people are often very gullible do-gooders poorly educated in psychology. Occasionally they may be mentally impaired themselves, but even when that is the case it is only sometimes severe. They may be thinking they are somehow doing good by helping to attack the target. In fact they have been subverted into destructive behaviors by a masterfully manipulative abuser who deceives them and prevents them from discovering the facts.
PDAs sometimes are able to find other PDAs to ally with them. For instance, a PDA who had an affair with another PDA may recruit the person to assist them with attacking a spouse or former spouse. Elevated levels of criminality can be achieved while maintaining plausible deniability for the instigating PDA. She may be able to convince her personality disordered lover to stalk her ex-spouse, hack his email, and even physically attack him. While she is the instigator and it is a conspiracy of harassment, the broken family law courts will probably let her off with no consequences for the crimes she caused.
Building False Reality from Partial Truths and Lies
PDAs are especially good at sprinkling in enough plausible or partial truths amidst the outright lies and twisted distortions to convince the uneducated and ignorant people around them to accept their version of reality. They will often produce “proof” of their overall story in the form of other people repeating their claims, writings or notes that look hostile or unreasonable, or altered or abridged documents that may be very official-looking and convince the majority of people who have never seen a police report, court declaration, court transcript, or other such government document. That these documents are not complete nor accurate is often entirely outside the awareness of the people being manipulated in this fashion.
When one is being defamed and attacked relentlessly, it is only natural to want to defend one’s reputation. However, even this can be twisted by the PDA to cause more damage to the target. The attempts by the targets to defend from the PDA’s onslaught, hold her or him accountable for the abuse, and to get her or him the help needed to learn to stop these behaviors often backfire. This is especially the case in family law courts as judges are woefully untrained in psychology and rely upon custody evaluators who are usually incapable or unwilling to do what is needed to protect the victims from the abusers. They are also often highly unwilling to consider testimony of people who witnessed events and saw and/or heard what the PDA said. Such accounts often sound bizarre and therefore are dismissed as hearsay or incredible, even though they are objectively accurate.
Legal Self-Defense Is “Criminalized” By Family Law Courts
It is natural to want to defend one’s freedom and reputation from these assaults by a PDA. Some may also want to help people understand what has gone wrong, stop the spread of defamation, and help the family get needed help, all of which in theory should be easier to accomplish if people could name and discuss what has gone wrong with the out of control false accuser.
If the victim of false accusations responds by disclosing the false accuser’s behaviors and applies a personality disorder name to explain why she or he is behaving this way, that is often regarded as a very serious offense by the courts.
Blatant disregard for freedom of speech is commonly shown by family law judges. PDAs are routinely given free reign to defame their victims and to recruit allies to attack them. If the victim of this defamation writes about what the PDA has done in a blog, discussion group, or email to get help or defend against the defamation, incompetent or corrupt family law judges will use that as reason to reduce child custody, denigrate the victim, and make financially punitive rulings.
Family law judges do not like freedom of speech. Perhaps that is because they realize that if the public truly knew the crimes and offenses they routinely commit against children and good parents that they would be removed from office or prosecuted. So it appears that one of the foremost goals of many poor family law judges is to shut up the litigants by use of intimidation, threats, and illegal orders. For a PDA, this is no problem because the PDA is used to spreading defamation without being discovered. Targets, however, are not used to this and may find that they have just been told by an idiot judge that they should just sit back and watch their reputations be trashed and if they do anything to stop if that they will never see their children again.
The courts often rule that defending one’s freedom and reputation from the PDA by writing, speaking, or other public disclosure, or even such disclosure just to family members, is a form of harassment and it will be punished. But these same courts will do nothing to punish the PDA for engaging in false criminal allegations, defamation, and harassment in the first place. This destructive double standard is precisely what is being practiced by many judges in many family law cases all across the United States.
Courts also often side against a party who has been abused by the court when that party publicly points out the abuses committed by the court. Personality disordered abusers are often very successful at getting what they want because they build armies army of minions to attack the ex by various legal and illegal means. These parties too often include the judge in the case.
While it is clear the interests of justice are not being served by such judges and they should recuse or even resign their office given an obvious lack of objectivity, criticizing the judicial bias and misconduct risks even more judicial harassment in response. But saying nothing simply lets such judges continue their misconduct.
It is a common observation from people in cases involving a PDA that many family law judges are against free speech and will punish a parent and harm their children in retaliation. This willingness to persecute people and abuse their children for speaking up about the conduct of family law judges appears to be intended to forcibly suppress any negative publicity about bad judges and how they reward false allegations and other tactics that PDAs use with great frequency.
Gender Does Affect Risk from PDAs
The people at most risk of permanently life-altering harm are male targets of female PDAs. That is partly because of the gross misconceptions popular with the public about men being abusers and women being victims and partly because of sexist judges and laws.
While gender inequality is a huge problem in this area and men are more often than not the victims, female targets can easily have their lives ruined by male PDAs, too. This is especially the case when the male PDA is viewed as having special credibility such as working as a doctor, lawyer, minister, or other occupation which the public mistakenly believes is highly unlikely to allow abusers into its ranks.
Don’t Depend Upon Any Protection from Courts
The bottom line is that if you are a target of a PDA, you cannot count on any protection whatsoever from today’s family law courts. If you try to protect yourself, you will probably be persecuted for it. You are in a lose-lose situation because the abuser is likely to be assisted and rewarded by incompetent and/or sexist judges and foolishly destructive and/or sexist laws.
Possibly your only sure means to safety when being abused by a PDA is to disappear. The PDA may continue to attack you for some time, but if you are nowhere to be found and nobody who hears the defamation against you sees you again, it may have little if any lasting effect upon you.
While disappearing is feasible for people with no children, those who have children usually do not have such an option. They are stuck between only a few legal choices, all of which are horrible. These include abandoning their children for their own safety, staying and living with the ongoing abuse of the PDA against the children and themselves and possibly their extended families, trying to defend themselves in court which is virtually a guarantee of financial devastation, or trying to defend themselves outside of court which will almost certainly be spun by the PDA to get them into trouble with police, CPS, and courts. Meanwhile, the PDA keeps right on with the abuse.
Family Law Courts Perpetuate Child and Spousal Abuse by PDAs
Far too many of today’s family law judges lack any significant training or education in psychology and further lack personal experience being abused by a person afflicted with a personality disorder. Such judges are very likely to do exactly the wrong thing in many cases. These judges get bad data and act on it as if it is true. Even when it is pointed out to them exactly how it is wrong by a psychological evaluator or a party citing objective and accurate evidence, they often will not believe it because they cannot comprehend how powerfully effective the manipulations of the PDA are and therefore believe the PDA’s target is mistaken or dishonest and the evaluator was too easy on him or her.
William Eddy and others like him have been trying to educate judges and others in the legal profession about these problems. Sadly, these efforts are far too little to fix the problems even in areas where Eddy has done many presentations and training sessions.
One of these areas is San Diego County, California, where Eddy lives and works much of the time. A psychological evaluator from that region with whom I’ve spoken has stated that the family law courts there are “the most broken they have been in [the evaluator’s] three decades” of involvement with the courts and CPS on behalf of children. The region’s courts are direct contributors to serious harm against children and families. This is especially alarming when well-intentioned activitists such as Eddy have spent years trying to educate the county’s judges on personality disorders and how they affect family law cases. It calls into serious question whether family law courts can ever be repaired to function effectively and justly.
Given their dereliction of duty, egregious incompetence, and frequent bias, many family law courts have no business being involved in family disputes involving allegations of abuse or mental illness. They only intensify conflicts, increase abuses, and worsen the harm done to all parties except for possibly the abusers they assist and reward. However, even the abusers are suffering because these broken courts enable them to continue their abuses rather than get on the road the psychological recovery.
I strongly believe that family law courts in the United States today as a general rule are incapable of effectively, fairly, and timely hearing cases involving PDAs.
The judges who are assigned family law duties are often newbies with zero experience in family law courts and no training in psychology. Yet they are being asked to figure out the truth in matters with people who are expert liars and are fully capable of making many other people believe their lies and repeat them. The methods they are using includes very weak evidentiary standards and allowing family law courts to be used as kangaroo courts for criminal prosecutions that would obviously fail for lack of evidence in a real criminal court. They are also willing to drag out no-contact and supervised visitation periods against falsely accused people for months or years with little to no evidence to support such actions. Sometime the evidence that supports there being no basis for a safety concern is even hidden by CPS and the children’s attorney, if there is one, for years until it is finally “discovered”.
The result of these broken courts is that children and families are frequently harmed. It is extremely easy for a skilled manipulator to lie and deceive, stage attacks to generate “evidence” that the victim is the abuser, cause the courts to become allies in the abuse, and to jerk around the evaluators, courts, and entire system to delay cases for years while they build their armies of hate and establish a “parenting track record” that the idiot judges in the broken family law courts will interpret as meaning they are capable parents (when in fact they are often highly abusive to the children, frequently by parental alienation and other forms of emotional abuse) and the target parents are irrelevant because they have had little contact with their children for years.
Reforming Broken Family Law Courts Proves Difficult
Many target parents end up with little or no contact with their children for years, are financially ruined, have difficulty working or functioning well after the abuses they have endured, and are sometimes even incarcerated for crimes they did not commit or “fake crimes” caused by temporary restraining orders that turned normal things like calling one’s children into crimes that can result in jail time. These are not isolated miscarriages of justice, they are common and are occurring to likely millions of parents, many of whom are so beaten up and devastated that they simply leave. Many of them end up being derided as “absent fathers” or “deadbeat dads” who lost their children, livelihoods, freedom, and health at the hands of abusive personality disordered females and broken family law courts.
Resolving these problems is very difficult because the public has little to no understanding of how many innocent good parents are being caught up in and ruined by this broken system until it happens to them. Then these fresh victims are usually stigmatized as child abusers, spousal beaters, convicted criminals, and/or deadbeats who don’t pay child support. (Note that “deadbeat” can apply to both genders of parents and that some statistics show a slightly higher percentage of mothers than fathers fail to pay child support.) Almost nobody who has not been similarly abused will listen to them. They and their children are the victims of the family law courts even more than they are the victims of the personality disordered abusers in their lives. The PDA could cause great harm, but the courts made that harm more or less permanent.
While I have emphasized how men are at increased risk from personality disordered abusers and their manipulations of family law systems, these abuses are happening to many women, too. This is not a gender issue so much as it is an issue of violation of civil and constitution rights, broken courts, and public apathy about a major crisis afflicting millions of Americans. The people who gain advantage from this broken system who consider their own financial security paramount over the well-being of children and families don’t want it fixed and often try to portray the problem as a gender issue to balkanize the public and impede reform attempts. There are certainly judges, attorneys, and psychologists who are disgusted with the system the way it is today, but they seem to be few and far between. Most of them are apathetic, as if they forgot the ideas of public service and helping people that might have once motivated them at the beginning of their careers.
A take-no-prisoners condemnation of psychiatric experts being waved into the witness box, this account trashes psychiatry in general as a quack profession. Hagen (a psychology professor) assails most of the diagnostic tools of the field in her text, which roams among court cases whose outcome hinged on the testimony of mental-health experts. Her fundamental contention is that psychiatry is a junk science whose theories when extended to matters of legal culpability go against common sense. Indeed, Hagen assumes the posture of that legendary legalism, the “reasonable person,” and her prose is peppered with exclamations and rhetorical questions like “Who could believe that?” which might annoy as many readers as it might convince about whatever points are in question. Among them are such topically current items as battered-wife syndrome, recovered memory claims, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and urban psychosis claims. The average person could easily encounter in divorce and child custody litigation the situations Hagen vigorously complains of, so her energetic attack could gain considerable attention. Gilbert Taylor