When you are constantly put down, when everything you do is scrutinized, when you get threats of going to court all the time; it wears on you. In fact, it can affect you so deeply that it changes you - psychologically.
If you’re new to the divorce process, you may be dealing with constant insults and litigation paperwork that points out everything your ex thinks you’ve done wrong.
If you’ve been divorced for awhile, you could still be dealing with constant insults from your ex, you could be dealing with threats of court for many different reasons, or you could be in court every 2 years and just as you are getting over all the emotions that come with court, you are served again.
Even if those don’t apply to you, you may have been in a relationship with someone who emotionally abused you, and getting “over that” is not quick or easy.
So what’s the answer when you’re dealing with someone like this? With a crazy-maker? The answer is: don’t engage.
I know what you're thinking. Exactly how do you not engage when you’re dealing with someone like this? Start by asking yourself these 3 questions:
Is what my ex saying really true or is he/she just saying it to get a rise out of me?
If what they’re saying is true, is it truly harmful or are they simply trying to make me look bad?
Does it matter what my ex thinks?
Many times, in high-conflict situations, especially with difficult personalities, the other person is simply trying to get a rise out of you. It comes as closure to them. Think about the last time your ex said something to you that made you want to fire back a response so awful it would make them wish they had never talked to you that way. You know what I’m talking about, it's that response that’s so perfectly intelligent and factual that they would have no choice, but to double-take and admit defeat. Isn’t there a chance that these statements from your ex are their way of getting you to admit defeat, too? Doesn’t it have everything to do with them and nothing to do with you?
My ex will tell you that I don’t keep our kids home from school enough when they’re sick. And he's right. It’s true. We have different ideas about what defines “sick enough to stay home”. Mine includes a fever, his does not always. That’s ok. These are the battles I choose not to pick. Our kids don’t miss so much school that it’s an issue, they have good grades, and don’t generally miss homework so there’s no need for me to try and change something that’s a lost cause. Unfortunately, that’s not what my ex says. I’ve been told that I don’t pay attention to my kids, that I don’t care about their well-being, that I’m a horrible Mom, and many other messages that I’m sure you all have seen in one form or another. It used to get to me, but now I’m able to look at the situation knowing that a) it’s not true (I’m not all those things he may fully believe I am); and b) our differences in this literally do not harm the kids in any way. If the kids go to school on my days without a fever, but have a cough leftover from a cold - they’re learning how to manage it all day*. They may pack some tea to drink, take cough drops, or always have water on them, but they’re better off at school than at home and they recognize it. If Dad keeps them home with nothing more than a leftover cough, they’re given chores at Dad’s house and have to do all of their homework and the extra day out of school does nothing more than keep them from their friends. It’s true what he says - I don’t keep them home as often as he does, but it doesn’t harm the kids.
Finally, when you’re dealing with crazy-making, it can only sink in if you allow it to. I saved the last question for the end because it’s not likely that anyone can simply ignore the repeated threats, comments, and jabs. First, you have to rationalize (questions 1 & 2), then you have to decide if their opinion matters. So, does it? Does their opinion really matter to you? If you can honestly answer no to that question, then it’s time to move on. Chalk it up to them wanting to see you get riled up and then don’t give them the chance to see it.
That’s it. Those are my simplified versions of how to handle crazy-making, threatening, and insulting messages. This is something I work through with you when you work with me one-on-one, so if you’re looking for the more intense version of this, put a 30-minute conversation in my calendar and let’s talk about how to get you there.
*Disclaimer: I do not send my children to school when they’re sick. We follow the 24-hour policy our school has created, but as long as they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours and have not been throwing up for 24 hours, I send them to school. I don’t want other kids sick, either.