How can we, as coParents, respond to hostile parents?
We need to shift our thinking from shame and blame – which just reinforces the problem and doesn’t build stronger connections – to teaching skills. We need to understand that the logic of their behavior is fear-based rather than evil – but still needing restraint. They are stuck in a Cycle of Hostile or High-Conflict thinking.
There are three continuous steps that occur in the cycle of high-conflict thinking:
1. M.A.D: Mistaken Assessment of Danger
2. B.A.D.: Behavior that’s Aggressively Defensive
3. N.F.: Negative Feedback
This cycle shows that they are constantly having a Mistaken Assessment of Danger. Because of this M.A.D., they think (or just react) that they must take extremely aggressive action to protect themselves – and their children. As high-conflict people, they believe that the source of all of this danger is their Target of Blame (usually the other parent, but potentially lawyers, counselors, or others). Therefore, their Behavior that’s Aggressively Defensive is directed at their Target of Blame, to somehow cause the Target to change their behavior or disappear as the solution to the problem.
However, because the problem isn’t really their Target of Blame, but rather their Mistaken Assessment of Danger, nothing changes after their aggressive attack. Instead, they get Negative Feedback (from the other parent, lawyers, counselors and/or the judge). This, in turn, they take personally, over-react to, and blame on their Target of Blame. This increases (or at least doesn’t reduce) their Mistaken Assessment of Danger, and the cycle continues and continues.
Thus, it’s important to realize that their extreme behavior is a defense against something, rather than just being stupid, crazy or evil. It’s actually seen as a solution in their distorted thinking. Remember, this has nothing to do with intelligence. So if you respond with extreme behavior of your own – in an effort to stop their extreme behavior – you will usually make things worse.