When conflict and resentment run high, it’s easy for parents to confuse their wants with their children’s needs.

Parents may use the court system or other means to control or punish each other. While they convince themselves that what they’re doing is in their children’s best interest, in reality, they are subjecting their children to emotional trauma. Confusing what a parent wants with what is in their children’s best interest is one of the biggest mistakes parents make. Not only are these concepts not one and the same, but the other parent feels the same way about their beliefs. Inevitably, parents’ combination of these concepts leads to increased conflict.

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In fact, Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD — lawyer, therapist, mediator and the co-founder and President of the High Conflict Institute — believes, “Much of today’s legal disputes are about what I call Emotional Facts — emotionally-generated false information accepted as true and appearing to require emergency legal action.”

Keep in mind that regardless of how sincerely you may hold a belief, very often such beliefs are not fact based. The popular Pixar lm, Inside Out, explores emotions through the character, Riley, a vivacious, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl who has her world turned upside down as she attempts to navigate a major life transition. Her emotion (and alter ego), Joy, tells her, “All these facts and opinions look the same. I can’t tell them apart.” Interestingly, this is the ultimate cause of a great many conflicts in the world, including those leading to divorce and continuing post-separation and divorce.

To distinguish emotional “facts” from actual facts, you may find it helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

What life experiences have led me to feel the way that I do? 

What facts would I need to know to enable me to question my point of view? 

Further, as you evaluate your beliefs, keep in mind the following definitions:

A fact is something that truly exists or happens; something that has actual existence; a true piece of information.

An opinion is a belief stronger than impression and less strong than positive knowledge.

A belief is a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true.

An impression is an idea or belief that is usually not clear or certain.

A feeling is often unreasoned opinion or belief. (Source: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary)

As you make decisions, beware of your unconscious biases. Research shows that people consistently have incomplete information from which to make decisions and that 99.99% of decision-making is unconscious.

Google initiated an ambitious project called re:Work to study the unconscious mind and raise awareness of “unconscious bias,” which they define as “the automatic, mental shortcuts used to process information and make decisions quickly.” Their findings are intriguing and are as applicable in the context of the workplace as they are in divorce. They found that unconscious bias can be a “useful [shortcut] when making decisions with limited information, focus, or time.” However, it can also, “prevent individuals from making the most objective decisions,” and “sometimes lead individuals astray and have unintended consequences.”

Fortunately, by understanding unconscious bias and overcoming it at critical moments, we can make better decisions. Google’s research finds that “awareness of unconscious bias can lead to reversals in biased outcomes, and understanding the unconscious biases that underlie beliefs may be necessary for changing attitudes.”

As you go through your divorce, be aware of unconscious bias and shortcuts you may be tempted to use when making critical decisions; people tend to believe what they want to believe, a concept known as “confirmation bias.” Therefore, we must engage in critical thinking to distinguish facts from opinion. (Critical thinking is a concept also addressed in the Pixar film Inside Out.) It is the objective analysis and evaluation involved in determining the credibility of any given piece of information, and this determination requires self-awareness.

You may find it beneficial to do more introspection to empathize better with your children and understand that what you think you want as a parent versus what is truly in your children’s best interest — these are often very different. It bears mentioning that people who are unwilling to entertain the possibility that their belief on something may be wrong, regardless of what facts may come to light, are closed-minded. Since these kinds of people only care to validate their beliefs, they are inclined to make biased decisions.

“Dare to be the adults we want our children to be. Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting… The question isn’t so much ‘Are you parenting the right way?’ as ‘Are you the adult you want your child to grow up to be.’” – Brené Brown, Ph.D. LMSW 

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About Mark Baer & Jeremy Kossen

Mark BaerMark Baer is a lawyer, mediator and conflict resolution consultant. He has decades of experience in family law and has crafted a reputation within the industry for his psychologically-minded and child-centered approach.

Mark is also a well-known writer and columnist for a number of publications on the interplay between psychology and conflict resolution within the field of family law, as well as familial and interpersonal relationships in general. He has had a regular “Psychology and Family Law” column in the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association’s award-winning bimonthly newsletter since 2008. A member of Psychology Today’s expert community, Mark also has a blog column titled “Empathy and Relationships: Fostering Genuine Open-Mindedness.” He is also a HuffPost Blogger and a number of those blog articles have been referenced in books, law review articles, by evidence-based public policy think tanks, and elsewhere. Mark has written extensively for a number of other publications, as well. His material has been used and shared by law school professors, and by some of the highest ranked dispute resolution organizations in the country, such as the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law and the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program at Harvard Law School.

He has also presented on several occasions at the California Psychological Association Convention, the American Bar Association Section of Family Law CLE Conference, and the Southern California Mediation Association Conference, among other such organizations.