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Domestic Violence

7 Tips for Staying Strong in High-Conflict Custody Battles

Borrowing someone else's strength and focusing more on your own case can help.

Key points

  • Defending yourself and your children in court can feel all-consuming and affect your mental health.
  • There are ways to stay focused on the end goal: safety for you and your family.
  • People often only regret that they did not leave sooner.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Dealing with litigation abuse through custody battles or other tactics can feel stressful and hopeless
Source: Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Aliyah was desperate. She felt hopeless in the endless custody battle with her son's father. Every time she thought that they were in an OK place, she would face another hurdle in court. "It feels like it will never end," she cried with her head in her hands.

Her son was only 6, so the thought of dealing with this headache for another 12 years felt discouraging. "Maybe I should have just stayed," she whispered in a moment of weakness. "At least then I wouldn't have to put my son through this."

Aliyah is just one of many who deal with litigation abuse on a daily basis in the family court system. I spend my weeks supporting clients dealing with it, often feeling helpless and hopeless along with them. I try to give tools to mitigate the emotional stress of the process.

Remember, most people will never regret leaving, only that they did not leave sooner. But it will often get harder before it gets better. Here are some tips to help you stay strong as you move through it:

Practice daily motivation. Put a sticky note on a mirror. Some might write a positive phrase, like: “I’m a survivor,” “I will get through this,” or “I’m strong.” Others motivate themselves using different words: “Screw them! I am better off now!” No judgment. Do whatever makes you feel best.

Focus more on your case than theirs. It takes more than a good defense to win a game: You must also build up your offense. Focus on gathering evidence, compiling information, and creating a good, sound case. I always recommend working with a legal expert during this process, but the reality is that many cannot afford this, especially for ongoing litigation abuse.

Use your support. Have at least one person you can text or call daily to vent or overanalyze things, even if it gets repetitive. This will help you on days when staying strong feels like too much. However, know when you need more support. If you are venting daily to your support but still losing sleep or engaging in unhealthy coping skills, and feel that this is negatively affecting your life, seek the support of a mental health clinician who can help you.

Borrow someone else’s strength. I sometimes tell clients to pretend to borrow the imagined strength of someone else. An imaginary person or fictional character—it could be someone you know who seems to emanate emotional strength and stamina. How would your co-worker, John, known to “not take anything from anyone,” handle this situation? Would they brush it off with a joke? Would they be practical, saying, “That’s what I pay my lawyer for. I’ll let them worry about it.” Or optimistic?: "The truth will come out. Bad guys don’t always win.” Identify someone with characteristics you would want to be able to better handle the situation and pretend to borrow their energy, even if just for a moment.

“Bubble” yourself. There will be times when you have to interact with your ex or be in the same room as them, or find your thoughts consumed by them or your situation, so learn to bubble yourself. Many years ago, a wise person once taught me this self-protective technique: Imagine yourself in a soft, white bubble. Think of Glinda, the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz, and how she always appeared in a bubble. Except this bubble around you contains healthy, good energy. Nothing can permeate its exterior walls, not even the negative energy the abuser and their legal team send your way. Using this bubble as a protective shield is a quick, easy, and effective mental exercise that has worked for many I have shared it with since.

Remind yourself that it will eventually end. I know it may seem like the punishment and abuse will go on forever, but it will eventually stop. It may seem dismissive, but when the perpetrator moves on, runs out of money, gets an intervention order, dates someone new, etc., their behavior will settle down… eventually.

Repeat a positive affirmation whenever needed. Here are a few that many have had success and found comfort with, but feel free to add a few of your own: “This too shall pass. "I have the strength to get through this." Or, "I will come out on the other end stronger."

Excerpted, in part, from my book It's Not "High-Conflict," It's Post Separation Abuse.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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