The "Evil Other".
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
There is a human phenomenon psychologists call selective attention.
Human beings have a natural tendency to pay attention only to data that support their pre-existing points of view or desires. Information that contradicts their beliefs or wishes is filtered-out of their awareness. Obviously this practice can lead to severely distorted notions of people and events and to making very poor choices and decisions.
This unbalanced manner of perceiving and interpreting reality is unfortunately common in divorce cases. Each spouse frequently rewrites the biography of the other spouse in entirely negative terms. Memories of past misconduct that were once stored away in a mental file marked "unimportant" are rediscovered and suddenly reinterpreted as significant and all encompassing.
Positive traits and past generous acts of the other spouse are blocked from conscious memory. The "ex" becomes the evil other, and after that happens, everything the former spouse does or says is perceived through the negative filter.
If the spouse who suffers from selective attention is also a parent, their newly formed opinions about the other parent affect the children.
Sometimes a child will adopt the same negative view one parent now holds.
More often, however, children of these parents become terribly confused because their own experiences with one parent are not consistent with what the other parent is insisting to be true. That is, the child's interactions with the "evil" parent are pleasant and loving in contradiction to the other parent's memories and interpretations. These children can end up not trusting others or, perhaps worse still, not trusting themselves.
Divorced parents who have demonized each other in this way also exact a cost from society. For one thing, they continuously drag one another back to court hoping the court will punish the bad "ex". These people consume great amounts of Court time and resources.
Family Court judges look to counselors to try to help these warring parents reconsider their divorce-distorted opinions of one another. The job becomes more difficult the longer the twisted perceptions have been allowed to exist unchallenged and the more that friends and family have sympathized and reinforced them. Sometimes divorce parents are unwilling or unable to reconsider their views of each other until they have utterly exhausted all of their economic resources or driven their children to self-destructive behavior. Sometimes even then, the war goes on. The key to a decent divorce is the ability of each spouse to recognize the other is like all other human beings -- flawed, not evil.
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