One thing I know for sure is: our systems suck!
Let me paint you a scenario so you can understand why I take this view:
In my line of work, I often have clients who have taken out a restraining order against their ex-partner to maintain their safety and wellbeing. What these people are generally trying to do is not only protect themselves but also their young children.
They take their ex-partner to court to get the order against them (which is tormenting because generally you still need to face them there). They successfully get the order in place against the person and finally they can breathe.
The target of abuse continues to go about their life – trying to heal the scars as best they can, rebuild their life, maintain a normal existence for their young family, they seek professional help and really – they’re doing all the right things.
When one day – out of nowhere – a legal letter appears. Their ex-psychopath-partner has applied for sole custody.
Tell me: how is it that our systems would allow this scenario to occur? Co-parenting, starting with supervised visits – I understand. But putting a target through the torment of receiving a legal letter stating that “their client” is going for sole custody? Casting the doubt shadow over them that they may never see their children again?
Warped – right?
This means I often get asked: “Sarah, how can I continue healing when everything is still before the family courts?”
What are you meant to do when you’ve worked so hard to maintain No Contact for almost a year, and then the courts are forcing you to break it by bringing you back together?
Unfortunately narcissist’s are convincing. A courtroom is their playground. And as you know, they don’t like to lose. So it’s not surprising if someone who has mistreated you in the past is taking you to court is causing significant anxiety.
I interviewed a client who experienced this scenario to gain some insight. I walked away with FIVE things you can do to get you started on the right path (and while some may seem obvious, you’d be amazed how many people don’t do it, don’t know to do it or accept their circumstances):
1. Hire a really good lawyer
2. Make sure your affidavit is 100% true
3. Courts issue subpoenas – think about what you can subpoena of theirs to prove untrue
4. Request a psychiatric assessment for both of you (it’s expensive but in your best interest)
5. Ask for an ICL (Independent Children’s Lawyer appointed by the court) or, if your kids are a little older, you could ask for a CDC (Child Dispute Conference), although this involves the children and means you may need to prepare them to be questioned about home life, it can be their opportunity to have a say)
Now let’s get to the emotional side of things – after all, this is where I can help:
1. Seek Professional Help
I know your finances are probably already running low and it’s adding to the stress, but talking it out with friends isn’t going to cut it. It is highly recommended that you seek professional help from a qualified professional during this time. Something to keep in mind at this time: the most expensive advice is the wrong advice.
Going to court for anything is extremely stressful (unless you’re a lawyer) – and during this whole time you will need to come across consistently balanced. Stick to the facts in court – they don’t offer space for emotions and sob-stories – but once you’re out of there, you will need somewhere you can release these emotions and someone who can also assist you with strategies that will help you keep focused and moving forward.
The stress you are experiencing is circumstantial, rather than a mental health issue, which is why a life coach could be the best support. Some will even come in to court to support you if you need, often they check in between appointments and they’ll work with you to give you practical steps and strategies to keep you going while you’re in the court system. Life coaches aren’t cheap, and you can’t claim anything, but it’ll be worth it if you are looking to take action while feeling completely helpless.
2. Lots of Self Care DAILY!
Create a solid self-care plan for yourself to help you through this time and implement between one and three of these things every single day. They don’t need to be big things – we don’t want to add more stress and pressure to you, but if you keep doing things for yourself you’ll notice that you’re able to get through each day. You’ll still have challenges – but you’ll make it through without breakdown overwhelm.
Something to be really aware of is your appetite and your sleep at this time. Keep eating and keep sleeping as much as normal if you can. I know it’s not easy. If you need to see a doctor or psychiatrist for support during this time, don’t be ashamed of that: listen to yourself and just do it!
Meanwhile, I have a template I use to work with my clients to create a solid Self-Care plan from $97. If you are interested in working with me to create a solid self-care plan or accessing this template, contact me.
3. Anchor yourself in safety
One of the most overwhelming emotions that will come up for you – along with anger, distress, disappointed etc. – is fear. You need to manage your fear as best you can by inspiring courage at this time. In the coaching world, we use “anchors” to help you do this. There are lots of ways you can use anchors throughout this time to help you:
Touch: You could create a physical anchor by saying when you touch yourself in a certain place (be specific – like the bone of your right wrist, or the palm of your hand or gripping onto your arm firmly but gently – will bring you back to your present moment. A lot of the time in these situations we’re worried about the outcome – and whether it will go in our favour or not, so it’s really important to try to keep in the present moment as much as you can.
Sound: It may be by playing music that is courage-based while going into the court room and on your way home. To help you put that emotional armour on before you need to be strong as you have ever been in your life. I created a playlist of songs that really helped me. Songs included (songs I usually wouldn’t listen to): ‘Headstrong’ by Trapt, ‘If today was your last day’ by Nickleback and ‘Mean’ by Taylor Swift, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor, ‘Warrior’ by Havana Brown – you’ll notice none of these songs are directly about a romantic relationship or love. Try to find songs that are geared towards competition that cheers you on to be the winner, without it being anything triggering.
Visual: Some people like to have a lucky charm or a physical symbol they can refer to during this time and throughout the hearings. When I had to front up to court my friend, who was passionate about meditation, gave me a card of Taaraa “Put it in your wallet – she’ll protect you”, she told me. So I put her in my wallet, and whenever I saw her in there, I imagined a bright protective white light surrounding me.
Kinaesthetic: This was the strongest one I used: channelling a character from a movie I watched to give me the courage and strength I needed, while I was feeling weak. You could channel a confident and powerful superhero – Superman or Wonder Woman are two really good ones. I personally chose (I always promote this because it served me so well) Katniss Everdeen, because she is close to my age, I love her attitude, and to be fair – she had to surrender and despite all outcomes, she maintained her strength and dignity. So what I would do is watch The Hunger Games I the night before the hearing and then the next day, as I got ready – I got ready as though I was Katniss Everdeen, getting set to attend The Hunger Games.
Spiritual: If you believe in God, you may like to pray at this time and ask for strength, if you are a believer. Or even, if you’re not, you could ask the universe to please protect you and guide you on this part of your journey.
4. Maintain NO contact
Stick by No Contact no matter what – because there is no need for you to ever break it. (You can get yourself a No Contact reward for nailing it after the hearing.)
No one can make you look at the toxic person. No one can make you talk to the toxic person. No one can make you think about the toxic person during this time. You still have control. And you still have the choice to maintain that control.
You will both have lawyers who will all the talking and work out what is the best way forward between them. This means, there is no need to break contact in any way.
In the court room, I used my hair as a blockout curtain to the side of my face once he chose which side of the room to sit on. I dressed nicely (more to make me feel better than anything else) and I refused to look at him or allow him to see my face. That was my mission to get me through it.
You may be wondering why I wanted to hide my face so much – I didn’t want him to read my emotions or thoughts, so this was how I shut him out.
I understand, not everyone has long hair like I do, so where you don’t hair to shield you – or you the sit in a position you can’t block them – practise your best poker face between now and the court hearing. The aim is not to let them in at all. The last thing you need is for them to come up and pretend like they still know you: and remember, they don’t.
5. Take support with you
Notice I didn’t say take a support person? You can take just one person if you like, but you can take a whole support team along with you if you think it will help. I can’t express how comforting it is to have friendly faces with you at such a challenging time! Just be mindful that these people can’t talk, and you certainly don’t want them to engage with the toxic person either – so be careful not to choose anyone too protective or emotionally volatile. Choose people who want the best for you and inspire your strength and courage. These people can keep an eye out for you but they are not to communicate with the toxic person either.
Your lawyers are going to do all the talking for you.
It’s the time between court that can be challenging for targets. I got cornered at fire stairs, and still I turned my back – my family and friend stood before me to stop him getting a glimpse. So even if the toxic person tries to make you break contact: don’t do it!
6. Surrender to the process
They’re going to make untrue claims about you … find ways you can factually prove their claims are untrue – and remember, they are going to need to source evidence to support their claims as well. Think about what you can have subpoenaed to disprove the toxic person’s accusations and also think about some claims you can make where you have substantial evidence to support it.
Meanwhile, surrender yourself to the process and try to release any attachment; let go of the anxiety. Breathe, meditate and flow with it as much as you can. Trust that things will work out – even if it doesn’t work out in the beginning – it will eventually work out for you. Continue to work towards building a really strong relationship with yourself. Be kind and gentle to yourself throughout the hearings.
7. Give yourself a break
This can all get a little bit overwhelming so make sure you have regular breaks from thinking about the case. Take yourself back to nature. Go out on a date with yourself. Treat your family to your favourite dinner together.
Emotionally, you can give yourself a break by not concerning yourself with other people’s judgements. Throughout the hearing tune into your own self talk, check in with how you’re feeling (as a friend would do for you), try to encourage yourself to be present as much as possible, and remember to be kind to yourself during this time.
For more support during this difficult time, please make an appointment.