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Author Topic: 2.11 | Responding to Hostile Email After the Divorce  (Read 10601 times)
Randi Kreger
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Author of the 'Essential Family Guide to BPD"


« on: December 02, 2010, 10:46:23 PM »

Remember BIFF When Responding to Hostile E-mails

Hostile e-mail exchanges have become huge in divorce. Blamers love sending them and use them to attack you, your family and friends, and professionals. It’s extremely tempting to respond the same way. Hostile e-mail has also become huge in family court, as a document used to show someone’s bad behavior. While you are encouraged to save copies of hostile e-mail sent to you, it is very important that you not send hostile e-mails to anyone. They will be used against you.

Instead, assertively use a BIFF response, as described next, and encourage people in your support system to do the same. It will save you a lot of wasted time and energy to be Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm.

Do You Need to Respond?

Much of hostile mail does not need a response. Letters from exes, angry neighbors, irritating coworkers, or attorneys do not usually have legal significance. The letter itself has no power, unless you give it power. Often, it is emotional venting aimed at relieving the writer’s anxiety. If you respond with similar emotions and hostility, you will simply escalate things without satisfaction, and just get a new piece of hostile mail back. In most cases, you are better off not responding.

Some letters and e-mails develop power when copies are filed in a court or complaint process—or simply get sent to other people. In these cases, it may be important to respond to inaccurate statements with accurate statements of fact. If so, use a BIFF response.

Brief

Keep your response brief. This will reduce the chances of a prolonged and angry back-and-forth. The more you write, the more material the other person has to criticize. Keeping it brief signals that you don’t wish to engage in a dialogue. Just make your response and end your e-mail. Don’t take your partner’s statements personally and don’t respond with a personal attack. Avoid focusing on comments about the other person’s character, such as saying he is rude, insensitive, or stupid. It just escalates the conflict and keeps it going.

Make sure to avoid the three “A’s”: admonishments, advice and apologies. You don’t have to defend yourself to someone you disagree with. If your friends still like you, you don’t have to prove anything to people who don’t.

Informative

The main reason to respond to hostile mail is to correct inaccurate statements others might see. “Just the facts” is a good thing to keep in mind. Focus on the accurate statements you want to make, not on the inaccurate statements the other person made: “Just to clear things up, I was out of town on February 12, so I would not have been the person who was making loud noises that day.”Avoid negative comments, sarcasm, and threats. Avoid personal remarks about the other person’s intelligence, ethics, or moral behavior. If the other person has a high-conflict personality, you will have no success at reducing the conflict by making personal attacks. While most people can ignore personal attacks or might think harder about what you are saying, high-conflict people feel they have no choice but to respond in anger—and keep the conflict going. Personal attacks rarely lead to insight or positive change.

Friendly

While you may be tempted to write in anger, you are more likely to achieve your goals by writing in a friendly manner. Consciously thinking about a friendly response will increase your chances of getting a friendly or neutral response in return. If your goal is to end the conflict, then being friendly has the greatest likelihood of success. Don’t give the other person a reason to get defensive and keep responding.This does not mean that you have to be overly friendly. Just make your message sound a little relaxed and nonantagonistic. If appropriate, say you recognize your partner’s concerns. Brief comments that show your empathy and respect will generally calm the other person down, even if only for a short time.

Firm

In a nonthreatening way, clearly tell the other person your information or position on an issue; for example, “That’s all I’m going to say on this issue.” Be careful not to make comments that invite more discussion, unless you are negotiating an issue or want to keep a dialogue going back and forth. Avoid comments that leave an opening, such as, “I hope you will agree with me that…” This invites the other person to tell you, “I don’t agree.”Sound confident and don’t ask for more information, if you want to end the back-and-forth. A confident-sounding person is less likely to be challenged with further e-mails. If you get more e-mails, you can ignore them, if you have already sufficiently addressed the inaccurate information.

If you need to respond again, keep it even briefer, and do not emotionally engage. In fact, it often helps to just repeat the key information using the same words.

Example of BIFF Response

Joe’s hostile e-mail: “Jane, I can’t believe you are so stupid as to think I’m going to let you take the children to your boss’s birthday party during my parenting time. Have you no memory of the last six conflicts we’ve had about my parenting time? Or are you having an affair with him? I always knew you would do anything to get ahead! In fact, I remember coming to your office party and witnessing you making a total fool of yourself, including flirting with everyone from the CEO down to the mail-room clerk! Are you high on something? Haven’t you gotten your finances together enough to support yourself yet, without flinging yourself at every Tom, Dick, and Harry?”

Jane’s response: “Thank you for responding to my request to take the children to my office party. Just to clarify, the party will be from 3:00 to 5:00 on Friday at the office, and there will be approximately thirty people there, including several other parents and their school-age children. There will be no alcohol because it is a family-oriented firm, and there will be family-oriented activities. I think it will be a good experience for the kids to see me at my workplace. Since you do not agree, then, of course, I will respect that and withdraw my request, because I recognize that it is your parenting time.”

Comment:

Jane kept it brief and did not engage in defending herself. Since this was just between the two of them, she didn’t need to respond. If he sent this e-mail to friends, coworkers, or family members (which high-conflict people often do), she would need to respond to the larger group with more information, such as the following.Jane’s group response: “Dear friends and family, as you know, Joe and I had a difficult divorce. He has sent you a private e-mail showing correspondence between us about a parenting schedule matter. I hope you will see this as a private matter and understand that you do not need to respond or get involved in any way. Almost everything he has said is in anger and not at all accurate.

If you have any questions for me personally, please feel free to contact me and I will clarify anything I can. I appreciate your friendship and support.”

And that’s it: BIFF!
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I had a borderline mother and narcissistic father. Author of stop walking on eggshells, The stop walking on eggshells workbook, the essential family guide to borderline personality disorder, and the upcoming book stop walking on egg shells for partners


crystal
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« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2010, 02:36:02 PM »

 Doing the right thing (click to insert in post)

And for me, in order to get my emails really BIFF'ed, I usually have to write them and then let them sit a day, go back and edit/BIFFify and then send... .

Another advantage of this 12-24 hour wait is it slows down the response cycle--makes it less likely to escalate into constant email volleys!
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« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2010, 02:52:47 PM »

Any advice on how to make the hostile e-mails stop before you need to respond ?

Restraining orders ?

... .request for this already with my lawyer, so ill see what he says
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Randi Kreger
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« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2010, 09:57:43 AM »

Any advice on how to make the hostile e-mails stop before you need to respond ?Restraining orders ?... .request for this already with my lawyer, so ill see what he says

Restraining orders is a big topic. What do you want to know about it?I don't know that anyone can prevent a nasty email... .I certainly have had many in my time. I think the best one can do is expect them, save them for evidence, and not take them personally.
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I had a borderline mother and narcissistic father. Author of stop walking on eggshells, The stop walking on eggshells workbook, the essential family guide to borderline personality disorder, and the upcoming book stop walking on egg shells for partners
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« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2010, 11:16:11 PM »

"Splitting" has been like a bible to me, while divorcing my BPDh.  However, it is extremely difficult to find legal support for ideas suggested therein.  For example, to encourage my BPD not to bring me to court 2-5 yrs after the divorce (as the author suggests could happen), I wanted to write into my decree that BPDh would have to cover any future court costs.  Mediator/ lawyer found this to be petty & micromanaging. 

Regarding BIFF, my BPDh blows a gasket if he does not have text/email responses immediately.  As well, I learned in a BPD support group that apologies are necessary to relieve intense pressure in a situation, while validating the other person's feelings.  What do to?
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GreatDad
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« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2010, 01:56:59 PM »

BIFF has worked wonders for me, and in many ways.  It's great to see this type of post on the divorce and custody board, even though it is applicable to so many other contexts. 

I have SWOE, The Essential Guide, and Bill's "Splitting."  Also, I lucked in to seeing Bill's High Conflict Seminar live in April.  He presented BIFF there, and I showed it to my lawyer (who asked for a copy).  From then on, as long as I agreed to adhere to the BIFF rules, I didn't have to get advance approval from my lawyer before sending email.  That saved time and money. 

Any advice on how to make the hostile e-mails stop before you need to respond ?

Restraining orders ?

... .request for this already with my lawyer, so ill see what he says

Why do you want to stop them?  If they irritate you,  maybe it's because you let them irritate you?  While you can't control what you receive, you do control how you react to what you receive.  Try to see the emails for what they are, nothing more, and then consider using them.   In my situation, some of the best evidence of my wife's irrational behavior was the emails themselves.  Just keep, print and use.  My difficulty was picking the best from so many.  And, depending on the content, they may be good to share friends and family for a good laugh.  Finally, they can give you validation during one of those "am I the crazy one?" spells.  What's more, BIFF really helps if you are trying to practice or achieve Radical Acceptance.   

I have also noticed BIFF works in other situations, including work, and other relationships.  It's a good exercise to help us focus on what needs to be attended to, and what doesn't matter. 

Bill also presented something called "Yes, No or I'll Think About It."   I found that very useful, too.  Randi, perhaps you can provide that if you think it's appropriate.   

~GD
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kj1234
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« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2010, 05:22:49 PM »

"Informative

The main reason to respond to hostile mail is to correct inaccurate statements others might see."

I'm glad to see this element in the BIFF technique.  I have been frustrated at times when told to just ignore extreme libelous statements against me in court documents, etc.  My opinion is I have the right and the obligation to myself to correct the record when such things happen.  I have seen that when you don't, people may suspect the false statements are true.  It's just more abuse if you let it happen.
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an0ught
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« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2010, 10:22:45 AM »

It seems simple and effective.

Not responding is always an option - NC is a good strategy in a lot of cases.

Brief

 => not much in there to counter-attack. It is so tempting to write a lot when angry.

Informative

 => a bit like the payload of seT.

Friendly

 => a bit like the empathy part of sEt but with more distance.

Firm

 =>making sure we transfer no weakness emotions on the other side and invite an attack.

The format seems to help to build up a strong and well readable record on your side if evidence is ever needed.

And for me, in order to get my emails really BIFF'ed, I usually have to write them and then let them sit a day, go back and edit/BIFFify and then send... .

Another advantage of this 12-24 hour wait is it slows down the response cycle--makes it less likely to escalate into constant email volleys!

Regarding BIFF, my BPDh blows a gasket if he does not have text/email responses immediately.  As well, I learned in a BPD support group that apologies are necessary to relieve intense pressure in a situation, while validating the other person's feelings.  What do to?

Not responding immediately is often a good boundary for ourselves. And it won't be liked as it goes against their impulsive nature so an extinction burst is to be expected. Check out the lessons on boundaries and timeouts for more information.
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  Writing is self validation. Writing on bpdfamily is self validation squared!
Randi Kreger
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Who in your life has "personality" issues: Parent
Posts: 134

Author of the 'Essential Family Guide to BPD"


« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2010, 10:43:06 AM »

"InformativeThe main reason to respond to hostile mail is to correct inaccurate statements others might see."I'm glad to see this element in the BIFF technique.  I have been frustrated at times when told to just ignore extreme libelous statements against me in court documents, etc.  My opinion is I have the right and the obligation to myself to correct the record when such things happen.  I have seen that when you don't, people may suspect the false statements are true.  It's just more abuse if you let it happen.

I've read all of Bill's books. Correct them ASAP.
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I had a borderline mother and narcissistic father. Author of stop walking on eggshells, The stop walking on eggshells workbook, the essential family guide to borderline personality disorder, and the upcoming book stop walking on egg shells for partners
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